The Right's Jennifer Rubin Problem: A Case Study in Info Disadvantage

Said Rubin on October 22, "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to put all his eggs in the basket labeled 'Discredit Romney.' Right now, he's the one lacking plausibility as a competent presidential contender." Obama wasn't just losing, he lacked plausibility as someone who could even contend!

That same day, Rubin provided highly questionable debate analysis: "...should Obama try to play the aggressor in the debate, once again he may come across as testy and only compound his problems with female voters and independents. Given his own incompetence in Libya, he's now limited in accusing Romney of not being ready for prime time. And given that al-Qaeda is certainly not extinguished, he will have to tone down his chest-thumping over Osama bin Laden's assassination."

What actually happened? Obama was at his best when aggressive in debates, he somehow managed to win the Libya exchange, and didn't have to alter the way he talked about Osama Bin Laden.

The same item had this interview excerpt:

While the media saw the second debate as an Obama comeback, Gillespie says it actually helped Romney. "It added to his momentum." Is there any danger of overconfidence? Gillespie shoots back, "None."

This is the sort of outside analysis Rubin constantly saw fit to put before her readers. She actually has an incredible talent for writing wrongheaded, misleading analysis carefully enough that it's often either technically attributable to someone other than her or not technically incorrect. She just uncritically passes along the latest talking points of the side that she supports.  

I could go on. Rubin insisted that Obama would have a huge problem with the Jewish vote, that hammering on Benghazi could be his undoing. But you get the idea. At every opportunity, Rubin wrote favorably about Romney and his campaign. And she didn't just get things wrong, sometimes absurdly, she always got them wrong in a way that redounded to Team Romney's benefit. If her goal was striving to inform her right-leaning audience with the truth, she was an abject failure.

Is there any other goal that wouldn't be discrediting?   

As I noted, I'd have hesitated, before now, to go on record speculating that her coverage was disingenuous, rather than attributable to the partisan zeal that has gripped plenty of basically honest pundits. But I nearly spit out my effete acai berry smoothie when I read her campaign post-mortem:

Until October it was the Perils of Pauline campaign. It moved in fits and starts on foreign policy. The message was rarely consistent from day to day. Gobs of ads were aired to no apparent effect. The convention speech was a huge missed opportunity. Romney made a lunge now and then in the direction of immigration reform and an alternative health-care plan without giving those topics the attention they deserved. The communications team was the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen -- slow and plodding, never able to capitalize on openings. It was hostile, indifferent and unhelpful to media, conservative and mainstream alike.

That "huge missed opportunity" of a convention speech was covered by Rubin in the Washington Post:

"Mitt Romney accepted the nomination of his party for president with a speech that showed he can rise to an occasion, and let us see a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking ...When Romney arrived, dramatically walking through the hall, it was a reminder how determined some in the party had been not to like him. No more. He didn't need to toot his own horn. He certainly looked the presidential part. In confident and calm tones, he described the Obama presidency more in sorrow than in anger... He ended to rousing applause.

The speech was succinct and clear, providing a contrast to the president, about whom Romney said had no real plan to revive the economy. It was a mirror image of the speaker: well organized, sentimental, reasoned and optimistic. The irony is the Mitt Romney we've seen on the trail is not complicated or "weird" or lacking warmth or even out of touch. He is, like many men of his generation, somewhat reserved and in a cultural time warp. Tonight, he also showed some mettle and spine... Tonight he took a step in the right direction.

Now she tells us she thought it sucked at the time?

And that, for all the months she was acting as America's most reliable Romney sycophant, she actually thought his campaign was bumbling? Media Matters has more in the same vein. How can this be viewed as anything other than a Rush Limbaugh-style "I'm tired of carrying their water" moment? She didn't say it as brazenly as Limbaugh, but you can't compare her work during the campaign to her post-mortem without concluding that she deliberately misled her readers.

As my colleague James Fallows has just put it, "I can name you five mainstream columnists whose hearts are obviously with the Democrats, and five who are obviously with the Republicans. But I believe that what they're writing or saying reflects what they actually think. I don't know of another staff member of a mainstream news organization who has blithely admitted to telling the public things different from what the journalist actually thought, so as to boost the cause."

"Is the Post entirely comfortable with this?" he asks.

As do I.

In journalism, it doesn't get any more basic than write what you earnestly believe to be true, whether you're on the news desk or the opinion desk -- otherwise you owe your readers the disclosure, "Sometimes I'm going to mislead you in the fashion of a propagandist to sway the election."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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