Former Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos about what he should do with the newspaper, and one piece of advice caught a lot of people's attention: Fire Jennifer Rubin. The statement came at the end of a lengthy, and mostly airy list of suggestions learned from Pexton's two years (March 2011 to March 2013) of sifting through the reader complaint box, like "grow a thick skin," "get to know your audience, "Trust and credibility is everything," and "maybe a little more coverage of women’s teams." But he was incredibly specific on his final point:
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.
It was a pretty explosive statement (by newspaper ombudsman standards, at least), but it made The Atlantic Wire and others wonder why didn't Pexton recommend that Rubin be dismissed while he was ombudsman? Pexton told The Atlantic Wire that he considered it. "I had intended to write a full column on her, but wanted to do more reporting and I just didn't get around to it before I left," Pexton told us by email. "I had drafted a couple versions, but didn't like what I had written. So I held off."
He made it clear in his City Paper piece that he had plenty of opportunities to consider the conservative blogger. "Rubin was the No. 1 source of complaint mail about any single Post staffer while I was ombudsman," Pexton wrote. What made her so controversial? "She is often wrong, and rarely acknowledges it." On one of those instances, in 2011, Rubin incorrectly blamed the Norway bombing and mass shooting on al Qaeda, and didn't correct the post for a day. Pexton wrote a column about that which shifted blame for the ensuing outrage away from the erroneous post: "Several factors are at work, including Rubin’s role at The Post, her style, her faith, how the liberal and conservative blogospheres work on the news cycle, and, finally, a certain American insensitivity toward mass casualties in other lands. … 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."
Later that year Pexton wrote a critical blog post about Rubin's retweet of Rachel Abrams linking to an anti-Palestinian blog post that many, including Pexton, found offensive. "I agree with the critics. Rubin is not responsible for the offensive words; Abrams is," he wrote. "But in agreeing with the sentiment, and in spreading it to her 7,000 Twitter followers who know her as a Washington Post blogger, Rubin did damage to The Post and the credibility that keeps it afloat." Hiatt defended her, saying, "I think Jennifer is an excellent journalist and a relentless reporter... I think she brings enormous value to The Post."
Then there was an episode in a year ago in the midst of the presidential campaign when New York's Jonathan Chait chronicled how Jennifer Rubin repeatedly advocated moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem until Mitt Romney came out against it, at which point she said she was against it, too. As Salon's Alex Pareene noted, when Romney then decided to move the embassy after all, Rubin changed her mind again. Pexton did not write a Post column about her election coverage, but criticized what she wrote on the election in the City Paper: "She was oh-so-wrong about Mitt Romney, week after week writing embarrassing flattery about his 2012 campaign, calling almost every move he made brilliant, and guaranteeing that he would trounce Barack Obama."
We asked Pexton if he felt pressure from Hiatt to hold back on Rubin while he was still writing at The Post. He replied, "No, there was no pressure from anyone at The Post to go easy on Jennifer Rubin. I knew, however, that Fred Hiatt strongly believed in her, and I have known Fred a long time, we have a good working relationship."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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