Ms. Coratti said that Mr. Baron was not “upset” but did “advise that we should be careful not to be seen as celebrating or championing recreational use of drugs.” So the dispute seems to be less about journalistic principle than about whether you like edibles.
Even those who are frustrated by Mr. Baron’s strong-willed style of management speak with reverence of his obsessive commitment to reporting. Still, some of The Post’s challenges will probably be left to his successor. Mr. Baron has told colleagues he will be around through next year’s presidential inauguration, but perhaps not much longer. “Marty will give us a great deal of notice before he retires, and that notice has not been given,” Ms. Coratti said.
But what separates today’s cultural conflicts inside newsrooms from previous generations’ is that they now play out, in real time, in public on social media. And they offer a window into an industry, and society, struggling to find its moral footing around issues of racism.
That seemed a painful takeaway from the recent Post article about a white woman who came as Megyn Kelly-in-blackface to a Halloween party at the home of a Washington Post cartoonist in 2018. The woman lost her job when she told her employer about the coming article, which readers reacted to with outrage and questions about its news value.
“Was this story intended to be a spoof of our culture?” Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa during the Obama administration and is now the president of the grant-making Open Society Foundations, asked on Twitter. “Did they really invest all this Investigatory resource on this piece to shame this average person who holds no discernible power?”
The story’s handling inside The Post underscores some of the paper’s underlying tensions.
After a guest at the party who believed the woman was a Post employee complained to the paper, editors assigned it to two trusted veterans: Sydney Trent, an experienced former editor, and Marc Fisher, a reporter whom The Post also turned to when someone had to write about Mr. Bezos’s explicit text messages. Mr. Fisher, who is white, reportedly told people he had doubts about the news value of the costume party story, though he led the reporting and writing. Ms. Trent, who is black, saw it as worth doing, three Post journalists said.
White senior editors, including Mr. Baron and Mr. Barr, signed off on the story and sided with Ms. Trent on some questions of tone. That played to old reflexes and new ones: They chose to address a complex moment with the most traditional reportorial form, and they trusted the judgment of a black reporter with a long history of writing and reporting about race. And while many Posties were conspicuously silent about the story on social media, Ms. Trent stood by it, and posted it to her Facebook page to a positive reception.
But black reporters are, of course, not monolithic, and many reporters of all backgrounds at The Post found the 3,000-word investigation puzzling. A random person “dressing like a famous lady in blackface at a party 2 years ago seems the least of our concerns right now,” Ms. Attiah tweeted.