The Washington Free Beacon describes itself as "a nonprofit online newspaper." Published by the Center for American Freedom (CAF), a right-wing advocacy group chaired by media pundit and political strategist Michael Goldfarb, the Beacon has close ties to the neoconservative flagship journal the Weekly Standard. The Standard's contributing editor Matthew Continetti serves as the Beacon's editor and chief, while Standard editor Bill Kristol sits on CAF's board.
Confrontational and often sensationalistic, the site is intended to serve as a conservative answer to Think Progress, a liberal-leaning blog published by the Center for American Progress. "Our models are the Center for American Progress/Think Progress, [Talking Points Memo], and Huffington Post politics," Continetti told Politico in early 2012. "These outlets have been at the cutting edge of ideological journalism for years, and it is time for the right to emulate their success." Added Goldfarb: "It's very impressive what they've done. Obviously, I think they're misguided and they have some horrible policy views and they've done some things I wouldn't do, but the premise of it is extremely impressive."
Describing the Beacon's work as "combat journalism," Continetti proclaimed, "At the Beacon, all friends of freedom will find an alternative to the hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole, and insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags on MSNBC and talk radio. At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them." Despite what he apparently regarded as the novelty of an online conservative publication, Continetti filled the early Beacon staff with a plethora of experienced writers from rightist publications like the Daily Caller, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the National Review Online, among others.
The Beacon's reporting has lived up to its combative mission. In late 2012 and early 2013, for example, the outlet ran a series of stories dedicated to bolstering the neoconservative-driven claim that then-Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel held anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic views, a campaign that was widely panned outside right-wing media. The Beacon's coverage of the Hagel nomination prompted Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo to lambast the publication as "a tabloid-style 'news' site specializing in smear jobs against neocon hate-objects." Raimondo added, "Half Breitbart.com, half college humor magazine, the Free Beacon is a down-market version of the Weekly Standard."
The Beacon also joined in on the conservative mythmaking over the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya. The publication was the source of a rumor that the State Department had banned U.S. Marines at the Cairo embassy from carrying live ammunition. Although the Marine Corps immediately discredited the claim, it nonetheless circulated widely in conservative media.
The publication has stoked controversy by passing off sensationalistic "jokes" as journalism. In February 2013, the site ran a story under the headline "Hughes Drops Jews" that suggested that the president of theNew Republic magazine was "signal[ing] the publication's continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint" by dropping "at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead." Critics pointed out that the publication's editor was Jewish and that half of the writers dropped were not. Goldfarb told the New York Times that story was meant to be a joke. "We're true believers, but we're also troublemakers," he said, "We get up every day and say, how do we cause trouble?"
A Daily Beast blogger called Goldfarb's remark "a stunning admission." Recalling the Beacon's repeated insinuations that Chuck Hagel held anti-Semitic views, the blogger mused: "Goldfarb concedes here that his group's accusations of anti-Semitism are just for laughs." Quipping that Goldfarb "represents Bill Kristol's worst instincts," the Daily Beast writer concluded, "This is what neoconservatism has become; even a critic can lament."
The Beacon has also shown a propensity for launching personal attacks against its critics. In July 2012, for example, Nation journalist Lee Fang reported that the Free Beacon had published pieces advocating an increase in U.S. F-16 sales to Taiwan, a position also advocated by Orion Strategies—a lobbying firm that counts the Taiwanese government among its clients and for which Michael Goldfarb has served as vice president. The Beacon responded by publishing personal photographs of Fang allegedly stolen from a private photo account, prompting Lee to file a lawsuit against the publication.
Commenting on the Beacon's sensationalistic and often lowbrow journalism, Think Progress editor Judd Legum rejected any comparison between his own publication and the Washington Free Beacon. "They are not an imitation of ThinkProgress," he told the New York Times. "They are a parody."