For years, the best thing going at the Washington Post’s website has been Dan Froomkin’s “White House Watch” (originally called “White House Briefing.”) In fact, aside from the need to link to pieces from their print edition, there has been no other consistent reason to visit the website. Froomkin bored into the Bush Administration’s selling of the war with Iraq, its introduction of warrantless surveillance, and its treatment of prisoners, particularly the policies that encouraged torture and official cruelty. On each of these points, he was a strong counterpoint to the official editorial page voice of WaPo, which was an essential vehicle for selling the Iraq War and for soliciting support for Bush-era policies, even while it occasionally feigned criticism of them. With the arrival of the Obama team, Froomkin hasn’t let up for a second, a clear demonstration that he doesn’t play the partisan political games of old-media hacks like David Broder who clog the WaPo roster. Froomkin’s handling of the torture issue, among other things, consistently brought far deeper insights to the issues raised than the Post’s increasingly fact-challenged editorial page. Froomkin was particularly strong in discussing legal matters, a fact I link to his brother Michael, a prominent law professor. Froomkin’s work was heavily read and circulated. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald notes, Froomkin was the author of three of the ten most closely followed columns published at WaPo. His work was consistently well regarded. So why would WaPo say good-bye to its premier web writer?
The answer to that question certainly lies with Fred Hiatt and his plans to push the WaPo editorial page to the Neocon right. Anyone in doubt about that should just have a glance at the line-up in today’s paper: Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, David Ignatius, all in a coordinated attack on Obama for not intervening in Iran, plus Michael Hayden, telling us that we will all die in our sleep if torture-mongers are held accountable for their crimes. Alone among the voices at WaPo, Froomkin has had the temerity to remind the Neocons of their mistakes and call them on their falsehoods. Charles Krauthammer, for instance, recently threw a fit when Froomkin dissected his use of the intellectually dishonest ticking-bomb scenario. Froomkin noted that the ticking-bomb scenario was a fiction from the world of Hollywood. Which is true: the scenario has never occurred in the totality of human experience. Krauthammer recently made plain what he was up to when he praised Fox News for engineering an “alternate reality.” Unable to refute Froomkin, Krauthammer used the approach of a bully. He called Froomkin “stupid,” and from that point it seems Froomkin’s days at WaPo were numbered. Froomkin’s departure accentuates a clear trend: WaPo’s opinion pages are emerging as a Neocon remainder bin. William Kristol found harbor there after his New York Times op-ed column went unrenewed, and unknown Neocon chatterboxes regularly find a hearty welcome in its pages. The dismissal of Froomkin seems doubly curious given the WaPo editorial page’s notorious problem with factually inaccurate columns over the last eight years. The best-known problems have been on the right side of the ledger, with Neocons selling a war with Iraq and my favorite Tory, George Will, embarrassing himself with bogus claims on global warming. Froomkin has had no issues with his accuracy–indeed, his accuracy seems to drive the Neocons nuts.
WaPo’s makeover continued this week as the paper lent a helping hand to their favorite floundering lunatic dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On Monday, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty published an op-ed in which they wade into the Iranian election controversy. “The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people,” they argue. They make this remarkable claim on the basis of a poll they supervised, taken before the launch of the Iranian election campaign, showing that Ahmadinejad had 33.8% of the total vote—a fact that hardly supports their thesis and which they chose to spike in their account, without being called on the deception by the WaPo editors. In the meantime, returns showing a greater than 100% voter turnout in thirty Iranian towns, and statistical analysis of released partial returns, confirms “moderately strong evidence of electoral fraud,” as Walter Mebane has written. (Not that you’ll read much about that in WaPo, of course. Its news coverage of developments in Iran has been pathetic.)
There’s no doubt that Froomkin’s pieces, which frequently raked the Neocons over the coals and challenged some of their counter-factual op-eds, were a thorn in the side of the forces that shape opinion at the paper. And that without a doubt cost him his job. But it cost WaPo its best web columnist.