There was a time when the Washington Post was understood to be one of the better mass media newspapers in the country, often regarded as on a level with the New York Times as a serious paper.
Media analysts (which is where I started this work, so I’d count myself among these) would assuredly contend that this was damning with faint praise. Still that regard the WaPo, as it’s often called on the internet, was once held in has been in sharp decline for some time now. Their coverage of Israel, for example, just gave us a startling example of that decline, when the Post decided to hire Jennifer Rubin as blogger.
Rubin had previously written for the neoconservative Commentary Magazine and other outlets after leaving her career as a lawyer. Columnist Ali Gharib, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, says of her:
Rubin has a penchant for relentlessly sticking political opponents with negative labels… During the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, Rubin claimed that Obama’s “sympathies for the Muslim World take precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens.” Last year, Rubin derided Obama as “the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever),” a judgment unequivocally repudiated by even the hawkish Israel lobby group AIPAC. Undeterred, this summer Rubin lamented, in a typically overblown overstatement, that the Israel “must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency,” insisting the following day that Israel will have to go it alone against Iran.
Rubin got called this week on that penchant for labeling, which some think is libeling.
Earlier this week, I reported on a letter that Steve Clemons of the Washington Note had organized urging President Obama to vote in favor of a proposed UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Rubin said of the letter, in a Post op-ed “The usual crowd of Israel bashers has sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for its settlements (emphasis added).”
In fact, anyone familiar with Washington would note that the signers were a broad array of diplomats, journalists and academics, including Jewish leaders and others who do not usually sign on to such initiatives. Well, Clemons fought back.
I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post– what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post. What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?… Calling someone as Israel-basher is akin to calling them an anti-Semite or a bigot, and that can’t go without response. I’m a strong believer in Israel and want a healthy and constructive relationship between Israel and the United States. I have traveled to Israel, have met people from nearly every political party in the Knesset, and love the place and people.
This kind of insidious character attack is irresponsible — and beneath the Washington Post. I think Rubin is smart and informed — but has a way with her writing that slimes recklessly. I hope she tacks in new directions. David Brooks would be someone for her to consider emulating.
To complete the point, I think columnist Eli Clifton of Lobelog put it very well:
Rubin’s proclivity towards smearing her opponents as Israel-bashing belies the fundamental weakness of the hawkish, Israeli right-wing — a position she consistently advocates from her perch at The Washington Post. While she can’t be blamed for continuing the abrasive tone that she perfected on Commentary’s Contentions blog, Clemons is right in pointing out that Rubin’s character attacks are beneath The Washington Post and should be called to the attention of the Post’s editors and chairman.
It is not Rubin’s ideas that are at issue. I have had a great many debates, publicly and privately, with supporters of the harshest of Israeli policies and other political issues I would characterize as right-wing, sometimes even extremely right-wing. And many of those discussions were civil and interesting and I often learned much from them.
It is, however, about the tone of those conversations, and the use of smear tactics and name-calling.
It can also be about misinformation. When Rubin interviewed Obama’s “Anti-Semitism Czar” Hannah Rosenthal, she both misled her audience and the woman she was interviewing in a very conniving way. Just look here at Matt Duss’ systematic takedown of Rubin’s piece.
Rubin is far from alone in this practice. Alan Dershowitz has stopped bothering to masquerade as a liberal, and shamelessly twists and bends reality, and when that doesn’t work he makes things up. Dershowitz’s stuff now appears on the sites of right-wing think-tanks but it’s still easy enough to take him to task.
But Dershowitz is known as an advocate, not a journalist. He’s a lawyer, not a reporter, and so is not bound by any ethics (which he takes to an extreme, even for a lawyer). Rubin is supposed to be held to a different standard.
So is Caroline Glick, of another Post, this one in Jerusalem. Glick is the JPost’s columnist, but is also the paper’s deputy managing editor. I’ve written about Glick before, in the context of her blatant racism, which is really quite shocking.
But in her January 7 op-ed, “Agents of Influence” Glick simply told falsehoods, alleging B’Tselem had falsified video materials that they publicized. Whether they were the result of willful lying or inexcusable negligence, they are the very essence of a reporter violating every professional ethic.
The lies she told were directed at my former employers, B’Tselem. They elicited quite a passionate response from B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Jessica Montell.
Now, I got to know Jessica pretty well in my two and a half years at B’Tselem. I can attest, without fear of contradiction, that for her to write an article as blunt and direct as this one reflects an offense and a deep anger that was provoked in her that, quite frankly, I have never seen before. But those sentiments were very much warranted.
The JPost would not publish Jessica’s response, nor has there been any hint of retraction from Glick. But, luckily for us, we have 972 magazine, and they did print the response. I’ll let Jessica speak for herself, and for B’Tselem:
Free speech enables us to speak the truth, even when such truth is harsh. So for example, I am free to say that Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist, who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts…
Caroline Glick’s column earlier this month, accus[ed] B’Tselem of everything from fabricating incidents to blood libel. All without a shred of evidence, based mostly on false information spread by extremist settlers, and government-apologist hatchet group NGO Monitor*.
Glick cites a false report provided by settler sources, claiming that a Palestinian shepherd who complained that settlers attacked his sheep later admitted that he fabricated the incident. It is not incidental that the only source repeating this allegation is the settler media – it was denied by the shepherd who is sticking to his version. B’Tselem’s media statement focused solely on the fact that he submitted a complaint, and was careful to avoid irresponsibly accusing anyone of wrongdoing. Glick should try that sometime.
Is the problem that people like Glick and Rubin (and obviously Dershowitz) are making arguments that are so weak that they need to avoid the truth? That would be convenient, and maybe it’s true. But wherever we think the problem comes from, there is a pretty clear line between even the most passionate disagreement and the tactics that have been described here. And, in my experience, there are plenty of right-wing or conservative writers who can make these arguments within the bounds of civil discourse.
The Glicks and Rubins and Dershowitzes poison the whole debate over Israeli policies, the conflict with the Palestinians and the occupation. All sides should be able to present their ideas, no matter how radical. But it’s not too much to ask that they present them honestly. Is it?