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To Post Ombud, Critics of 'Muslims Did It' Blogger Are the Real Monsters

Washington Post ombud Patrick Pexton weighed in yesterday (7/31/11) on the criticisms of right-wing Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. She was among a handful of media personalities who declared the Norway terror attacks to be the work of Muslim jihadists. As she put it (7/22/11): "In all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra.... As the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of Al-Qaeda allies still operating."

This would seem to be an easy call for an ombud--news outlets should try to shy away from baseless, bigoted speculation. But that's not Pexton's point; right from the start, he expressed sympathy with Rubin:

When I received my Post e-mail alert about the bombing in Norway, my first thought was that it was Al-Qaeda.

Pexton wonders why he got so much mail about Rubin, attributing that fact to "her style, her faith, how the liberal and conservative blogospheres work on the news cycle, and, finally, a certain American insensitivity toward mass casualties in other lands."

Well, maybe. Or perhaps some people are bothered by outlets that publish vicious, baseless  innuendo.

In discussing why Rubin didn't modify her post after the news that the suspect Anders Breivik was not a Muslim terrorist at all, Pexton explains:

Rubin has a good defense. She is Jewish. She generally observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; she doesn't blog, doesn't tweet, doesn't respond to reader e-mails.

OK. But then it's hard to fathom what she wrote when she did check in-- one of the only criticisms Pexton seems to think is legitimate:

When she went online at 8 p.m. Saturday, her mea culpa post on Norway was the first thing she posted, although its tone also hurt her, particularly this sentence, which struck many readers as borderline racist: "There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West."


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Pexton goes on offers some mush about the ideological divide:

Liberals and conservatives don't talk to each other much anymore.... If your politics are liberal and you don't generally read Rubin, but you read her Norway posts, you probably would be pretty offended. But if you are a conservative, or someone who reads Rubin regularly, you'll know that this is what she does and who she is.

Is that supposed to be a defense of her writing--that she regularly publishes ill-informed speculation?  Pexton had a chat with Rubin and decided that

she is not an ogre or a racist. And she does not deserve some of the calumny she got. Some of the e-mail she received was way over the line--ugly, obscene, vile and, worst, containing threats of physical harm.

You can sense that Pexton's conclusion is drifting in that direction--the real problem is her critics. But I was surprised at how far he went:

This brings us back to the shootings in Norway, an act committed by a disturbed man who drew some of his inspiration from extremist websites. A blogosphere given to vitriol and hasty judgments ought to consider the possible consequences of its own online attacks.

Pexton's point seems to be that liberal-left critics of Rubin are like the Islamophobic blogs were cited in the manifesto Breivik wrote to explain his murderous terrorism; it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Rubin's original post resembled Breivik's actual inspirations, not only in tone but in content.

So, according to the Post ombud, the writers who pointed out the inaccurate, bigoted punditry of someone with a perch on a major newspaper's website are like hatemongers, and may just inspire a killing spree. Wow.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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