Located in the capital city of the United States, the newspaper has a particular emphasis on national politics. Daily editions are printed for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. It is published as a broadsheet.
The newspaper has won 47 Pulitzer Prizes. This includes six separate Pulitzers awarded in 2008, second only to The New York Times' seven awards in 2002 for the highest number ever awarded to a single newspaper in one year. Post journalists have also received 18 Nieman Fellowships and 368 White House News Photographers Association awards. In the early 1970s, in the best-known episode in the newspaper's history, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the American press' investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal; reporting in the newspaper greatly contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. In years since, its investigations have led to increased review of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
In 2013, its longtime controlling family, the Graham family, sold the newspaper to billionaire entrepreneur and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million in cash. The newspaper is owned by Nash Holdings LLC, a holding company Bezos created for the acquisition.
The Washington Post is generally regarded as one of the leading daily American newspapers, along with The New York Times, The L.A. Times, and The Wall Street Journal. The Post has distinguished itself through its political reporting on the workings of the White House, Congress, and other aspects of the U.S. government. It is one of the two daily broadsheets published in Washington D.C., the other being its smaller rival The Washington Times.
Unlike The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post does not print an edition for distribution away from the East Coast. In 2009, the newspaper ceased publication of its National Weekly Edition, which combined stories from the week's print editions, due to shrinking circulation. The majority of its newsprint readership is in District of Columbia and its suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The newspaper is one of a few U.S. newspapers with foreign bureaus, located in Beirut, Berlin, Beijing, Bogota, Cairo, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Jerusalem, Kabul, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, Paris, and Tokyo. In November 2009, it announced the closure of its U.S. regional bureaus—Chicago, Los Angeles and New York—as part of an increased focus on "...political stories and local news coverage in Washington". The newspaper has local bureaus in Maryland (Annapolis, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland) and Virginia (Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun County, Richmond, and Prince William County).
As of May 2013, its average weekday circulation was 474,767, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, making it the seventh largest newspaper in the country by circulation, behind USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post. While its circulation (like that of almost all newspapers) has been slipping, it has one of the highest market-penetration rates of any metropolitan news daily.
For many decades, the Post had its main office at 1150 15th Street NW. This real estate remained with Graham Holdings when the newspaper was sold to Jeff Bezos' Nash Holdings in 2013. Graham Holdings sold 1150 15th Street (along with 1515 L Street, 1523 L Street, and land beneath 1100 15th Street) for US$159 million in November 2013. The Washington Post continued to lease space at 1150 L Street NW. In May 2014, The Washington Post leased the west tower of One Franklin Square, a high-rise building at 1301 K Street NW in Washington, D.C. The newspaper moved into their new offices December 14, 2015.
Founding and early period
The newspaper was founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchins (1838–1912) and in 1880 added a Sunday edition, becoming the city's first newspaper to publish seven days a week. In 1889, Hutchins sold the newspaper to Frank Hatton, a former Postmaster General, and Beriah Wilkins, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio. To promote the newspaper, the new owners requested the leader of the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, to compose a march for the newspaper's essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa composed "The Washington Post". It became the standard music to accompany the two-step, a late 19th-century dance craze, and remains one of Sousa's best-known works.
In 1893, the newspaper moved to a building at 14th and E streets NW, where it would remain until 1950. This building combined all functions of the newspaper into one headquarters – newsroom, advertising, typesetting, and printing – that ran 24 hours per day.
In 1898, during the Spanish–American War, the Post printed Clifford K. Berryman's classic illustration Remember the Maine, which became the battle-cry for American sailors during the War. In 1902, Berryman published another famous cartoon in the Post—Drawing the Line in Mississippi. This cartoon depicts President Theodore Roosevelt showing compassion for a small bear cub and inspired New York store owner Morris Michtom to create the teddy bear.
Wilkins acquired Hatton's share of the newspaper in 1894 at Hatton's death. After Wilkins' death in 1903, his sons John and Robert ran the Post for two years before selling it in 1905 to John Roll McLean, owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. During the Wilson presidency, the Post was credited with the "most famous newspaper typo" in D.C. history according to Reason magazine; the Post intended to report that President Wilson had been "entertaining" his future-wife Mrs. Galt, but instead wrote that he had been "entering" Mrs. Galt. When John McLean died in 1916, he put the newspaper in trust, having little faith that his playboy son Edward "Ned" McLean could manage his inheritance. Ned went to court and broke the trust, but, under his management, the newspaper slumped toward ruin.
The newspaper was purchased in a bankruptcy auction in 1933 by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve's board of governors, Eugene Meyer, who restored the newspaper's health and reputation. In 1946, Meyer was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Philip Graham.
In 1954, the newspaper consolidated its position by acquiring and merging with its last morning rival, the Washington Times-Herald. (The combined paper was officially named The Washington Post and Times-Herald until 1973, although the Times-Herald portion of the nameplate became less and less prominent after the 1950s.) The merger left the Post with two remaining local competitors, the afternoon Washington Star (Evening Star) and The Washington Daily News, which merged in 1972 and folded in 1981. The Washington Times, established in 1982 by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012) under his company News World Communications, has been a local conservative rival with a circulation (as of 2005) about one-seventh that of the Post. In the late 2000s additional editorially conservative competition increased with the foundation of the tabloid-format daily The Washington Examiner by the new owners of the old Hearst paper, the San Francisco Examiner who engineered a swap trading the larger, more prosperous San Francisco Chronicle for the former Hearst "flagship" paper. They also started several other tabloid-format Examiners in several American cities, including briefly for two years the Baltimore Examiner which competed against the 170-year-old Baltimore Sun. The Washington Examiner ceased publication of its local newspaper on June 14, 2013, still publishing a weekly magazine and an online website focused on national politics.
After Phil Graham's death in 1963, control of The Washington Post Company passed to Katharine Graham (1917–2001), his wife and Meyer's daughter. Few women had run nationally prominent newspapers in the United States. Katharine Graham described her own anxiety and lack of confidence based on her gender in her autobiography. She served as publisher from 1969 to 1979 and headed The Washington Post Company into the early 1990s as chairman of the board and CEO. After 1993, she retained a position as chairman of the executive committee until her death in 2001.
Her tenure is credited with seeing the newspaper rise in national stature through effective investigative reporting after it began to live down its reputation as a house organ for the Kennedy and Johnson administration, working to ensure that The New York Times did not surpass its Washington reporting of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandal. During this time, Katharine Graham also oversaw the Post company's diversification purchase of the for-profit education and training company Kaplan, Inc. for $40 million in 1984. Twenty years later, Kaplan had surpassed the Post newspaper as the company's leading contributor to income, and by 2010 Kaplan accounted for more than 60% of the entire company revenue stream.
Executive editor Ben Bradlee, a Kennedy loyalist, put the newspaper's reputation and resources behind reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who, in a long series of articles, chipped away at the story behind the 1972 burglary of Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington. The Post's dogged coverage of the story, the outcome of which ultimately played a major role in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
In 1972, the "Book World" section was introduced with Pulitzer Prize–winning critic William McPherson as its first editor. It featured Pulitzer Prize–winning critics such as Jonathan Yardley and Michael Dirda, the latter of whom established his career as a critic at the Post. In 2009, after 37 years, with great reader outcries and protest, The Washington Post Book World as a standalone insert was discontinued, the last issue being Sunday, February 15, 2009, along with a general reorganization of the paper, such as placing the Sunday editorials on the back page of the main front section rather than the "Outlook" section and distributing some other locally oriented "op-ed" letters and commentaries in other sections. However, book reviews are still published in the Outlook section on Sundays and in the Style section the rest of the week, as well as online.
In 1980, the newspaper published a dramatic story called "Jimmy's World", describing the life of an eight-year-old heroin addict in Washington, for which reporter Janet Cooke won acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize. Subsequent investigation, however, revealed the story to be a fabrication. The Pulitzer Prize was returned.
Donald E. Graham, Katharine's son, succeeded her as publisher in 1979 and in the early 1990s became both chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was succeeded in 2000 as publisher and CEO by Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., with Graham remaining as chairman.
Katharine Graham Weymouth served as publisher and chief executive officer until 2014, after Jeff Bezos took over ownership of the paper.
Jeff Bezos era (2013–present)
Jeff Bezos purchased the newspaper for US$250 million in cash, completing the transaction on October 1, 2013, after announcing the planned acquisition on August 5, 2013. The newspaper is currently owned by Nash Holdings LLC, a holding company created for the acquisition and controlled by Bezos.
The sale included the Spanish language newspaper El Tiempo Latino, the Fairfax Times, The Gazette, the free daily newspaper Express, Southern Maryland Newspapers, and several newspapers covering and for the U.S. armed forces. Nash Holdings also took ownership of the Post printing plants in Springfield, Virginia; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Laurel, Maryland (the "Comprint plant"). Other assets included in the sale were the publications Apartment Showcase, Capital Business, Fashion Washington, Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook, New Condominium Guide, and New Homes Guide; the Internet sites TheCapitolDeal.com and ServiceAlley.com; and Comprint Military Publications (which included eight weekly newspapers covering local military bases, 10 annual guides to local military bases, and the Web sites DCMilitary.com, DCMilitaryEd.com, DCMilitaryFamLife.com). Some real estate was also included in the deal, such as a one-story office building in St. Mary's County, Maryland; warehouses in Fairfax County, Virginia; two tracts of land in Fairfax County, Virginia; leased office space in Charles County, Maryland, and in Montgomery County, Maryland; and 23 acres of undeveloped land in Charles County, Maryland.
Not included in the sale were other Washington Post Company assets, including the Washington Post Company's downtown office building, the Post's Robinson Terminal facilities in Alexandria, Virginia; Post-Newsweek Stations; Cable ONE (a Phoenix, Arizona-based Internet and cable service provider); independent web-based media assets such as Slate Group (Slate magazine and its sister video magazine, Slate V), The Root, and Foreign Policy; social media marketing company Social Code; home healthcare and hospice provider Celtic Healthcare; and the energy parts supplier Forney Corporation. After the completion of the sale, a press release announced the name change of the Washington Post Company to Graham Holdings Company (the change was made effective on November 29, 2013).
In early September 2013, Bezos summarized his approach for the news organization—with a vision that recreates "the 'daily ritual' of reading the Post as a bundle, not merely a series of individual stories"—although he indicated that the experience was more likely to be created on tablet computers and less likely "on the Web". Bezos has been described as a "hands-off owner", holding teleconference calls with executive editor Martin Baron every two weeks.
In August 2014, The Washington Post launched "Get There", an online personal finance section.
In September 2014, Jeff Bezos announced his decision to appoint Frederick J. Ryan Jr., founding President and CEO of Politico, to serve as Publisher and CEO of The Washington Post, effective October 1, 2014. This signaled Bezo's intent to shift The Post to a more digital focus with a strategy for expanding to a broader national and global readership. Ryan has continued to invest in news and technology while reducing expenses in legacy print areas.
Nash Holdings divested itself of a number of newspapers, and closed two others, in the summer of 2015. The company announced on June 12, 2015, that it would close the Montgomery Gazette and Prince George's Gazette effective June 18, 2015. The company also sold Comprint Military Publications and its Southern Maryland Newspapers group (which consisted of the Maryland Independent, The Enterprise, the Calvert Recorder, and the Enquirer Gazette, and their associated Southern Maryland Newspaper Web site) to Adams Publishing Group. The company also said it would sell the Fairfax County Times to Whip It Media, a locally owned company founded by the Times' former general manager, Richard Whippen.
In August 2014, the Post announced it was moving into new headquarters space at One Franklin Square in December 2015. The company leased 242,000 square feet (22,500 m2) of space for 16 years on floors four through nine in the west tower and floors seven and eight in the east tower. The building's owner agreed to an extensive build-out: Only about 10 percent of the space will be private offices, which required extensive demolition of interior walls and the removal of the walls on the seventh and eighth floor in the east tower so they joined with the floors on the west tower. The newly joined space will create two 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) floors capable of accommodating 700 newsroom workers and software engineers. The build-out includes four sets for live television filming, a new staircase between the seventh and eighth floors in each tower, and a two-story auditorium on the fourth floor. The building's south-facing facade will also be altered to give Post workers floor-to-ceiling windows.
In the mid-1970s, some conservatives called the newspaper "Pravda on the Potomac" because of its perceived left-wing bias in both reporting and editorials. Since then, the appellation has been used by both liberal and conservative critics of the newspaper. In 1963, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly told President Lyndon B. Johnson, "I don't have much influence with the Post because I frankly don't read it. I view it like the Daily Worker."
On March 26, 2007, Chris Matthews said on his television program, "Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was, Congressman, let me tell you. I have been reading it for years and it is a neocon newspaper". It has regularly published an ideological mixture of op-ed columnists, some of them left-leaning (including E. J. Dionne, Dana Milbank, Greg Sargent, and Eugene Robinson), and many on the right (including George Will, Marc Thiessen, Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer).
In a study published on April 18, 2007, by Yale professors Alan Gerber, Dean Karlan, and Daniel Bergan, citizens were given a subscription to either the conservative-leaning Washington Times or the liberal-leaning Washington Post to see the effect that media has on voting patterns. Gerber had estimated based on his work that the Post slanted as much to the left as the Times did to the right. Gerber found those who were given a free subscription of the Post were 7.9–11.4% more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for governor than those assigned to the control group, depending on the adjustment for the date on which individual participants were surveyed and the survey interviewer; surprisingly, however, people who received the Times were also more likely than controls to vote for the Democrat, with an effect approximately 60% as large as that estimated for the Post. The study authors noted that sampling error might have played a role in the effect of the conservative-leaning Times, as might the fact that the Democratic candidate took more conservative-leaning positions than is typical for his party, and that "the month prior to the post-election survey was a difficult period for President Bush, one in which his overall approval rating fell by approximately 4 percentage points nationwide. It appears that heightened exposure to both papers’ news coverage, despite opposing ideological slants, moved public opinion away from Republicans."
In November 2007, the newspaper was criticized by independent journalist Robert Parry for reporting on anti-Obama chain e-mails without sufficiently emphasizing to its readers the false nature of the anonymous claims. In 2009, Parry criticized the newspaper for its allegedly unfair reporting on liberal politicians, including Vice President Al Gore and President Barack Obama.
Responding to criticism of the newspaper's coverage during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, former Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote: "The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama." According to a 2009 Oxford University Press book by Richard Davis on the impact of blogs on American politics, liberal bloggers link to The Washington Post and The New York Times more often than other major newspapers; however, conservative bloggers also link predominantly to liberal newspapers.
In mid-September 2016, Matthew Ingram of Forbes joined Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept, and Trevor Trimm of The Guardian in cricitizing The Washington Post for "demanding that [former National Security Agency contractor Edward] Snowden ... stand trial on espionage charges".
In December 2016, The Post published a story inaccurately stating that a Russian hacking operation had infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid; the claim was retracted in a revised version of the story, after the initial version had been widely circulated.
In February 2017, amid a barrage of criticism from President Donald Trump over the paper's coverage of his campaign and early presidency as well as concerns among the American press about Trump's criticism and threats against journalists who provide coverage he deems unfavorable, the Post adopted the slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness".
Katharine Graham wrote in her autobiography Personal History that the newspaper long had a policy of not making endorsements for political candidates. However, since at least 2000, the newspaper has occasionally endorsed Republican politicians, such as Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. In 2006, it repeated its historic endorsements of every Republican incumbent for Congress in Northern Virginia. There have also been times when the Post has specifically chosen not to endorse any candidate, such as in the 1988 presidential election when it refused to endorse then-Governor Michael Dukakis or then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. On October 17, 2008, the Post endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States. On October 25, 2012, the newspaper endorsed the re-election of Barack Obama. On October 21, 2014, the newspaper endorsed 44 Democratic candidates versus 3 Republican candidates for the 2014 elections in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. On October 13, 2016, it endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential election of that year.
The Post's early endorsements in the 1978 elections for Maryland Governor (reformist Harry Hughes) and for D.C. Mayor (a young Marion Barry) allowed those candidates to tout their endorsements, thereby distinguishing them from an otherwise crowded field of big name candidates.
Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Post, is Amazon's chief executive and biggest shareholder. Amazon has secured a 600 million dollar contract with the CIA, which poses a potential conflict. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said, "It's a serious potential conflict of interest for a major newspaper like The Washington Post to have a contractual relationship with the government and the most secret part of the government."
In Buying the War on PBS, Bill Moyers noted 27 editorials supporting George W. Bush's ambitions to invade Iraq. National security correspondent Walter Pincus reported that he had been ordered to cease his reports that were critical of Republican administrations. According to author and journalist Greg Mitchell, "By the Post's own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war, while contrary information 'got lost', as one Post staffer told Kurtz."
In November 2016, the Post published a story that relied heavily on a report by PropOrNot, an anonymous internet group that seeks to expose what it calls Russian propaganda. PropOrNot published a list of websites they called "bona-fide 'useful idiots'" of the Russian government. Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper's, was sharply critical of Post's decision to put the story on its front page, calling the article a "sorry piece of trash". Writers in The Intercept, Fortune, and Rolling Stone also criticized Post for including a report by an organization with no reputation for fact-checking in an article on "fake news". Looking more carefully into their methodology, Adrian Chen, staff writer for The New Yorker, argued that PropOrNot's criteria for establishing propaganda were so broad that they could have included "not only Russian state-controlled media organizations, such as Russia Today, but nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself" on their list.
In 2017, the Washington Post was the target of two attempts to discredit the newspaper in relation to that year's US Senate special election in Alabama, one involving a robocall from a fake journalist calling himself "Bernie Bernstein" and the other involving a woman working with "Project Veritas" to discredit journalists.
Executive officers and editors (past and present)
Owners/ Major Stockholders
- Stilson Hutchins (1877 - 1889)
- Frank Hatton and Beriah Wilkin (1889 - 1905)
- McLean Family
- John R. McLean (1905 - 1916)
- Edward McLean (1916 - 1933)
- Eugene Meyer (1933 - 1948)
- Graham Family (1948 - 2013)
- Nash Holdings (2013 - Present)
- Philip L. Graham (1946 - 1961)
- Katharine Graham (1963 - 1979)
- Donald E. Graham (1979 - 2000)
- Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. (2000 - 2008)
- Katharine Weymouth (2008 - 2014)
- Frederick J. Ryan Jr. (2014 - Present)
- James Russell Wiggins (1955 - 1968)
- Ben Bradlee (1968–1991)
- Leonard Downie Jr. (1991 - 2008)
- Marcus Brauchli (2008–2012)
- Martin Baron (2012–present)