Hindsight Isn’t Lying

Tthere's enough bad punditry going around that there's no need to invent cases to expose.

Under the provocative headline “WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin Admits She Misled Her Readers,” Simon Maloy of Media Matters contrasts Rubin’s election postmortem with her earlier writing.

Rubin now: “The convention speech was a huge missed opportunity.”

Rubin then: ”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.” [Right Turn, 8/30]

Rubin now: “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.”

Rubin then: ”The media are doing their best to disguise the unpleasant fact that Mitt Romney has been more forthcoming on immigration than the president has in more than three years in office.” [Right Turn, 6/24] “This isn’t that hard: Romney will repeal Obamacare. He has always favored protection for people with preexisting conditions who move from one employer-provided plan to another or from an individual-purchased to an employer-provided plan.” [Right Turn, 9/10]

Rubin now: “The communications team was the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen — slow and plodding, never able to capitalize on openings.”

Rubin then: “The Romney team, to a greater degree than most campaigns, has been criticized and lampooned. Too timid. Too unfocused. Too slow. Too inept. But this week demonstrated that the campaign officials are more skilled than they have been depicted, and their errors and stumbles have in large part been obliterated in the lingering glow of the convention. There is some personal vindication for them as well.” [Right Turn, 8/31]

Rubin now: “But if not for a stunning series of performances in the debates and unexpected eloquence on the stump in the last month, Romney almost surely would have done worse than he did. A presidential race needs more than a good month to be successful.”

Rubin then: “We’ve made the case that not only the first presidential debate but the debates as a whole recast the race and vaulted Mitt Romney into a position to win the race. Pollster Charlie Cook is the latest election guru to agree.” [Right Turn, 10/31]

Daily KosSusan Gardner chimes in to ask, “When will people like Jennifer Rubin lose a job?

The point here isn’t just that Rubin and so many were very, very wrong—in her case, knowingly, arrogantly so—it’s that in a world where press institutions claim the high ground in the new media landscape, boasting of ethics and accountability, they keep people on their payroll who admit intentionally misleading readers.

When will these media institutions fire the liars? Or is keeping liars on board imperative to some weird mission of balancing out the truth-tellers? Someone should pay a price: Rubin. If she doesn’t, the Washington Post will continues to bleed crediblity. It’s their choice.

The problem with all of this is that, while there’s much to criticize about Rubin’s analysis over the course of the campaign and the postmortem itself (and don’t even get me started on her foreign policy writing) the compare and contrast above isn’t particularly interesting, much less proof that Rubin lied or intentionally misled her readers.

One can simultaneously believe in the moment that a convention speech “showed he can rise to an occasion, and let us see a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking” and yet believe afterward that it was “a missed opportunity.” Maybe, in hindsight, you think that personalizing the candidate was inadequate and the speech should have instead outlined a compelling policy argument for electing him. Or that it should have made outreach to some target audience. Or whatever. We don’t really know what  opportunity Rubin thinks was missed because that line was the entirety of her analysis on the matter. (She makes many important points later in the speech that could connected to the “missed opportunity” theme; she just doesn’t explicitly make the connection.)

Similarly, one can simultaneously talk more about healthcare and immigration than one’s opponent and yet fail to give them the attention that an outside analyst believes they deserve.

One can honestly believe that a campaign had a great week that undid a lot of damage and belied a lot of criticism and look back and think that the campaign generally failed to seize opportunities and adapt quickly. Indeed, maybe they failed in Rubin’s mind to capitalize on the momentum of the week that thrilled her.

And, surely, one can think the debates closed the gap between the candidates and put victory within reach and look back at a loss and think the months leading up to the debates that created the gap in the first place could have been better spent.

There’s plenty of hackery and medacity in American punditry, including by some employed by the Washington Post. Indeed, one can find it in Rubin’s work, especially on matters related to Israel. Sometimes, as it was six years ago when Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt admitted after the 2006 midterms that they had been carrying water for the Republican team rather than shooting straight, it’s calculated. Most of the time, as with so many Republican pundits ignoring the polls and going with their heart in predicting a Romney win, it’s a triumph of wishful thinking over sober analysis. The former is almost surely a firing offense, at least if you think you’re in the news business and not the entertainment business. The latter may be as well if there’s a pattern such that the analysis is generally skewed by hope.

Regardless, there’s enough bad punditry going around that there’s no need to invent cases to expose.

 

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    You forgot Peggy Noonan in 2008.

    Seems to be a lot of them.

  2. Argon says:

    The real trouble with Rubin as a partisan pendant who is very frequently wrong is that she’s not blonde enough. I think hair color limits Michelle Malkin’s impact as well.

  3. Mike says:

    While I kind of agree, I’m also OK with others pointing out her hackery. Much like Rush and Hugh admitting to carrying water for republicans, that’s the way I view her writing, and maybe it’s OK, or not OK, since she’s a pundit. Maybe journalistic standards should not be applied to her. On the other hand, she’s working for the Washington Post and I think people have a right to expect some standards. If she’s just an entertainer, then she is still subject to criticism, much the same way an actor or novelist is. Even if it is just shooting fish in a barrel. But, if you’re going to be a hack, people will point out that you are a hack.

    I’m not in entertainment, but eschewing sober analysis for wishful thinking will result in bad recommendations for my clients, and a short tenure at my company.

  4. Argon says:

    Good point, Mike. Most jobs require personal integrity and one would think that working for a newspaper would especially require that. Perhaps the Post should include the disclaimer that Rubin’s columns are for entertainment purposes only and in no way should be taken truthfully.

    This reminds me of the reporter from Ohio who worked on the recent political hack-piece from a Sinclair-owned TV station. When she got gobs of push back from viewers she claimed that she had to do it because she wanted to keep her job. Integrity?

  5. Fiona says:

    A lot of those statements seem contradictory on their face, leading me to believe that Rubin is engaged in ass-covering rather than hindsight. Does she come out anywhere and admit that her previous conclusions were wrong, indicating that she might have learned something? If not, then it’s definitely ass-covering behavior.

  6. Scott says:

    @Argon: Given that the reporter worked at a local station and probably doesn’t make a lot of money and needed her job, I totally believe her. I just couldn’t believe she admitted it. One can be high minded but sometimes the necessity of holding a job and putting food on the table makes for a distasteful compromise. Sometimes you just hold on until you find a way to escape.

  7. john personna says:

    It’s tough out there on the weather vanes.

  8. Rob in CT says:

    MM’s headline is misleading, in that Rubin admits no such thing. But the wide disparity between her cheerleading during the campaign and her day-after assessment is pretty hard to just wish away.

    There are degrees of this, no doubt, and anyone is vulnerable. I’m sure lefty pundits engaged in at least some degree of it in ’04 with Kerry. Some. But the Left has a different vulnerability: that of the agonized The Sky Is Falling! reaction to a setback. I prefer it, which is one small reason I find myself leaning left more than right.

    It comes to this: do you really want “your side’s” pundits to blow smoke up your ass all the time? Or is their role strictly that of cheerleader?

  9. swearyanthony says:

    Oh please. Rubin was the worst of the major media hacks. And let’s not forget her sterling work in the immediate aftermath of the Norway mass shootings (no I won’t mention the lowlife’s name)

    She hasn’t earned the slightest hint of benefit of the doubt.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    Just to provide an example of what I’m talking about…

    Whenever a Democrat gets up and talks about some issue in a manner that is inconsistent with liberal beliefs, a chunk of the lefty commentariat gets irritated, and fires off blog posts and comments to that effect. The message sent is: hey, you’re making the wrong argument, here’s how to make it better. Then another chunk of the lefty commentariat fires back with either: a) I know but you purists will be the death of us; or b) no, the Dem pol has it right. Most often it’s a not b.

    This happens a lot when Obama talks about deficit reduction (for a number of reasons, not just b/c some lefties never want to cut anything. There’s the timing argument, there’s the bad negotiation strategy argument and there’s the GOP is tricksey argument).

    When Romney showed up at the first debate and did his Etch-A-Sketch thing, how many hardline conservatives freaked out about it?

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Rubin is one face of a larger problem. WAPO, like most major news outlets, feels the need to maintain balance by having conservative columnists and bloggrs. They need honest, insightful, well connected, skillful writers who can articulate the modern conservative viewpoint. Given the dearth of such people, they have to settle for the likes of Rubin, Douthat, and Will.

  12. Matt says:

    To summarize: she’s not lying, she just sucks at her job.
    Either way Media Matters’ conclusion remains relevant.

  13. Andre Kenji says:

    No, Rubin is more complicated than that. Byron York called her a “a pro-Romney blogger at the Washington Post”, Erick Erickson called her ‘ Mouth of Romney.”

    They are right, Rubin was free advertisement for the Romney campaign.

  14. Console says:

    What’s most chilling is that Rubin basically replaced Weigel at the Post. Both moves designed to appease conservatives independent of quality of work or competent journalism. At least it’s nice that conservatives don’t even take Rubin seriously.

  15. Argon says:

    @Scott:
    I would’ve refused. It’s called professional integrity and I’d rather flip burgers or park cars than compromise my good name in the field.

  16. Geek, Esq. says:

    She was Baghdad Bob during the election, and now purports to offer critiques.

    What this suggests is that she is either not smart enough to judge events as they occur, or that she’s a professional bullsh!tter rather than someone providing actual insight.

    In either case, the WaPo can do a lot better for its conservative blog.

  17. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Console:

    She once insisted that pardoning Jonathan Pollard was a conservative cause. Actual conservatives were like “um no, we hate traitors actually.”

  18. mantis says:

    The question is why do news organizations pay people who are clearly not working for the company, but rather on behalf of a political campaign? Rubin wasn’t working for the Washington Post over the past year, she was obviously working for the Romney campaign.

    Similarly, Fox News let Karl Rove dispute their own team’s call on Ohio on election night when he was just taking orders from the Romney campaign. The campaign told him Fox News was wrong to make the call, and he pretended like he had a legitimate argument against the decision rather than just the marching orders of a losing campaign in a state of desperate denial.

    Paying these people to blatantly do the work of political campaigns rather than anything remotely resembling or supporting journalism does nothing but discredit the news organizations for which they work. One wonders why the media thinks it is worth it.

  19. ernieyeball says:

    One wonder$ why the media think$ it i$ worth it.

    You’re kidding, right?

  20. ernieyeball says:

    Money talks and bull$hit pays even more!

  21. raoul says:

    Rubin had direct contacts with the Romney campaing and now she is liberated- is that wrong? It does appear as it is two diffrent individuals-it certainly hurts her credibility.

  22. mantis says:

    @ernieyeball:

    You’re kidding, right?

    Money talks and bull$hit pays even more!

    Because news media is nothing but huge profits these days, right? Paying partisans ridiculous amounts to pull stuff out of their asses is paying off in spades! Oh, wait…

  23. ernieyeball says:

    “The truth is not in the commercial media because the truth is a dagger pointed at its heart, which is its pocketbook.”
    ― George Seldes, Facts and Fascism 1943

  24. MM says:

    @gVOR08: They could have had Weigel, but he wan’t pure enough for the rubes. Jennifer Rubin, though she will never say anything noteworthy, is a team player

  25. MM says:

    What this suggests is that she is either not smart enough to judge events as they occur, or that she’s a professional bullsh!tter rather than someone providing actual insight.

    In either case, the WaPo can do a lot better for its conservative blog.

    Think about Unskewed Polls, and the Fox News Pundits talking about a Romney landslide, and the internet commenters who KNEW Obama would lose and KNEW there would be race riots.

    Jennifer Rubin is exactly what the GOP wanted. A PR flack who is a team player and will zealously defend the party line arguments.

    They can do better, but I’m not sure they want better.

  26. Spartacus says:

    James wrote: “The problem with all of this is that . . . the compare and contrast above isn’t particularly interesting, much less proof that Rubin lied or intentionally misled her readers.”

    Maybe. At the very least, the compare and contrast requires Rubin to explain why/how her opinions changed so radically. And, even if she’s not guilty of intentionally misleading her readers, she is guilty of being so grossly incorrect that she can’t possibly be of any use to her readers. Therefore, she should be fired.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @MM: I’ve a big fan of Weigel, who’s one of the sharpest young reporter-commenters out there. But he’s a left-libertarian who holds the Tea Party and social conservatives in disdain. He simply couldn’t credibly serve as the “conservative beat” reporter. The Washington Post company correctly removed him from that beat and quietly hired him at Slate, where he’s doing reported punditry rather than pretending to be an objective reporter. That’s a much better use of his skill set.

    @Spartacus: It really doesn’t. As my analysis lays out, there’s nothing contradictory between her assessments then and now.

  28. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:
    Crap, that was supposed to be a “Like” for Weigel, who I agree is one of the best of the new reporters.