The Washington Post hasn’t had much luck with blogs by or about conservatives. The paper’s first foray into the uncharted waters of wingerdom ran aground when it emerged that the young Republican they’d hired, Ben Domenech, was a serial plagiarist. Now Dave Weigel — whose beat I interpreted as covering conservatives, not pretending to be one — has resigned after nasty comments he made to fellow journalists about “Paultards” and wishing to see Matt Drudge set himself on fire became public. (Weigel tweets that he was using “Paultard” ironically, which fits the context of the e-mail, where he’s complaining about the abundance of Tea Party activists on television relative to the lack of attention paid to Ron Paul and his supporters in 2007/8.)
There are two things I’ll say in defense of Weigel. First, his views should not come as a shock to anyone, least of all the editors of the Post. If what he was saying on “Journolist,” the official liberal media listserv run by fellow WaPo blogger Ezra Klein, was fine in private, why should the Post (or Weigel himself, for that matter) feel abashed now? Weigel’s language on the list was more intemperate than anything he or other Posties would say in public, but the attitudes on display were no different from what any intelligent reader could detect from Weigel’s Right Now blog. He doesn’t like most conservatives. Shocking.
The other thing I’ll say is that his blog, and his earlier work at the Washington Independent, was always interesting. That the blogger had a slant against his subjects only made things more lively. Weigel is also a very good interviewer and old-fashioned journalist, quite apart from his personal politics. In short, he’s worth reading, and you’ll often get information from him that you won’t find elsewhere. That’s what I want in a blogger.
The other defenses and excuses being offered for Weigel don’t wash. First there’s the canard that what he said was said in private. No it wasn’t — it was written in e-mails to a large number of journalists. But it was “off the record,” right? Wrong — there is no such thing as “off the record” or “on background” or “deep background” when you’re writing to a gaggle of reporters. One-on-one, a source and a journalist may be able to trust one another. But there is absolutely no excuse for thinking that mass mails to journalists won’t be treated as story fodder, no matter what disclaimers or secrecy oaths Journolist may require. To expect privacy in such circumstances is like expecting sharks not to tear apart a bloody carcass that’s dumped in the water. In fact, a good analogy for such naivete would be Timothy Treadwell, the “Grizzly Man” who was so, so sure that he was on friendly terms with bears who would never be so rude as to devour him (and his girlfriend) alive.
Why is there a “Journolist” in the first place, by the way? Journalists are supposed to make things public, especially (if they’re honest) their own biases. So here is a secret list where members get to sound off about things they don’t dare say in public. This is not merely a matter of journalists speaking private opinions among personal friends, since the list is organized on a professional basis, not a personal one. This would be like judges having a listserv only for judges where they talk about what they really think about the cases they’re supposed to be deciding. The whole thing is unethical and corrupt. If Post editors gave a damn about professional conduct, they would shut down the list, or at least ban their writers from joining it. [Update: As I was writing this, Klein announced that he’s closing Journolist.]
Weigel himself has offered apologies accompanied by complaints about the hate mail he got after being linked on Drudge or how not-nice it was for his friends at the Washington Examiner to talk about his dancing at the Suderman-McArdle wedding. (If there’s going to be a D.C. reporter listserv, it would better be called Journocest, although the right-wing and left-wing tribes would still want their own “safe spaces,” I guess. Part of the difficulty for Weigel is that he’s tried to keep a foot in both tents. Since Journolist has a strict liberals-only policy, it appears someone on the Left leaked Weigel’s e-mails.)
Not only would most journalists kill for a Drudge link, but any journalist who finds success writing about politics is inevitably going to get hatemail by the bushel. This is not the right line of work for people who don’t want to be disliked. As for weddings and whatnot, the public character of journalists doesn’t only run in one direction. If they’re holding other public figures up to the glare, and winning some level of renown in the process, they are inevitably going to attract some unwanted attention for themselves, too. Again, it’s not the line of work to get into if you don’t want to see your name in the papers. And if you do want to see your name in the papers, you don’t always get to choose the context. Nobody should have that kind of privilege.
The Huffington Post and Politico say that WaPo‘s editors really were taken aback by Weigel’s politics — “within the Washington Post, Weigel’s politics (he is a libertarian with clear progressive leanings) appeared to surprise management, some of whom assumed he was a conservative,” Sam Stein writes.That’s hard to believe: did the Post really hire Weigel without looking at the work he was doing for his previous employer? His Washington Independent writing was of exactly the same tenor as his Right Now blogging, and it would have been immediately obvious to any Postie who looked at WaPo‘s own site that Right Now was not a “conservative” blog by a “conservative” blogger. I can usually swallow a plea of incompetence where the Post is concerned, but this beggars belief.