The Magazine

The Customer is Always Wrong

Mar 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 26 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The recent decision of the Washington Post to abolish its ombudsman has inspired a variety of responses among the chattering classes. Some have been cynical, some have been furious, and some have been anguished​—​although, to be truthful, we took a certain pleasure in Post publisher Katharine Weymouth’s announcement, which was clothed in the kind of corporatespeak​—​“The world has changed, and we at the Post must change with it”​—​intended to disguise economic decline as social progress. We fall somewhere between cynicism and indifference.

Washington Post Building

No, here at The Scrapbook, we see all this as a natural evolution of the Internet era. Like most newspapers, the Washington Post has relentlessly shrunk in size and stature, and the shrinkage has taken its toll on what might be called the personality of the Post. Its writers and editors are disconcerted by the brave new world of journalism, even angry​—​as who wouldn’t be if their business were collapsing? But they have chosen to direct their anger at an unlikely, one might even say undeserving, target: the diminishing ranks of Post readers. 

The abolition of the ombudsman, and his/her weekly column on the editorial page, is a case in point: If you’re thoroughly annoyed with the people who purchase your product, really offended by them, what better way to retaliate than to kick their representative down the staircase? 

The Post, which was always famous for a certain sanctimoniousness of tone, has become a daily encyclopedia of snark, a gathering place for smirking columnists and reporters​—​Ezra Klein, Dana Milbank, Al Kamen, Richard Cohen, Eugene Robinson, Philip Kennicott, even the TV writer Lisa de Moraes​—​whose contempt for readers is nearly as great as their professional self-regard. 

We found evidence of this last week in a most unlikely location: the Post sports pages. Columnist Mike Wise was writing about a Washington Redskin of yesteryear named Dave Kopay, who acquired a brief notoriety in retirement when, 38 years ago, he became the first NFL player to reveal publicly that he is gay. Kopay has complained that his aspiration to coach in the NFL was thwarted by prejudice, which may or may not be true; but he played only a single season for the Redskins (1969-70), and that was long before anyone in Washington knew anything about his private life. 

Of course, all of this is natural fodder for a sports columnist, and Wise doesn’t fail us: He is livid about current players being questioned by teams about their sex lives​—​“stupid and criminal”​—​and adds, parenthetically, that during his Redskins tenure Kopay had “a sexual encounter” with a teammate named Jerry Smith, who subsequently died of AIDS.

Yes, Burgundy and Gold faithful, two of [Vince] Lombardi’s grittiest, durable players in his one season in Washington had a dalliance. Get over it.

To which The Scrapbook could only respond, “I beg your pardon?” To our knowledge, no Redskins fan or Post reader has ever publicly expressed any view on the “dalliance” of Jerry Smith and Dave Kopay, or given much extended thought to the two, or lamented that they played together during Vince Lombardi’s brief tenure as Redskins coach. 

No, the presumption of prejudice, discernment of rage, the insult to character is entirely a product of the mind of the Post columnist, whose fury, sarcasm (“Burgundy and Gold faithful”), and contempt (“get over it”) are directed, typically but inexplicably, toward the sports-minded citizens of the nation’s capital who buy his newspaper and read his column. 

For now.

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