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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Open Letter to Dan Froomkin
(Crossposted at Welcome Back to Pottersville.)

(At first, I'd intended for this to be a private letter to Dan Froomkin, until yesterday, one of the best reporters employed by the Washington Post. However, sometimes private correspondence transcends mere personal communication and addresses themes, perhaps even in an unexpectedly eloquent fashion, that demands a wider audience. This is a ver batim transcript of an email that I just sent to Dan Froomkin in response to his excessively gracious final byline and perhaps it contains some small lessons that ought to be heeded by what is plainly a dying print media.)


You and I both know that, the social diktats of graciousness aside, the Washington Post only was a great newspaper and that it is not great now nor will be in the foreseeable future as long as it discards diamonds such as you and polishes turds like Deb Howell and Charles Krauthammer. Being only a pissant blogger, I am not encumbered in the slightest by the useless conventions of social norms handed down by the irrelevant czars of Political Correctness. This is why I am a political blogger extraordinaire. I do not give a fuck whose toes I step on. So if you'll pardon my putting a knee on your chest...

You could've completely laid them out in the particular instead of in the abstract and I'm sure that a journalist of your stature still could have gotten a paying gig at a prestigious progressive organ such as The Nation, Mother Jones or maybe a Fellowship at Media Matters, where Eric Boehlert wound up. It's one thing to be a disgruntled ex-employee giving his former boss the finger at a public exit interview. It's another thing entirely to speak truth to power and the fact is, the Wa Po fucked up more times than could be remembered during the entire Bush administration.

During the extremely rare times that reporters such as Dana Priest and Anne Hull actually did their job and revealed the existence of Black Prisons in eastern Europe or the Walter Reed Hospital scandal, those of us on the left side of the tracks cheered for their journalistic integrity while forgetting that this was the way the craft of journalism was intended to be crafted- Mercilessly objective, passionately devoted to the truth and unafraid of stepping on well-shod toes.

Much more commonly, we saw, instead, partisan politics being played in the pages of the byline of Deb Howell, a person who saw no problem whatsoever in not only taking the sides of conservatives who had been proven wrong time and again but even publicly taking down her own colleagues for their beliefs (you had felt the sting of her tongue) even to the point of censoring without explanation or just cause the comments section that invariably took exception with her.

Much more commonly than the occasional Pulitzer prize-winning expose we saw time and again Bob Woodward, a mere shadow of his former Watergate-era self, hoarding information from his readership and superiors at the Washington Post and, instead, not revealing these things until his next blockbuster comes out. It's been obvious for years now, Dan, that he only keeps his press credentials alive and remains on the Wa Po's payroll so he can continue digging up dirt that only gets to our eyes and ears only years after it was at its peak relevance.

For those aforementioned reasons alone, the Washington Post is no longer a great newspaper at all and hasn't been for at least 10 years. E. J. Dionne and precious few others aside, I wouldn't wish them well and certainly don't now in light of your politically-motivated ouster. It wasn't enough that all throughout the nascent Obama administration your White House Watch byline continued to try to put its feet to the fire as it had the Bush administration's. You had spoken truth to power far too many times and, far be it from no one listening, it seems among those who were listening were your own editors.

You were right about one thing, if nothing else- we and the media had ignored those who were right all along and continue listening to those who were wrong all along (like Howell, Krauthammer, etc). Yet your ouster, at the height of your column's popularity, betrays an even darker sense of urgency that brings to mind Gary Webb and every other decent, hardworking reporter who was ever excommunicated from the 4th estate. That not only do we tune out those on the side of the angels, but these Cassandras will also suffer the ultimate price.

Meanwhile it seemed as if everyone in the White House press pool but Helen Thomas had, to varying degrees, played some part in the systematic disinformation campaign that had for eight years risibly masqueraded as a free and democratic press. Instead, as the years wore on, each increasingly rare press conference during the Bush years didn't resemble press conferences as much as a bunch of 150-200 pound upholstered gerbils eagerly and gratefully bellying up to Ari Fleischer, Scott McClelland, Tony Snow or Dana Perino for their placebo pellets that passed for actual journalism.

You could have afforded to be a lot less gracious and your termination, effective yesterday, has resulted in far fewer readers upon which the Washington Post can depend. I read the blog posts, the comments. When things like this happen to good reporters such as you, it further weakens an already weakening dinosaur like dead tree publishing, which still isn't as perishable as the medium in which the rest of us work.

Robert Crawford
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