In last week's column I examined the transparent attempt by conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin to try to exploit her own false assumptions about the alleged Islamic identity of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik to push a bigger budget for the Pentagon and The Post's willingness to allow her ill-informed speculation/accusation to stand for a 24-hour period. The controversy has now expanded into Post Ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton's column.
In it, Pexton, while attempting to offer some context for the incident, ends up simply throwing up his hands and saying, in effect: "Conservative 'opinion' does not need to be true; it does not need to adhere to the traditional journalistic standards of this or any other conservative newspaper. It merely needs to keep conservatives happy."
Pexton's defense of Rubin represents yet another step in the inexorable decline of a no-longer-great newspaper, under pressure not only from the collapse of its business model and reliance on the shady business practices of its parent company, but also its inability to stand up to conservative pressure groups seeking to "work the refs" and, in the process, undermine careful, truthful journalism.
Pexton begins his defense of Rubin by noting that his "first thought" upon hearing of the killings "was that it was al-Qaeda," and adds, "Many analysts and news organizations speculated similarly in the hours after the Norway attacks. So what," he asks, "explains the vociferous and voluminous amounts of e-mail I received last week denouncing Post opinion blogger Jennifer Rubin for making similar points online immediately after the bombing?"
Before we examine Pexton's reasons, let us note that in the above paragraph he not only does not distinguish between "al-Qaeda" (his words) and "Islamic extremists" (her words) but also, and far more seriously, between thinking a thought -- I'm sure millions of people did -- and rushing to publish it -- unchecked -- on the website of a major metropolitan newspaper. Rubin is not guilty, after all, of a thought-crime. She and The Post are guilty of a crime against truth.
Note also that though he credits "many analysts and news organizations" with "speculat[ing] similarly," he does not mention a single one. That's because, I'm guessing, none of them were in major newspapers analogous to The Washington Post. If they had been, you can bet Pexton would have mentioned it.
Pexton complains of "ugly, obscene, vile and, worst, containing threats of physical harm" toward Rubin -- though again, he gives no examples and mentions no names before going on to blame the reaction to Rubin's column on "[s]everal factors," including her "faith":
What compounded Rubin's error is that she let her 5 p.m. Friday post remain uncorrected for more than 24 hours. She wrote four other unrelated blog posts that night, through about 9 p.m. Police officials in Norway at 8:33 p.m. Washington time had made their first statement that the suspect had no connection to international terrorism or Muslims. Rubin should have rechecked the facts before signing off, and Post editors should have thought about editing her post more that night. But Rubin has a good defense. She is Jewish. She generally observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; she doesn't blog, doesn't tweet, doesn't respond to reader e-mails. When she went online at 8 p.m. Saturday, her mea culpa post on Norway was the first thing she posted.
Unfortunately for Mr. Pexton, the ombudsman's attempt to check out the facts does not itself check out. Wired blogger Spencer Ackerman, who speculated similarly to Rubin, managed to correct his blog entry at 7:45 p.m. EST or 45 minutes before Pexton's alleged exoneration of Rubin would have allowed. He wrote that the killer was apparently "a blond, blue-eyed, Norwegian, non-Muslim extremist. If true, it should teach all of us in the media -- this blog included -- a lesson about immediately jumping to "jihadi!" conclusions."
Sunset -- the moment that the Jewish Sabbath begins, moreover -- occurred on Friday, July 22, 2011, at approximately 8:20 p.m. in Washington, D.C., and hence offered Rubin plenty of time to correct her mistake. I will not speculate as to why she did not take the opportunity to do so. (Rubin, Pexton notes, did manage to post four (four!) additional items to her blog between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.)
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