Hegemonic Struggle And The Firing Of Dan Froomkin

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jun 21, 2009 at 16:45

This week, the Washington Post just fired it's most cutting-edge Washington reporter, Dan Froomkin, as first reported at Politico:

Froomkin out at Washington Post

POLITICO learned today that the Washington Post has terminated its relationship with liberal columnist/blogger Dan Froomkin. Froomkin authored the "White House Watch" blog and was told today that the blog had essentially run its course.

Washington Post Media Communications Director Kris Coratti tells POLITICO that "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 nonsensical "run its course" rhetoric has been used before to "explain" why progressive voices are given the boot. I remember hearing the exact same phrase used a dozen years ago when the Washington Post gave the boot to pacifist op-ed writer Coleman McCarthy.  Yet, somehow, it just never seems to be applied to any of the scores virtually interchangeable rightwing gasbags. But a progressive who actually reports stuff?  Man, that stuff gets old!  All those inconvenient facts that just keeping coming, and coming, and coming?

Who needs that?

The same sort of fate has befallen some of the best journalists in modern times.  It happened to I.F. Stone, who was remembered this week on Democracy Now!  He was so prominent he was on Meet The Press one week in 1949, challenging the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, who was leading the charge against national health care, and he was gone in a flash, not to appear on national television for another 18 years. It happened to famed foreign correspondent George Seldes as well, first subject to repeated censorship by his publisher at the Chicago Tribune, and later almost silenced by the blacklist under McCarthy.  It happened in stages to investigative reporter Robert Parry, who broke the initial story on Iran/Contra, and now runs Consortiumnews.com.  And it happened to Gary Webb, whose 1996 "Dark Alliance" expose of CIA/Contra involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s was later confirmed by CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, but that didn't save him from being driven out of journalism.  The overwhelming preponderance of this pattern makes it blindingly clear that (a) there's nothing random or haphazard about it, and (b) the media establishment is not about quality newsgathering, it's about ideological confromity, it's about propaganda, it's about hegemony.

Glenn Greenwald weighed in right away, in the first of a series of diaries:

Paul Rosenberg :: Hegemonic Struggle And The Firing Of Dan Froomkin

The Washington Post fires its best columnist.  Why?

One of the rarest commodities in the establishment media is someone who was a vehement critic of George Bush and who now, applying their principles consistently, has become a regular critic of Barack Obama -- i.e., someone who criticizes Obama from what is perceived as "the Left" rather than for being a Terrorist-Loving Socialist Muslim.  It just got a lot rarer, as The Washington Post -- at least according to Politico's Patrick Gavin -- just fired WashingtonPost.com columnist, long-time Bush critic and Obama watchdog (i.e., a real journalist) Dan Froomkin.

What makes this firing so bizarre and worthy of inquiry is that, as Gavin notes, Froomkin was easily one of the most linked-to and cited Post columnists.  At a time when newspapers are relying more and more on online traffic, the Post just fired the person who, in 2007, wrote 3 out of the top 10 most-trafficked columns.  In publishing that data, Media Bistro used this headline:  "The Post's Most Popular Opinions (Read: Froomkin)."  Isn't that an odd person to choose to get rid of?

Odd?  Not in light of the pattern I pointed out above.  Only odd if you naively believe the Washington Post is in the business of spreading the news, rather than filtering it.

Greenwald continues:

Following the bottomless path of self-pity of the standard right-wing male -- as epitomized by Pete Hoekstra's comparison of House Republicans to Iranian protesters and yet another column by Pat Buchanan decrying the systematic victimization of the white male in America -- Charles Krauthammer last night said that Obama critics on Fox News are "a lot like [Hugo Chavez'] Caracas where all the media, except one, are state run."  But right-wing polemicists like Krauthammer are all over the media.  

But not just all over the media, as Greenwald himself pointed out soon afterward in "Persecution of the Right and the Washington Post Op-Ed page":

This is what one finds -- just from today -- on the Op-Ed page of The Washington Post, which yesterday fired Dan Froomkin:

On Monday, the Post hosted an online chat with Fox News' Glenn Beck to promote his new book.  Today, on its so-called "Post-Partisan" Opinions page, The Post features a column from neocon Bill Kristol, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; a column from right-wing polemicist Kathleen Parker, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, attacking PBS for banning sectarian programming....

....The Washington Post does more to advance neoconservative ideology than The Weekly Standard, the American Enterprise Institute and Commentary combined.

But the Washington Post is still counted as one of the pillars of the so-called "liberal media".  With liberals like that, who needs reactionaries?

This is why the internet matters so much. It makes it much easier to go around the existing establishment.  It was always possible, but it was much, much harder.

Seldes and Stone both had to create their own newsletters in order to keep being heard as they wished.  They were already prominent newsmen with tremendous talent and fierce independence, so they were able to establish their own one-man operations reaching a large national subscriber base. How many others were simply gotten rid of before they gained such prominence? Robert Parry was not a "name" journalist, even as he broke the initial Iran/Contra story while working for the AP.  Garry Webb even had his "Dark Alliance" series supported online with directly presented source material (visible in archived form at the link provided above). But the internet wasn't regularly accessed by large numbers of people at the time, and so the LA Times, NY Times and Washington Post simply lied about what he had said and done.  And people believed them.

Those days are gone. Chances are good that someone--perhaps Salon, Huffington Post, the Daily Beast--will pick up Froomkin's column and keep it going.  Of course, it won't quite be the same.  It won't have the Washington Post's impremature on it. But Froomkin will almost certainly continue with far less difference and far less effort than Seldes or Stone struggled through.

But we're still fighting at a terrible disadvantage.  The Washington Post fired Froomkin, not the other way around.  That's something we need to be thinking about.  How do we fire the Washington Post?  It won't happen overnight.  But it' something we all need to put on our individual and collective to-do lists.

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Um, the WaPo & Co. are firing themselves (4.00 / 5)
Readership, subscriptions, revenue, ad revenue, etc., are all going down, and not only because of the internet. A lot of it has to do with the growing sense that the establishment media (NOT the "traditional" media, unless one believes that dishonesty, mediocrity and mendacity are traditional values) is simply not doing its job as well as it used to. Not that it was ever superb, but it's gotten worse in recent years and readers have started to go elsewhere for their news. Or, more accurately, readers have started to go everywhere and anywhere for their news, and the WaPo has become a commodity, not a brand name any longer, read via links on aggregator sites like the Huff Post, TPM or Drudge, or blogs.

I think that this is where the mainstream news industry is headed, as an originator of news and other content that newer, aggregator sites will then either include or link to, and on a per-article basis, not a syndication basis. I.e. you'll only be as good as your individual writers and stories, and your brand name will count for much less than it used to. If readers like Krauthammer, then he'll be widely distributed. If they view him as the crackpot delittante nutjob that he is, then he'll be consigned to the shitcan of history, or published only on secondary RW outlets, on a subsidized basis, like Schlaffly and Thomas.

Same for writers like Froomkin, for whom I believe there will be a broad audience because he actually produces quality journalism, not pre-fab establishment or wingnut crap written to a preconceived narrative. He was rejected by the old news media model, but the old news media model is dying, so they probably did him a favor, short-term pain notwithstanding. He will thrive under the new model, which I expect to predominate within 5 years. It'll go from today's highly vertical model to a flatter model, and outlets like WaPo will either adapt, by effectively splitting into content creation and content distribution divisions, or die.

In any case, I'm not surprised that he was fired, just as MSNBC fired Donahue and Banfield and the LAT fired Scheer. what next, the NYT fires Bob Herbert, because he's "too divisive"? Won't matter in the long run, as the monolithic control that the establishment media has over who gets published is going away. It'll be the garage startup or band model, applied to the news business, enabled by technology. And Froomkin & Co. will thrive in it.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

Yes, They're Decaying (4.00 / 1)
But that doesn't automatically mean something positive will replace them.  (Look at the present conservadem dominance in Congress having replaced The Hammer's domain.)  That's at least part of what I meant to direct attention towards.

Plus there's the fact that the Moonie-owned Washington Times has been losing money faster than AIG since its founding 1983, yet it's managed to function as an effective rightwing battering ram all that time.  It seems clear that the Washington Post has a long way to fall to before it enters Washington Times, so it can still wreck considerable havoc as it tacks ever more sharply to the right.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
We're in a period of transition and transformation (0.00 / 0)
No one knows where it's headed. And sure, the current congressional majority isn't as big of an improvement over the previous one as we had hope and clearly need, but one, it's not as bad as the previous one, so there is some improvement, and two, it may well be too unstable to last very long. Will it move leftward? Will it fail and enable a RW restoration? Or will it coalesce more or less along its present centrist lines, with some progressive aspects (such as those that led to SCHIP), and some conservative ones (such as those that led to the Iran resolution), that most of the time split the difference (as with the stim bill)? No one knows. But I wouldn't necessarily bet on the status quo staying as is. It just seems too unstable to me, and there are trends pulling in either direction.

If it does go back to the right, it'll only be because Obama and Dems were too weak and unimaginative, which will lead to them failing. Which is why I believe that they need to go left, not just for policy reasons, but for political ones as well. They are being unbelievably stupid in their conservative caution, and not just unprincipled. The public wants and needs progressive change, and if they don't get it, they might well rebel and hand the GOP another chance, which will run under the banner of "Real Reform at Last!".

As for the news biz, well, I think that change will come sooner and bigger than many realize, and that a lot is happening out of sight that will make it so. The vertical model will be superceded by the flat model, and producers of less popular content who are already weighed down by costly distribution models will have to adapt or disappear, as purchasers and redistributors of content, with much lower operating costs and better technology, will take over. I can't imagine that Google and Microsoft aren't hard at work on this right now, hoping to become the new news and media giants, allowing the popularity of content to determine who and what gets published, not editorial bias. Of course, much of this will be TMZ-style crap. But some will be of high quality, and I expect that high-quality reporting will find a ready audience, and drive the low-quality kind further to the margins.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
I Believe (4.00 / 1)
Chris made a very strong argument for how we can make real gains in progressive governance in his diary Friday, "The Progressive Block".

Whether that comes to fruition or not is another matter.  But it does point to a very plausible strategy.

I'd like to see us do that same on the media front.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
On the political front (0.00 / 0)
I don't think that a progressive block is enough. See how we lost the FISA fight despite having such a block in both houses. And the progressive caucus has been unsuccessfully trying to end the war for years without success. What we need is a working political coalition between a progressive block on our side and a libertarian block on the other side, e.g. people like Paul, Flake, Jones, etc. Because I believe that Obama, Pelosi and Reid will not hesitate to find votes on the other side to make up for missing votes on their side.

Obama has long since set the stage for this rhetorically--by design, I believe--with his endless calls for bipartisanship. That wasn't just a wish, but a promise. He was, I think, telling the left to either play ball or GF themselves. I really do believe that. He's a "kiss up, kick down" sort of politician, not just weak in a Clintonian sense but unprincipled in a Hoyer sort of way--he likes to cut easy deals that please the rich and powerful. So politically, I think that we need a "Reform" coalition, consisting of both progressive Dems and libertarian Repubs.

In the media, though, I think that change will come from the private sector, in the form of media startups and ventures. Progressive can certainly help this along, by producing as much high-quality news and opinion content as possible, and by creating as many new think tanks and "idea co-ops" as possible, where subject matter experts can collaborate to put out first-rate policy and idea papers. But ultimately, improving the news industry will largely be a market-based undertaking, I believe. Which isn't necessarily inconsistent with progressive action, as a lot of affluent people in the media happen to be progressive.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
You Need To Re-Read Chris's Diary (4.00 / 1)
You're not responding to his argument.

Plus, there's no there there in the way of a libertarian block to ally with.  Paul is often a party of one.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Sure there is (0.00 / 0)
The bailout bill got a lot of pushback from a certain segment of the right, and between them and enough Dems, they killed the first iteration. But Pelosi didn't need them in the end, as there weren't enough Dems who broke with her to defeat it on the second round. But there's a contingent of Repubs who, with progressives, can get together to block certain bills. They might be the crazies on the right, but you take what you can get.

Broadly speaking, there are basically two kinds of Repubs, the crazies and the crooks, just as there are two kinds of Dems, the progressives and the corporatists (which is a nicer way of saying crook, because if you take money from a corporation and then push bills that help that corporation, you are a crook). The Repub crooks will sometimes side with Dems on certain bills, but if enough progressive Dems and crazy Repubs get together, they could block some of them. Like a bad health care bill. Or, had they tried hard enough, last week's supplemental "emergency" war bill. Such a working block has a certain surreal aspect to it, since we're talking the likes of Barbara Lee voting with the likes of Michelle Bachman. But hey, politics and bedfellows. You take what you can get.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
That Wasn't A Libertarian Vote (4.00 / 1)
That was grandstanding rightwing populism.  When it happens, and we can take advantage of it, great.  But it's not dependable in any sort of strategic sense.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Obama (4.00 / 1)
He's a "kiss up, kick down" sort of politician

my view precisely, one reason he and Rahm get along so well

[ Parent ]
The moonie times (0.00 / 0)
is NOT a publicly held corporation.

At some point the fact the people don't want the product will matter. But it is really a shame because there are many worker bee reporters at the Washington Post who are doing great work.

[ Parent ]
And they should be well paid for it (0.00 / 0)
I fully expect vanity, advocacy and trash news outlets to continue to exist, even if they lose money. They have an audience and will always find some source of funding, because the people who fund them view them as ideological and policy investments, or as a way to feel important and powerful with grandaddy's money. And they don't all lose money. Isn't Fox profitable? There will always be idiots and nuts who like that sort of crap.

And yes, I realize that many of us are related to them. Oh well.

But serious outlets putting out serious journalism will thrive too, if there's a source for it--and there clearly is--and a paying audience for it, which I believe there also is. I'm guessing that the most affluent segments of the population also tend to be the ones that are most interested in and willing to pay for quality journalism. Smart new media owners will figure out a way to re-connect the two and make a good profit producing and selling good content.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Yes, but we need to really support our journalists (4.00 / 2)
Firing Froomkin might have done him a favor by moving him to the new model where he will be better respected and supported by editors. But we need to somehow pay our journalists a reasonable salary and give them the support they need to do quality research and reporting. The blogosphere cannot even begin to match what the Washington Post provides in that realm.

[ Parent ]
I never said that content will be free (0.00 / 0)
It won't, and it shouldn't necessarily be. The flatter model that I described could and certainly should pay high-quality journalists like Froomkin well for their work. And they will have to, because an aggregator will have to pay for content to distribute it. And journalists and other writers will probably work for content creation companies or co-ops that will pay them well for their work, to have something of quality to sell.

Of course, even if this happened, sooner or later the flat model will become vertical once again. That always happens. But it'll be under new management, with different priorities and biases, that hopefully won't be as in thrall to the political establishment as is now the case with the establishment media. But that's probably years down the line, and good media consolidation legislation could prevent things from returning to their present awful state.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Froomkin (0.00 / 0)
Froomkin won't thrive if he has a pre-existing condition. He may get a new job, even one that pays as well as the Washington Post. But even if he gets a job with health insurance, he won't be covered for his pre-existing conditions.

One more example of why we need single payer. We need health care not health insurance!

[ Parent ]
when your goal (0.00 / 0)
is to imitate the wash times this is the action you take, another paper gone the way of the bird cage as its resting place before reading.

That Was Just An Example (0.00 / 0)
Not a model.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
More and more do it every day .. (0.00 / 0)
How do we fire the Washington Post?  It won't happen overnight.  But it' something we all need to put on our individual and collective to-do lists.

If it wasn't for Kaplan .. the WaPo would be in a world of hurt .. they are losing money like no tomorrow .. and the money losers include Newsweek(another WaPo property)

So how to we attack Kaplan? (0.00 / 0)
If that's what it takes to fire the Post?

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
have you read the SEC filings? (0.00 / 0)
Kaplan has the largest gross receipts, but NOT the largest profits. The news properties, esp. the TV stations, have been subsidising Kaplan for years.

[ Parent ]
Gross receipts? .. (0.00 / 0)
What do you mean?  Do you mean Kaplan is only now a money maker?  I don't get it

[ Parent ]
Kaplan (0.00 / 0)
Kaplan takes in a lot of money, but it costs a lot of money to run Kaplan. Therefore even though it is bringing in a lot of money it is just barely profitable. And for years it was losing money. The costs way outran the income it generated. The TV stations are far and away the most profitable part of the Washington Post Corp, then the newspaper and magazine. You have to read the SEC filings closely to notice this.

[ Parent ]
Except .. (0.00 / 0)
I don't even think the Tv stations are that profitable anymore .. I know the stations in Philly have been cutting staff .. and using any decent excuse to bring in cheaper air talent

[ Parent ]
If you want to protest the firing, leave a comment at Wapo`s ombudsman blog (4.00 / 1)

700+ comments so far, and still going strong. About 98% pro Froomkin!

Btw, here's what Dana Milbank wrote at a live discussion recently:
"I should point out, not as a matter of opinion but as a matter of fact, that it would have been a far more popular move to keep Froomkin and sack Alexander [the ombudsman]."

And he's right, the new ombudsman is even more of a conservative tool than bad ole Debbie Howell!

Politico was the first to report that? That's interesting. (4.00 / 1)
On the one hand, it makes sense, cause of course the former WaPo guys have the best connection to their former outfit, and are likely to know such stuff first. On the other hand, Überpolitico John Harris personally emailed Greenwold, stating his regrets about a struggle with Froomkin in 2005 and also that "It's been nearly three years since I have had anything to do with decision-making at the Post, and I have no insight into what prompted he and the Post to part ways."

No insight. Even though his blog was the first to know. Yeah, sure. What a jerk.

Politico Is A DC Gossip Site (0.00 / 0)
That's their forte.  So it's no surprise at all to me.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Sure. But it looks as if they don't tell all the gossip! (4.00 / 1)
I mean, Harris certainly has excellent connections at his old paper. That he doesn't know more than just the pure fact that Froomkin has been fired is not likely. And still, he keeps mum. That can only mean that the truth won't make his WaPo buddies look too good.

Btw, one reason Fred Hiatt cited was that Froomkin's traffic had declined. But Dan Steinberg, of WaPo's sport blog, posted a "Farewell to Dan Froomkin, one of the blogging pioneers at The Post and a man whose traffic numbers regularly made me want to jump into the Potomac."

Well, considering Hiatt sure knows how to talk around the truth, perhaps both statements are true: Froomkin's traffic declined, but he's still more popular than the other blogs there. So, that wasn't the reason. Imho Greenwald is right, and the problem really was that Froomkin became too embarassing for the "serious people" there who oppose prosecution of torturers, don't want to be reminded of all their false predictions, and generally don't like journalists who speak truth to power.  

[ Parent ]
Well, Of Course Glenn Was Right (4.00 / 1)
As for Hiatt, the guy's pure weasel. What political writer hasn't had their traffic decline from during the last election?  The question is, "Compared to what?"

The even bigger question is, "Why should it matter?"  If he's doing important work, then isn't it the Post's job to find better ways to promote what he's doing?  The whole line of Hiatt's patter is, as usual, just pure BS with a side of lies.

Finally, re Harris, what's the what here?  Gossips never tell all.  They all hold something back.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Exactly! I pointed this out at the ombudsman's blog, too. (0.00 / 0)
You're totally right: WaPo didn't try to promote Froomkin's stuff in order to increase traffic. Quite to the contrary, it's still not easy to find White House Watch. On the 20th, there wasn't any link to Froomkin's posting from the 19th on the opinion page anymore! You had to look his name up in a list of bloggers and click through to get to the blog. However, he's still a bit better off than new blogger Ezra Klein. I haven't found any link at WaPo to his blog yet.

I mean, that's rich. Firing someone because allegedly the traffic numbers are too low, but making no efforts at all to improve the less than satisfying presentation. Since Hiatt took over the online presence, too, nothing has changed at washingtonpost.com. No progress at all. The guy is not only a weasel, but also an incompetent lamer.

[ Parent ]
One other point: "The Fix" is a political blog, WHW just "more blog" (0.00 / 0)
Check the "political blogs" page, hidden in a scroll down list under "politics" on the WaPo frontpage. A not very inspiring page with a hodgepodge of bloggers will show up. Cilizza's blog is at the top. But you'll find Froomkin under "more blogs". Both must be on about the same level regarding popularity, both are totally focussed on politics, so that's an obvious discrimination. WaPo doesn't try very hard to disguise its disdain of Froomkin.

[ Parent ]

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