Jennifer Rubin is a professional liar. From her perch in the Washington Post’s Opinions section, she publishes lie after lie after lie after lie after lie — too many for any one person to possibly catalog. (Though some have tried.) How does she hang on at the Post? This week the paper’s former ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, supplied a helpful clue.
Yesterday, Pexton published an “open letter” to the paper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, instructing the Amazon CEO to immediately fire Rubin: “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.”
Harsh and almost entirely accurate. It would have made a sharp and useful ombudsman column in the Post. But when it was his job to express his thoughts about the paper, Pexton never suggested that Rubin be fired.
He wanted to, though. On Friday he told Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic Wire that he “had intended to write a full column on [Rubin], but wanted to do more reporting and I just didn’t get around to it before I left.”
He didn’t ignore Rubin’s work entirely. While employed at the Post, Pexton politely castigated Rubin for retweeting a link to an essay characterizing Palestinians as “death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages.” (“That a Post employee would retweet it is a huge disappointment to me.”)
But Pexton never came close to a blanket indictment. After addressing Rubin’s suggestion that al Qaeda was to blame for a mass shooting in Norway, Pexton defended the rest of her work at the Post: “If you are a conservative, or someone who reads Rubin regularly, you’ll know that this is what she does and who she is.”
To be fair: everyone at the Post accommodates Rubin’s near-daily lies, even as they demolish them. WonkBlog editor Ezra Klein will link to “my colleague Jennifer Rubin” before lightly questioning her grip on reality. Greg Sargent, Rubin’s liberal counterpart, vacillates between retweeting her columns and declaring her a Republican stooge. In January, assistant editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran reprimanded a Republican Senator for treating Rubin’s columns as factual.
The blame or credit for Rubin’s survival goes, in part, to Rubin herself. She’s a paranoid bully who freely publishes ad hominem attacks against imagined anti-Semites (President Obama, Chuck Hagel, Maureen Dowd) with a vigor that has a way of exhausting, and sometimes frightening, her opposition. For example: When Pexton addressed her al Qaeda speculation, Rubin asserted the existence of an “orchestrated campaign to get The Washington Post to fire a pro-Israel blogger.”
But Rubin ultimately survives because, despite Pexton’s invocation of “ Post standards,” she fits right in. The paper’s opinion section is the most cynical and conflicted such department in America. Where the Wall Street Journal puts out honestly lopsided propaganda for its pet causes, the Post makes a pet cause of propaganda itself—dividing writers into “right-leaning” and “left-leaning” sections online to encourage maximum partisan hackery; setting up disgraced political speechwriters like Marc Thiessen as official columnists; even publishing Newt Gingrich’s EMP conspiracy theories. Active officeholders get free space for their talking points.
Nothing is expected to actually mean anything, which is why Richard Cohen can rewrite the same racist column intermittently over the decades. Do people get mad at him? That just shows there are two sides to everything. (Except entitlement reform.)
It’s all irredeemable, thanks to the work of Fred Hiatt, the paper’s 58 year-old editorial page editor and Rubin’s principal (perhaps only) ally at the paper. Whenever Rubin is criticized, Hiatt shows up to defend her, mostly because he hired her in the first place, as “an opinion blogger who would appeal to conservatives and people who want to follow conservative politics.”
Yet Pexton describes Hiatt as someone “I like, admire, and respect.” If you respect Fred Hiatt, though, you respect Jennifer Rubin. She is exactly what he wants in his section; her standards are his standards. He thinks Rubin is “an indefatigable reporter”! So Rubin remains safe—from former ombudsmen, from her critics, from reality itself. If Bezos wants to take Pexton’s suggestion and get rid of her, he needs to do his firing higher up the masthead.