Last Friday the Washington Post quietly unveiled its new motto on Snapchat. Yesterday the new motto appeared in the paper’s online edition.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness” – that is, absent the shining light of the press.
“This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti told CNN’s Brian Stelter. The mandate may have come from the top: Post owner (and Amazon founder) Jeff Bezos had used the line in an April 2016 interview explaining why he bought the paper. (“I’ve always believed democracy dies in darkness. Certain institutions have an important role in making sure that there is light. And I think the Washington Post has an important seat to do just that because it is located here in the heart of Washington DC.”)
As mottos go, this one is, well, dark. A lot of people are squeamish about the word die, preferring mealy-mouthed euphemisms like passed away. Not me, though. I’m seeing a lot of bleakness in the news these days, and I’m OK with an up-front acknowledgment. Let’s call an abyss an abyss.
Granted, the Post’s alliteration is a bit forced and the spirit of the motto is a tad self-congratulatory. But what is a motto for if not to self-congratulate? “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” the New York Times’s long-standing motto, is hardly modest. I once worked for the number-two newspaper in a two-paper town (San Francisco); it called itself “The Monarch of the Dailies,” which provoked both secret pride and overt mockery in us ink-stained members of the Newspaper Guild. The number-one paper – now the last one standing – still calls itself “The Voice of the West,” a bit of overreaching that also suggests cowboys whooping it up.
The Post would have attracted criticism no matter what it chose as its motto. What did the critics, self appointed and otherwise, have to say about this one?