In Washington, funerals aren’t merely the place to mourn. They’re also a ripe setting for gossip, politicking, business card exchanges, and more—a mosaic of only-in-D.C. behavior that Mark Leibovich depicted brilliantly in the opening chapter of This Town, where he portrayed how Tim Russert’s state-like funeral devolved into a networking happy hour between legislators, top journalists, network executives and “power mourners.” That was 2008. Last week, the town’s swells showed up in droves for the funeral of uber-pundit Mark Shields.
Attendees included the Times managing editor Carolyn Ryan, journalists Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff, the pundit Mara Liasson, the policy analyst Susan Dentzer and the lobbyist Fred Graefe, who mysteriously made it into the “spotted” section of my old haunt, Playbook. Notably, a main topic of conversation was the gaping hole at the top of the Washington Post editorial page, which has been vacant since its legendary editor Fred Hiatt tragically passed away in December at age 66, opening up the position for the third time since Watergate.
Washington Post C.E.O. Fred Ryan’s seven-month search has been anxiety-inducing for the Post, which is still recovering from the Taylor Lorenz kerfuffle and Felicia Sonmez’s rocky departure. Some worry that Ryan, a former Reagan chief of staff and chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, will favor a more center-right candidate. There is also added curiosity about how this might reflect the personal politics of owner Jeff Bezos, whom my Puck partner Dylan Byers noted was very involved in selecting Sally Buzbee to succeed Marty Baron. During conversations with executive editor candidates, Bezos reflected on his distaste for cancel culture. Now, he’ll arguably have the first chance to truly apply the imprimatur of his ownership, indicating his politics beyond his occasional taunting tweets at the White House. After all, an executive editor is entrusted with fair news coverage; an editorial page editor is assigned with ascribing a world view. It’s one reason that figures like Paul Gigot at The Journal and Andy Rosenthal, not to mention Hiatt, took on outsized importance in the news business. At this point in the process, Ryan has been asking candidates for memos, and is nearing a final decision that will be announced soon, in consultation with Bezos.