The Washington Post has decided that it doesn’t need a White House watchdog — or at least it doesn’t need liberal blogger Dan Froomkin to serve as the watchdog of a liberal White House.
Politico broke the news yesterday that the Post will not renew Froomkin’s contract to write the column/blog hybrid “White House Watch” he has been writing since 2004, and the newspaper’s ombudsman confirmed the rumor. Bloggers on the left are upset by the news, and even conservative blogger Ed Morrissey of Hot Air finds it a bit curious.
Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt said Froomkin’s liberal bent “was not a factor in our decision,” but he also said, “With the end of the Bush administration, interest in the blog also diminished.” Those two points may conflict. If interest in Froomkin’s blog diminished, a point that is being disputed, it’s entirely likely that his political orientation was to blame.
I made that point on Twitter yesterday while backing the Post’s decision. My tweets: “A liberal blogger watchdogging a liberal president is weak journalism. Sound news judgment by @washingtonpost. Now [the paper] should tap a conservative blogger to fill the void. It still needs a watchdog, just a skeptical one.”
I say that as someone who used to be a Froomkin fan — and not just because he once dubbed my former blog, Beltway Blogroll, one of “the essential Washington political blogs.” Although I didn’t always agree with Froomkin’s critiques of the Bush administration, I appreciated his efforts to hold the administration accountable. Every journalist should be so committed.
But I quit reading Froomkin’s column after he wondered aloud whether the press should approach President Obama with “the same skepticism” as it did Bush. The mere fact that Froomkin, a liberal, asked the question about a relatively conservative president undermined his defense years earlier that his job is to “watch the White House like a hawk” no matter which party occupies it.
Liberals like New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen and bloggers Glenn Greenwald and Oliver Willis insist that Froomkin has been watching Obama like a hawk just as he did Bush. But after perusing Froomkin’s blog today, I’m not convinced.
Here’s the message I got when I searched for any mention of Gerald Walpin, the supposedly “independent” inspector general who the Obama administration fired last week: “Having trouble finding what you’re looking for?”
Indeed I am. And that’s because Froomkin, who fancies himself a watchdog, has written nary a word about the politically motivated firing of a watchdog who dared to question an Obama supporter over his alleged misuse of federal grants.
The only time Froomkin mentioned the firing of Walpin (and not by name), he buried links to Associated Press and New York Times stories in a “Quick Takes” roundup — and the Times story emphasized the White House’s laughable and ageist defense of the firing.
That lack of coverage doesn’t pass the watchdog smell test. It is unconscionable for Froomkin to have remained silent this long as the White House first fired and then smeared a man who actually has been watching the Obama administration like a hawk.
If you want thorough coverage of the IG scandal, you’ll have to get it from The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is the target of the probe that got Walpin fired) or from conservative watchdogs like those at The Washington Times and Washington Examiner.
Froomkin’s blog started down the path to irrelevance when he began “wrestling with” his watchdog role during the transition from Bush to Obama. His decision to all but ignore the IG scandal even as conservatives assumed the watchdog mantel hastened the blog’s demise.
Odds are good that Froomkin will continue his blog as a solo venture or move it to another publication, perhaps a liberal outlet. (Can you say Huffington Post?) I hope he does — if he is finished wrestling with his inner watchdog and ready to consistently be a thorn in Obama’s side as he was for Bush.