Two Fridays ago, soon after news of the Norway terror attack broke, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin fired off a post that was quick to point fingers at al-Qaeda. She was less quick to correct herself when it became clear that the attack probably didn’t come from Muslim terrorists, and the post ricocheted around an upset liberal blogosphere. Rubin posted a follow-up on Saturday night, but it wasn’t pitched to be conciliatory: “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.”
The paper’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, defended Rubin’s slowness by invoking her religion: “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.”
Most newspapers have a sharply defined corrections policy; many Internet outlets (and Web arms of print publications) do not. It’s one of the beauties of the medium — that updates can be added to a developing news story as new details emerge — but it also unavoidably blurs the lines of accountability. When the story of the shooter broke, solid details were awfully scant at first. I followed the story for Daily Intel and posted rolling updates as we learned more information, mostly through Twitter. When I left for the weekend, officials still hadn’t ruled out the possibility of Islamic terrorism, even though it looked unlikely. I sent the weekend blogger a note asking him to update the post as necessary. I say that not to pat myself on the back in any way, but just to point out how easy it is — even at a small operation — to update things on the web. Rubin was out of commission for religious reasons, but why can’t the WaPo’s ombudsman acknowledge more bluntly that maybe a weekend editor or producer ought to have been keeping an eye on things and updated the incendiary post once it became perfectly clear that the facts were rather different.
But Pexton shifts the blame for the controversy off Rubin’s shoulders, and onto the readers’. His argument, essentially, is that angry bloggers and commenters didn’t have the right context for reading Rubin, and he wants to make it into an example of a larger liberals-are-from-Mars, conservatives-are-from-Venus kind of thing.
Liberals and conservatives don’t talk to each other much anymore; they exist in parallel online universes, only crossing over to grab some explosive anti-matter from the other side to stoke the rage in their own blogosphere. …
That seems like an unfair argument to make. Of course, an opinion columnist or blogger comes at their topic from a certain worldview. That’s what they’re paid for. (And, as Pexton, points out, Rubin also happens to have gotten her Post gig because she does plenty of reporting in addition to opining.) But that doesn’t mean that, even while stipulating that world view, someone can’t point out that a set of posts like Rubin’s seem out of step with the reality of the story.