The paper's ombudsman admits Jennifer Rubin would be fired if she promoted anti-Israeli rather than anti-Arab bile
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a truly twisted, deranged rant by neocon royal family member Rachel Abrams. Abrams — wife of Iran-contra convict and Bush 43 official Eliot Abrams, step-daughter of Norm Podhoretz, half-sister of John Podhoretz, and a Board Member of Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) — unleashed a torrent of anti-Palestinian hatred upon the release of Gilad Shalit that could be produced only by the most rotted of souls:
Then round up [Gilad Shalit's] captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.
While Abrams’ post sparked widespread revulsion, it found one noted admirer: The Washington Post‘s Israel-obsessed blogger Jennifer Rubin, who re-tweeted Abrams’ promotion of her post with obvious (and admitted) agreement.
In the ensuing controversy, ECI claimed that Abrams’ murderous desires were directed only toward Palestinian “terrorists,” not Palestinians generally — a self-evidently false excuse that quickly fell apart after Abrams wrote that, in essence, all Palestinians are Terrorists (“there are no fine points of distinction in what they’re after”). To make her genocidal wishes even clearer, Abrams then directed her bile to ThinkProgress’ Ali Gharib — an Iranian-American who was one of the many commentators objecting to her original post — explaining that she’d also “feed HIM and his friends to sharks.” To put it mildly, Abrams’ post was bigoted, violence-inciting, and driven by hatred of the purest and most repellent strain.
It’s the opposite of newsworthy that a rabid neocon like Abrams spews this sort of anti-Arab hate-mongering; that is basically the defining attribute of neoconservatism. But what is significant is that Jennifer Rubin promoted and endorsed it without any hesitation. Over the past 18 months, we’ve witnessed a series of journalists fired for far less virulent sentiments directed at Israelis and Jews (Rich Sanchez’ complaints about disproportionate Jewish media influence and Helen Thomas’ call for Jews to leave the region), and even for completely innocuous remarks whose only sin was offending neocons (Octavia Nasr’s mild eulogizing of a moderate Hezbollah cleric). Yet here we have a Post blogger who has endorsed this extreme hate-mongering, and does so with total impunity.
Is there any doubt whatsoever that had Rubin promoted a rant spewing these sorts of ugly caricatures about Jewish children and Israelis with accompanying calls for savage violence — rather than directed at Palestinians — that she would have instantly been fired, then castigated and attacked by all Serious precincts? As Gharib reports today, that was the question posed by a Post reader via email to the Post‘s Ombudsman, Patrick Pexton. To his credit, Pexton had previously condemned Rubin on his Ombudsman blog, writing: “in agreeing with the sentiment, and in spreading it to her 7,000 Twitter followers who know her as a Washington Post blogger, Rubin did damage to The Post and the credibility that keeps it afloat.” After denouncing Abrams’ rant as “reprehensible,” Pexton added: “That a Post employee would retweet it is a huge disappointment to me.”
That’s all fine as far as it goes, but what about the question posed by the reader: wouldn’t Rubin have been fired for promoting this hate-mongering had it been directed at Jews and Israelis rather than Palestinians? Pexton’s email response, published by the reader who emailed him, was this:
Off the record, I think it’s quite possible. But the ombudsman does not hire or fire people here. I only comment.
Leave aside the bizarre belief of establishment journalists that they can unilaterally decree their statements to be “off the record” and then expect that to be honored in the absence of any agreement by the person to whom they’re making the statement. What is most striking here is Pexton’s highly revealing cowardice — probably well-grounded — in wanting his observation about this double standard to be kept private; shouldn’t an Ombudsman who believes this be eager to raise it in public? As the reader noted in reply to Pexton:
If, in your opinion, such a grave double standard exits, why do you comment off the record? Why not publicly state your opinion? Why self censor? Doesn’t that reinforce insidious limitations on free speech?
Think of the absurdity. You must stay cautiously silent about a perfectly reasonable opinion while Rubin and Abrams can let fly with genocidal remarks. With respect, your silence contributes significantly to the poisoning of public debate.
Please speak up.
What’s particularly remarkable is that Pexton is admitting (albeit wanting it kept secret) what any honest observer knows to be true: that there is a very high likelihood — I’d say absolute certainty — that Rubin would have been fired had she promoted a post like this about Jews and Israelis rather than Arabs and Palestinians.
But this is the insidious, pervasive bias that has long been obvious in a profession that relentlessly touts its own “objectivity.” Even the mildest criticism of Israelis and anything even hinting at criticisms of Jews is strictly prohibited — a prohibition enforced by summary, immediate dismissal and enduring stigma. As Nicholas Kristof wrote during a visit to Jerusalem last year: Israel “tolerates a far greater range of opinions [about Israel] than America.”
But the most extreme forms of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred flourish often with no condemnation and virtually always with no sanction (Juan Williams’ firing by NPR was one of the very few exceptions, though that was ultimately motivated by long-standing NPR animosity toward Williams’ role on Fox). Had Rubin promoted (and admitted agreeing with) such disgusting bile toward Jews and Israelis, her journalism career would have been over, but because it was directed at Palestinians, it continues to thrive. Indeed, the neocon fanatic who runs the Post‘s Editorial Page, Fred Hiatt, predictably defended and praised Rubin, calling her “an excellent journalist and a relentless reporter” who “is often the target of unjustified criticism.” (Pexton argued that what Rubin did violated Post rules “that apply to editors, reporters and bloggers,” but since Rubin is an opinion writer, those rules do not apply to her: except Hiatt and Rubin herself repeatedly describe her as a “reporter” and a “journalist”).
Herein lies one of the great myths of American political culture: the media’s “objectivity.” No institution plays a greater role in restricting the terms of permissible debate in America than they do. The fact that they impose these limitations with such gross bias is bad enough; their self-praising insistence that they do no such things makes it that much worse. If the Post applied media standards equally to anti-Arab and anti-Israeli commentary, then Jen Rubin would be waiting on the unemployment line next to Rick Sanchez, Helen Thomas and Octavia Nasr. But it plainly does no such thing, and therefore she will remain exactly where she is.
* * * * *
The ebook version of With Liberty and Justice for Some is now available here and the Kindle version is here. On a different note, last night I debated former Bush drug czar John Walters on the Drug War at Brown University; a write-up from Brown’s student newspaper on that debate is here, and a video of the entire quite-contentious debate will be posted online in a few days.
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Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of three New York Times Bestselling books: two on the Bush administration's executive power and foreign policy abuses, and his latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, an indictment of America's
two-tiered system of justice. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.