Democracy Soup

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The Washington Post foolishly fired Froomkin to win the Media Putz

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Originally published on MediaPutz.com on June 25, 2009

The Washington Post

Jack Nicholson played a character who told us “You can’t handle the truth.” The Washington Post decided that we couldn’t handle the truth and fired Dan Froomkin.

Unless you are being laid off, and many good journalists are losing their jobs these days through no fault of their own, journalists don’t usually get fired unless they have done something significantly wrong. Hell, even Judith Miller of The New York Times wasn’t fired.

Did Dan Froomkin do something significantly wrong? His work was brilliant and fair against both major parties.

Sometimes, journalists are let go if they aren’t popular enough. But by all accounts, Froomkin was one of the most well-read members of the washingtonpost.com staff.

There are many who argue that the neo-con dominance of The Washington Post editorial page was one of the factors behind Froomkin’s departure. As deplorable as that is — on an ongoing basis — Froomkin worked for the Web site, not the paper. But when you load up your paper with neo-con voices (Paul Wolfowitz should have better odds of being in jail than being on The Washington Post editorial page) and dump one of your few semi-liberal voices, people will come to some logical conclusions.

The official excuse, from Washington Post Media Communications Director Kris Coratti, would make George Orwell feel inadequate:

“our editors and research teams are constantly reviewing our columns, blogs and other content to make sure we’re giving readers the most value when they are on our site while balancing the need to make the most of our resources. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes features must be eliminated, and this time it was the blog that Dan Froomkin freelanced for washingtonpost.com.”

The “resources” couldn’t have been that much since Froomkin freelanced the column. No benefits, no vacation, no strain on HR. As for value, Froomkin provided material that no one else had, especially at The Washington Post organization, newspaper or Web site.

The Web site has been cutting back on online chats, one of the few traits that brought distinction to washingtonpost.com that would have brought potential for more income, not less. Froomkin had one of those chats that most political insiders and observers read with earnest. In his last chat for washingtonpost.com, in response to a question about Post reporters not labeling torture as torture, Froomkin was straightforward that he always had called it torture.

“I call it torture. Over and over again.”

As for resources and priorities, the organization still employs long-past-his-prime dinosaur David Broder.

But the ultimate reason why The Washington Post fired Dan Froomkin — the ultimate reason why it decided that he wasn’t enough of a contributor to their news organization – was that he called out torture as torture, called out against those who spoke up for torture, and did the job that journalists are supposed to do.

As much as those on the right love to pump up The New York Times and The Washington Post as “the liberal media,” the reality is that most of the time, they speak to the truth in a much closer fashion than the rest of the MSM. But this does not make them liberal.

Anyone who has seen decisions made by The Washington Post, mostly on its editorial page, would not objectively assign the word “liberal” to The Washington Post. But the newspaper, the news organization, Web site and all, used to stand for standing up to government figures, to telling readers about what the government was doing.

To older generations, this meant Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But to younger generations, it feels more like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, two actors while playing real people that felt more like fictional characters. They don’t see in the modern version of The Washington Post what past generations saw.

Dan Froomkin was one of those who likely saw Watergate as the reason to stand up and report what government was doing. Not that we are comparing Froomkin to Woodward and Bernstein, but he did stand up against the tide because exposing the curtain behind what the government was doing was part of his job. While Woodward and Bernstein were praised by those in The Washington Post, Froomkin was loathed by various levels of staff who had influence over his fate.

There were childish arguments: the painfully tedious process that made Froomkin change the name of his column from “White House Briefing” to “White House Watch.” There was the internal battle over whether Froomkin was a reporter, even if his reporting skills put others under the WaPo roof to shame. And of course, there was the sea of attacks from the right-wing fringe because Froomkin had the “audacity” to report what was going on while George W. Bush lived in the White House.

In an era where newspaper readership is declining, and newspapers aren’t really sure what to do with their Web sites, Dan Froomkin stood out as the future of online MSM journalism. The Washington Post treated a star like a pariah, and foolishly fired one of their top people. For that, The Washington Post earns the Media Putz of the week award.

The Washington Post previously won the Media Putz on August 21, 2008.

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Written by democracysoup

June 25, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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