UPDATED: "Conservative Journalism," Accountability Optional

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

How did so-called conservative journalism become so bad; so completely unaccountable? Of course, the partisan parishioners themselves are to blame for the shoddy and unreliable content they produce. But the mainstream media must also shoulder some of the responsibility for allowing the right-wing press to lie without consequence.

And the way the Washington Post and its ombudsman recently dealt with an obvious error made by a conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, highlights that troubling trend.

First, this week we spotlighted a couple of glaring examples of right-wing smear campaigns that were dressed up as bouts of (misguided) media criticism. We easily detailed how the attacks were bogus and unsustainable, and just as importantly, how none of the players involved, including Daily Caller, Michelle Malkin, Los Angeles Times, and Commentary, did the honorable thing and admitted their mistakes or apologized.

Instead, the conservative media players did the exact opposite and obfuscated and played dumb. Why? Because being part of the conservative media movement means never, ever having to say you're sorry.

But what gives them such collective confidence to defiantly (proudly?) traffic in obvious misinformation? Answer: The comfort in knowing the mainstream media won't hold them accountable. In fact, the press might even help explain away the miscues.

Writing for the Center for American Progress yesterday, Eric Alterman provides a recent case study in this sad phenomena. He focuses on conservative, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin and how she irresponsibly rushed to judgment in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Norway and quickly informed readers that the carnage was likely from jihadists.

It was not. Instead, the confessed killer is a right-wing extremist, which is why The Atlantic's James Fallows wrote that the Post "Owes the world an apology" for Rubin's sloppy work.

Specifically, Alterman focuses on the response from the Post's ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, who dedicated a column to the Rubin affair. Pexton did call her out for getting the Norway story wrong, but also spent much of his column chastising Rubin's critics and finding ways to seemingly gloss over Rubin's transgression. In doing so, Pexton came awfully close to acknowledging conservatives are allowed to play by different rules, even at the Washington Post.

Writes Alterman [emphasis added]:

Pexton goes on to complain in his post that "Liberals and conservatives don't talk to each other much anymore; they exist in parallel online universes, only crossing over to grab some explosive anti-matter from the other side to stoke the rage in their own blogosphere," and so "If your politics are liberal and you don't generally read Rubin, but you read her Norway posts, you probably would be pretty offended. But if you are a conservative, or someone who reads Rubin regularly, you'll know that this is what she does and who she is."

It's that last line that really comes across as the red flag.


If in fact Pexton is right about Rubin—and I don't read her frequently enough to say—then he has just issued a damning indictment both of Rubin and the paper that sponsors her. Do conservative readers of The Post not care about accuracy? Does The Post consider a conservative blogger off limits to traditional journalistic standards of care and truthfulness, particularly when trafficking in what could be such dangerous speculation? Is that the only kind of conservatives there are? The Post's previous hiring of a right-wing blogger guilty of massive amounts of plagiarism and its decision to throw another one over the rails when it discovered that he was not, in fact, conservative might indicate as much.

And that is the crux of the problem: Major newspaper like the Washington Post appear to have separate, and at-times invisible, standards for conservatives. Major newspapers like the Post seem more than willing to look the other way when conservatives produce major blunders and trample traditional newsroom standards.

And major newspaper like the Post seem so dedicated to employing conservative opinion writers (what liberal bias??) that they're willing to let them work in sort of a rule-free zone. To the point where getting the Norway shooting story exactly wrong leads to a mild Rubin rebuke from the paper's ombudsman who seems more concerned with scolding the conservative's critics than explaining to her how journalism is supposed to work.

Or, think of it this way: If a liberal Post blogger had rushed to judgment in the wake of a horrendous political killing spree and announced to readers, without proof, that the shooter was likely a Tea Party member, only to be proved completely wrong, I don't think that liberal blogger would have a job at the Post.

The Washington Post
Jennifer Rubin
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