Under normal circumstances, the recent lunch at at a Filipino cafe in Washington, D.C., between Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz and right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin would have been an awkward affair. Kurtz was there to profile Malkin for the paper's Style section, yet Malkin in her writings had made it clear she despises the mainstream media and holds the Post in contempt. ("Washington Post Sinks To A New Low," read a Malkin blog entry on July 22, 2005.) She has written that the paper's managing editor displays an "anti-American mindset" and has specifically singled Kurtz out for being a dishonest and incompetent reporter.
Talk about tension. The lunch and the subsequent feature could have set off some real fireworks with Kurtz not only defending his work and the Post's reputation, but pressing Malkin hard to explain her wild and often fact-free allegations against journalists. Instead, the profile, which skated over Malkin's anti-media rants as well as her loathing of the Post, was published as a Valentine's Day week mash note, presenting Malkin as a pugnacious, on-the-rise pundit who has her liberal critics up in arms.
As Paul McLeary noted at CJR Daily: "It really takes a talented writer to paint conservative commentator Michelle Malkin as the voice of reason. ... But the Washington Post's Howie Kurtz ... manages to do just that."
Even Malkin's fellow GOP bloggers were cooing over the Post's treatment. The profile was "reasonably balanced and well worth reading," wrote Power Line. Trust me, that's an extraordinary compliment coming from bloggers whose hatred for journalists, and journalism, know no bounds.
The Post's soft spot for conservative media players is well-known. Last year the paper lovingly profiled Fox News' openly partisan anchor Brit Hume and announced, "He speaks deliberately, unhurriedly, making his points with logic rather than passion." And in 2005 the paper equated factually challenged talker Rush Limbaugh with award-winning late-night satirist Jon Stewart.
But I think it's time to acknowledge what has blossomed into one of the Beltway's most dysfunctional media liaisons: the love-hate relationship between The Washington Post and right-wing bloggers. The Post loves the bloggers, but the bloggers hate the Post.
I don't know if the Post's cozying up is part of an overt effort to shed the "liberal media bias" charge, or if Post news execs actually believe the online GOP bomb-throwers represent an interesting and important piece of today's political dialogue. But for whatever reason, the Post has gotten into bed with the right-wing bloggers again and again. It's time the Post ended this ill-conceived romance. It's also time for the Post to show influential liberal bloggers a little love.
This is not a new problem at the Post. The news organization's warped mind-set regarding GOP bloggers was advertised last year when washigntonpost.com inexplicably hired Ben Domenech to be a columnist. The move was supposed to give the site more political "balance," with Domenech hired to counter the washingtonpost.com writing of columnist Dan Froomkin, a veteran journalist who writes insightfully, and often critically, about the Bush White House.
Domenech is not a serious writer and doesn't really pretend to be anything more than a name-calling partisan. (The twentysomething bragged about the fact that he wasn't a journalist.) He'd labeled Coretta Scott King a "communist," and attacked Teresa Heinz Kerry as an "oddly shaped egotistical ketchup-colored muppet." The hiring quickly imploded when it became apparent Domenech had a plagiarism problem.
The whole media meltdown was hugely embarrassing for the company, and it should have sent up lots of red flags for how it deals with, and often celebrates, right-wing bloggers. But as the Post's loving look at Malkin proved, the Post's crush remains hot and heavy.
Like Domenech, Malkin is not a serious person. In fact, she's ambitiously unserious, and her work is treated accordingly by most people in senior positions within the mainstream media (except at Fox News and the Post). That's because her daily blog is built on a foundation of hatred that literally knows no bounds -- namely, Malkin's unbridled, name-calling disdain for Democrats, peace activists, journalists, immigrants, and Muslims. Yet inside the Post newsroom, or more specifically, at the Post Style desk, Malkin is seen as a rising media star worthy of focused, fawning attention.
It would be one thing if Malkin were currently enjoying her victory lap -- if she'd been dead-on about Iraq and about the defeatists on the left who didn't have the foresight to back a wildly successful invasion of Iraq. But, of course, she's not. Malkin is the field general for a squad of bitter pro-war dead-enders who lash out online against anyone who dares speak the truth about the war. She has been wrong about Iraq in every conceivable way, with a losing streak dating back more than 50 straight months. The consequences for having habitually botched the most important policy issue of the last decade? She's taken to lunch by a Washington Post reporter (the same reporter Malkin once derided as incompetent), who then splashes a friendly profile in the paper while carefully refusing to inform readers about Malkin's glaring ignorance and unhinged loathing.
See, GOP warbloggers can't lose. If they'd been right about Iraq, The Washington Post surely would have toasted them. But even after they continually make fools of themselves prognosticating all sorts of falsehoods about the war, The Washington Post still toasts them. As for the articulate bloggers on the left who opposed the war from the outset and who insisted the White House had not made a coherent case for launching a pre-emptive war? The Post couldn't care less about them. Then again, the Post editorialized relentlessly in favor of the war and was proven just as wrong as the Malkins of the world. So perhaps the newspaper is simply embarrassed and doesn't want to honor, let alone acknowledge, the liberal bloggers for fear it would simply highlight the paper's own glaring foreign policy incompetence.
The Post's treatment would be more palatable if the newspaper had an open-door policy regarding bloggers and wrote loving stories about those on the left and the right. The problem is, the Post only has eyes for far-right bloggers, and it consistently gives the liberal netroots the cold shoulder.
Bloggers the Post won't touch
Where, in the last two years, has the Post's Style section run a feature on Markos "Kos" Moulitsas Zuniga, whose DailyKos.com is the most popular political blog in the world? Where was the feature on progressive wunderkind organizer Matt Stoller, one of the forces behind the widely read MyDD website? Or pioneers like Eric Alterman (a Media Matters for America senior fellow) and Josh Marshall, who were among the first to establish progressive outposts online? Or John Amato, who revolutionized political blogging by posting video clips on his Crooks and Liars website, which, according to one recent survey, was the 10th most-linked-to political website in the world? Or Jane Hamsher, who founded influential firedoglake.com, and who's been leading a team live-blogging the Scooter Libby trial? Or Duncan Black (a Media Matters senior fellow), whose hugely popular blog, Eschaton, remains an online must-read? Or John Aravosis, the progressive activist who runs AMERICAblog and just a few weeks ago forced the candy giant Mars to yank online Snickers ads after Aravosis and others tagged them as anti-gay? (Full disclosure: I know most of those bloggers on a personal basis.)
Here's a for-instance. Progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald last year wrote a New York Times bestselling book, How Would a Patriot Act?, critiquing the Bush administration's abuse of executive privilege. His popular and insightful political blog, Unclaimed Territory, just recently moved over to Salon.com, where its influence continues to grow. Let's start the clock ticking and see how long it takes (if ever) for the Post to invite Glenn Greenwald out to lunch in order to write up a flattering profile of the rising progressive blogger. I doubt it will ever happen, in part because over the last two years Greenwald has been mentioned in grand total of two articles in the Post, compared to the 12 articles that have mentioned Malkin over the same time period.
Bottom line: At the Post, Bush bloggers matter, liberal ones do not. (Arianna Huffington, who last year launched The Huffington Post, stands out as lone exception to the Post rule. Of course, Huffington was an established media star before she started up her hugely successful website that's helped transform the political landscape.)
The one lengthy Post feature of a liberal blogger that I can find from the last 24 months was a page-one piece from April 2006 when the Post shadowed lesser-known blogger Maryscott O'Connor, who writes at My Left Wing. The Post portrayed O'Connor as a Bush-hating lunatic. Key phrases from the article: "angry," "rage," "fury," "angriest," "outrage," "crude," "loud," "crass," "inflammatory," "attack."
I understand that most online progressives have been critical of the Post and that it's difficult for journalists to write about, and indirectly publicize, people who have nitpicked their work. But, of course, any criticism progressives have lodged against the Post is positively dwarfed by the relentless, almost daily barrage of unhinged attacks the paper is subjected to by conservative bloggers such as Malkin who, instead of getting frozen out by the Post, are embraced by the newspaper.
The Post's glaring double standard was perfectly, and predictably, captured in the Malkin feature, which gave an overview of her career and focused on how nasty Malkin's critics were. "They'll ridicule my looks, ridicule my ethnicity, go after my family," the 36-year-old blogger complained.
The piece was a whitewash, plain and simple. For instance, there are scores of serious people who have written extensively about Malkin's out-of-control hate speech that doubles as insight at her blog. (Critics who never bother to write about Malkin's looks, ethnicity or her family -- the topics just aren't that interesting.) Kurtz, though, couldn't find any of them to interview. He could find only one-time war supporter Andrew Sullivan, who tsk-tsked Malkin's critics for being too nasty, and the West Coast editor for the political humor site Wonkette, who was asked about a digitally altered photo of Malkin that the website posted. That's the tiny little net the Post threw out to help give readers context about Malkin and her controversial work.
What the newspaper left unsaid about Malkin was that she recently wrote, "[M]any in the American media ... have a vested interest in exaggerating the violence as much as possible," and that she's referred to the Associated Press as "The Associated (with terrorists) Press."
It's the absolutely central point about Malkin that the Post neglected -- Malkin claims journalists covering Iraq are either cowards or siding with the terrorists who are trying to kill Americans (or both). As her fellow warblogger Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs puts it with a headline he routinely uses, "The Media Are the Enemy." Yet the Post profile politely omitted any reference to Malkin's repugnant claim that journalists are terrorist-sympathizer traitors. Of course, if that point had been spelled that out in print, and certainly if the Post had allowed others to comment on Malkin's wild, press-hating accusation, Washington Post readers all across the Metro would have wondered, why on earth is the newspaper treating a fringe radical figure like Malkin so seriously?
In order to avoid that obvious, albeit uncomfortable, question, the newspaper shifted the focus to Malkin's critics (they're so mean), without ever really explaining what Malkin's hateful, factually challenged rants were and why they generate such heat.
The Post also gave just a passing reference to Malkin's 2004 book, which defended the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The Post left unmentioned the fact that the entire thesis of Malkin's book represented a stunning flip-flop for the author. In a May 2000 syndicated column, Malkin wrote, "The government has apologized and provided cash compensation to victims who were forced into camps. There is no denying that what happened to Japanese-American internees was abhorrent and wrong." (Emphasis added.)
The Post decided that glaring flip-flop was irrelevant to profiling Malkin's work.
Then again, Malkin's arguably more famous for the things she gets wrong, as opposed to what she gets right. As the Post politely put it, "Malkin's campaigns have had mixed results." Which is sort of like saying the Titanic failed to reach its destination. Here's a brief list of Malkin's recent lowlights:
- During the 2004 campaign, Malkin appeared on MSNBC's Hardball and insisted that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were alleging that John Kerry shot himself on purpose while serving in Vietnam. Her slanderous appearance caused a media stir, since the Swifties had never made that accusation against Kerry. The following day, while blogging and appearing on C-SPAN, Malkin lied repeatedly about her Hardball showdown.
- In early 2005, during the Terri Schiavo right-to-die controversy, Malkin embraced a dubious conspiracy theory and ridiculed The Washington Post for weeks. Malkin, who posted about the topic incessantly, was certain Post reporters had fabricated a key report about the infamous Schiavo "talking points memo" written and distributed by the GOP. In her April 1 post belittling the "Schiavo talking points memo mess," Malkin continued her attack on The Washington Post and demanded the daily start publishing a laundry list of retractions for its fraudulent coverage of the Schiavo memo. (Incredibly, Kurtz gave the bloggers a platform inside the paper to air their baseless allegations against the Post.) Malkin's claims were proven to be untrue when an aide to a Republican senator confessed to writing the Schiavo memo.
- In April 2005, Malkin was leading the charge (i.e. "raising troubling questions") in accusing a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer with the Associated Press of working in concert with Iraqi insurgents to stage the public assassination of a Baghdad election worker. (The photog was tipped off by terrorists, Malkin claimed.) The allegations were proven to completely fictitious.
- In October 2005, after a depressed University of Oklahoma engineering student blew himself up 100 yards away from a packed football stadium, Malkin hyped the story by linking to fellow bloggers who suggested the student, Joel Henry Hinrichs III, had an Al Qaeda connection. Malkin also complained the mainstream media were covering up the real facts in an effort to "whitewash radical Islam out of the news." Scores of law enforcement agencies quickly confirmed the terrorism conspiracy theory was pure fiction.
- Last summer, Malkin led yet another angry charge against The New York Times after its Travel section, in a puff piece about an exclusive Maryland vacation town, published photos of weekend homes owned by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Based on nothing more than a conspiratorial hunch, Malkin and company shrieked that by running the photos the unpatriotic Times had (deliberately) emboldened Al Qaeda and endangered the lives of Rumsfeld and Cheney by showing terrorists where the men lived. In truth, the Times received Pentagon approval to run the innocuous photos. Said Rummy's own flack: "I'm a little confused about why this has caused such an uproar." Join the club.
- In January, Malkin experienced a particularly humiliating setback. For months, Malkin had been pushing a far-fetched media "scandal" by accusing the Associated Press of manufacturing a "phony" and "bogus" Iraqi police source who was reporting false stories about the daily carnage inside Baghdad. She claimed the phony AP source proved that all of the AP's Iraq reporting was suspect. (Malkin and company cling to the notion that the situation in Iraq is not as bad as biased journalists make it out to be.) In January, the Iraqi government confirmed the police source's existence, thereby ruining Malkin's press-hating conspiracy theory. (The Post remained silent when Malkin's Jamil Hussein allegation imploded.)
Let's face it -- if a liberal blogger ever stitched together a record of sloppy, Keystone Kops-style obfuscation the way Malkin has, Post editors wouldn't even know how to spell the blogger's name, let alone be interested in profiling them. And who would blame them? Any overexcited dolt can randomly make stuff up on the Internet, or link to others who do. Apparently, the fact that Malkin does that like clockwork and that it, in turn, gets people upset is newsworthy in the eyes of Washington Post editors.
Two years ago this month, Kurtz noted, "Many bloggers are careful and thought-provoking, others partisan or mean-spirited." The question is: Why has the Post has made a conscious decision to champion mean-spirited bloggers like Malkin at the expense of the thought-provoking ones?