By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006
The Washington Post Co.'s Web operation has touched off an online furor by hiring as a blogger a 24-year-old former Bush administration aide who co-founded a conservative site and recently referred to Coretta Scott King as a "communist."
Ben Domenech, an editor at the conservative Regnery Publishing, said he regrets the King reference, which he insists was tongue-in-cheek, and that the reaction to his new "Red America" blog is "a little meaner" than he expected.
More than 1,000 people and a Democratic member of Congress have sent the newspaper letters of complaint. The decision to hire Domenech was made by Washingtonpost.com, an Arlington-based division that works with the newspaper but is editorially independent.
Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, said Domenech was hired because "we were completely unrepresented by a social conservative voice." He said his goal "is to provide voices from as many perspectives as possible" and that Domenech is not intended to balance anyone in particular on his staff.
Domenech is "controversial" and the fact that liberals object to his hiring "shouldn't really be a shock to anybody," Brady said.
Said Domenech: "I'm there to do opinion. That's what I do. I'm not a journalist."
In a letter yesterday, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said: "Balanced coverage and ideologically diverse editorials have long been hallmarks of responsible journalism. If The Post would like to appear evenhanded, I strongly suggest the Web site launch a similarly partisan liberal blog, 'Blue America.' "
Domenech, who was home-schooled by his mother in South Carolina and Virginia, says he began writing for the conservative publication Human Events when he was 15 and continued until he left to attend the College of William & Mary. He was an intern and researcher for the Bush White House, served as a speechwriter for Tommy Thompson, then the health and human services secretary, and then spent two years working for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
Late yesterday, the liberal Web sites Daily Kos and Atrios posted examples of what appeared to be instances of plagiarism from Domenech's writing at the William & Mary student paper. Three sentences of a 1999 Domenech review of a Martin Scorsese film were identical to a review in Salon magazine, and several sentences in Domenech's piece on a James Bond movie closely resembled one in the Internet Movie Database. Domenech said he needed to research the examples but that he never used material without attribution and had complained about a college editor improperly adding language to some of his articles.
Domenech is a board member and one of three founders of RedState.com, which bills itself as a "Republican community Weblog." Under his regular pseudonym, Augustine, he questioned President Bush's decision to attend King's funeral because she is a "communist."
"I regret using the term because I think it's been way overblown," Domenech said. But he said King worked with organizations affiliated with communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Brady called it "a silly comment" but said he is satisfied with Domenech's admission of error.
As Augustine, Domenech has engaged in numerous personal attacks, some of which were compiled by the blog Dragonfire. Domenech has called cartoonist Ted Rall a "steaming bag of pus"; said Teresa Heinz Kerry looks like an "oddly shaped egotistical ketchup-colored muppet"; called Pat Robertson a "senile, crazy old fool"; and described Post.com's "White House Briefing" columnist Dan Froomkin as "an embarrassment."
Liberal bloggers, some of whom have been criticizing The Post since its editorial page backed the war in Iraq, have expressed varying degrees of outrage over Domenech's hiring. Many say there is a false equivalence in hiring a Republican political activist to balance Post bloggers, such Froomkin, who are viewed as left-leaning but have journalistic backgrounds.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote that he is "embarrassed for The Post" and that the editors' explanation "doesn't cut it. If they want to make a blogger Crossfire with a firebreather on the left and on the right, they should do it. . . . But here they've just been played by bullies and played for fools."
John Amato of Crooks and Liars wrote that The Post "continues to become more and more a mouthpiece for the GOP by hiring a right-wing blogger."
Domenech said his views are his own. "I part with the president on a whole host of issues," he said. "I consider myself a conservative blogger but not a Bush loyalist."