WaPo Ombudsman: David Frum's Hostile Limbaugh Book Review Should Have Come with Disclaimer

Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander responded online to yesterday’s NewsBusters post on Frum’s Tuesday Style section review of the new book Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One. Alexander wondered "Was Frum too biased to review book on Rush Limbaugh?"

He suggested the problem wasn’t Frum’s anti-Limbaugh bias, but that the Post should have disclosed something to readers about Frum’s record of lamenting Limbaugh -- such as suggesting he's "kryptonite" for Republicans. The book review editor claimed she was somehow unaware of their corporate cousin Newsweek’s "Why Rush Is Wrong" cover story last year:

Post Book World Editor Rachel Shea said she was unaware that Frum had written last year's critical Newsweek piece, which was headlined: "Why Rush is Wrong." But she said she was aware of debate Frum had stirred over how the GOP could best position itself with voters. And she said The Post chose Frum precisely because "it's no surprise where he was coming from."

"There was no way we could find someone who didn't have an opinion" about Limbaugh, she said. "In the absence of finding someone who is completely dispassionate, we decided to go with somebody who people know."

But should Frum's review have noted his past pointed criticism of Limbaugh, for those readers who were unaware? "I suppose we should have," Shea said. "

I agree. Limbaugh is a fascinating figure to many readers, regardless of their ideological orientation. Not everyone is aware of the feuds within the conservative movement. In this case, transparency is important for those coming to the review without prior knowledge of the Frum-Limbaugh clash.

There is certainly nothing wrong with finding a "biased" book reviewer on Limbaugh, but handing the assignment to Frum is less about a simple "bias" and more about offering a rhetorical baseball bat to a sworn enemy. Shea readily admitted she knew when she picked Frum exactly "where he was coming from."

Frum has been luckier as an author on the other side of Post book reviews. On January 4, 2004, on his book The End of Evil with Richard Perle, reviewer Lawrence Kaplan offers more disclosure than the Post did with Limbaugh: "(full disclosure: Perle sits on the trustee board of the Hudson Institute, where I have just begun a part-time fellowship)." On January 19, 2003, his book The Right Man was reviewed without rancor by conservative James Pinkerton. Perhaps the Post should ask Limbaugh to review Frum’s next opus for balance.

It could be argued that Zev Chafets should be happy that his book was noticed by Post book reviewers. The Post never reviewed Mark Levin’s million-selling Liberty and Tyranny and has also skipped Sean Hannity’s best-selling new book Conservative Victory. They ignored Laura Ingraham’s Power to the People in 2007.

PS: The last time the Post turned to Frum for an article was in the last gasps of the 2008 campaign in the Sunday Outlook section, when Frum typically suggested "Palinizing" the Republican base was a disaster for the GOP:

After months and months of wan enthusiasm among Republicans, these last weeks have at last energized the core of the party. But there's a downside: The very same campaign strategy that has belatedly mobilized the Republican core has alienated and offended the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could have been won.

I could pile up the poll numbers here, but frankly . . . it's too depressing. You have to go back to the Watergate era to see numbers quite so horrible for the GOP.

McCain's awful campaign is having awful consequences down the ballot. I spoke a little while ago to a senior Republican House member. "There is not a safe Republican seat in the country," he warned. "I don't mean that we're going to lose all of them. But we could lose any of them."

In the Senate, things look, if possible, even worse.

Would Frum really blame the losses of Gordon Smith or John Sununu or Liddy Dole on Palin?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis