I almost feel like I’m doing a public disservice in writing about a blog by the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin. After all, I’ve always believed that any publicity is good publicity. So I’ve worried that if I called any attention to the continuous stream of neoconservatism-drenched talking points she and her employer evidently regard as commentary and analysis, I’d simply add, however modestly, to her already wildly undeserved level of prominence.
Still, her May 6 tract – “Stop Trump, then remake conservative politics” – contained one statement so outlandish even by the degraded standards of the American punditocracy that the piece per se and its implications demand scrutiny.
The statement: According to Rubin, “Telling [American] workers that millions of jobs went to China is a lie….”
However strong my own views, I would be the last person to insist that the subject of U.S.-China trade and broader economic policy on the one hand, and American job loss on the other, is “settled economics.” As with many major public policy issues, there’s abundant evidence and theoretical work supporting many different positions. And so nothing could be more legitimate than expressing even the strongest of opinions or making the strongest of claims along a lengthy spectrum of possible viewpoints. If these opinions and claims are backed with some evidence, or reasoned argumentation, so much the better.
But what should be completely out of bounds is declaring, a la Rubin, that one set of such claims is a deliberate fabrication, and presenting no evidence whatsoever,
Indeed, Rubin could have conveyed her point strongly in any number of valid, overlapping ways.
>She could have contended that claims of China-related job loss are greatly exaggerated. (Her phrasing hints at this possibility, but only indirectly at best. That is, if it’s a lie that “millions of jobs” have been lost, does mean that the cost might be one million? Or several hundred thousand? Heaven forbid that Rubin would specify.)
>She could have contended, as have do many, that most jobs thought to have been sent to China are actually casualties of improving productivity.
>She could have argued that many more U.S. jobs have been created than eliminated by expanded American commerce with China.
>She could have insisted that whatever the relative numbers, the jobs created on net by the growth of U.S.-China trade and investment have been better than those displaced.
>She could have claimed that even if net job loss has been suffered by the United States, the long-term employment trends will reverse, or at least improve.
>She could have declared that other economic gains outweigh the employment effects of America’s business ties with China.
>She could have stated that this expanded bilateral trade and investment has created or will create non-economic benefits for the United States that deserve higher priority than employment changes.
>Or she could have offered various combinations of blends of these arguments.
Thus, Rubin’s evidence-free charge of simple fabrication raises the most fundamental questions about her qualifications as a commentator – and about the decision of a major national newspaper to award her, and now keep her in, this plum position. Just as important, the publication of Rubin’s statement raises the most questions about the Post‘s editorial procedures.
Are bloggers’ offerings never fact-checked? Are bloggers permitted to violate venerable rules of sound argumentation because they rank lower on the newspapers’ hierarchy than full-fledged columnists? Are bloggers’ offerings even read before publication by any Post editorial staff members? Does the Post believe that this Rubin missive met its definition of acceptable opinion journalism (or of blogging, if the two are differentiated)?
Of course, Rubin has the right to write anything she wishes (or at least anything that doesn’t violate libel and slander laws, or that reveals officially protected secrets). And the Post has the right to publish or post anything it wishes (provided it accords with the above criteria). But especially in this still emerging age of rambunctious, too-often-slipshod social and alternative media, financially beleaguered traditional news organizations like the Post keep insisting that they’re playing a vital role in upholding vital standards of high-quality reporting and discourse. With the posting of Rubin’s blog, that argument got decidedly weaker.