This past Sunday, the Washington Post’s freshly-minted ombudswoman Deborah Howell wrote an article in which she meditated on the differences between the Washington Post and Washingtonpost.com, which, she explained, is run as a separate company known as the Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive (WPNI). Along the way, Howell noted some cultural differences between the two entities.
“Political reporters at the Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s ‘White House Briefing,’ which is highly opinionated and liberal,” wrote Howell by way of example. “They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.”
Howell then quoted John Harris, national political editor at the newspaper, who said: “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility … I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”
Howell’s column immediately touched off a frenzy at the paper, with a passel of Posties, including Froomkin and Harris, adding their own two cents to the controversy.
In the meantime, the brouhaha has some liberal bloggers revving their engines (froom, froom, frooooom …) and chasing down what they imagine to be yet another right-wing conspiracy.
“A lot of people have noticed the recent ‘controversy’ (incredibly silly whining seems a better description to me) that basically involves complaints by Republicans that Dan Froomkin occasionally says negative things about the White House on his Washington Post weblog,” wrote Bloodless Coup. “These complainers say the blog should be renamed so that people don’t think Froomkin’s an actual White House reporter. You know, because people reading the blog are apparently too stupid to figure this out.”
“This flap is brought to you courtesy of the Republican party, who will not stand to see itself criticized by a major media outlet without seeking to take down the one who is doing so,” suggested firedoglake. “And John Harris bends over and spreads ‘em. Of course, considering Harris’s past as one of the people who hijacked the nation and started speaking in tongues over rumors of penis-shaped ornaments on the Clinton Christmas tree, this is hardly surprising.”
“When Harris was pressed by Jay Rosen to point to an example of somebody who thought that Washington Post Online’s White House Briefing column written by Dan Froomkin was ‘biased’, the only example he came up with was Pat Ruffini, a smart and prolific guy, but also a Bush-can-do-no-wrong Republican operative,” wrote Brad DeLong at the TPM Café. “It’s not a grassroots perception of bias that John Harris pointed to. It was Republican operatives working the ref.”
“This Froomkin thing has totally sucked me in,” wrote Living Reflections. “I hope everyone who doesn’t read him, starts now. Take that, stupid Republicans!”
Other bloggers were taking a more conciliatory tone.
“Froomkin is certainly biased and critical of the White House, but he’s not being duplicitous about his bias,” wrote One Veteran’s Voice. “He’s reporting facts, and giving his opinions. Perhaps, as suggested in the article, a disclaimer could be added, or a counter-blog offered.”
In the meantime, readers could read about the controversy on another blog on Washingtonpost.com — specifically, the Achenblog, where the Post’s resident humorist Joel Achenbach shot down the conspiracy theories.
“I’m probably going to be lashed for continuing to blog about this embarrassing internal spat (and the bosses may yell at me for blogging in general, rather than writing for print) — but let me go through a few comments, meticulously taken out of context and carefully distorted to serve my own rhetorical purposes,” wrote Achenbach. “[L]et me suggest that the White House right now has bigger problems than Dan Froomkin’s column.”
“This matter reflects the way the Web site’s home page has become coveted territory for everyone at the Post,” added Achenbach. “It’s not political. Some readers howl: Everything’s political! Well, everything can get political, that’s for sure. But not every dispute is spawned by ideology. Not every squabble in Washington is the result of a conspiracy masterminded by Karl Rove.”