The Washington Post, June 1972: Two dogged reporters patiently dig into the details of a strange burglary at Democratic Party headquarters, diligently assemble facts, cultivate sources and put together a package of revelations that will lead to the first presidential resignation in history.
The Washington Post, exactly half a century later: Two Mean Girl basket cases spend an entire weekend crazily lurching around spitting inane accusations at their colleagues for microaggressing them. The more people laugh, the louder they cry, “I’m being endangered!”
How institutions change. The 145-year-old paper was once personified by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “Woodstein.” This weekend the WaPo’s reputation was effectively redefined by MezRenz: Felicia Sonmez and Taylor Lorenz, each of whom brought shame on the paper over nothing.
The proximate cause of this spastic overreaction was a joke, retweeted by WaPo reporter Dave Weigel, that suggested all women are either bisexual or bipolar. This kind of “Bitches be craaaaazy!” joke died out in the ’80s, and Weigel shouldn’t have retweeted it, but Sonmez clearly was trying to get Weigel fired or severely punished when she re-tweeted Weigel’s retweet with a sarcastic note that it was “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” Weigel was already being corrected internally, so there was no need to take this public on Twitter, and he shortly deleted and apologized. That should have been the end of it.
Meanwhile, many observers noted that it was a bit silly for Weigel to be forced to grovel for a dumb joke when another colleague, middle-aged TikTok reporter Taylor Lorenz, was so colossally bungling one of her trademark silly social-media attack pieces that the WaPo wound up attaching a series of (so far) three ever-lengthening corrections to try to clean up the mess. The story as originally published had falsely reported that Lorenz sought comment from two of the people she trashed.
When even the far-left media reporter Oliver Darcy of CNN gently pointed out that the level of journalism being practiced here was not great, Lorenz went berserk on Twitter and accused him of driving a “vicious harassment/smear campaign” against her.
Meanwhile, a fourth WaPo reporter, Jose Del Real, gently chided Sonmez for going after Weigel on Twitter. “Felicia,” he said, “we all mess up from time to time. Engaging in repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague is neither a good look nor is it particularly effective. It turns the language of inclusivity into clout chasing and bullying. I don’t think this is appropriate.”
Sonmez went Chernobyl in response, concluding a long string of hysterical tweets unloading on Del Real and crying about misogyny by tagging her bosses, as though what they really wanted to do on a Sunday night was intervene in a kindergarten Twitter spat. Del Real amusingly tried to out-whine her by noting, “As the only Mexican American reporter on national desk, I know the sting of discriminatory systems firsthand.” Later he clarified, “And for what it’s worth, I’m a gay Mexican American. You don’t need to educate me on being from a marginalized group.”
Who cares about reporters’ backgrounds, though? It’s reporters’ reporting that is supposed to matter. Besides, as left-wing pundit Glenn Greenwald drily noted, “For those scoring the various victimhood points at home, among the starring marginalized actors in the WPost oppression drama, 2 are graduates of Harvard University (Sonmez and Del Real) while the other was raised in Greenwich, CT, and educated in Swiss boarding schools (Lorenz).”
The Watergate anniversary is an inconvenient reminder of what the paper used to be. Just in the past couple of weeks, the paper’s Twitter account falsely claimed George Floyd was “shot and killed in police custody,” indicating that its social media is in the hands of dimwits who don’t know the basic details of one of the biggest stories of the decade, and the paper was forced to append an editor’s note to its infamous Amber Heard op-ed from four years ago that resulted in what must be the most famous successful defamation claim in American history.
Reach out to the other side, because the side you’re talking to could be wrong. If your mother says she loves you, check it out. You are not the story.
These used to be the basic rules of newspapering, back when people like Ben Bradlee ran outfits like the Washington Post. If Bradlee walked into the WaPo newsroom today, he’d ask why it’s full of narcissists, neurotics and crybullies.