Who Smeared Dave Weigel?
Yesterday afternoon, The Washington Post's conservative blogger, Dave Weigel, resigned. This was following the leak of some emails detailing his personal political views to a DC hack-gossip named Betsy Rothstein and bowtied blowhard Tucker Carlson's website, The Daily Caller. The emails were pulled from a private listserv run by fellow Washington Post blogger wunderkind Ezra Klein, the notorious Journolist. Now it's time to ask: Who smeared Dave Weigel?
Journolist, which was started by Klein in February 2007, was an elite email (mostly liberal) list of political reporting's best and brightest. He once characterized it to Michael Calderone at Politico as "just a list where journalists and policy wonks can discuss issues freely." And yesterday, in a column noting Weigel's resignation and the shutting-down of Journolist, further explained it:
...The theory behind Journolist: An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another. The eventual irony of the list was that it came to be viewed as a secretive conspiracy, when in fact it was always a fractious and freewheeling conversation meant to open the closed relationship between a reporter and his source to a wider audience.
I'm of the idea that Journolist was a bad idea in practice -- because there is always a rat, always -- but think that writers should be allowed to be sentient human beings with, you know, opinions about things. Otherwise, hold them in for seven presidential administrations, and the next thing you know, you're Helen Thomas and your incredible legacy is now marred because you expressed an opinion about your job for the first time in your life that you've held in for way too long, that ends up being a "shocker" to people, and costs you your rep.
Some of the members, following posts last year by Slate's Mikey Kaus and Salon's Glen Greenwald, were known. Some of them have started outing themselves. Among their ranks:
- CNN analyst and Supreme Court scholar Jeffrey Toobin.
- New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman.
- Time writer Joe Klein.
- The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates.
- The Nation columnist Eric Alterman.
- The Nation's D.C. editor Christopher Hayes.
- The Nation columnist (and prize-winning poet) Katha Pollitt.
- The New Republic editor Jonathan Chait.
- The New Republic editor Noam Scheiber.
- The New Republic writer Isaac Chotiner.
- Boston Globe columnist Jesse Singal.
- ThinkProgress blogger Matthew Yglesias.
- ThinkProgress blogger Matt Duss.
- Democracy Arsenal blogger Michael Cohen.
- Washingtonian senior web editor and Atlantic contributor Alyssa Rosenberg.
- Political writer Rick Perlstein.
- UC Berkley economics professor and blogger Brad DeLong.
Big names, right? If you're not in that elite club, and you're not allowed in -- as Tucker Carlson wasn't when he requested to join three weeks ago -- it's a tough break for you. The problem is that someone who was actually on that list, which has been reported to be at over 300 members, had it out for Dave Weigel. And they broke the trust of their fellow reporting elite when they published his emails. Of those 300 names, there are a lot of seasoned reporting vets. Dave Weigel's a pretty plucky young upstart by comparison, and his star -- much like Ezra Klein's -- rose fast at the Washington Post. So...
Who smeared Dave Weigel?
We're not the first to ask. Alyssa Rosenberg perfectly articulated why it's worth asking:
If the leaker is a member of JournoList, they're someone who either came to despise Weigel enough to break a promise of confidentiality they initially intended to keep, or they're an impostor, a person who deceived one or many people about their intentions, perhaps for quite some time. That level of deception is not simply intriguing, it's genuinely revealing of a person's character and the evolution of their beliefs. And if the emails weren't given to news outlets by a member of the list, and they were obtained either through a deliberate hack or exploitation of an error--a lost password, an email account left open on an unattended computer--the level of coordinated work that went into getting the emails was substantial and considerable. Learning the identity of a person or persons who would spend that time and attention searching for the emails and designing a coordinated campaign to release them would say a lot about who feels threatened by Weigel's reporting.
So, who was it?
A jealous colleague?
What kind of agenda did this person have?
And what more do they have prepared for us, if anything?
There's always the possibility that Weigel was only the first in a series of "outings" (read: bullshit smear campaigns) that the members of Journolist are about to experience. The problem is that, unfortunately, it would appear this campaign was successful in exposing the vulnerability and unpreparedness of the backwards-thinking editorial leadership out there at places like The Washington Post, who for the most part, has sided against Weigel.
The cowardly toadie-cum-ombudsman for the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, did so in an hastily-written press release for the Post groveling over an issue he clearly has no grasp on (this is, of course, the same sentient human being who thought Dana Milbank should be "applauded" for calling Hillary Clinton a "mad bitch").
This was followed by Washington Post chief Marcus Brauchli telling Post "media" "columnist" Howard Kurtz:
"Dave did excellent work for us...[but] we can't have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work..."
And then, literally, in the next sentence:
"There's abundant room on our Web site for a wide range of viewpoints, and we should be transparent about everybody's viewpoint."
I couldn't explain this line of logic no matter how hard I try, suffice to say that Brauchli's implication that every writer under him needs to disclose his or her viewpoints on every article they write about is beyond absurd, it's simply impractical. Bias is inherent, but that bias wasn't brought to the table with Dave Weigel's work for the Post. Kurtz goes on to quote Tucker Carlson:
"The people who write there, are they reporters? Are they op-ed writers? I don't get it, and I don't think readers get it."
This essentially crystallizes an Old Media issue with bloggers perfectly. They don't understand that all bloggers are also -- the moment they pick up the phone, go to the scene of a story, use a source on a story, get quotes, etc -- reporters. But not all reporters are bloggers, because they file stories every day. It's like the old booze distinguishment: All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. And Old Media grouches think the bloggers are coming for their jobs -- which we are -- and that their abhorrence of technology will cause them to fall behind -- which it will -- and so they use the accusation that our work is worth less than theirs because they can't compartmentalize it easily. It's a sad logical fallacy that persists. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg demonstrated this best when he heard from his colleagues at the Post (anonymously, of course) discuss Weigel's resignation to him:
"It makes me crazy when I see these guys referred to as reporters. They're anything but. And they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters."
"The lack of toilet-training is right. Everyone makes mistakes, but you can mitigate the number of mistakes through seasoning. Some people here are still put through seasoning, but others aren't. It shows, and it's embarrassing."
Three notes on this:
1. You fucking pussies. You have less spine than your average jellyfish. Come out and show your faces. Because...
2. You just made everyone at the Washington Post who isn't Klein who were on Journolist the first suspects. And
3. What's embarrassing is your obliviousness to how transparent your contempt truly is.
Whoever did this knew that Betsy Rothstein and Tucker Carlson were (respectively) desperate/deluded and shameless enough to make great places to drop these: Both outlets would give them the due diligence of sensationalism, weren't risking credibility (having none to begin with), and also, wouldn't rat on their sources. Yet. Because someone's eventually going to open their mouth, and that kind of thing gets around. And we want to catch it. Again:
Who smeared Dave Weigel?
There is, of course, an inherent hypocrisy in this that doesn't escape me: The outrage over a leak shouldn't beget another one, should it? In this case, all rules are off. There was no Higher Truth here, there was an angry careerist trying to off Weigel, one who knew the motions they were putting into play.
We'll take whatever we can get. We're going to find out who did this, and then we're going to ask them why, and we're all going to learn a sad, evergreen lesson about reporting and journalism and life in general that's started to rear it's ugly head again: You really can't trust anyone, ever. But you can certainly trust some people more than others. Let's find out who they are.
I'm perfectly fine with paying for a story. I'm not sure what the policy here is on it (I imagine they're against such a thing). But if I somehow magically get money for this, oh, you'll know. But I do know this: I'd pay to see this story, whether I'm reading it or reporting it. I doubt I'm the only one. Hopefully, if I can't get it for free, someone -- like my old bosses, who have exhibited their willingness to engage in checkbook journalism -- will, one way or another.
So, if you know, or have the first clues: You know where to reach us.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter