Very much on the record: The weird Politico-Rubin feud

Is Politico an “obviously misogynistic” and anti-Semitic publication? Or did the Washington Post’s resident “conservative” blogger fail to understand basic journalistic practices? After deciding to dig into how Jennifer Rubin became a favorite of Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain on Twitter, Politico reached out to her for a comment. Rubin finally responded in an e-mail titled “OFF THE RECORD.”

That, er, didn’t work out as well as she’d hoped:

West Wing Playbook first reached out to Rubin on March 31 to see if she’d be willing to participate in an interview about the Biden administration and White House aides’ frequent promotion of her columns. She didn’t respond last spring and then declined to comment in response to an Aug. 22 email.

On Thursday, we reached back out with our reporting. Rubin responded in an email with the subject line “OFF THE RECORD.” Since we never agreed to conduct such an off-the-record conversation, we are publishing it below in full:

How utterly predictable that Politico would run the zillionth hit piece on a prominent woman, especially one candid in her critiques of Politico’s hysterical, clickbait style of coverage. The notion that I am polarizing in a newsroom (as opposed to any of the dozens of other opinion writers) is a “take” only Politico could come up with — by of course running around to ask the question in the first place. I trust the Post’s superb news side folks spend zero time thinking about me (as is entirely appropriate). My only surprise is that Sam [Stein, POLITICO’s White House editor], a very good journalist, would become enmeshed in such an obviously misogynistic publication. Surely there are finer publications that would have him.

And btw, what a low class move to do this on Yom Kippur at the last moment.

To be fair, I’m not terribly certain what the interest in Rubin’s status is either, as far as the news cycle goes. Rubin no longer self-identifies as a conservative, has openly cheered Biden for some time, and even the Post has backed away from identifying her politically. The official description for Rubin’s column is that she “provides insight into the conservative movement,” a highly arguable position, but they stopped branding her as the house conservative some time ago. (Side note: If the Washington Post wants to “provide[] insight into the conservative movement,” why not hire a writer/analyst/opinion journalist who explicitly identifies with it?)

With all of that said, it’s beyond absurd to accuse Politico of misogyny and imply anti-Semitism for daring to report on her. Criticism comes with the turf for anyone engaging in political commentary, especially when doing so from a plum platform like the Washington Post. That platform gets one noticed, and clearly has in the inner sanctum of the White House. Klain’s public promotion of Rubin’s writing does offer some public news interest in Rubin, although not a terribly compelling one, and her flip-flops on Biden over the years is certainly fair game for a few questions, at least.

Furthermore, anyone remotely connected to journalism should know that simply declaring something off the record does not make it so. Maggie Haberman pointed that out this morning and ended up in a tussle with Rubin on Twitter:

To some extent, they’re talking past each other. Haberman argues that Rubin should have known better to assume the e-mail was off the record just because she said so, and Haberman’s right about that. On the other hand, Rubin’s arguing that Alex Thompson printed it out of vindictiveness rather than because it had any real news value. And that’s an arguable position, too.

It just goes to prove: one probably shouldn’t send insulting e-mails to journalists at prominent media platforms accusing them baselessly of misogyny and hinting that they’re anti-Semites for criticizing your work. That’s a very bad idea … and this is the reason why.

Rubin has clearly changed her mind on politics and conservatism over the years. Fair enough. Criticism of flip-flops is also fair enough, and opinionators at national news outlets are always fair game for scrutiny and debate. With all of the other choices for news items and criticism at the moment, however, Rubin does score one point in this debate about the silliness of Thompson’s focus on Klain’s retweets of her opinions. For instance, the only two mentions of Afghanistan in the entire Playbook column yesterday –supposedly an omnibus round-up of newsworthy topics — relate to Rubin. There isn’t a single mention of the thousands of Americans and legal permanent residents Biden abandoned in Afghanistan, let alone the tens of thousands of Afghan allies we condemned to death by bugging out.

Isn’t that a bit more pressing at the moment than Rubin’s alleged inconsistencies of opinion? Alex, if you’d like to answer that, feel free to e-mail me. We can negotiate the off-the-record status.