Washington Post Ombudsman Defends Jennifer Rubin’s Post About the Norway Attack

Jen Rubin

What is the point of having an ombudsman if all they are going to do is get defensive and rationalize the nonsense that gets printed by their writers/bloggers? So much for accountability.

I won’t bore you with a total re-hashing of the controversy, which I wrote about at length when it happened. I was one of the thousands of people who wrote to the WaPo ombudsman because Rubin’s response to the terrorist attack was part of a larger pattern of out-right hostility towards Muslims and Arabs.

The reason I am bringing this up is because I think the ombudsman’s defense of Rubin is a great example of how the mainstream, corporate media operates. I also think it is evidence of an entrenched bias against Muslims after 9/11 which has become so much a part of our politics and society that I don’t even think that the ombudsman even realizes that it plays a role in his reaction to, and ultimate defense of, Jennifer Rubin. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Here is an excerpt of his post:

So what 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?

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.


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, although its tone also hurt her, particularly this sentence, which struck many readers as borderline racist: “There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.”


There are other reasons I got so many e-mails on Rubin; they have much less to do with terrorism and tragedy and more to do with modern technology and partisan politics.

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.

The liberal blogosphere, propelled by tweets, picked up Rubin’s piece and spread it around rapidly, helped by a trifecta of posts from theatlantic.com.

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.

Again, that was just an excerpt.

Here is my response which I left as a comment to his post (I edited this slightly for reprint here):

So because she’s Jewish and observes the Sabbath, she’s prolific, conservative and because some haters were totally inappropriate in their response to her post, it’s ok that she rushed to judgment, made lazy generalizations, politicized the tragedy in accordance with her own narrow, Islamophobic worldview and made “borderline” racist comments in her follow-up post? I’ve got news for you Mr. Ombudsman, they weren’t just “borderline” racist. What’s truly incredible is not only do you rationalize her posts, but you actually manage to turn the tables and make HER the victim. Incredible!

Do I really need to point out that simply because some haters wrote totally inappropriate things to you or to Ms. Rubin, that it doesn’t mean that the criticisms of the thousands of the rest of us should be swept under the rug and lumped in together with the inappropriate ones? You seem to want to blame almost all of the reaction to her posts on the poisonous swamp that is the blogosphere. In other words, you try to claim that people who were/are liberal and who objected to Rubin’s post clearly just don’t like her overall political views. Could it be that Ms. Rubin has a bit of a track record when it comes to how she portrays Muslims, such that many readers perhaps saw this as the last straw and over-the-top? Perhaps it was how she used the tragedy to shamelessly politicize it by arguing for no cuts in defense spending, even though after the Arizona shooting she lashed out at the media, commentators and bloggers for rushing to judgment without knowing all the facts?

By framing the issue as simply being about disgruntled bloggers that don’t agree with Rubin’s politics, you absolve not only Rubin, but yourself, from having to acknowledge that Rubin’s anti-Muslim bias- something that has been demonstrated time and time again on her blog- is inappropriate for a paper like the WaPo. It’s not about being liberal or conservative, it’s about being a bigot or not being one.

Imagine if the same sort of obsessive anti-Islam vitriol, sweeping generalizations and rush to judgment that she demonstrated in her two Norway posts was used by another blogger at the Post but instead of Muslims, it was directed at Jews or African Americans or Catholics- I have a feeling you would be denouncing the blogger out-right and not making excuses for them irrespective of their religion or politics.

But the icing on the cake is your last sentence which shows how truly tone deaf you are. Unless I am misreading it you seem to be trying your hand at the use of irony by directing that comment at Rubin’s detractors in the blogosphere (again blaming the reaction to her post on liberals who just disagree with Rubin’s overall political philosophy) when it’s Rubin herself who displays “vitriol and hasty judgments” without any thought of the “consequences.”

There is a tendency for the media to break everything down into a simple case of left v. right and whenever criticized, the knee-jerk response is to claim there is no real legitimate issue other than a clash of ideology. While this is sometimes true, it becomes a crutch on which the MSM relies too heavily and I think that’s the case here. The MSM also tends to look down on the blogosphere and ironically, it’s own readers as if to say “how dare those unwashed masses question us!” It goes without saying that while there are some bloggers and commenters who are totally out of line, the MSM has a bumpy relationship with bloggers because we try to hold them accountable for not only what they do write, but also for what they don’t, something which they resent.

The ombudsman also seems to take issue with the speed at which Rubin’s post ricocheted through Twitter and the blogosphere as though that was somehow to blame for the negative reaction that ensued. That criticism a distraction from the real issue. The reason her post was all over social networking sites and blogs was because it was so offensive to so many people, end of story. Had it not been, it wouldn’t have been re-tweeted about a million times. And contrary to what the ombudsman would like to believe, it wasn’t just liberals that were offended.

By the way, take a gander over to the comment section of the ombudsman’s post. Most of the commenters would seem to disagree with his defense of Rubin. But I guess he’s right and the rest of us are all wrong.

UPDATE: If you aren’t blessed enough to be familiar with Rubin’s work, here’s a nice summary from Right Web. Here is another article that sums up Rubin’s bottom-feeder style of commentary.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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7 Comments on “Washington Post Ombudsman Defends Jennifer Rubin’s Post About the Norway Attack”

  1. discourseincsharpminor Says:

    Years ago political blogging was generally the realm of the fringe elements of both ends of the ideological spectrum. Things have changed a lot since then and political blogging is no longer the sole domain of the tin foil hat crowd. They may even be in the minority now. With that in mind, it would seem counterproductive to insult the very people that no doubt send a lot of site traffic in WaPo’s direction by tweeting their articles, posting them on social networking sites, and link to them from the very blogs that this gentleman is dismissing as mere ideological claptrap. For someone in the media industry in 2011 to be so offended that people would tweet, comment, and blog about an article that is widely viewed as offensive in spite of it being the weekend is assinine. The internet doesn’t close down for weekends, religious observances, traffic jams, dental appointments, or anything else. Presumably, a promenant blogger for an influential national newspaper would understand that and take that into account before posting something potentially incendiary.
    Either he’s really grasping at straws trying to defend this woman or he’s still stuck in the days of the Walkman and printer paper with those little holes on the side.


  2. Pilgrim Says:

    You deserve commendation for writing to the ombudsman in the first place and then responding to his response. Thanks for doing it, expressing very well what many others must also think.


  3. thainjacobs Says:

    His rationalization is pathetic but not unexpected. As Stacy noted, his arguments are easily rebutted. Rubin certainly has a right to practice her religion in the way she sees fit but it really has nothing to do with the readers or the WaPo’s responsibility to ensure that their writers/commentators/journalists aren’t putting out absolute crap. An editor could have added an update note.

    But here’s the bottom line- Rubin was brought to the WaPo specifically BECAUSE she’s an ultra-Zionist neocon who lashes out at Muslims and Islam. That was her schtick at Commentary magazine where she worked before so the WaPo knew this is what they were getting when they hired her which means this is what they WANTED. THAT”S why the ombudsman defended her- because the WaPo editorial page, which is run by Israel Firsters Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl, agrees with her fear-mongering Islamophobia.

    The media blames everything on left v. right. He writes off every criticism as just being the result of disgruntled liberals who don’t like Rubin. I bet if someone wrote stuff about Jews the way Rubin writes about Muslims, he wouldn’t be responding this way and just saying that all the people offended are just disgruntled Jews. Can you imagine? You see, Islamophobia is mainstream and the WaPo is one of the reasons.

    Do you know how many right wing Israel Firsters have come out in J-Post, Fox, the blogosphere and said that Breivik’s views are correct? Pam Geller was on Fox saying that all those kids that died basically had it coming because they would have grown up to be Israel-haters. Has anyone else noticed how the media censors the pro-Israel aspect of this? That all these right-wingers who served as inspiration for Breivik had one major thing in common besides their hatred of Muslims? They all focused almost exclusively on extremist, pro-Israel advocacy.

    The irony that is lost on the ombudsman is that the original norway article is about a man, Breivik, who espouses a world view similar if not the same as Rubins.


  4. Pilgrim Says:

    Steve Clemons has put up a good piece on J. Rubin’s written incivility, and, of course, he is being denounced by the hasbara brigade.


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