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Dave Weigel’s Anti-Conservative Rants Go Public

Dave Weigel, who writes a blog for the Washington Post “covering” the conservative movement, has been embarrassed by revelations of things he’s written on Ezra Klein’s listserv for liberal media insiders, JournoList.

FishBowl DC‘s Betsy Rothstein publishes a series of quotes, including:

  • “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.”

Daily Caller‘s Jonathan Strong follows up with a much longer piece with quotes including:

  • Following news of Rush Limbaugh’s being rushed to the hospital with chest pains: “I hope he fails.”
  • “Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes–how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?”
  • “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”
  • [The problem with the mainstream media is] “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

Dave apologizes to his readers and offers explanations and clarifications for the quotes in Rothstein’s piece.  Here’s the thing that sticks out:

Unwisely, I lashed out to Journolist, which I’ve come to view as a place to talk bluntly to friends.

Even if Joe Klein hadn’t found himself in similar trouble when his emails from JournoList became public several months back, this displays a soundness of judgment just this side of a four star general emoting to a reporter from Rolling Stone while on a Bud Lite Lime buzz.   Emails — let alone mass emails — just are not a safe place for public figures to vent.

The buzz on Twitter and the blogs this morning is that this just goes to show that Weigel holds conservatives in contempt and having him cover the movement for a major newspaper is journalistic malpractice.   But, frankly, his feelings toward social conservatives and Tea Partiers were hardly a state secret before now.  No one who read Dave at Reason, The Washington Independent, or his Twitter feed is shocked.

Do I think someone more sympathetic to the movement would be a better fit for the beat?  I do.  It would be more insightful to get a broad spectrum view of a Tea Party rally, say, than a series of posts making fun of the looniest members of the crowd.

Dave does actual reporting and provides interesting insights that someone writing longer form articles for the paper would miss.   But the tone of Right Now is one of someone on a mission to expose just how crazy conservatives are.  As Stacy McCain notes, “Weigel’s editors are getting what they want. Conservatism to them is terra incognita, that part of the old maps emblazoned with the motto, ‘Here Be Dragons.’”

But, fundamentally, a single author blog on such a narrow topic is perilous.  As I noted back in March, when Weigel was hired,

Dave’s a strong writer with good instincts.  My only complaint with his reporting for TWI, which strikes me as starkly different from what he produced for Reason, is that being so narrowly focused topically makes it sometimes seems that he’s piling on.  That’s almost unavoidable when one guy writes 20 pieces a day about a single topic.

That’s pretty much been borne out by the blog.

Aside from canning the project altogether, I’m not sure what the solution is.  They could pair Dave with someone more sympathetic to the movement and turn in the blog into a dialogue rather than a monologue, I suppose, but I can’t think offhand of a successful blog — and can think of several unsuccessful ones –  that’s followed that model.

UPDATE:  This has been a fast-breaking story, occasioning several updates throughout the day. See:

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure I understand why a reporter covering the conservative movement has to be sympathetic to all aspects of that movement.

    My problem with most of the criticism I’ve seen of Dave Weigel on Twitter and the other righty blogs is that it seems as though they feel that unless he is just mindlessly parroting the latest press release from FreedomWorks, he’s “anti-conservative”

    That’s not reporting.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    True that. I don’t expect him to make Palinites and Tea Partiers happy. Hell, I certainly don’t do that myself, and I’m more sympathetic to them than Dave.

    But I do think Dave’s blog is a giant pile-on.

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  3. John Cole says:

    James- I’m curious why you feel it is a pile-on. Is it simply because of the volume of posts about the same subject, or is there something specific in his reporting that you find unfair?

    Certainly his emails are opinionated, but I’ve found his reporting to be quite fair. If nothing else, he receives the same level of venom from the FDL crowd.

    And wouldn’t pairing him with someone more “sympathetic” to the movement just be more of the awful “both sides” reporting, and a declaration that Weigel is unsympathetic in his reporting? Shouldn’t you be required to demonstrate the “unsympathetic” reporting before suggesting that kind of change? Because if you are claiming he needs to be balanced with someone sympathetic, you are de facto claiming his reporting is unfair. Do you have evidence of that?

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  4. But I do think Dave’s blog is a giant pile-on.

    Perhaps, but one must admit that some of the people that he covers — the birthers, the Tea Party Crowd, and Glenn Beck come to mind — do provide plenty of material.

    I’m not sure that it’s really “piling on” when you’re just reporting what people are saying, as long as it’s newsworthy.

    I did notice, for example, that Dave recently decided not to post anymore about Orly Taitz after she lost the primary for CA Secretary of State. His reasoning basically being that since she was no longer a candidate for office, she isn’t really newsworthy anymore

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  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    Although a blog I enjoy is not as narrowly focused as would be a blog only covering conservatives, I think The League of Ordinary Gentlemen does promote good dialogue. I’d be interested to know which blogs you consider unsuccessful although you may not want to put that out.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Is it simply because of the volume of posts about the same subject, or is there something specific in his reporting that you find unfair?

    It’s of the same piece as Andrew Sullivan’s fifteen posts a day on Sarah Palin: I get it already.

    And wouldn’t pairing him with someone more “sympathetic” to the movement just be more of the awful “both sides” reporting, and a declaration that Weigel is unsympathetic in his reporting?

    It’s a declaration that Weigel brings a strong viewpoint to his reporting and that this viewpoint doesn’t represent the totality of the truth.

    I’m not arguing that Dave’s being “unfair” but that presenting only one, negative, view of a moment is. It’s not like WaPo has half a dozen blogs covering the “conservative moment and the Republican party.” They have one and it’s highly biased.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure that it’s really “piling on” when you’re just reporting what people are saying, as long as it’s newsworthy.

    The problem is when you’re presenting it as a picture of a movement rather than an opponent’s cherry picking. If it were called “Making fun of the conservative movement and the Republican Party by Dave Weigel,” then fine. (But it wouldn’t belong at WaPo.) But calling it “inside the movement” gives the idea that it’s supposed to be evenhanded. It ain’t.

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  8. Ortho says:

    It’s hard to believe that people like Mataconis and Joyner are not smart enough to notice the enormous difference (in style, tone, focus, and substance) between the way that Weigel reports on Conservatives and the way that Klein reports on Liberals.

    But the alternative is that they *are* smart enough to notice, but for some reason are dishonestly pretending they don’t.

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  9. Ortho,

    Your comment confirms my suspicion that the only acceptable reform of “reporting on the conservative movement” for some people involves mindlessly repeating press releases from Heritage, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Nation

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  10. sam says:

    I dunno. Some of the criticism suggests to me that what some folks want (not necessarily JJ) is a variation on the Bob and Ray man-on-the-street interview routine: Wally Ballou is interviewing a guy on the street. Wally asks the guy what he does. The guy says I run a business, “I make wide ties narrow”…”Ah, do you make narrow ties wider, too.” “No, I can’t do that.” Interview goes on like that for a bit. While in the background can be heard gun shots, sirens, women screaming, general chaos.

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  11. steve says:

    I think that there is some value in knowing what the crazies in both parties are doing. It’s just hard sometimes to figure out what the percentages are of those crazies. Both parties now rely upon the extremes to generate energy and money. The GOP being the party out of power, one would expect more of that extreme behavior now. Kind of like when MoveOn and Code Pink were prominent a few years ago. There is also a severe lack of political criticism that is fact based and even attempts to be objective.

    Steve

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  12. John Cole says:

    I’m not arguing that Dave’s being “unfair” but that presenting only one, negative, view of a moment is.

    If he isn’t being unfair, then basically your position is “good reporting, but you are doing too much of it.”

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  13. Ortho says:

    Mataconis,

    Your comment comes to confirming my suspicion that you’re simply dishonest.

    Do you really think that the only options for coverage are:
    A. “mindlessly repeating press releases from Heritage, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Nation”
    or
    B. mindlessly repeating liberal talking points gleaned from the Journolist listserv?

    Are you not smart enough to see that there is a huge swath of ground between those extremes, and that a journalist who is less prone to violent fantasies about Conservatives than Dave Weigel is might be able to find a more objective point within that spectrum to report from?

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  14. Ortho,

    There’s no evidence that Weigel is doing B, and I stand by my belief that the real reason conservatives are pissed at him is because is isn’t doing A either.

    I also see no evidence in his posts of “violent fantasies about conservatives.” Does he, as James says, perhaps spend too much time concentrating on the kooks ? Maybe, but kooks are fun to write about because they make for good copy, and unfortunately there are very few rational conservatives in the mold of William F. Buckley left.

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  15. Dave Schuler says:

    It seems to me that Mr. Weigel’s sin, if there is one, is failure of frankness. Why does he feel free to air opinions on JournoList that he won’t give voice to explicitly on his blog?

    Blogging affords many opportunities. One of them is to state your opinions in your own voice. Another is to create an artificial voice for your own opinions. A third is to create an artificial voice to lampoon views that you dislike. IMO the latter two are terribly difficult to maintain and do well and in the first you must give voice to your own opinion or it will mean nothing at all.

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  16. Dave,

    A fair point, but I think we’ve all said things in an email that we wouldn’t necessarily say in public.

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  17. Ortho says:

    Mataconis,

    I also see no evidence in his posts of “violent fantasies about conservatives.”
    +
    “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.*”

    I had earlier conjectured you were either stupid or dishonest. I realize now I didn’t give you enough credit. You are both stupid *and* dishonest.

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  18. This occurring after Drudge had linked to one of Weigel’s blog posts and completely mis-represented what Weigel had said.

    And, Weigel apologized for that:

    I apologize to Matt Drudge for this — I was incredibly frustrated with the amount of hate mail I was getting and lashed out. If he wants to link to this post with some headline accusing me of wishing death on him, I suppose he can do so. But I don’t wish that. I was tired, angry, and hyperbolic, and I’m sorry.

    Additionally, that wasn’t one of his blog posts. Find me a blog post that even comes close to something similar.

    Since it seems you define “stupid and dishonest” as “someone who disagrees with Ortho,” I’m not really bothered by your insult

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  19. Ortho says:

    Mataconis,

    You should have clarified that when you said
    I also see no evidence in his posts of “violent fantasies about conservatives.”
    that what you actually meant was,
    “I see no evidence in his posts of violent fantasies about conservatives, except for the violent fantasies about conservatives that he got caught making and was shamed into apologizing for.”

    (And for the record, my definition of “stupid and dishonest” does not encompass all people who disagree with me, but it certainly encompasses someone like you who contends that there is “no evidence in [Weigel's] posts of “violent fantasies about conservatives.”” when one of Weigel’s more recent posts is an apology for getting caught elaborating a violent fantasy about a conservative.)

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  20. You still haven’t pointed me to a single blog post that you have a legitimate complaint about.

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  21. More broadly, though, this story really boils down to this:

    1. Dave Weigel said some mean things in some emails.

    2. The emails became public

    3. Weigel apologized.

    That’s all.

    There really are more important things in the world to be upset about, Ortho.

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  22. dude says:

    He doesn’t have to be a conservative, but reading the language and the type of slurs he engages in tells you that he is a raving liberal with a huge bias against those he’s “covering”.

    Sorta like most of the news media.

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  23. [...] Joyner):  It’s amusing that Dave Weigel is the one breaking the story, since he’s learned exactly the same lesson the hard way overnight. Filed Under: Campaign 2010, Steven Taylor, US Politics Tagged With: Rand [...]

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  24. Vince In TX says:

    The problem is not that a non-Conservative is writing a blog about Conservatives. The problem is that an ANTI-Conservative is writing a blog about Conservatives. Given a range of stories to choose from, which do you think he will pick? Those stories which are most positive; those stories which are most fair and representative; or those which are the most harsh and indicting?

    I understand that those of you who hold the Tea Party movement, Ron Paul, Sara Palin, the Reagan legacy, and Conservatism in all guises in vast contempt see nothing wrong with Weigel. Try to be intellectually honest, though. Should, hypothetically speaking, someone who detests horses write a column for the Daily Racing Form? Should someone who is a Klan member host a blog for the Equal Opportunity Commission? Anti-types tend to have an agenda, whether overt or covert, to spread their anger, hatred, and intolerance.

    It it entirely the Post’s decision whether to have an advocate for Conservatives or not. They can even run a Conservative attack blog if they like. But why not fly their colors openly, stating their bias in explicit terms, rather than, well, what they have now.

    Feel free to hate Conservatives. Spew your vile, hateful stories to your heart’s content. Live it up. Enjoy. Just don’t try to pose as an unbiased columnist. That’s sleazy.

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  25. MarkedMan says:

    This is actually making me think I should take another look at the Washington Post. I gave up reading it several years ago because a) the only in depth reporting they seem to do is political, of the horse race variety and b) their columnists were uniformly tendentions, trite or uninteresting (Krauthammer? Will? Broder? Please!). I occasionally follow the odd Ezra Klein link, and will sometimes actively search out Joel Achenbach (not really a political commenter for those who don’t know him. Imagine more of a Dave Barry with a solid geek streak).

    I eventually tire of all blogs that devolve into the “Look at the stupid thing that X has done now! Here’s 57 reasons why it is stupid” mode. Daily Kos, Washington Monthly and Crooks and Liars certainly fit that mold, although I continued frequenting C&L for a long time because they were the only ones who posted John Stewart and Stephen Cobert links that would play on my computer. Now that I have a new computer I don’t go back there.

    Andrew Sullivan is the only blog I regularly read that falls into that “Look at stupid” category. I started reading him when he was pro-Iraq war and gung ho on how we were going to bring democracy to the Mid-East just to have a counterbalance to my views that it was a bad idea being handled by the worst leaders imaginable. Now that many of his opinions are much closer to mine I suppose I should look elsewhere, but he’s a) very self-examining and self-critical, a very unusual trait and fascinating to watch, b) has a lot of just plain funny or outlandish posts ,c) posts the very best arguments from those who disagree with him (often just letting them stand alone with no rebuttal) , and d) the new layout makes it very easy to link to the other Atlantic Bloggers.

    Outside the Beltway is my main conservative read nowadays, primarily because of James’ well reasoned postings. Quite like Sullivan in that one respect: self examination.

    Oh and I also like the fact that James, unlike Doug ;-) doesn’t feed the trolls in the comments section.

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  26. Brett says:

    Do I think someone more sympathetic to the movement would be a better fit for the beat? I do. It would be more insightful to get a broad spectrum view of a Tea Party rally, say, than a series of posts making fun of the looniest members of the crowd.

    That would be nice, but is there a decent writer out there doing that on a regular basis? Most of the observation of the Tea Party movement I’ve seen tends to be one of the following:

    1. Allied – these are Real Americans upset with the onslaught of socialism and so forth..

    2. Condescending- Oh, those poor, angry dears!

    3. Critical – Let us laugh at those poor, scared old white people screeching about “taking their country back.”

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  27. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Ortho has you pegged Doug. Until you admit your have the illness of liberalism, there is not opportunity for cure. While I view Joyner as a centrist, Mataconis has taken this blog to the left. Not much difference between Doug and Dave. Never thought I would say this but I wish James would once again take a larger role in this blog. I do not always agree with him, but I know his opinions are more reasoned than that of most of the others who blog here.

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  28. weigel not all there says:

    when you treat your readers who help pay your bills with snarky contempt and say condescending things that don’t match with the goal of his wapo blog, you’ve got to go, it’s in wapo’s best interest to cut the line. his words alone describe the movement and the objective. it would make him a liar if he didn’t follow through. like weigel everyone has their idea of how the world should be. weigel doesn’t run the world, he writes a blog for a paper. he should stick to the details of his job. this is his perspective and his goal. taken directly from wapo.

    “The goal of this blog will be to explain what the right is doing, thinking, and planning as it hurtles toward the possible salvation of the 2010 midterm elections. That’s going to mean a lot of on-the-scene reporting, interviews with the people driving this movement, and close reading of the arguments making headway among the people trying to bring the Obama era to the quickest possible end.”

    i personally think weigel just wants to fit in. he always came off as a schmoozer. i don’t think he has really any strong convictions and changes with whatever comes up. i think he’s so involved with the idea of being cool and part of something he’s lost credibility. this is a man for months who has been obsessing about how many twitter followers he has.

    no disrespect to doug, but you won’t get a legitimate argument from him that sticks. he defends him like one would defend his own friend, even if your friend is wrong.

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  29. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***“mindlessly repeating press releases from Heritage, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Nation”***

    um, ah, um, it’s kind of hard to mindlessly repeat the truth even if you are mindless.

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  30. billindc says:

    “As Stacy McCain notes, ‘Weigel’s editors are getting what they want. Conservatism to them is terra incognita, that part of the old maps emblazoned with the motto, Here Be Dragons.’”

    In McCain’s case, shouldn’t that be ‘Grand Dragons’?

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  31. weigel has resigned! says:

    he’s gone! you know someone warned him once not to use a mac and get linux. anyone using a mac or windows is asking for it. i bet you you the odds of someone internally releasing them is 1 and a billion and it came externally, just another reason why os and windows can’t combat security threats.

    that’s why i run mad hatter. it’s more complicated, but ubuntu is just right for beginners.

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  32. John Cole says:

    Well, conservative fee-fees are safe. Weigel was fired.

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  33. Brett says:

    Well, conservative fee-fees are safe. Weigel was fired.

    Interesting. It doesn’t like he’s reported it on his blog yet, though, so I’ll wait on it.

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  34. Brett says:

    EDIT: Forget my above post. I saw the Politico link on your blog, John.

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  35. Ortho says:

    More broadly, though, this story really boils down to this:

    1. Dave Weigel said some mean things in some emails.

    2. The emails became public

    3. Weigel apologized.

    That’s all.

    You left off:

    4. Weigel resigns because even he realizes that a guy who spends his free time fantasizing about setting conservatives on fire isn’t the right guy to be reporting on the conservative movement.

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  36. Well Ortho, you got your pound of flesh, I hope you’re happy.

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  37. Dave Schuler says:

    A fair point, but I think we’ve all said things in an email that we wouldn’t necessarily say in public.

    A misconception about email. Email isn’t like a letter or a phone conversation. It’s more like posting it in the town square. Listservs even more so.

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  38. Davebo says:

    4. Weigel resigns because even he realizes that a guy who spends his free time fantasizing about setting conservatives on fire conservatives setting themselves on fire isn’t the right guy to be reporting on the conservative movement.

    A minor word change, but a major meaning change.

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  39. Trumwill says:

    From my perspective, it simply isn’t a good idea to have somebody covering a group, ideology, or campaign for which he feels great hostility. That’s not to say that reporters should be completely in the tank for their subjects, because that’s bad, too. I have real difficulty believing that people can put their hatred (either of their subjects or their subjects’ enemies) aside and cover things fairly. That doesn’t mean dishonest reporting, but reporting can be accurate and yet slanted. You simply disproportionately choose the stories that make one side seem really good or bad.

    Now, everybody comes with opinions, but I have difficulty believing that Wiegel was the most fair-minded person they could find. Or, if he was, that is representative of a much more serious problem.

    (All of this is beside the point in the event that reporting is intentionally – and transparently – ideological. If a right-wing publication starts something called “Leftwatch”, then that’s fair. But that is not what the Washington Post strives to be nor is it how the Post was representing itself.)

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  40. MarkedMan says:

    There seems to be a recurring theme in this thread that goes something like this, “Weigel has contempt for Drudge and the Tea Partiers, therefore he is not representative of conservatives.” Unless I missed it, none of the ‘conservatives’ here disagreed with that. So, is that a consensus among people who call themselves conservative?

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  41. [...] just 400 of his closest buddies. As James Joyner at Outside the Beltway notes, “This displays a soundness of judgment just this side of a four star general emoting to a [...]

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  42. [...] the context of today’s brohaha over Dave Weigel, who resigned from the Washington Post after publication of some emails he’d sent to the now-defunct Journolist made his old job untenable, commenter Steve wonders, [...]

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