A Partial Defense of the "Dump Hagel" Media

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 27 2013 1:50 PM

A Partial Defense of the "Dump Hagel" Media

Conor Friederdorf's hands undergo a good, hard wringing in the wake of Chuck Hagel's successful confirmation fight. It's another example, he writes, that conservatives are at an "information disadvantage," and that "much of the analysis they've long been fed on this subject left them as misinformed about the likely course of events as they were about Mitt Romney's prospects for victory during Election 2012."

I think this is a mild mis-diagnosis. Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post blogger who came in for the most criticism during the Dump Hagel era (she wrote at least 73 blog posts about the nomination), did not predict a Hagel defeat as decivisely as George Will, Michael Barone, Dick Morris, et al predicted a Romney win. They doubted that the polls were accurate. Rubin never doubted that vote counts were wrong. Two weeks ago she was referring to a time "if and when Hagel gets through." She used that phrase several times. She was right, and a lot of people (including me) were wrong, when she said a few senators who had promised not to filibuster Hagel would vote against cloture two weeks ago.

No, the problem isn't that the Dump Hagel media made bad calls. It's that it laundered the bad calls, and baseless rumors, of Republican sources. It started in December, when The Weekly Standard gave anonymity to "a top Senate Republican aide," who made a promise:

Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.

This continued for two months. Breitbart.com cited "Senate sources" for the exploding cigar of a story about "Friends of Hamas." The Washington Free Beacon cited a "senior Republican Senate aide" who theorized that Hagel's refusal to reveal more finances might "be the final straw that tanks his nomination." On February 20, Rubin gave anonymity an "aide to [a] prominent Republican senator who was not authorized to speak on the record" so he could pledge that "eventually we’d find the thing Sen. Hagel is desperate to hide." On February 22, she let an "aide to a GOP senator" tell readers that Hagel revealed a "not so thinly veiled contempt for the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities."

I can't get too exercized about wild predictions. They're every pundit's right! What made the Dump Hagel campaign so surreal, though, was that it relied on yellow-bellied anonymous quote merchants to create an impression of crisis that did not exist. It used the trimmings of journalism to report on a parallel universe. And they aren't even impressive trimmings! Getting an anonymous source to trash someone, in Washington, is a million times easier than hailing a cab.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.