The Washington Post, Dan Froomkin and the establishment media

The firing of one of the very few real journalists in the establishment press reveals much about what it is.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

[Updated below - Update II (Interview with Jay Rosen) - Update III]

The American establishment media in a nutshell:

“I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up [in the run-up to the war] and say ‘this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this,’ that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree.  It’s not our role” — NBC News’ David Gregory, thereafter promoted to host Meet the Press.

 

“Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central.  The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do. . . .

“Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy.

It also resonates with readers and viewers a lot more than passionless stenography.  I’m not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue in so many newsrooms — why, in fact, it’s so often consciously avoided. There are lots of possible reasons. There’s the increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.

“If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy — if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.

“I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter – whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship – or whatever it is – out of the way” – Dan Froomkin, fired yesterday by The Washington Post.



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The Washington Post‘s firing of Dan Froomkin reveals much about the modern establishment media.  Froomkin was one of the very few journalists working for an establishment outlet who understood and practiced the function of journalism.  That is why he had a history of tension with the Post.  Froomkin is everything that a political journalist is supposed to be — and everything that most of them are not.  That’s why he was an aberration — and, to them, an unpleasant one.  Just look at the record.

The first public controversy erupted when then-Post Political Editor John Harris — now, appropriately, the Editor-in-Chief of the consummately wretched Politico — demanded that the name of Froomkin’s column (“White House Briefing”) be changed because Froomkin was too liberal to be presented as a real reporter.  The Post‘s Ombudsman Deborah Howell defended that decision, noting that “Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s ‘White House Briefing,’ which is highly opinionated and liberal.”  She quoted Harris as saying that Froomkin’s column “dilutes our only asset — our credibility” and he “writes the kind of column ‘that we would never allow a White House reporter to write.’”

Why was Froomkin deemed ”liberal,” inappropriate and biased?  Because he pointed out that the Bush administration’s claims were false and their policies radical — i.e., he wrote what was factually true.  But that — writing what is factually true and pointing out false statements from those in political power — is the number one sin in establishment journalism.  As David Gregory said, that’s not their role.  In the Bush era, pointing out the lies of Bush officials was all that was necessary to be deemed a leftist.  Stephen Colbert explained why: “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”   Here’s just one illustrative example from a chat Froomkin gave last week when he was asked about the Post‘s refusal to use the word “torture” when referring to Bush policies:

Reader:  If the Post can’t or won’t call the techniques torture, the Post’s editorial position lines up exactly with the Bush Administration’s line that they didn’t torture, doesn’t it?

Dan Froomkin: I call it torture. Over and over again.

To be a real establishment journalist (objective), you’re not allowed to say when one side is lying — even when they are.  All you’re allowed to do is repeat what both sides say and leave it at that (Colbert:  ”The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home”).  Froomkin — unlike David Gregory — believes that reporters should actually point out when the Government is lying.  That’s what he did.  That’s why, to The Post, he wasn’t a real reporter but, rather, an “ideologue.”  That’s the sickness of American journalism in a nutshell.

Then there’s Froomkin’s freakish, exotic belief that journalists should be adversarial to and skpetical of the claims of government officials, especially when it comes to matters of war and national security.  See his superb guidelines for press skepticism of government claims (“You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority”); his criticisms of the establishment media for uncritically reporting Bush claims about the Iranian threat; his blistering critique of the failures of the media in the run-up to the Iraq War; and his criticism of Tim Russert’s protection of political power.  Skepticism towards — rather than mindless repeating of — the claims of the political establishment is almost as severe a sin in modern journalism as pointing out when government officials are lying. 

And then, most ironically (given John Harris’ accusations that he’s not objective), is Froomkin’s insistence on treating all politicians the same — subjecting all political leaders to adversarial journalistic scrutiny rather than declaring himself on one side or the other and spouting standard partisan talking points.  He couldn’t be pigeonholed as reflexively pro-Bush or pro-Obama — i.e., he has intellectual and journalistic integrity — and therefore confused the mind-numbing little formula used to simplify and deaden our political debates.  The Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen put this best:

The Politico says the move is “sure to ignite the left-wing blogosphere,” but Froomkin’s departure, if true, should disappoint anyone concerned with insightful political analysis. Indeed, far-right complaints notwithstanding, Froomkin has spent months scrutinizing the Obama White House, cutting the Democratic president no slack at all. Just over the past couple of days, Froomkin offered critical takes on the president’s proposed regulations of the financial industry, follow-through on gay rights, and on Bush-era torture revelations.

Froomkin was one of the media’s most important critics of the Bush White House, and conservative bashing notwithstanding, was poised to be just as valuable holding the Obama White House accountable for its decisions.

To how many people in the establishment media can that last sentence be applied?  Very, very few — and, as of yesterday, one fewer.

This is how warped and broken our establishment media is, and it is a big part of why it is dying.  Froomkin was one of the very few journalists in the establishment media who practiced real journalism rather than banal stenographic servitude to the political establishment , and for that reason was disliked by Post functionaries like John Harris; considered a leftist, biased ideologue; and deemed someone who undermined their imaginary “credibility.”  How many other columnists does the Post have whose firing would spark the level of anger or even interest that Froomkin’s has?  And how can The Post justify firing one of its most popular and unique commentators when it continues to serve as a factory of trite, extremist neoconservative propaganda?

At the Post, Froomkin stated when government officials were lying; applied skepticism to claims from politicians; believed journalists should do more than mindlessly recite what each side claims; and treated politicians on all sides equally.  In a minimally healthy political culture, those would be the bare requirements for being called a “journalist.”  In the establishment media culture we have, those traits disqualify you from the term and, if they persist, get you fired.  Ask Ashleigh Banfield (if you can find her).  Or Tim Russert’s perfect replacement.

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I’ll have a podcast discussion with NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen later today on what the Froomkin firing reveals about the Post and establishment journalism.  It will be posted here when ready.

 

UPDATE: Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander — who bills himself as “giving voice to reader concerns about the Post” — jots a tepid, empty little note about Froomkin’s firing in which he doesn’t bother (a) to quote or even reference a single reader complaint (and I know he received a large number, since I was cc:’d on many) or (b) express even a little bit of an opinion about what actually happened.   Instead, he just mindlessly recites vague and perfunctory management claims about the firing, without assessing or even confirming those claims.

Alexander describes Froomkin as writing ”an often-irreverent online column” (Beltway journalists are so full of reverence that it’s notable when one isn’t), and then includes this very revealing (and typical) passage:

That slant seemed to attract a large and loyal audience during the Bush administration, but it may have suffered when Barack Obama became president.

Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, whose stable of contributors includes Froomkin, said late Thursday: “With the end of the Bush administration, interest in the blog also diminished. His political orientation was not a factor in our decision.”

His audience “may have suffered” since Obama became President?  What does that even mean?  Did it suffer?  Alexander doesn’t bother to say.  And what does Hiatt’s “interest in the blog also diminished” mean?  Interest among whom?  Alexander is in standard Washington media mode:  passing on what he was told by officials without bothering to confirm if it’s true, like a good stenographer.  How does Froomkin’s traffic compare to other columnists and bloggers who the Post isn’t firing?  What is really behind his firing?  Alexander has no idea and no interest in finding out, despite its being an obvious concern among many Post readers (see his comment section if you doubt that).

Also:  regarding how Post reporters tried to marginalize and dismiss Froomkin as a “liberal opinionist” rather than a real journalist, see Atrios and Jane Hamsher for some very important insights on that issue.  That all relates to my discussion with Jay Rosen (Rosen’s comments on this are interesting in the extreme), which I’ll post very shortly.  

Finally, note that the normally mild-mannered Atlantic Editor — James Fallows — excoriates the Post‘s decision as “insane” and “a self-inflicted wound” (see Item 3):

Are papers like the Post under suspicion for being too insidery and old-media-y? How does it make sense get rid of an independent minded, new media, presumably not-that-expensive, non-Washington-cliquey voice on politics and the media and leave… well, the full opinion and media lineup the Post is sticking with?

Read Fallows’ whole paragraph on this, including his discussion of the Post‘s long-standing neocon agenda.

Post writers disliked Froomkin because he pointed out the radicalism and deceit of the Bush presidency and (both with his words and actions) highlighted their profound failure to do so, and because the neocon-Right complained about him to the Post.  As Brad DeLong put it:  “The ‘why’ is easy: he made too many people at the Post who were busy writing about how Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons or how there is more sea ice than there was a generation ago or how ‘opinions on shape of earth differ’ look foolish.”  Fred Hiatt was one of the most extreme enablers of Bush radicalism, and so it is hardly surprising that he fired Froomkin despite its being completely contrary to the efforts of the Post to survive as a financially sustainable entity.

 

UPDATE II:  My podcast discussion with NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen and author of the PressThink blog (including this excellent piece on the 2006 John-Harris/Froomkin controversy) is roughly 25 minutes in length and can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below. Rosen makes a lot of very interesting observations on what this episode reflects about the media, and he’s well worth listening to (before listening, read this quick post from Atrios on the distortion of the term “Liberal” — a point that resonates for me personally). A transcript will be posted shortly The transcript is now here:

[audio src='http://media.salon.com/2009/06/conversations_gg_rosen.mp3']

 

UPDATE III:  From a reader, via email:

As of this moment the post on the WaPo Ombudsman’s blog about Froomkin has 395 comments (most in support of Froomkin). His previous post, on Howard Kurtz, has 9. The post before that has 25. The one before that 0, as in none [and the 3 posts prior to that have 3 each, and the one prior also has zero]. Genius of the WaPo to get rid of the writer who readers are most passionate about.

Number of comments isn’t a perfect barometer of interest, but when the disparities are that large, it is certainly probative.  The bottom line is that I’d be willing to bet anyone that Froomkin generates more outside traffic to The Post than the overwhelming majority of Post blogs that remain.

To listen to this discussion, click PLAY on the recorder below:

Glenn Greenwald: My guest today is Jay Rosen, who is a journalism professor at NYU, and also author of the popular and influential media blog PressThink. Jay, thanks very much for joining me again.

Jay Rosen: Thank you for having me on this subject which is a passion of mine, and a passion of yours.

GG: It is. I’m going to ask you in just a second a very open-ended question, which is to invite you to tell me and anyone listening what you think about the firing of Dan Froomkin and what it means, and have you highlight what you think are the most important parts of this episode.

But before I ask you that, I want to ask you to just summarize the controversy that arose several years ago involving John Harris, the then national political editor of The Washington Post, and Deborah Howell, the ombudsman, and Froomkin as well, since you wrote about that rather comprehensively; you interviewed the various players and I think you argued yesterday on Twitter – and I think you’re right – that it provides a context for what happened and is independently interesting in its own right. So, if you could just describe what happened then, and then we can talk about recent events.

JR: Well, the fuse that exploded this week in letting Dan Froomkin go, was lit in December of 2005 when the national staff and the people who do White House news for The Washington Post newspaper, started complaining – I’m not exactly sure to whom they started complaining – but their complaint eventually reached the ombudsman and she wrote a column about how Dan Froomkin’s White House Briefing was causing complaints, and the complaints were that people thought he was a White House reporter, and this was confusing, and that he should be called an opinionated columnist – so a kind of tension within The Washington Post leaked out through this coded ombudsman column. Then there was tons of response to the column because Froomkin has a lot of fans in the blogosphere, and in the ‘news-o-sphere,’ and then The Washington Post political reporters, the national staff, started to feel they were misunderstood.

So they took to my blog, and I interviewed Harris, who was the editor of the politics team at the national staff of The Washington Post newspaper. And he presented the case at my blog, and Froomkin replied. And Jim Brady – who was the editor of washingtonpost.com, the online operation which was at that time run by a separate ‘king’, Jim Brady – he replied as well.

So, essentially what Harris said is, we’re getting a lot of complaints about Froomkin; they come, yeah, from Republicans, conservatives, but some liberals too, who say he has an agenda, he’s got a standard liberal view, and his column, White House Briefing, can be confused for a report, and I meet people all the time who are confused. So there is an attempt to re-brand him, which eventually led to his column being renamed White House Watch, and him being reclassified as an opinion columnist, and it was actually from the opinion section that was axed by Fred Hyatt when he started out as a creation of Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com. So he represented a kind of online format and sensibility as well, and that too is involved in this clash.

So the upshot was, Brady says, protecting his turf – because Froomkin was at the time one of the most popular columnists on washingtonpost.com, one of the big traffic generators – and he says he’s not going anywhere, and maybe we’ll re-describe what he’s doing, but we’re not going to do it under pressure, and it fought it to a stand still. And Dan prospered, for quite a while, as a washingtonpost.com columnist. But then with the firing or letting go of Jim Brady, he lost his protector, the washingtonpost.com operation began to be merged into the Post newsroom. Most people see that as a triumph of the old guard, and you can see this week’s events as related to that. So, he lost his protector; since he was classified as an opinion columnist, he was seen as of value because he presented a kind of opposition stance to Bush, but now that’s gone because Obama, he’s not going to be oppositional to, and I’m sure that contributed as well.

So that’s what happened in December ’05. Brady argued back, said maybe what he does is perfectly appropriate, and he’s protected for a while, but then he lost that protection, and so he’s gone.

GG: One of the things I found so interesting in going back and reading your account and of the interviews you did, and I linked to it today and I’ll do so again, is that the argument that Froomkin was making back then, is that actually he wasn’t a liberal at all.

JR: Right.

GG: That what he was doing was acting adversarially to the party in power, which is what a reporter is supposed to do, and that happened to be a Republican administration spouting lots of lies, and he said, if it had been a Kerry administration that won in 2004, another Democratic administration, he would be doing exactly the same thing.  And John Harris, in your interview with him, said, well, I – he sort of doubted it, so I guess we can’t know for sure until it happens, but he seems to have a liberal viewpoint to me.

Now, as it turns out, there haven’t been very many more vigorous and persistent critics of Barack Obama since the inauguration than Dan Froomkin on many, many counts. He has constantly identified reasoning coming from the White House that he thinks is inconsistent or unpersuasive, or even misleading. He’s criticized him for failing to live up to campaign promises. He wrote the other day that he’s become an active participant in a cover-up of Bush crimes; he’s criticized him for being too beholden to the financial industry in the regulations he’s advocating. So it turns out that Dan Froomkin was right, clearly, when he was saying that he would be doing the same thing if there were a Democratic or liberal administration.

What does that mean in terms of how these reporters think about, or these newspapers and media outlets think about what is and is not a partisan, or an ideologue, or what objectivity is?

JR: Well, to answer that, Glenn, I have to go back to your question you said you were going ask, how do I interpret these events. And here is the explanation that occurs to me after three or four years of blogging about this general subject, and well over 20 posts written about the larger story here, which is, what happened to the press under Bush. The way I view it now, it comes down to this: the entire contraption of professional, elite-level political journalism, and especially White House reporting, which is an entire system brining together the political players, the journalists, the media system and the audiences, was not built for, and didn’t anticipate, and did not know how to cope with what happened when an outlier occupied the White House.

And when Bush came to power, this is essentially the situation our press faced, because Bush in his agenda for the expansion of executive power, in what I call the opacity agenda that followed from that, which is while you’re expanding executive power, you’re pulling a curtain over the government in as many ways as you can, and by increasing opacity, that itself is an expansion of executive power. As well as the roll back of the press itself, to a greater distance so that it can’t see as well as the triumph over Congressional oversight. The radical agenda that Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson talks about as a former aide to Colin Powell. That whole thing presented an outlier to the Washington press, and it needed, in order to respond to something that big and that dramatic of a departure from White House press relations, imaginative moves of its own.

And essentially what happened, Glenn, is that the White House press, the Washington press, and The Washington Post staff, never came up with that response. And Froomkin came along, in the wreckage of that, and from a position way on the wing, as a columnist for washingtonpost.com, this new entity which to the guys downtown at The Washington Post didn’t even matter at first, came along and he basically picked up the signals from that event, and started to write it up, and started to bring that story, that whole narrative of the radicalism of the Bush years, into The Washington Post. And the truth is, that the Washington press corps, and the people at the White House themselves, helped to normalize Bush; they normalized a radical move. They didn’t know what to do in the case of an outlier. All the things they would have had to do to respond, they failed to do. And Froomkin was reminding them of that. And that is ultimately why he was let go.

GG: When you say that Froomkin was reminding them of that, and that was ultimately why he was let go, do you think – there were lots of columns where Froomkin would, one of the things that made him so unusual was that he would write explicit criticism of how the media was behaving. He criticized Tim Russert very harshly, he would criticize other reports for mindlessly and uncritically passing along or amplifying Bush claims.

JR: Right.

GG: Do you think it was that explicit head-on media criticism that made them dislike his column so much, or was it just that fact that he was acting in a way, as a journalist, that they weren’t, and his example was highlighting what it was they were failing to do?

JR: He was picking up on a story that was eluding them, and to understand why, you have to go back to how Dan did his job. He, unlike the duties of the reporters on the beat, wasn’t tracking what the White House was doing every day, wasn’t there at the White House himself, didn’t have to show up at events, wasn’t a reporter on foot, wasn’t calling sources all the time. Instead, his day started when he gathered all the coverage of the White House beat, from around the Web, which he could do, and started to sift through it, right? Like a blogger. When you do that, of course, and you bring it all together, which the reporters aren’t necessarily doing – they’re following their thing, they’re following their competitors, but they’re not looking at the beat as a whole. And that’s how he did his job.

So he was able to take what the coverage as a whole was asking, look at what Bush was doing, and he would notice that certain things that Bush was doing would drift from the coverage, would fall into the cracks, were a much bigger deal than the press was making them out to be. And so he would remind people of that, he would show it, he would be able, he was bringing to White House reporting, all the virtues of blogging, and yet it doing it from within the empire itself. And so in that sense, he was acting as a better journalist, because he was taking this one-step-removed view.

What the reporters should have done is said, this is great, because we have somebody looking at all of the coverage – this will allow us to fine tune and alter our coverage so that we can be ahead of the pack. But instead what had began as a contest of authority – and this is why the Froomkin story is so important, because the people who should have incorporated what he was doing into a better, tougher and more accurate narrative, instead saw this as the heathens, the march of ideology into their profession, the invasion of the blogosphere, and they were able to moralize and basically marginalize Froomkin as an opinion columnist giving his liberal take on events, and so that’s why when Hiatt assumed command of Froomkin, he could be expended as basically a bad, dull, liberal columnist, which is a complete lie.

GG: Let me ask you this: I imagine if Fred Hiatt were here, he would make the following defense, adopt the following response, which is – and he’s already said this actually in his very vapid and meaningless form statement – oh, no, our firing of Froomkin had nothing to do with his political views, and in fact the proof of that – he didn’t say this, but I’ll make this argument for him – is that we have plenty of liberals at The Washington Post, we have Eugene Robinson, and E.J. Dionne and we just hired Ezra Klein as a Washington Post blogger, they hired Greg Sergeant away from TPM. So what is it about Froomkin that, in your view, made him intolerable to Fred Hiatt whereas those other individuals I just named at least as of yet are still there?

JR: Because he’s not a liberal columnist. That was a complete lie, a description that sticks to him by Harris, the national staff, and ultimately by Fred Hiatt. He’s an accountability journalist who practices his craft at the level that the Web makes possible.

GG: And why does that get viewed as being liberal, how does that end up –

JR: Because of what I told you, Glenn. We had an outlier in the White House doing amazing, astounding, incredibly dangerous things. And the press normalized that White House.

GG: And those who refused to, or those who just described, would end up being viewed as liberal? Got dismissed as liberal?

JR: Because the easiest way to deal with the disruptive force of what Froomkin was putting out, is to call it opinionated, liberal mind-set, and predictable mush, which is exactly what John Harris did. He said, I think if you look at Froomkin’s work over time, it’s the pretty standard liberal take on Bush, you see? So you have Froomkin saying from the washingtonpost.com, you guys are missing this huge story, and I’m trying to put it together for you, and they’re able to say back to him, well that’s just the standard liberal view of Bush being articulated by an opinion columnist, and that’s not what he is, he’s an accountability journalist.

GG: What’s the difference between those two things? A liberal columnist and an accountability journalist?

JR: An accountability journalist is comparing what the President is doing to commonly held norms that are the basic values of journalism. Truthfulness, a standard of civility, and honor, and accountability of the government to the people, and to the public record – all of these things that are part of the cardinal virtues of journalism. And Froomkin was able, because he was outside the conventions of news writing as a daily beat thing, and of news analysis as it has come to be practiced, because he had looser constraints on him, was able to get more of the story of Bush into his column than they were working in the trap they had created for themselves. That’s the resentment that was coming from Harris.

GG: Right. Now, one of the points that Harris emphasized and Deborah Howell emphasized, and he particularly highlighted it in his interview with you, is that what the presence of Froomkin was doing was causing, essentially providing grist for the right-wing mill.

JR: Yes.

GG: To be able to complain that the media is in fact this biased liberal instrument that they constantly claim it was, and I think Harris described it as leading with their chin, that they essentially feared the complaints being made by conservatives about what Dan Froomkin was doing. Do you think – two parts to that – do you think that was a legitimate concern that they had, and are there instances ever where they cite liberal complaints about what they’re doing as a reason for changing their behavior? Did they care as much about liberal complaints as they do complaints from the right?

JR: I haven’t seen much evidence of that, but I thought it was a fascinating argument that Harris makes. If you know the background here, you know that what Eric Alterman eventually called working the refs, is an outcome of cultural war strategy that really started with Agnew in 1969, where you had politicized complaints about the liberal bias of Washington reporters as a way of making them back off, and what Harris is saying there is, look, now there’s a whole bunch of people who believe this about us whether it’s true or not, you know? And what we can’t do is feed them red meat, and that is what Dan Froomkin is.

Well, if Dan Froomkin was simply an intellectually honest accountability journalist able to put forward a larger story of what the Bush radical White House was doing, then you would expect Bush’s defenders to try and do that. And so, Harris had assimilated this notion of friction as bias, and Froomkin was saying, there’s friction alright between me and them, but it’s not bias, it’s you have to figure out what this White House is doing, and ultimately the break-down was Froomkin gets thrown to the liberal bias wolves.

GG: You alluded earlier to the fact that Froomkin became a very popular columnist in the blogosphere, a traffic generator. Some of the most recent evidence that I saw was from Mediabistro which posted the top 10 most trafficked Post columns from 2007, and Froomkin had 3 out of 10.

JR: Right.

GG: Now, the ombudsman of The Washington Post had this very substance-free piece about the Froomkin firing in which suggested that quote-unquote “traffic might have declined for Froomkin,” without saying whether it actually did, and Fred Hiatt was quoted as saying quote-unquote “interest had decreased since Obama was inaugurated” – I don’t know what that means. I don’t believe – don’t know if traffic has decreased or not in absolute terms, but I can almost guarantee based on my own knowledge of the blogosphere and how traffic is generated, that Froomkin compares very favorably to other Washington Post bloggers in terms of just pure numbers, in terms of traffic, just based on the links he gets and the people who cite him.

Would it surprise you if Froomkin were still one of the most heavily trafficked of the Post bloggers, and they fired him anyway? How important is on-line traffic to what The Washington Post is attempting to accomplish?

JR: Oh, I’m sure he does quite well, still, in terms of raw traffic. But it goes way beyond that, Glenn. Froomkin was one of the first editors of washingtonpost.com. He is in the 99th percentile in web literacy among mainstream professional journalists. He’s an ambassador between The Washington Post, and I must say, an important part of the political blogosphere which is right in the center of Post‘s core readership. He is completely up to speed with open source journalism and the possibilities of using the falling costs for people who share an interest to share their information, and incorporating that into how journalists do their work. He not only understands it, he has done his own version of is with his column, and among journalists at The Washington Post, would be completely in the leading edge of something they themselves know they have to learn how to do. So it’s not just that you’re firing a popular columnist – it’s way beyond that.

Froomkin is as comfortable writing learned essays for the online journalism review, blogging at Huffington Post or Firedoglake, or writing a news story for The Washington Post. You need people with that kind of literacy now. So you’re expelling somebody who’s helping you transition to a new platform.

GG: Let me ask you this as the last question, and a couple of readers asked me to ask you once I indicated I was going to be doing an interview with you, a discussion with you about this topic later today. Both in terms of these issues, the way that the Bush era has affected political journalism as you just described it in several of your earlier answers, as well as the financial events that are shaping the professional journalism and how it’s perceived, what is the mind-set of journalism students with regard to I guess the function of political journalism? Has it changed in the past several years? Is the way that political journalism is practiced affecting how journalism students think as they study and enter the profession? I realize that’s pretty broad, but what are your thoughts on that, in terms of people who are studying journalism?

JR: I don’t really have a good answer for you on that, because I don’t actually get a lot of students interested in political journalism at NYU. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to come to us, or at least they don’t in my classes – I actually have a lot of trouble getting our students excited about it. We have a lot of people who want to go into magazine journalism here, and their interests tend to be more on the cultural side. So, I’m sure that there have been shifts of opinion, but I don’t really feel I have a good pulse on that.

GG: Okay. A question for someone else, then. Well, this has been, as expected, very interesting. I think the meaning of the Froomkin firing is something that can be dug through for quite a while.

JR: Yes.

GG: I wonder how – I guess that last thing I’d ask is, how much do you see it as a by-product of specific internal divisions at the Post, versus a broader reflection of what the media has become?

JR: Well, I don’t know what exactly triggered the decision at The Washington Post. I don’t have any source inside the newspaper that would tell me that. But looking at it in the larger narrative of establishment journalism coming to grips with both Bush and the Web, two subjects that have obsessed me over the years, to me it’s about the ‘Church of the Savvy,’ as I call it, coming to grips with events that shook its foundations, and with the kind of failure that really hasn’t been worked through by the profession. You know, Glenn, we had the 9/11 Commission to study what happened that day. We’ve had the Senate Intelligence Committee, we start to go through what happened with the decision to go to war. We haven’t had anything like that of kind of accounting in journalism.

And I believe that was a drastic mistake that the political press made in refusing to undergo any kind of big accounting like that, a mistake in the small number of self-critiques that have been done as a kind of exorcism. It wasn’t, but they haven’t gone back and looked at their performance. And I see an echo of that failure, and I see an echo of the failure to come to grips with a outlier administration, and the way the Bush people changed the game on the press, knowing the press was incapable of changing its game. Dan Froomkin simply came along and noticed that, and began to write it into the news, and it is the sharpness of that conflict, and the magnitude of the failure that I read into these events this week.

GG: Jay Rosen, thanks very much – very interesting and I appreciate your taking the time.

JR: My pleasure.

[Transcript courtesy of Thames Valley Transcribe]

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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