This is a story you should familiarize yourself with, for two reasons: (1) You may hear more about it over the weekend. And (2) It’s a story about the state of dialogue and opinion, of ethical gray lines and competing reporters, and the way a fast news cycle — like a strong tide — can politicize an issue until it ends in the worst way possible. Until earlier today, the Washington Post had a very popular, well-liked blogger named Dave Weigel. He handed in his resignation to the Post this afternoon. Why?
Weigel ran day-to-day on the Post‘s Right Now blog, writing about the conservative movement. This was sometimes the subject of much consternation from conservatives, because he doesn’t typify your average, insane right-wing caricature of a “conservative” political thinker, and he’s noted that his politics are “all over the map.” More to the point, sometimes, smart people have complex political ideologies. This is because most of the problems in this world — no matter what you believe, or what the many celebrity American blowhards will tell you — don’t have black and white answers. Weigel was one of these guys.
As Alex Pareene as Salon pointed out, the trouble for Weigel really started last month when he published a Tweet calling gay marriage opponents bigots, which he then had to issue a “clarification” on. And as Pareene notes:
The position that the people actively, obsessively campaigning to restrict the rights of gay people will be looked at as bigots in 20 years is pretty defensible.
Not incorrect. But now, the blood is in the water, and if the denizens of the media’s conservative movement — both those who legitimately hold those ideologies, and those smart/disingenuous enough to exploit and make money off of it — are good at anything, it’s a takedown built on conspiratorial doublespeak and pitchfork-raising outrage manifested from almost nothing. But here’s the thing: It likely started from the left.
This is where we cut to Ezra Klein: the young 26 year-old WonkBook blogger is a journalism wunderkind. At 26, this kid is one of the most (deservedly) read young political writers in the country, and he works for the Washington Post. See how a guy like Klein could be the envy of plenty of more seasoned DC vets? Well, it doesn’t stop there: until today, Klein had a listserv called Journolist, which was infamous in media circles (especially in DC and New York) for it’s uber-exclusive, secretive group of what Alex Pareene described today as “a ‘private’ email list of mostly liberal journalists in Washington, many of whom are friends in real life. It may or may not be smart for a bunch of journalists to have a ‘private’ email list, but journalists are friends and they email each other.” Now, see how this could cause people to be jealous? Especially when you don’t get to be a part of a crew that includes Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, CNN analyst and Supreme Court scholar Jeffrey Toobin, et al.
Well, yesterday afternoon, Weigel and Journolist met in the middle, and collided. Some comments Weigel has written to his contemporaries — as in, things one writer said to another writer — were aired out on two blogs: one was MediaBistro’s Fishbowl DC blog, long run by notorious DC hack gossip Betsy Rothstein. The other was conservative pundit (also see: “bowtied assclown” and Dancing With The Stars contestant) Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller. Both Tucker Carlson and Betsy Rothstein obtained some of Weigel’s comments, and posted them. Quotes from both included:
“This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”
“It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”
Now, why did Rothstein think there was a story there? Certainly not because both of those things aren’t true (because they are). But in her words, via Mediaite:
This is serious for a blogger who covers conservatives. We have a vested interest in knowing and informing that a conservative beat journalist has a clear and angry opposition to the subject of his reporting…
Rothstein also noted in a post that “If you’re a reporter, you’re supposed to be objective. We shouldn’t know if he voted for Ron Paul, President Obama or David Hasselhoff. If you’re going to be reporting on any political movement, you are supposed to take an unbiased position.” This is how a smear campaign starts, with an argument that in principle, osentsibly sounds correct, but really is, at its core, ill-informed, ignorant, and sensational. This is forgetting the fact that Rothstein is notoriously known for not giving a shit about the intrinsic societal value of news or really anything but the attention her own stories attract. More importantly, as NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen observed:
All journalists vote. All journalists have political biases, because they’re human. But in their jobs, they are required to remove themselves emotionally as much as they can to get the closest to the truth as they can. Weigel did that regularly and ironically enough, he did it with regard to trying to understand insane right-wing smear campaigns.
You know how this story ends. Weigel apologizes. The outrage continues: Conspiratorial rages start emerging with complaints that the Washington Post lied — lied! — to their readers about having hired a LIBERAL (Weigel’s actually declared himself a libertarian who has voted for Ron Paul before, but whatever) to blog about the impenetrable institution (read: shitshow) that is Contemporary American Conservative Politics. Weigel resigns. Klein shuts down Journolist.
She’s on the right track. Three important factors to remember, here:
And the pain of being on the outside of a small Professional Cool Club might sting a bit for these three, who have all been written off as clowns long before Ezra Klein or Dave Weigel joined the Post. But when you add whatever it is we have up, here you have a journalist selling out his or her contemporaries for any number of disturbing motives, the most obvious one being jealousy, and another journalist deciding that weathering this thing isn’t worth is if the Post isn’t going to back him hard.
Which, of course, they didn’t.
Leave it to the Post‘s ombudsman-cum-apologist lackee, Andrew Alexander, to really sell Dave down the river, which he predictably did this afternoon, practically begging for conservative readers to come back. What Alexander misses is that Weigel was one of the best guys the conservatives had reporting both on them and for them. And they let him get away, and that’s why conservative readers won’t come back: becuase the Post‘s coverage of the movement will be that much more sub-par.
Either way, Weigel isn’t sweating it. He was already seen at the Huffington Post offices. The outpouring of support for his work is pretty unprecedented. And he’s taken a pretty commendable, menchlichite stance on the issue, noting on Twitter, “And now, a special comment,” with the following video — Jay-Z’s “On To The Next One” — linked to it. And as Jay-Z notes in the song: “Can’t chill but my neck will/haters really gonna be mad off my next deal.” Dave Weigel’s gonna land, and he’s gonna land soft, and he’s gonna fight hard, and he’s going to do it better than so many others to come before him. Not because he’s mad, or because he needs payback, but because that’s what solid writers do, and it doesn’t matter what the hell they believe. They just deliver the truth, as clear-eyed and as sharp as they can, to the best of their abilities, and they do it every time. He’ll probably get more haters. If you’re doing well: It happens.
Update 1: I erroneously attributed a post on The Atlantic to Megan McArdle; it’s actually Julian Sanchez writing on McArdle’s blog. The piece is great, go read it. Also, as a commenter notes, the timeline was made unclear, but for the record: Fishbowl DC published Thursday afternoon, Weigel apologized on his blog, Friday morning, Tucker Carlson published more emails, Friday afternoon, Weigel resigned.