“Washington Post” Civil War Breaks Into Public View

Conservative senator quotes conservative blogger. Old-school reporter fights back.

Senator Jim Inhofe cited a blog post by conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin during the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel on Thursday, setting in motion a public argument on Twitter.

Inhofe, who called Rubin a reporter, cited a blog post of her’s about Hagel. Shortly thereafter, Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran took issue with Rubin’s work on Twitter, saying that Rubin “is NOT a WaPo reporter.”

His words brought into sharp relief something that has divided the Post newsroom for several years: Late to the internet and struggling to maintain its status as a top-tier news outlet, the Post turned to high-profile, often partisan bloggers, led by the liberal policy wonk Ezra Klein, to generate traffic and buzz. But the outlet’s unfamiliarity with the online news environment quickly showed: Their first conservative blogger was fired in a plagiarism flap, and the second, Dave Weigel, was let go after Post management learned — apparently to their surprise, if not to his actual readers’ — that he wasn’t a movement conservative.

The newsroom, meanwhile, has bemoaned that the mixture of slant and partisanship has dented the newspaper’s reputation for fairness and neutrality, a claim the opinionated bloggers reject.

Greg Sargent, the Washington Post’s liberal blogger, tweeted in defense of Rubin: “Don’t agree w/@jrubinblogger on much, but being an “opinion blogger” doesn’t necessarily render your reporting invalid.”

Asked for reaction to the incident, Rubin said “It is welcome news that U.S. Senators read the Post so carefully, especially the reported blogs which break news, obtain interviews, and ask hard questions many news reporters don’t or won’t” in an email.

Rubin’s work has drawn criticism in the past for her open support of Mitt Romney during the presidential election, which some critics saw as a bad reflections on the Post’s down-the-middle brand. But she does break news from time to time, as does Sargent; Rubin scored exclusive interviews with Romney, Ann Romney, and others over the course of the election, and Sargent has driven the news cycle before with stories about the Wisconsin recall, Romney’s tax returns, and other issues.

“Jennifer Rubin is an opinion writer on the editorial page. She is not a reporter in the newsroom,” said Kristine Coratti, a spokesperson for the Washington Post.

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