On March 13, 2011, Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog published an entry from Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in which he attacked Right Web for employing standards “embraced by conspiracy theorists like the LaRouchies, 9/11 revisionists, and Birthers.” He also criticized Right Web’s director and editor on the basis of a stark mischaracterization of a correspondence between the two from November 2009.
Rubin went on to suggest that Congress should consider investigating PBS for having published articles on Frontline’s Tehran Bureau website that link to Right Web profiles, writing that “congressmen might want to ask PBS’s Frontline about the editorial decision to substitute these fake, conspiracy-riddled biographies for the real thing.”
Frontline issued the following response on the web pages that Rubin linked to: “In March 2011, a few months after we originally published this piece, FRONTLINE/Tehran Bureau received a complaint from a blogger who posted on Commentary magazine's web site. The complaint centered on some of the links included in our story—particularly those that took readers to a site called ‘Right Web.’ The Commentary blog post contended that Right Web publishes ‘fake biographies of conservatives.’ After reviewing the matter, we find that the biographies on the Right Web site are not at all fake or fabricated, and seem to be well-sourced. However, we do think it's helpful for our readers to understand this site's particular point of view—and their stated focus on those who ‘promote militarist U.S. foreign and defense policies’—if they choose to click on this outside link for further information.”
Right Web has also responded to Rubin’s claims, sending the following letter to Commentary’s editors. As of March 18, Commentary had not responded to this letter or issued a retraction of Rubin’s erroneous accusations.
Right Web's Response to Commentary
Dear Commentary Editors,
I am the director of the Right Web program based at the Institute for Policy Studies. In a March 13 entry on your magazine's Contentions blog, Michael Rubin attacked both myself and the Right Web project on the basis of a number of spurious accusations. I would like to respond to those accusations, and I hope you will share this response with your readers.
Mr. Rubin writes: "When challenged about inaccuracies on the dossiers he compiles of 'right wing militarists,' the editor of Right Web e-mailed that even when no evidence supports his allegations, corrections of his slanders would require proving his allegations wrong, an impossible standard that is also embraced by conspiracy theorists like the LaRouchies, 9/11 revisionists, and Birthers."
Mr. Rubin is probably referring to a brief email correspondence I had with him nearly two years ago, when he wrote to challenge Right Web's characterization of him as a hawk on Iran policy who advocates attacking that country. Mr. Rubin informed us that he in fact was opposed to attacking Iran, to which I responded that in our judgment suggesting assassinating a country's leaders—which Mr. Rubin has done—was tantamount to promoting an attack on that country. Nevertheless, shortly after our correspondence, we eliminated the "attack" language in our characterization of Mr. Rubin’s stance on Iran to prevent any further confusion—a far cry from Mr. Rubin's accusation. Mr. Rubin also fails to mention that we very clearly asked him to identify other errors in the profile in order to correct them. He never responded to this request.
For the sake of complete transparency and because Mr. Rubin has so deeply misrepresented our correspondence, we will share the entire correspondence with anyone who requests it. [The correspondence is available here.]
There are other inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Mr. Rubin's Contentions blog about Right Web. For instance, he accuses Right Web of producing "fake biographies," which he claims PBS wrongfully links to instead of "legitimate institutional biographies." What Right Web publishes are brief dossiers on individuals and organizations—on the left, right, and center—who the program deems to be supportive of hawkish (or, as we put it, "militarist") US foreign policies, with an emphasis on US Mideast policy. The dossiers—or "profiles"—tend to be narrowly focused on a person's track record with respect to US foreign policy. They do not attempt to be comprehensive, nor do they try to mislead readers into thinking that they are somehow "official" biographies. At the top of each profile we state, "Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site." Important to note, the profiles are merely compilations of news items and other publicly available information, provided in a information-driven format that eschews editorializing. In fact, we are so diligent in our efforts to eliminate ad hominem opinion in our profiles that we frequently get letters from readers who support hawkish US foreign policies and wish to send praise to people profiled on our site.
Also important to point out is that Right Web's profiles (https://rightweb.irc-online.org/) are carefully researched and painstakingly sourced. They are hardly "conspiracy-riddled biographies" produced by "naive or unprofessional journalists," as Mr. Rubin claims. In fact, we do not accuse anybody of anything, we merely report and summarize what has already been published in respected news and opinion outlets, and carefully document our sources. If a contributor to PBS Frontline's website links to a Right Web profile in a story dealing with Middle East politics, that person is simply providing their readers with a resource that will provide much more relevant information vis-a-vis the article in question than would say Mr. Rubin's bio on the website of the American Enterprise Institute. Why this linking activity would merit a congressional investigation of PBS, as Mr. Rubin suggests, is difficult to comprehend.
Finally, Mr. Rubin writes that "Right Web is also among the worst Google manipulators in the political realm." It is unclear to me what this claim means exactly. Some Right Web profiles have proven quite popular, and thus they—including Mr. Rubin’s—have gradually migrated to the top of Google searches. Nevertheless, our total monthly readership is in the low tens of thousands, hardly a major coup in the age of Google, by even the most humble standards.
I would like to reiterate to Mr. Rubin—and also extend to the readers of Contentions—Right Web's offer to correct any mistakes in our profiles, either in Mr. Rubin's or in any of the hundreds of other profiles on our website.