By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers.
The healing is slow at the Washington Times over harsh criticism from a new managing editor that the journalism and paper he inherited after joining from the Washington Post had faded. But Jeff Birnbaum, managing editor for digital media, tells us in an E-mail that he has had successes explaining his recent comments on C-SPAN and reported by Patrick Gavin's FishbowlDC site. "I made a mistake in talking about the past on C-SPAN. Afterward, I sat down with several people to explain that I had given a misimpression and, I'm glad to report and as you heard, everyone I spoke to was very gracious about it," E-mailed Birnbaum. He followed former Postie John Solomon, who became the executive editor at the Times in January. Their hirings came as owners of the conservative newspaper where I was White House correspondent from 1988-1998—signaled a shift in replacing retiring Editor Wes Pruden and his deputy Fran Coombs.
Well, this week, it appeared as though not everybody was soothed by Birnbaum's explanation. Some insiders say that they were insulted by these comments he made on C-SPAN: "The paper was allowed to, in effect, decline and lapse and its journalism faded and that was a terrible situation. It was a lost asset. There are nearly 200 reporters and editors at the Washington Times. For it to survive and thrive, what it needed was real journalistic standards to be applied."
And now Coombs has weighed in. In an E-mail to Birnbaum, he wrote: "I was troubled by your comments on C-SPAN late last month about the decline of The Washington Times and the paper's lack of 'real journalistic standards' before the arrival of you and John Solomon. That's exactly what I would expect an ex-Washington Post reporter to say. But as a top editor at The Washington Times for nearly 20 years before that, I must disagree. The men and women in that newsroom (most of whom you continue to count on today) consistently and purposely put out a newspaper that represented middle American values and taxpayer concerns, despite the criticism of the one-ideology-fits-all, self-designated 'mainstream' media. In recent years, whether we were first warning of a housing bubble about to burst, derailing Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination, or highlighting Dick Durbin's comparison of Guantanamo with Nazi concentration camps, the journalists at The Washington Times followed their own agenda and no one else's."
Coombs, who wouldn't elaborate, added in his E-mail: "I remain one of The Washington Times 's biggest fans and wish you and John all the best in an extremely difficult business environment. Let me suggest, however, that you build on the newspaper's proud accomplishments rather than belittle them, and let history be the judge of the work we did. I look forward to celebrating yours in 20 years."
Birnbaum wouldn't comment on the Coombs E-mail but did highly praise his staff in his E-mail to us. "I am very happy to report that I am thrilled to work with so many great reporters and editors here. Their excellent work has produced a more than tripling of Web traffic since May, a record traffic month in December and ever-improving, first-rate stories on our front page and elsewhere. The proof, as they say, is in the paper. And it's thriving."