Attack Dog Jennifer Rubin Muddies the Washington Post's Reputation

It was editorial-page editor Hiatt's opinion that mattered, though, and he stood by his woman. Asked by Gharib specifically about the "sick addiction" that Rubin attributed to American Jews, Hiatt replied, "As a general matter, I agree with you about the demonization of opponents by means of using terms of mental illness…. I haven't attempted to censor columnists who use such terminology, but I don't like it much."

These were some of Rubin's most high-profile journalistic transgressions, but they are hardly the only ones. Indeed, barely a day goes by without a Rubin post filled with nasty name-calling attacks on a group or individual she deems overly dovish on Israel. For instance, Rubin has constantly berated the "fraudulent…faux ‘human rights' groups that provide cover for de-legitimizers of the Jewish state," as well as that alleged "all-star…Israel-hater" Daniel Levy, former Israeli peace negotiator and adviser to Ehud Barak, and "the not-very-pro-peace, pro-Israel J Street," among many possible examples.

Rubin's obsession with Barack Obama hasn't mellowed much either. She still attacks him, Likud-style, as an "apt negotiator on behalf of the Palestinians and a thorn in Israel's side," who has "alienated Jewish voters" and "re-McGovernized the [Democratic] party, which now stands for appeasing despotic powers, turning on allies and slashing defense spending." (Rubin fails to mention that virtually every poll of Jewish voters has put Obama's level of support at well over 60 percent — his most loyal constituency after African-Americans.) And while the talk of Nazis and Obama's alleged love for Islam have been tamed a bit, Rubin's penchant for hate-filled fantasy has not. When, for instance, Obama used the phrase "thinly veiled social Darwinism" to describe Paul Ryan's budget, she claimed, "The supposedly erudite Obama labeled Ryan a race supremacist," adding, "Either the president is ignorant of the term he used or he's getting an early jump on playing the race card. In either event, it's uncalled for and repulsive." Nonsense. "Social Darwinism" is understood by all but Rubin to refer to an economic philosophy championed by Herbert Spencer, among others, that promotes the so-called survival of the fittest. Race is not entirely ignored in the most famous examination of the term, Richard Hofstadter's 1944 Social Darwinism in American Thought, but the historian's focus is on its class applications, which have traditionally been used to build support for laissez-faire economics of the kind Ryan espouses (minus his fondness for corporate welfare, of course).

No less transparent than Rubin's Obama hatred has been her slavish devotion to the political fortunes of Mitt Romney. Not surprisingly, her affection tends to take the form of abusive invective directed toward Romney's opponents. As several candidates challenging Romney saw their fortunes rise during the Republican primary season, each one also came in for highly personal attacks from Rubin. When Rick Perry appeared to be Romney's main rival, she lambasted him in eight posts in a single day, according to Politico, and wrote sixty columns overall adding up to 38,722 words — including "sleepy," "hostile," "dreadful," "provincial," "cloying" and "buffoon." When Newt Gingrich was the flavor of the month, Rubin termed him an "egomaniac" whose "hyperbolic rhetoric" would leave the GOP "(correctly) mocked." When Rick Santorum was barely registering as the (even more) conservative alternative to Romney — but one who proved a useful hammer with which to beat Gingrich — Rubin wrote post after post singing his praises, noting that "in comparison to his opponents, [Santorum] has come to be seen as a practical politician rather than an ideological zealot." Once Santorum appeared to be a threat to Romney, however, Rubin gave him the treatment previously meted out to Perry and Gingrich: the same fellow she had insisted was "no extremist" would likely be labeled a "‘wacko' and ‘zealot'" by most Americans once they got wind of his positions, she now argued.

It is true that the Washington Post has bigger problems than the serial inaccuracy and incivility of its right-wing blogger. Indeed, it may appear to some to be a frivolous concern at a time when the institution's survival may be at stake. But the question for the house that Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham built is not merely whether it will survive, but how. Will the paper's various troubles drag down its journalistic practices to the point where it can no longer be depended on to stand up to powerful interests — something that once made it such an important newspaper?

In his engaging portrait of Bradlee, Yours in Truth, Jeff Himmelman recounts an incident from 1969 in which two young Post reporters, Leonard Downie and Jim Hoagland, had worked for months on a story about racial discrimination in the Washington savings-and-loan industry. Titled "Mortgaging the Ghetto," it was scheduled to run over a ten-day period. Just before that happened, a group representing the industry went to Bradlee's office and told him that if the series ran, they would pull all their advertising from the paper — representing, even then, about $1 million in revenue. What did Bradlee tell Downie? "He puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, ‘Just get it right, kid,' and walked away."

The series ran. The advertising was pulled. And the Post went on to become the great newspaper that not only set a standard for accuracy and bravery in the profession, but helped to demonstrate the power (and beauty) of the First Amendment in American democracy. That the same institution that risked so much for so long simply to "get it right" now publishes — and defends — a writer who cares nothing for the truth, but rather dedicates herself to spewing childish insults at the president of the United States as well as the millions of people who reject her ideological obsessions, is a potent symbol of how far it has fallen. In its desperation to appease conservative critics, the paper has created the perception that it is willing to sacrifice the very values and practices that, in a previous era, defined its purpose. And no less disturbing: no one in a position of authority appears even to care.

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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