We don’t know if Jeff Bezos laughed aloud when Ezra Klein, one of his star bloggers at the Washington Post, pitched an idea for a new website and asked for an eight-figure check to get it off the ground. We do know that Bezos decided to let him to seek investors elsewhere: “We regret to announce that Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews are leaving The Post for a new venture.” Information about this “new venture” is pretty scarce, but it allegedly involves a foray into “explanatory journalism.”
Any informed reader familiar with Klein’s work will have difficulty suppressing a chuckle at the close juxtaposition of his name and the word “explanatory.” Klein, you will recall, is the “wonk” who went on television after the GOP regained its majority in the House to discuss the disputes erupting between Republicans and Democrats concerning limits on federal power. The cause of this discord, he explained, was the verbiage of the Constitution: “The text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago.”
Klein is evidently under the impression that the document in question was written during the McKinley administration. But his cluelessness isn’t limited to the Constitution. Klein is profoundly ignorant in his ostensible areas of expertise — health care and economic policy. As recently as three weeks ago, apparently unaware that countless studies have shown Medicaid coverage to be worse for one’s health than no coverage at all, he described Obamacare’s expansion of that failed program as a “huge win.”
But it probably wasn’t Klein’s historical illiteracy, or even his general ignorance concerning the policy areas in which he poses as a wonk, that rendered Bezos reluctant to finance his delusions of grandeur. It is much more likely that Bezos is turned off by Klein’s fundamental dishonesty. Klein’s brand of journalism goes well beyond mere bias. He misrepresents the views of interviewees, colludes with other “reporters” to spin or bury ideologically inconvenient stories, and even creates fictitious sources.
One of Klein’s worst misrepresentations was committed in an attempt to defend former CMS head Donald Berwick, a proponent of government-imposed health care rationing. In a post titled, “The Conservative Case for Don Berwick,” Klein insinuated that GOP Rep. Paul Ryan agrees with Berwick: “The question, as Paul Ryan told me, isn’t whether we ration, but who rations, and how.” In reality, Ryan spoke out firmly against government rationing in the interview, and Klein deliberately distorted his words.
But Klein didn’t want to be a lone voice lying in the wilderness. Thus, he created the now infamous JournoList, a listserv that he and other MSM types used to coordinate their misrepresentations of the news. As Tucker Carlson put it in the Daily Caller, “Again and again, we discovered members of JournoList working to coordinate talking points on behalf of Democratic politicians.” Klein denied this, but immediately took the listserv down and still refuses to give anyone access to any related files.
That the Post didn’t fire Klein after the JournoList scandal is a scandal in itself, but he remained and continued his crimes against journalism. In 2011, he appears to have created a fictitious “conservative legal scholar” who allegedly advised him that the Supreme Court would never condescend to hear Florida v. HHS. Jennifer Rubin all but called Klein a liar at the time: “Unlike every law professor and advocate whom I have talked to in the last two years on this case, Ezra’s [unnamed] gal or guy says the court won’t bite.”
It is unlikely that Klein’s dubious ethics and intellectual limitations have been lost on Bezos, who just bought the Washington Post last summer. This may explain why, as Politico reports, “The Post’s new owner, and Katharine Weymouth, its publisher, never even offered an alternative figure, sources familiar with the negotiations said.” Nonetheless, many in the media establishment seem to have concluded that Bezos has shot himself in the foot by not showering cash on his resident “wunderkind.”
But Bezos is no dummy. He didn’t earn enough money to buy one of the country’s most respected publications by making dumb decisions. Interestingly, on the same day that Klein’s departure was confirmed, the Post also announced a partnership with The Volokh Conspiracy. Eugene Volokh and his co-conspirators have been “lawblogging” since Klein was in high school, and enjoy a vast national readership. All of which suggests that, rather than committing a blunder, Bezos has traded up.
Ezra Klein’s primary gift seems to be a talent for working the Beltway cocktail circuit. Presumably, he will use that skill to get his new venture bankrolled. But there’s a big difference between finding investors and making an independent operation successful. In business, dumb people go broke and dishonest people go to jail. It is not a world that is kind to lightweights.