Even death isn’t a great equalizer at The Washington Post. Two of America’s most well-known economists died in 2006 – John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. But there the similarities ended.
Galbraith, who the Post called “a preeminent symbol and source of liberal political thought” was deemed worthy of three news stories totaling more than 4,000 words. Although the Post credited Friedman with “tireless advocacy of unfettered free markets” that “reshaped the nation’s economic policies,” that earned him just 1,169 words and one news story, despite a Nobel Prize.
In fact, Galbraith cropped up in the Friedman obit that devoted two paragraphs to criticism of Friedman’s attitudes. It even quoted Galbraith biographer Richard Parker, who blamed Friedman’s “passionate calls for financial and securities market deregulation” for having “no small role in ushering in the half-trillion dollar S&L fiasco of the 1980s and the deeply corrupt Wall Street stock market boom of the 1990s.”
Contrast that with Galbraith. The Post ran obits on him two days in a row – a short one of just 377 words in the April 30 edition. The May 1 issue made up for that short shrift and devoted another 2,044 words and included a hint to the Post’s devotion, as well. The obit, written by Bret Barnes, described Galbraith as “long overlooked for a Nobel Prize, he received from Clinton in 2000 the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. government’s highest civilian honor.” Both left out how left-wing Galbraith really was, as previously reported by the Business & Media Institute.
Then there was the Friedman obit by Patricia Sullivan and Carlos Lozada, who said this about his success: “awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Sciences in 1988. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1976.”
That comparison could leave readers wondering about the disparate coverage, unless they had read the worshipful piece on Galbraith in the May 8 Style section. The story, by John F. Harris, detailed how Galbraith and fellow “liberal intellectual” Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. lived as neighbors and friends for decades.
But not-so-hidden in the Style article was Galbraith’s connection to the top brass at the Post – first Phil Graham and then Katharine Graham. The piece quoted Schlesinger saying “We all grew up together.” He was “referring to the overlapping circles of accomplished friends in Cambridge and Washington that he and Galbraith had in common.” Those included columnist Joe Alsop, Kennedy aide and Harvard Dean McGeorge Bundy and, of course Phil Graham, “once the publisher of this paper.”
Later in the same story, it described how Schlesinger and Galbraith were at a meeting in New York when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. They were meeting with “Katharine Graham and the editors of Newsweek.”
While Friedman was discussed by columnists Steven Pearlstein and Robert J. Samuelson, the Post also had one, by Schlesinger, about his friend Galbraith.