Is Jennifer Rubin History’s Greatest Monster?*

Members of the US Postal Workers Union and postal activists participating in a hunger strike, demonstrate in front of the Washington Post offices June 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. The hunger strikers are charging the Post editorial board with ‘disinformation and omission.’ Pointing to an April 15 editorial ‘Dead letters,’ which describes the postal service as ‘technologically obsolescent’ and suggests that ‘costs will get shifted to … taxpayers,’ the strikers counter that a $5.5 billion annual pre-funding mandate is sinking an otherwise successful agency. The service is required by a 2006 act of Congress to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, a burden not required of any other agency or company. Postal workers are fasting from June 25 to 28 in hopes of urging Congress to repeal the pre-funding mandate and refund the pension surplus for Postal workers. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages) Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages

In The Nation, Eric Alterman writes about the Washington Post’s popular rightblogger Jennifer Rubin. FishbowlDC asks me for comment, because I used to be a reporter-blogger covering conservatism at WaPo. FBDC’s summary of what I told them is accurate, but it’s probably worth spilling the whole thing.

I’m actually a huge Jen Rubin fan. If I have one criticism of the blog it’s that her interviews would read better in Q&A form, because putting them into article form tends to drain them of momentum. But she does the interviews! And I have that formatting gripe about basically all interviews. It’s why TV back-and-forths can be revealing.

I guess it’s a little annoying when a campaign sends out an alert that “WASH POST” has backed its position, and you click through to see through it’s one of the Post’s opinion pieces. But I don’t think that hurts the paper’s reputation. That’s just campaigns pretending that reporters were born yesterday.

Pretty clear, I think, but to lay this out…

1) Rubin hustles and gets face time with Republicans who may limit their time with other reporters. Example: Michele Bachmann, who was extremely judicious about print media access when she ran for president. (Disclosure: I tried to get a little time with Bachmann for a GQ piece, and was politely rebuffed.) Bachmann spoke to Rubin, and the ensuing interview was viral (2,800 Facebook shares) but light on news. An excerpt:

She starts with Gingrich’s debate comments on illegal immigration. “It’s not going to work” with conservatives and in Iowa elsewhere. She also noted, “These are comments the speaker has made before.” She translated his plan as “11 million illegal workers should be made legal.” She add that Gingrich supported the DREAM Act (in the debate Gingrich said he approved of the portion that granted citizenship to those serving in the military). She continued, “He got a D minus” from an anti-illegal-immigration group. (This is NumbersUSA, which gave her the highest grade among GOP presidential candidates, a B minus.) She said emphatically, “I am the consistent conservative.”

She doesn’t stop there. She asserted, “He is the author of the individual mandate.” (Gingrich claims he got the idea from Heritage, but he was certainly an early champion.) She was just warming up. “On TARP he was for the $700 billion bailout while I was working to vote it down — until the Republicans caved.” Next, she recalled, “Newt sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi. I remember him talking to a group of us in Congress. He said, ‘We’ve lost this issue.’” And then there is Freddie Mac. “He was paid $1.6 to $1.8 million to influence senior Republicans. I was fighting to put [Freddie and Fannie Mae] into receivership.”

Do we learn anything here that we didn’t learn in Bachmann’s speeches and debate answers? We don’t get a good sense of the rhythm of the conversation, or when/if ever Bachmann was resorting to cant. So, I figured these interviews would work better as unfiltered Qs and As.

2) Is the Post caving in to conservatives by employing a conservative, pro-Romney blogger? If so, newspapers have been “caving in” to partisans for centuries. Rubin’s blog appears on the Post’s Opinions vertical, a click away from columns by other conservatives. Columnists can be mercurial and change their affinities from one candidate to another. I don’t see this as a huge problem. But – the way campaigns package opinion columns is an intelligence-insulting scam. If you comb TV ads, or if you just look at the links in press email blasts, you see pieces with self-aware biases being presented as the official word of The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Atlantic or Reuters or Forbes. (Especially Forbes, whose acquisition of True/Slant harvested rich gardens of opinion bloggers.) It’s a cheat. But it’s not the columnists’ fault.

*Weigel’s rule of headlines: If there’s a yes/no question, the answer is “no.”