Most political junkies have a list in their heads of the best op-ed columnists in the business. But who are the worst?
“For reasons I have never been able to discern,” Chait wrote in The New Yorker, Rogers, a lobbyist, former congressional and White House aid and law professor, writes a regular op-ed column for the Washington Post.
Indeed, Rogers’ profession is the first of the “fatal deficiencies” Chait finds with Rogers’ work. Rogers, Chait writes, is “the founding member of a lobbying firm with a wide-ranging portfolio and a presumably enormous income,” so “literally everything he writes suffers from crippling conflicts of interest.”
He doesn’t mention that Rogers’ Republican-oriented columns are paired with those of Carter Eskew, a Democratic member of a lobbying firm with a wide-ranging portfolio and a presumably enormous income, and that the Post presents the columns as the insights of those in the trenches of the lobbying/campaign wars. They’re not there in spite of being lobbyists; they’re there because of it.
Chait’s second argument is that Rogers is “a terrible writer whose arguments lack any originality, persuasive power or, quite often, even facial plausibility.” Chait then criticizes Rogers for “outsourcing the work” of column writing to other columnists by quoting their work. He then … quotes Rogers’ work.
In the examples Chait provides, this hopelessly conflicted lobbyists turns to Alan Dershowitz, a renounced constitutional scholar, to bolster a legal argument. He turns to David Ignatius, a colleague at The Post and hero of the Democrat foreign policy cognoscenti, to lend authority on the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. How dare he defer to Democrat icons?
And then we get down to the basis of Chait’s case against Rogers. Rogers and Mark Thiessen are the only two people who get a byline in the Washington Post who ever write anything that approves in any way of President Trump.
In the piece that inspired Chait to name him the winner of the “world columnist” contest, Rogers argued that the contretemps over Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer who offered dirt on the Clinton campaign would not prove to be the “holy grail of a Trump crime” anti-Trumpers hoped for.
Rogers quoted Dershowitz saying the previous day “it is unlikely that attendance at the meeting violated any criminal statute.” Chait says that’s silly … “Nobody is saying attendance at the meeting was ipso facto a crime.” That in fact was the premise of the question to which Dershowitz was responding.
Chait takes issue with a later claim that Trump Jr. releasing his emails immediately and forthrightly shows “he has nothing to hide.” Chait breathlessly recounts what the emails do say – that friends of Trump set up this meeting and the meeting came to nothing. The meeting, attendance at which “nobody is saying … was ipso facto a crime.”
Rogers then writes, “I don’t think Trump Jr. went on national television last night and told a bunch of lies.” Chait shoots back, “You hear that? He went on national television. It’s not like lying on local television. Being on national television is practically like being under oath.”
But going on national television is not quite under oath, but it certainly does invite inquiry.
Rogers then drives Chait totally over the wall by claiming “Trump Jr. has little incentive to do anything but tell the truth at this point.”
If your view is that Dershowitz – and Jonathan Turley and Eugene Volokh and everyone to the right of Hillary Clinton – is right and Trump Jr. did nothing illegal, then, yes, he has little incentive to do anything but tell the truth.
Then, the tour de force:
“If you ignore the central revelation of the emails, which is that they reveal Trump being receptive to Russian efforts to help his father’s campaign, and further ignore his pattern of omissions and lies before being cornered with the truth, and then further assume both that Trump is now telling the truth and that no other harmful news will emerge, then yes, he might be innocent,” Chait writes. “But why does the Post need to give a lobbyist op-ed space to make these assertions? Can’t they just cut and paste quotes from Trump himself?”
So what Chait does is present his own political views as facts – pattern of ommissions and lies, etc. – then criticize the Post for allowing Rogers, who is quite public about his perspective, to do the same thing.
Ed Rogers is not the worst columnist in America. Neither is Jonathan Chait. But what Chait is mad about here is that the Post gives a platform to someone who dares support President Trump in print. It’s not reason to never read Chait. But it is a reason to remember that literally everything he writes suffers from crippling conflicts of interest.