Thirty Years Ago, I Broke With the WaPo. I Saw the DEI Cancer Even Then.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

In 1994, the Outlook section of the Washington Post ran a full page essay of mine in the Sunday paper. The piece was about saving the Howard Theater, one of the oldest historical black theaters in America. I described the history of the Howard, yet something odd happened to my copy when I got to the 1960s. I had referred to the "moral and cultural collapse" that had destroyed the Howard and surrounding neighborhood—the drugs, rioting, and leftist politics that had brought down that part of town. The night before the paper came out, I was called and told that the phrase "moral and cultural collapse" had been changed to "social upheaval."

To some people that might seem like a small change, but to me it signaled the end of my relationship with the Washington Post, which had been as a freelancer who at one point was getting published in the paper quite a lot. 

The Post has been in the news recently. It is losing millions of dollars and new editors have been brought in to try and fix things. “We are losing millions and no one is reading your stuff,” publisher and CEO Will Lewis told a stunned newsroom this week. The response in the newsroom was to complain about the lack of diversity.

Many readers will also be familiar with my recent history with the Post - how they tried to destroy me during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing in 2018. This piece is not about that - readers interested can read my book The Devil’s Triangle or tip my GoFundMe. This is about how I saw the oncoming rot at the Washington Post thirty years ago 

If you grew up in Washington in the 1960s through the 1980s as I did, the Washington Post was ubiquitous and highly respected. My father, whose office at National Geographic was just around the corner from the Post's offices, took me to see All the President’s Men when I was twelve. Richard Cohen, Meg Greenfield, Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee were household names. My brother, an actor, had his life changed by favorable reviews in the paper. There was no escaping it. We talked about what was in the Post with our friends: “Did you read what Tony Kornheiser said in Sports? Tom Shales' piece about The Gong Show— hilarious!" Sally Quinn on parties and the social life, lovely features about actors, politicians, and Georgetown night life. Colbert King on racial issues. 

In grade school we went on a field trip to the paper, and I remember the monkish solemnity we observed entering the environs of 15 and L. We were gliding down the same corridors trod by Woodward and Bernstein. Getting a call or visit from the Post was like an audience with the pope. In the mid 1980s, my brother won the Helen Hayes Award, given to the region's best actor. Sure, the award was great, and meeting celebrities at the after party was a blast - but the ultimate high was next day when Michael was on the front of the Style section in the Post. He had made it.

Then the holy gates opened for me. In 1989 I got a call from the Post. I was working at a record store and had written a letter complaining about an essay they had run about Generation X. They liked my response and two editors asked me out to lunch. I was 25, and being invited into the sanctum sanctorum of American journalism. I met with David Ignatius and Charles Paul Freund, editors of Outlook, the prestigious Sunday op/ed section of the paper. Ignatius and Freund invited me to write "about whatever you want." I was elated as I walked from the Post building to my dad's office at National Geographic for a congratulatory lunch.

It was around this time that David Ignatius announced that the Post should hire more "weirdos, misfits, outcasts", folks who had something interesting to say, who could add sparks to the paper. As someone who was into punk rock and outlaw literature and horror movies, I thought this was great. Of course, the advice from Ignatius went nowhere. I was told by one editor that the Post was an iceberg that moved in micro-millimeters. They could talk about change all they wanted, but the template was set.

I did wind up writing several pieces for the Post, most often the Outlook section, over the years. And as I grew more conservative, I became more and more aware of what the parameters were. Nothing pro–life, nothing Christian, nothing questioning the LGBT juggernaut- unless, of course, it was a conservative switchback, like when Laura Ingraham wrote about her love for her gay brother. Inevitably, I ran up against the liberal orthodoxy there. Ignatius wanted freaks and misfits and I was reading William F. Buckley and Christopher Lasch. At the Post that was pure heterodoxy. Ignatius wanted an outcast. They had one in me.

At one point I I was writing record reviews for the Style section, and had the nerve to criticize some of the other coverage. Simply because he was a fan of jazz singer Diana Krall, Book World writer Michael Dirda got to review her album. It was obvious Dirda knew nothing about jazz. Other rock and roll writers were often illiterate, which, I argued, was bad for the Post.I also had become a serious Catholic, which was a problem. it is simply out of the question that any religion or discussion of faith should creep into your writing, no matter how subtly. One album I reviewed reminded me of Easter, I wrote in one piece. Rejected. When it bounced back, I simply removed the Easter reference and sent it to a different editor. It was published two days later.

Then came the piece on the Howard Theater. In Outlook, the venerable Sunday opinion section, I used the phrase “moral collapse” instead of “social upheaval” to describe what has happened in the inner city. So instead of arguing the point with me, they simply changed my copy. 

Friends, family, everybody told me to swallow it and say nothing; this was the Washington Post, after all. Watergate. Sally Quinn. Outlook. Style. 

To leave was to, as Whittaker Chambers once phrased it, to pick the losing side against the spreading ice cap of communism. 

Now they are losing millions and “nobody reads your stuff.” It might have been different had they listened to this misfit thirty years ago. 

Mark Judge is a journalist and filmmaker, and is a new contributor to our VIP program. His books include The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi, A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington’s Only World Series Championship. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Daily Caller. Mark also has a GoFundMe page as well as a GiveSendGo account, for those who don't like GoFundMe.

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