The Internet is having some fun with this column in the City Paper by recent Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton. I’ll be more specific: The Internet loves how Pexton closes out, by asking the new management to sack an opinion blogger.
Have Fred Hiatt, your editorial page editor—who I like, admire, and respect—fire opinion blogger Jennifer Rubin. Not because she’s conservative, but because she’s just plain bad. She doesn’t travel within a hundred miles of Post standards. She parrots and peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike in transparent attempts to get Web hits. Her analysis of the conservative movement, which is a worthwhile and important beat that the Post should treat more seriously on its national pages, is shallow and predictable. Her columns, at best, are political pornography; they get a quick but sure rise out of the right, but you feel bad afterward.
Rubin was hired a while after I resigned from the Post. Because we both cover conservative politics, and because both of our sub-sites had “Right” in the name (I was “Right Now,” she was “Right Turn”), lots of lazy people assume she “replaced” me. But I worked on the news side, and she works on the opinion side. She’s always been a slugger for her brand of hawkish, socially liberal conservatism, and never pretended otherwise. So I agree with Pexton: She has different standards than the rest of the paper.
Unlike Pexton, I’ve never gone out of my way to flag that. In his ombud days, Pexton actually defended Rubin’s role whenever she came under fire. In November 2011, when Rubin tweeted a link to a pretty xenophobic piece by Rachel Abrams, Pexton averred that the blogger shouldn’t have done that, but defended her right to.
It’s also worth noting that the rules of objectivity that apply to editors, reporters and bloggers in The Post newsroom do not apply to Post opinion bloggers and columnists. Post opinion writers are given greater leeway to say what they want. That’s how it should be. If the opinion section were too politically correct, it’d be dull.
This was actually Pexton’s second foray into Rubinalia. Earlier in 2011 he’d fielded questions about Rubin’s failure to correct an item that suggested Islamic links to terrorism in Norway. Pexton told readers that Rubin was observing a religious holiday, and thus couldn’t update in a hurry. He proceeded to lecture them.
Rubin was hired by Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Post, to be an opinion blogger who would appeal to conservatives and people who want to follow conservative politics. She does.
She is the most prolific opinion blogger at The Post, doing eight or 10 posts a day often, most of it insider stuff on GOP politics, a lot of it based on single sources. But Rubin also gets scoops. She has excellent sources in the House and Senate leadership, and lots of Republicans read her and trust her.
In a long chat with Rubin last week, I found her forceful and unrepentant, yet not unreasonable. She is not an ogre or a racist. And she does not deserve some of the calumny she got.
We all change our minds, and sure, Pexton’s new take on Rubin factors in her 2012 coverage, which was bullish on Romney beyond the bounds of logic. But if he found Rubin so objectionable, why didn’t he say anything when his opinion mattered? I don’t think “l’esprit de l’escalier” is the best motto for an ombud.