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Was Frum too biased to review book on Rush Limbaugh?

By Andy Alexander

The Post wasn't looking for someone neutral when it chose David Frum to review a new book on conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh. And that has raised the question of whether Frum was too biased to be fair.

Frum, himself a well-known conservative commentator and speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote a controversial Newsweek cover story last year arguing that Limbaugh’s strident rhetoric was hurting the Republican Party.

“Rush Limbaugh is a seriously unpopular figure among the voters that conservatives and Republicans need to reach,” Frum wrote. “From a political point of view, Limbaugh is kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally.”

That assertion sparked a nasty quarrel among conservatives that pitted Limbaugh and his followers against Frum.

Today’s Post Style section review of a newly released biography titled “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One,” by Zev Chafets, was mostly even-handed. But near the end, Frum writes of Limbaugh: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

That was enough to lead Tim Graham of the conservative Web site to attack Frum and The Post for choosing a reviewer who was biased.

“The Washington Post knows how to thrust two middle fingers in Rush Limbaugh’s face,” Graham wrote. “They decided to put a book review of the new Zev Chavets book on Limbaugh on the front page of Tuesday’s Style section, reviewed by... David Frum, the Republican establishment’s leading Rush-hater.”

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.

Frum’s Style section review said the book adds little to what already is known about Limbaugh. But while it is not an authorized biography, he noted that Chafets had been given extraordinary access to Limbaugh.

“Chafets exposes some disconnects between Limbaugh’s private life and public presence,” Frum wrote. “Chafets has seen more of the pundit’s personal world than any other journalist, and reveals some distinctly grandiose tastes in this self-imagined tribune of Middle America.”

“Limbaugh has skillfully conjured for his listeners a world in which they are disdained and despised by mysterious elites – a world in which Limbaugh’s $4,000 bottles of wine do not exclude him from the life of the common man.”

Graham criticized Frum’s review, saying it “mocks Rush as a faux populist.”

“There’s more hate than light” in the review, he said. “Frum gnashes his teeth hardest late in the review, jealous that he, the wise and humble Frum, is not acknowledged by all as the country’s leading conservative intellectual.”

On his own Web site, Frum responded to Graham’s criticism, which he said was “pretty harsh, as you would expect.”

“Hate, jealousy, etc. are strong words," he wrote. “My advice to Tim: stick to the facts, omit the mind-reading.”

By Andy Alexander  | May 25, 2010; 4:07 PM ET
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I am quite surprised (but I shouldn't be) at the blase response by the Book World Editor. At the very very very least, one would think that she would chose a neutral party reviewer someone so that any criticism offered by the review would be judged on its own merits rather than as part of an on-going feud. This attitude really puzzles me - it's not "hey lets get the best reviewer possible to give the readers an idea if this is a good book or not" it's Washington insider judge everything on its own secret context rather than its merits. It really does explains a lot about the Post though.

Posted by: hohandy | May 25, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Rush LImbough is dumb. I spent some time in his home town in Southeast Missouri a few years ago and heard tales about Rush. In fact the flunked out of the local univerity SEMissouri State U. as a freshman. His grandfather was a well known judge who disowned Rush.
And we all know about Rush's drug addiction.It is strange that so many people are drawn to him like a modern day Billy Sunday.
He looks like a druggie. He rants like a druggie. He is an admitted druggie.
'nough said.

Posted by: fd09102 | May 25, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

I felt the review was very fair. Sadly I see some are playing their usual game of victim politics. What I'm puzzled by is why the Washington Post feels it needs to respond.

Posted by: sodablue | May 25, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

I'd be disappointed if the Post had chosen anyone but Frum. He's clearly the ideal choice. It's the Post's job to make it interesting and they did that.

Posted by: bourassa1 | May 25, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

It seems funny that the reason Frum was critcized was because he told the truth; and was accused of bias in doing so. Naturally, this is just another attempt by the Far Right at crying about their victimhood........and to work the referees in the print media.

In other words, dog excrement, just like Limpbaugh

Posted by: kuvasz | May 25, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

How pathetic are you people? A CONSERVATIVE commentator does a review on a drug-addled, bloated, thrice-divorced spokesman for "conservative" causes, and you weenies pee your pants when the blowhard's followers whine about how "unfair" they find the review.
I'm not sure who the biggest babies are -- the whiners or y'all.

Posted by: jrmitchell | May 25, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding? David Frum is a conservative former speechwriter for George Bush. Rush Limbaugh's drones aren't unhappy because the reviewer wasn't "fair", they're unhappy because he had bad things to say about their idol, and their feelings are hurt. Ronald Reagan could come back from the dead and write a bad review for this book and point out what an execrable specimen Limbaugh is, and they'd scream the reviewer wasn't "fair". Jesus Christ could have written that review, and they'd scream that you let a liberal hippie review the book.

It doesn't matter who reviews the book to these people; it only matters that whoever does it gives a good review. If the review is bad, the review was "unfair", q.e.d.

Why do you care what these people think? Why waste time answering their pathetic whining? Don't you have other things you could be writing about?

Posted by: zarzamora | May 25, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Let me translate the right-wing whining: "It's not fair unless someone who LOVES Rush reviews a book about him."

Posted by: nitpicker | May 25, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

To sustain a claim of bias in a book review, one must find things the review says about the book that demonstrably or logically appear to stem from bias.

But the thing Frum said that critics appear to have found most objectionable wasn't about the book, it was about Limbaugh himself ... and it was a perfectly valid observation if you're serious about getting Republicans elected rather than just venting.

That tells me all I need to know about the critics' concern for Frum's "fairness" in reviewing the book.

Posted by: lexalexander1 | May 25, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

"a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”
Well, I'd say that points two and three are demonstrably true. And whether Limbaugh is a creative thinker is, well, an opinion.

And reviewing a book is a matter of expressing an opinion. Just don't see the big deal here, other than that one conservative doesn't much like another and had a shot at writing a review of the book, which this ombudsman called "mostly even-handed."

I don't read a lot of book reviews, but at least in the NY Times book review and the New Yorker, reviews are often rather pointed. If one wants bland reviews, go to publisher's weekly, or some librarian source.

Posted by: RalfW | May 25, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

But Rush IS a faux populist. The Republican idioratti would be unsatisfied with anything other than a gushing tribute to Rush. Which, of course, means that any balanced treatment of him (the book included) is clearly a hit by the MSM.



Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 25, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

How pathetic are you people? A CONSERVATIVE commentator does a review on a drug-addled, bloated, thrice-divorced spokesman for "conservative" causes, and you weenies pee your pants when the blowhard's followers whine about how "unfair" they find the review.
I'm not sure who the biggest babies are -- the whiners or y'all.

Posted by: jrmitchell |\
Can't say it any better than that, Jim, so I won't even try. Bravo.

Posted by: lewfournier1 | May 25, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Rush's supporters claim Frum was biased, despite the fact that he, like Limbaugh, is a conservative.

So I assume Rush supporters would have preferred someone with a more pro-Rush opinion to write this review.

Only problem is, that person would be biased too. Works both ways.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | May 25, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

This is not the first time nor the second nor the third nor the fourth time that there have been complaints about the Post's selection of a reviewer for a particular book. The one I like is the Post picked Jill Lapore to review Gordon Woods latest book. Years and years ago Wood wrote a scathing review of one of Lapore's books and Lapore used the pages of the Washington Post to pay Wood back.

Posted by: jeffreed | May 26, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

It's called "working the refs" - a concept the right-wingers understand & the Washington Post pretends not to understand. And falls for just about every time...

Posted by: bikobiko | May 26, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Why should I be surprised that no one in the Washington Post knew about this feud among conservatives? But I have a more basic argument with the ombudsman and that is who nominated Limbaugh as a leader of any conservative causes. He has never, as far as I know, held a political office and he's never worked on a conservative think tank. He's not particularly intelligent so he's no intellletual. He's just a radio commentator in the mold of Father Coughlin.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | May 26, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

It says a lot that the Washington Post book editor wouldn't know or would claim not to know about a piece that appeared on the cover of Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post. Personally, I think she is fibbing--why Frum of all people? But either way is bad.

Posted by: dubuqueman | May 26, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree with dubuqueman. There is no way that the Washington Post book editor could not know about the Newsweek cover, which is owned by the Washington Post.

On top of that, Newsweek is now up for sale...what better way to drum up site traffic to both sites than by covering the most popular (and sensitive) conservative commentator and generating a tempest in a teapot in the process? If he's not significant, why review the book at all?


Posted by: iamevilhomer | May 26, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

No worries, Frum was probably the best you could do.

I mean, Rahm Emanuel was likely too busy with his day job, Harry Reid is still in session, and I'm not sure what Howard Dean was up to; but he must have been busy too.

So when looking for someone who has a history of attacking Conservative Republicans you had to head down your list to Frum... it happens.

Oh, and Frum isn't conservative, he hasn't attacked anyone except conservatives in years.

If someone keeps shooting one side if a war, and defending the other side; why would you claim he's on the side he keep shooting at, because he says so?

Remind me not to let you guys be involved in any strategic or tactical planning. you'll have the enemy in your ranks shooting you in minutes wondering why you're suffering "friendly fire" casualties all day long.

Frum only attacks the right and defends the left... if you want to call that conservative; it says more about you than Frum.

Posted by: gekkobear1 | May 26, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for writing a balanced blog. Your readers appreciate that very much. It is very refreshing.

Posted by: SWGal | May 26, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

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

Posted by: StewartIII | May 26, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

So to summarize, the point of this entry is that Rachel Shea is an idiot who is too lazy to do even ask a potential reviewer about his/her inherent bias but it doesn't matter to the Post because it was Rush Limbaugh who was being criticized.

Another bang up job Andy.

Posted by: alvint | May 28, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

The "Washington Post" should have had two reviews of Limbaugh's book, one by Sarah Palin and the other by Al Franken.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | May 31, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

i think that the Post is struggling financailly so much that it's very risky for you, Mr Ombudsman, to admit mistakes like this, and for the sake of the Post, you shouldn't be too open about this stuff. we don't want to know that the style editor is that incompetent.

Posted by: dcfilmindustryexaminer | May 31, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

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