No surprise, then, that McClatchy’s top editorial brass — even as they voice their short-term satisfaction — seem to be hoping for better things to come. When I asked David Westphal, McClatchy’s Washington editor, about the reaction the series has elicited, his immediate response was positive: “I feel really good about it.” But then he added this: “We always thought that it would have kind of a long tail, or we hoped so. Our assumption was that we were putting something out there that has a long life.”
For his part, Gutman was slightly less sanguine. “We haven’t had any impact yet, to be quite honest,” he said. “The real question is, how does this get translated into action? You have to think of the political side, first and foremost. . . . Sometimes, with stories you’d think would have people out marching in the streets, nothing happens. And sometimes nothing happens until six months later.”
It’s still possible that “Guantánamo: Beyond the Law” will end up driving the debate over detainee policy during the presidential stretch drive. But maybe, for a few different reasons — including the reluctance of most news organizations to chase competitors’ scoops, and a broader reluctance to seriously grapple with the worst that’s done in the name of “homeland security” — neither the series nor the subject will ultimately get the attention they deserve.
Another question worth pondering: could “Guantánamo: Beyond the Law” end up being, if not McClatchy’s last hurrah, then something close to it? Since absorbing Knight Ridder, McClatchy has earned praise from Michael Massing (writing in the New York Review of Books) for its unique reporting from inside Iraq. It’s also done a fine job covering the high-stakes military minuet between the United States and Iran. But McClatchy, like most news organizations, is cutting back of late. On Monday, June 16, McClatchy announced plans for 1400 new job cuts, which would shrink its nationwide operation by 10 percent. And the Washington bureau won’t be unscathed. Westphal, McClatchy’s Washington editor, will be leaving that post to move to California with his wife, Geneva Overholser, who was recently named director of the journalism school at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. He won’t be replaced. Neither will David Whitney, an outgoing correspondent who covers Washington for the Sacramento Bee and San Luis Obispo Tribune. Matt Stearns, an outgoing general-assignment national correspondent, might or might not be. After these and other departures, McClatchy’s DC shop, like the company as a whole, will be about 10 percent smaller than it was a year ago.
But Walcott, who’ll run the Washington operation after Westphal’s departure, insists that these cutbacks won’t be crippling. “We will continue to do, and can continue to do, this kind of reporting — the kind of reporting that we did on the US attorneys story, and the Iraq war, and on US relations with Iran,” he told the Phoenix. “Some of these cuts may make it harder, and it may take a little longer. We may have to be selective about how much we do. But we’re going to continue to do this kind of work.”