Attack Dog Jennifer Rubin Muddies the Washington Post's Reputation

The Post's third (and so far final) attempt to "address" conservative "concerns" in a way that might be more "properly attuned to their ideology" came with the hiring of Jennifer Rubin. Like Domenech, Rubin was hired as an ideologue, not a journalist. A former Hollywood lawyer without a single article to her credit before 2007, she had worked briefly as an editor for the right-wing Pajamas Media and as a blogger for Commentary, where she developed a specialty in venomous attacks on liberal American Jews who deviated from the magazine's hard-line pro-Likud policies. At the time of Rubin's hiring by the Post, her op-ed page editor, Fred Hiatt, admitted that he "did not read her regularly." Perhaps he should have. At Commentary, Rubin's fulminations were frequently at odds not only with any conceivable journalistic justification but also with simple common sense. For instance, she published a 3,800-word article investigating the reason American Jews supposedly "hate" Sarah Palin, in which she managed to quote exactly one American Jew (Naomi Wolf). In so doing, she ignored an avalanche of polling data demonstrating that American Jews did not "hate" Palin any more or less than most Americans — especially liberals. "In a strikingly unified response from liberals as well as conservatives," an Atlantic writer noted of the article, "most commentators are trashing the piece as illogical, poorly-argued, and anti-Semitic." In addition to her animus toward dovish and liberal American Jews — which, by the way, is most of them — Rubin displayed an obsessive antipathy toward President Obama. Indulging the most paranoid ravings of right-wing jingoists, for instance, she insisted the president's "sympathies for the Muslim World takes precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens." She accused him of being "the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever)," and insisted that supporters of Israel "must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency." Even more egregiously, Rubin quoted, in apparent approval, an elderly Jewish woman in Florida who professed to see "parallels" between Nazi Germany under Hitler and the United States of America under Barack Obama.

Rubin's work first came to widespread public attention in July 2011, when, immediately after two related terrorist attacks in Norway that resulted in nearly eighty fatalities, she wrote, "There is a specific jihadist connection here." Rubin insisted that the bombing and shooting rampage proved "a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists," and then used the balance of her post to attack Senator Saxby Chambliss, who "would have us believe that enormous defense cuts would not affect our national security," as well as President Obama, who "would have us believe that al-Qaeda is almost caput and that we can wrap up things in Afghanistan." She followed up that post with a tweet: "Norway bombing and why we shouldn't slash defense — IT IS A DANGEROUS WORLD."

The murderer, of course, had no "jihadist connection" whatsoever but turned out to be a blond, blue-eyed, pro-Zionist Norwegian right-winger, Anders Behring Breivik.

When Rubin returned to her blog, she exacerbated her problem by doubling down on her faulty logic and foolish clichés: "That the suspect here is a blond Norwegian does not support the proposition that we can rest easy with regard to the panoply of threats we face or that homeland security, intelligence and traditional military can be pruned back." As before, just who was putting forth such a "proposition" went unnamed. "To the contrary," she continued, "the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things."

Finding the paper in the midst of yet another contretemps over its conservative blogger, Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton weighed in, acknowledging Rubin's mistake but largely excusing the weakness of her column and her tardiness in correcting it by citing "several factors," particularly her "faith":

What compounded Rubin's error is that she let her 5 p.m. Friday post remain uncorrected for more than 24 hours. She wrote four other unrelated blog posts that night, through about 9 p.m. Police officials in Norway at 8:33 p.m. Washington time had made their first statement that the suspect had no connection to international terrorism or Muslims. Rubin should have rechecked the facts before signing off, and Post editors should have thought about editing her post more that night.

But Rubin has a good defense. She is Jewish. She generally observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; she doesn't blog, doesn't tweet, doesn't respond to reader e-mails.

When she went online at 8 p.m. Saturday, her mea culpa post on Norway was the first thing she posted….

The Sabbath defense would be interesting if it held up, but as I noted in a column for the Center for American Progress, it doesn't. Wired blogger Spencer Ackerman, who had speculated similarly, managed to correct his blog entry at 7:45 pm, forty-five minutes before the Norwegian authorities' announcement. He wrote that his mistake "should teach all of us in the media — this blog included — a lesson about immediately jumping to ‘jihadi!' conclusions." What's more, sunset (the moment the Jewish Sabbath begins) occurred that evening at 8:20 pm in Washington, DC — thirty-five minutes after Ackerman managed to correct his own mistake, and well before Rubin posted the final of her four items that evening.

Pexton went on to note in Rubin's defense that "liberals and conservatives don't talk to each other much anymore; they exist in parallel online universes, only crossing over to grab some explosive anti-matter from the other side to stoke the rage in their own blogosphere" — an odd complaint for a newspaper that purposely segregates its pundits into "left-leaning" and "right-leaning" camps. So "if your politics are liberal and you don't generally read Rubin, but you read her Norway posts, you probably would be pretty offended. But if you are a conservative, or someone who reads Rubin regularly, you'll know that this is what she does and who she is."

This was yet another amazing admission on the part of the Post. For what Pexton was saying is that Rubin's regular readers — i.e., conservatives — should not be expected to value journalistic accuracy, because this is not "what she does and who she is." And here the Post was more than happy to oblige.

A second Rubin-related crisis occurred not long after, in October 2011, on the release of Israeli kidnap victim Gilad Shalit by his Hamas captors. Rubin, who as a Post employee had traveled to Israel at the expense of the anti-Obama Emergency Committee for Israel, chose to retweet a message from one of its co-founders, Rachel Abrams (wife of Elliott Abrams, stepdaughter of Norman Podhoretz and sister of John Podhoretz). It read: "gilad is free and home. now round up his death-worshiping captors and turn them into food for sharks," and linked to a blog post that elaborated on the point:

Then round up his captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women — those who aren't strapping bombs to their own devils' spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others — and their offspring — those who haven't already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god — as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they're traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.

Shocking as the hatred, violence, racism and malevolence contained in the Abrams/Rubin tweet was, such sentiments were not entirely new to Rubin's readers. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Ali Gharib noted that Rubin had "at least four times…quoted, linked to, and endorsed Rachel Abrams's notion that Jews in America have a ‘sick addiction' (in Rubin and Abrams's words) to the Democratic Party." Pexton got off the bus here and cited the Post's digital guidelines for social media, which note that Post bloggers "reflect upon the reputation and credibility of The Washington Post's newsroom," and hence "must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence." But by embracing what Pexton termed "the Abrams brand of incendiary rhetoric," which "pollutes our discourse and erodes the soil on which reasonable solutions and compromises can be built," the Post ombudsman concluded that Rubin's actions constituted "a huge disappointment."

Tags: eric alterman, jennifer rubin, washington post

    • Eric Alterman
    • Eric Alterman is an award-winning writer and professor. He writes a regular column for The Nation magazine and is a senior fellow at American Progress in Washington, D.C., where he writes and edits the “Think Again” column. Alterman is the author of eight books, including the bestselling What Liberal Media? The Truth...

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