Ronald Reagan's No. 1 superfan now runs the Washington Post

The Washington Post's new publisher is a former longtime Reagan aide. What an exciting(?) new era for the paper!

Published September 2, 2014 5:24PM (EDT)

Ronald Reagan            (AP/Ira Schwarz)
Ronald Reagan (AP/Ira Schwarz)

The Washington Post has been a much more ambitious beast since founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought the paper last year. Since it's been in private control, and no longer subject to public shareholder pressure, the paper has invested in hiring dozens and dozens of new staffers with all sorts of cutting-edge "online experience," writers who understand that the journalism of the future will involve getting lots of people to click on lots of stuff. No word yet on when/how this all becomes profitable. But that's for the suits to worry about.

And that suit, apparently, will no longer be Katharine Weymouth, who's leaving her role as publisher of the Washington Post. The exit by Weymouth, granddaughter of legendary Post publisher Katharine Graham, finally puts to rest longtime control of the paper by the Graham family. Into whose carefully chosen hands, now, shall control of the Post go? Which innovative digital prophet will lead the new Growth Era of the Washington Post?

Oh, just some old Reagan hand.

Well, we shouldn't say "some" old Reagan hand. Fred Ryan, who's just been named the Post's new publisher, is among the more Reagan-y people to ever walk the earth -- somewhat less Reagan-y than Ronald Reagan himself, but probably more Reagan-y than Nancy Reagan or other members of the Reagan family.

"Ryan’s background in Republican politics," the Post's own write-up of the leadership switch notes, "also is certain to raise questions about the direction of The Post’s editorial page, among the most influential in the nation." Make what you will of that "most influential in the nation" business. But as for the part about how it's certain to "raise questions about the direction of The Post's editorial age" -- well, yeah! This Fred Ryan cranks the Reaganmeter dangerously into the red. He started working for Reagan in 1982 as "Deputy Director of Presidential Appointments and Scheduling." After various promotions, he eventually rose to become a top aide to Reagan in the latter years of his administration. And then he followed Reagan out of office, serving as his post-presidential chief of staff from 1989 to 1995. Since then? ...Well, more Reagan stuff:

Mr. Ryan is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation and Chairman of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.  He is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of The White House Historical Association, and serves as a Trustee on the Board of several other nonprofit organizations including, Ford’s Theatre, The National Museum of American History, and the Board of Councilors of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Ryan is the editor of Ronald Reagan: The Wisdom and Humor of The Great Communicator, published by Harper Collins in 1995, and Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator, published by Harper Collins in 2001.  He was Executive Producer of the highly acclaimed video of the Reagan Presidency, entitled “The Reagan Years.”

One might say Ryan is "pro-Reagan," in other words. A lot of people, for whatever reason, are. But we're talking about the world's  No. 1 Reagan superfan, here. And now the Washington Post's editorial board answers to him. This is news. (In his previous non-Reagan work, Ryan served as CEO of Politico. He helped co-found the organization back in the "old days" of 2007, when it was known as THE POLITICO and survived on Drudge links.)

Ryan is promising "editorial independence" and blah blah blah, like all right-wing publishers do when they take over a media property. And that may or may not turn out to be a lie. Assuming he were to press his own views on the editorial board, though, just how much difference would that make? Very little on the foreign policy side. The post's editorial board is already run by editor Fred Hiatt and his deputy, Jackson Diehl, who run a comically hawkish all-war-all-the-time shop. On domestic policy, the Post is vaguely center-left -- generally supportive of government programs' ability to effect change, but also priggishly concerned about bad manners.

Reagan stuff aside, what a lame, classically Washington choice this is from Jeff Bezos: some Reaganite lawyer. Just when it looked like the Post was finally pulling its head out of its ass, it's pulled right back in.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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