Speculation continues to swirl surrounding the leaked listserv emails that led to the resignation of Dave Weigel, the Washington Post‘s blogger on the conservative beat. To recap: Weigel belonged to an exclusive group of political reporters and commentators, headed by fellow WaPo young Ezra Klein, called Journolist. Sometimes Weigel got feisty in emails he believed were private, joking about things like Matt Drudge setting himself on fire. Last weekend, Weigel’s emails were leaked — first to Betsy Rothstein at FishbowlDC and then to Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller — and the uproar (“Weigel loathes those he’s expected to cover objectively!”) led to him quitting. In the aftermath, we here at Runnin’ Scared have been asking: Who smeared Dave Weigel? Why was he targeted? Is this just the beginning — will Journolist (since shuttered) come back to bite others on the ass? We’re not the only ones with opinions:
Our own Foster Kamer asked:
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?
Then he floated an idea, spurred by anonymous contempt circling for bloggers — (“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.”) — that this might be an Old Media vs. New Media divide:
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.
And maybe that’s cause enough for someone to want to take down Weigel by leaking his emails — put these bloggers in their place, make sure they step back and respect the throne. This is an idea Salon’s Glenn Greenwald expands upon in an expert dismantling of The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, who let anonymous WaPo staffers sound off in his column on the matter:
“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.”
We called them “fucking pussies.” Greenwald stopped short of that, but his take stings, too:
Similar vindictive, thuggish, threatening behavior was evident when Goldberg claimed that he, too, has been sent discussions from Journolist before and warned, with the tough-guy facade that is the defining symptom of the Little Man Syndrome with which he is so obviously afflicted: “I haven’t had the opportunity to use them, but would be happy to if the need arose.” That’s the mark of a True Journalist: self-absorbed blackmail — if you cross me, I will try to destroy you with your private emails I’ve obtained. He sounds like some sort petty, demented cartoon version of J. Edgar Hoover.
In other words, bouncing Greenwald’s ideas off of a desire to know who brought Weigel down: the Establishment went after Weigel out of fear of the unknown. And if that’s the case, Klein and his cohort better watch their backs.
Goldberg’s colleague at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, has a take, too. While he agrees with Goldberg that Weigel’s emails showed poor judgment, he wants to stop short of belittling Weigel when it comes to his reporter status. His opinions aren’t the problem, Friedersdorf writes:
Do we really want to establish a standard whereby the worthiness of a journalist is measured by whether or not he has controversial opinions? Or how adept he is at concealing those opinions?
And in defense of Weigel, there’s this:
I’ll defend to death, however, the proposition that the work of a journalist should be the only standard by which he is measured. Mr. Weigel’s work is superb: he breaks news, his foremost loyalty is to the facts, and he reliably treats fairly even folks with whom he very much disagrees.
And perhaps the questions with the most dangerous implications come when Friedersdorf asks where we draw the line:
Firing Dave Weigel incentivizes more digging into the personal opinions of journalists, and validates the idea that they should be judged on the basis of those opinions, rather than the content of their work. What’s next? E-mails sent to a few people and leaked? Opinions offered at a bar over beers and surreptitiously recorded?
All of which gets us no closer to who went after Weigel. (If you have a lead, chime in.) But it does outline why this story is important: we’re still in the midst of seismic changes in media and journalism. And as the rules are being rewritten, there will be those pulling to keep things the way they are. That’s Greenwald’s Journalistic Country Club, that’s Jay Rosen’s Church of the Savvy. Conservative, you might call them, in the basic sense of the word.
This time, the Washington Post, by accepting Weigel’s resignation, made it clear where their loyalties are, for now. Luckily, guys like Weigel grew as writers by being scrappy; they’re going to need it. Because it seems people are firing on them from above.
UPDATE: Do also check out stats guru Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight’s post on the Weigel matter, in which Silver discloses being a member of Journolist and logically why such a move by the Post is terrrifying.
Anyway, let’s just be clear: when something bad happens to Dave Weigel, it’s potentially more threatening to me than it might be to some random person. You deserve to know where my bread is buttered. With that said, this issue is too essential to my professional life for me not to comment upon, and I find the Washington Post’s decision to accept Weigel’s resignation to be appalling.