Ms. Coratti said Mr. Baron was not “upset,” but he did “advise that we must be careful not to be viewed as a celebrator or advocate of recreational drug use.” So the dispute seems to be less about the journalistic principle than about whether you like groceries.
Even those who are frustrated by Mr. Baron’s strong-willed management style speak reverently of his obsessive commitment to reporting. Still, some of The Post’s challenges will likely be left to its successor. Mr. Baron has told his colleagues that he will be present until next year’s presidential inauguration, but perhaps not much more. “Marty will let us know long before he retires, and that notice has not been given,” said Coratti.
But what separates the current cultural conflicts within the newsrooms of previous generations is that they now unfold, in real time, in public on social networks. And they offer a window into an industry and a society struggling to find its moral basis around issues of racism.
That seemed like a painful conclusion to the recent Post article about a white woman who came as a black-faced Megyn Kelly to a Halloween party at a Washington Post cartoonist’s home in 2018. The woman lost her job when she told her employer about the next article, to which readers reacted with outrage and questions about its journalistic value.
“Was this story intended to be a parody of our culture?” Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa during the Obama administration and is now the president of the Open Society Foundations, asked on Twitter. “Did they really invest all of this research resource into this piece to embarrass this average person who has no discernible power?”
The handling of the story within The Post highlights some of the underlying tensions in the newspaper.
After a guest at the party who believed the woman to be a Post employee complained to the newspaper, the editors assigned him to two trusted veterans: Sydney Trent, a long-time former editor, and Marc Fisher, a reporter whom The Post also resorted when someone wrote about Mr. Bezos’ explicit text messages. Mr. Fisher, who is white, reportedly told people he had concerns about the value of the news from the costume party story, although he directed the reports and writing. Ms. Trent, who is black, felt it was worth doing, three Post reporters said.
White senior editors, including Mr. Baron and Mr. Barr, signed the story and sided with Mrs. Trent on some matters of tone. That played with old reflexes and new ones: They chose to approach a complex moment in the most traditional journalistic way, and relied on the judgment of a black journalist with a long history of writing and reporting on race. And while many Posties were silent about the story on social media, Ms. Trent kept it up and posted it on her Facebook page in a positive reception.
But black reporters, of course, are not monolithic, and many reporters from all backgrounds in The Post found the 3,000-word investigation baffling. A random person “dressing up as a famous lady with a black face at a party 2 years ago seems to be the least of our concerns right now,” Attiah tweeted.