Recently, The Washington Post’s Colbert King wrote the column, “Do they deserve to be on the DC Council?” I immediately took exception with this utterly ridiculous characterization, because the writer and his paper are directly responsible for creating this culture of corruption that currently exists at City Hall.
Of course the writer makes some valid points about why incumbents frequently win reelection. But, what he fails to do is look in the mirror. King is one of the most respected members of the local media and is also held in high esteem in the Black community, but he failed both by publishing a column that absolves The Post of any responsibility in this current climate of pay-to-play politics.
In the summer of 2009, when I made the decision to run for mayor of the District of Columbia, I knew I had two things going against me – the lack of name recognition and money. But I also knew I had one thing that neither the incumbent or any other career politician had – a platform that would positively impact every community in the District. So our strategy was very simple: announce a year out and stay alive until we got to the mayoral debates by touching as many people as possible through coffee chats, meet and greets and neighborhood canvassing. Our media strategy was to win the debates and then our campaign and platform would garner free media coverage. We got some from Fox 5, Mark Seagraves Channel 50, Bruce Johnson Channel 9, Deborah Simmons at The Washington Times, City Paper, Jonetta Rose Barras’ radio show, Kojo’s radio show and the AFRO, but only one mention in The Post from the Palisades/Foxhall mayoral debate held on June 3, 2010. That one article was important because the writer, Tim Craig, said that “Leo Alexander was the surprise of the evening”…so much so that the concern among the attendees was which campaign would my candidacy impact the most – Fenty or Gray. After that article however it was a literal blackout from The Post—no follow ups; no nothing.
Here’s why that history is important. A couple months after Tim Craig wrote that article, he called our campaign office angered by the use of the word “mulatto” by one of our volunteers. Before I could take him off the speaker phone, he stated that the reason why The Post wasn’t covering my campaign was because, “…you don’t have any money.” I said, “I didn’t have any money in June when you covered the Palisades mayoral debate either, but that didn’t stop you from mentioning me.” To which he replied, “…it’s not the Post’s responsibility to help candidates raise money.” And I agreed, but I countered with, “…it’s the Post’s responsibility to cover everyone in the debates not just Fenty and Gray…because that’s steering an election.” At that point Craig had heard enough and hung up.
Even with its shrinking readership and revenues, The Washington Post still remains the 800-pound gorilla in this media market. Local TV and radio news stations plan their daily coverage by what is in the Metro section of The Post. So if a candidate doesn’t get coverage, they don’t exist. And if you don’t exist, you cannot raise enough money to compete.
This is why I was so thoroughly disgusted with Colbert King’s column. Post reporters are told to cover candidates only with money regardless of where that special interest dough came from, i.e., developers, unions or the business community. Once these candidates get into office, there’s rarely any investigative follow-up on how these contributions affect legislation and/or contracting opportunities. Instead, what is covered is all the obvious acts of petty materialism, waste and corruption like multiple Navigators, allegations of campaign finance fraud, and hiring scandals. This happens because this paper places more weight on money versus ideas. Money has corrupted the entire process and The Post promotes and then feeds off this culture of corruption. That’s why D.C. continues to get the best politicians money can buy and then The Post hides their money-grubbing hands and acts as if they weren’t complicit in steering voters to make poor decisions to cast their ballot for these common hustlers in the first place.
Here is a suggestion: the next time there is a local political race all of the debates should be broadcast live by District-owned Channel 16. This way, local media cannot control the message and steer future elections by picking candidates that best fit their agenda. I support a free press that fosters an open democracy where all candidates can be heard. This allows all of the voters to decide who has the best ideas and vision for the people of the District of Columbia – not just those who can afford to buy candidates.
Leo Alexander is a former television news anchor and 2010 mayoral candidate in Washington, D.C.