Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

The Washington Post Drops Froomkin, Drops the Ball

The firing of Dan Froomkin by The Washington Post set off a firestorm in the liberal blogosphere this week for one very simple reason: Froomkin  is a superb reporter, who consistently covers stories that his own newspaper–and the rest of the national press–routinely ignore. And most of them are about inconvenient truths concerning torture and the war in Iraq–two subjects covered almost exclusively from a right-wing point of view on the Post’s increasingly neoconservative editorial page.

Here are a few examples cited by FCP over the past eighteen months:

* When the Center for Public Integrity reported that the Bush administration had made 935 false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq (many of them repeated without challenge in the MSM), The Washington Post newspaper and all of the network evening news broadcasts ignored the story, and The New York Time covered it in 375 words. Only Froomkin gave it the attention it deserved–a full 1,238 word column.

* When ABC News’s Jan Craword Greenberg reported that, in 2002, Condoleezza Rice had chaired meetings attended by Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Tenet to discuss specific torture techniques, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS, and NBC all ignored the story. Froomkin pointed out that The Washington Post had never reported that Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft had participated in these meetings—”[a]nd the earlier article certainly didn’t contain any admission by Bush that he had given the principals the go-ahead.”

* When retired Major General Anthony Tauba declared “there is no longer any doubt the current administration has committed war crimes, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post missed the story the next day–while Froomkin wrote the single most comprehensive piece about the General’s accusation on his blog.

And finally, and most admirably of all, when a Post reader in an online chat said, “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?”

Froomkin replied: “I call it torture. Over and over again.”

There is nothing–and I mean nothing–that enrages the typical reporter more than a colleague who consistently points out his shortcomings. And as the op-ed page of the Post increasingly becomes a depository for neocon pablum produced by Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Liz Cheney, and oh-so-many-more, Froomkin was increasingly out of step with the zeitgeist promoted by Fred Hiatt, the paper’s editorial page editor.

And although Froomkin did not work directly for Hiatt, the editor told FCP that he had been consulted about the decision to terminate Froomkin’s contract, and he approved of it.

Responding to messages left by FCP for Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and two of the paper’s top editors, Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti declared by e-mail, “Editors need to be able to make decisions on what they think provides the most value to our readers, and a great deal of discussion and research informed this particular decision of not extending a contract that was expiring.” 

Which means, of course, that if they didn’t see the value of Froomkin’s contributions, they really don’t have any news judgment at all.

When FCP pointed out that as recently as last December, Froomkin’s column was the third most popular feature on washingtonpost.com, Coratti first pretended that the Post had never issued such a statistic. Then, a few minutes later, she said by e-mail, “It was a feature we must have done at the end of ’07,” which is what FCP had told her in the first place.

Marcus W. Brauchli , the new executive editor of The Washington Post, is supposed to be more focused than any other newspaper editor on how to transform his product so that it will thrive in the digital age. If he and his colleagues don’t understand the value of someone like Dan Froomkin, his chances of succeeding are nil. The good news is, the blogosphere is filled with editors who do recognize the value of Froomkin’s work, so there is no danger that his contributions will disappear. In fact, he should soon be at the center of a heated bidding war.