This is my last day as a Washington Post employee. I had no idea when I arrived 16 years ago just how and when it would end. But thanks to Fred, who kept his word, I was able to leave the same way I came in…quietly. The years in between have been too precious for words; I would have paid to do what I did. I thank Meg Greenfield and Don Graham for giving me the chance to join the page, and you-my colleagues-for making this one of the best periods of this 67 year old life.
There are no words of wisdom to leave in my wake. I hope, however, that you recognize the tremendous privilege you have been given to serve in the Post’s editorial department. You are part of an enterprise and tradition that are larger than any single individual-a history that is as much a part of of this city as that stretch of real estate from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol. This may sound corny, but please conduct yourselves as though you recognize the honor that has been given to you.
A Post editorial stands for something, even when the desired action does not occur. A Post editorial is an expression of the considered opinion and collective wisdom and values of the best minds in the business. It is not the special province of any writer, no matter how prolific or dogmatic he/she may be in his/her views. Allow a Post editorial become the vehicle for the expression of one person’s point of view-or a minority of the board’s point of view-and the editorial loses its value, even though it might be selected to lead the page. I offer this thought because Fred has assembled a first rate staff-good minds that produce great work when they all contribute to an editorial, even though there may be one writer. Editorials simply must not be used to advance one individual’s causes or views. That’s what columns are for.
This means that members of the board must have the courage of their convictions-that the place to put views on the table is not in the corridor, rest room or across the dinner table at home- or in whispered conversations with friends and newsroom colleagues- but in the conference room where what is discussed there, stays there…or at least that’s the way in which I was brought up by Meg. The period ahead offers serious challenges: the war; presidential politics; direction of domestic and foreign policy, a new Congress and a new city administration. If ever the Post’s editorial page will be examined closely by readers across the city, country and world, it will be now.
The board, in my final view, needs to think through its position on Iraq, encouraging a full expression of views. Likewise, there must be a serious examination of race—how we editorialize about Prince Georges leaders vs. Northern Virginians-the language, the selection of words we use when talking about black vs. white leaders in the region.
The page must also take care to avoid resorting to sophomoric language when addressing serious matters. There is a tone that a Post editorial must maintain to preserve its unique standing in journalism.
Well enough of that. Sorry, it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. But that’s what happens when the door’s about to slam shut.