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Ex-WaPo editor ‘marveled’ at how ‘democracy dies in darkness’ slogan and other moves irked Trump and fans

A former executive editor of The Washington Post recounted how infuriated former President Donald Trump and his supporters became over the outlet’s "democracy dies in darkness" slogan throughout his administration. 

In a piece for The Atlantic that was adapted from his upcoming book, "Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos, and The Washington Post," the outlet’s former executive editor Martin Baron recounted how the Post came up with the slogan and how it irked conservatives.

Baron, who was at the Post for eight years until 2021, began his piece with an illustration of animosity between Trump supporters and his outlet during Trump’s time in office.


The Washington Post logo

Former executive editor of The Washington Post, Martin Baron wrote an article in The Atlantic detailing the history of how the paper came up with its "Democracy Dies in Darkness" slogan. (Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"I should not have been surprised, but I still marveled at just how little it took to get under the skin of President Donald Trump and his allies," he began.

Baron recounted, "By February 2019, I had been the executive editor of The Washington Post for six years. That month, the newspaper aired a one-minute Super Bowl ad, with a voice-over by Tom Hanks, championing the role of a free press, commemorating journalists killed and captured, and concluding with the Post’s logo and the message ‘Democracy dies in darkness.’"

He quoted a few of Hanks’ lines from the ad – ‘There’s someone to gather the facts. To bring you the story. No matter the cost. Because knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free" – and noted Trump’s reaction, saying, "Even that simple, foundational idea of democracy was a step too far for the Trump clan."

Baron then talked about the creation of the slogan, which he noted was done at the behest of Washington Post owner, billionaire Jeff Bezos. Baron also clarified it wasn’t intended to be a rebuke of Trump, more so a commitment to the Post’s work of holding the government accountable. 

He wrote, "Two years earlier—a month into Trump’s presidency—the Post had affixed ‘Democracy dies in darkness’ under its nameplate on the printed newspaper, as well as at the top of its website and on everything it produced."

He added, "As the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, envisioned it, this was not a slogan but a ‘mission statement.’ And it was not about Trump, although his allies took it to be."

Baron noted that coming up with the "mission statement" "had been in the works for two years before Trump took office."

After the outlets held meetings and brainstorming sessions to narrow down suitable taglines from a long list, Baron wrote that Bezos took "unilateral action," and decided on "democracy dies in darkness."


Donald Trump

Baron's recent story in The Atantic detailed how President Donald Trump saw Washington Post as his top media enemy. ( SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images))

Baron stated, "’Democracy dies in darkness’ made its debut, without announcement, in mid-February 2017. And I’ve never seen a slogan—I mean, mission statement—get such a reaction."

The former executive editor recalled how "Bezos couldn’t have been more thrilled. The mission statement was getting noticed." He added, "But the phrase stuck with readers, who saw it as perfect for the Trump era, even if that was not its intent."

Baron’s piece continued with an account of Bezos, Post staffers, and himself, having dinner with Trump shortly after his inauguration.

According to Baron’s account, the former president did little to hide his disdain for the paper. He recalled, "As we dined on cheese soufflé, pan-roasted Dover sole, and chocolate-cream tart… [Trump] described The Washington Post as the worst of all media outlets, with The New York Times just behind us in his ranking in that moment."

The former Post man added, "Trump, his family, and his team had put the Post on their enemies list, and nothing was going to change anyone’s mind. We had been neither servile nor sycophantic toward Trump, and we weren’t going to be. Our job was to report aggressively on the president and to hold his administration, like all others, to account."

The rest of Baron’s article described Bezos as a boss, calling him a "a far more complex, thoughtful, and agreeable character than routinely portrayed." The piece also grilled Trump further, calling his administration the "leakiest in memory."

The career journalist added, "Trump had assembled his government haphazardly, enlisting many individuals who had no relevant experience and no history of previously collaborating with one another—'kind of a crowd of misfit toys,’ as Josh Dawsey, a White House reporter for the Post, put it to me."

The Washington Post did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.


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Gabriel Hays is an associate editor for Fox News Digital.