Yet More Dave Weigel

A roundup of some of the more intelligent commentary on the Big Picture issues in the brouhaha of the day.

In addition to the expected partisan spleen-venting, schadenfraude, and ranting about the Dave Weigel brouhaha, there have been some extraordinarily thoughtful commentaries for what it all means about the state of American journalism and political discourse.   A sampling of the latter:

Julian Sanchez (“Weigel, WaPo, and the Tracy-Flickization of Public Life“)

We’ve long expected that candidates for public office would conduct their lives–to quote a wickedly on point parody video making the rounds–“in such a bland, uncontroversial and repressed manner that it’s almost unnatural.”

[…]

Lots of folks seem oddly resigned to living in a culture where anyone who is even remotely a public figure must expect to be defined by the least flattering thing they’ve ever said or done. Let the public mask slip for a moment–heaven forfend you’re foolish enough to do it in a recordable online context–and you’ve only yourself to blame when, predictably, it becomes the focus of today’s Two Minute Hate. Is this a culture anyone actually wants to live in?   Forget the cost to the public figures–does anyone really want to live in a world where the only people prepared to risk engagement in politics are either so rigidly self-disciplined and boring that they provide no fodder for these outrage kabuki rituals, or such consistent over-the-top blowhards that no particular comment stands out as a focus of outrage?

Part of the problem lies in the shibboleths of modern journalism–and here I find myself in growing agreement with the position Jay Rosen staked out in our BloggingHeads conversation last week. It seemed to many of us that, in hiring folks like Dave and Ezra Klein, the Post had begun to recognize there was something sterile and counterproductive in a set of professional norms that conflated fairness and objectivity with the sort of personal paucity of opinions that could never be expected of any engaged observer with a functioning brainstem. We all understood that any thinking reporter had to eventually form some conclusions about the topics they covered consistently, and that pretending otherwise was just that–pretense. Dave fused reporting chops on par with the best of the legacy press with an ethos brought from new media, one that effectively said: What if I respect the reader’s intelligence and don’t pretend to be an empty shell? What if I’m up front about where I’m coming from, on the assumption that being honest about what you think ought to confer more credibility than pretending you don’t think at all? His new gig at the Post suggested that they got this–apparently not.

The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey GoldbergAn Unhappy Day At The Washington Post“):

But also sort of a happy day at The Washington Post, for the dwindling band of writers and editors there who value such old-fashioned traits as temperance in the expression of personal views; forthrightness; and fairness.

[…]

“How could we destroy our standards by hiring a guy stupid enough to write about people that way in a public forum?” one of my friends at the Post asked me when we spoke earlier today. “I’m not suggesting that many people on the paper don’t lean left, but there’s leaning left, and then there’s behaving like an idiot.”

I gave my friend the answer he already knew: The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.

His colleague, Conor Friedersdorf (“How Should Journalists Be Judged?“) retorts:

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?

Let me put this another way. There is no opinion Jeffrey Goldberg could offer on an e-mail listserv that would change my high opinion of the magazine stories he has produced over many years. His work is the only standard by which I judge him, and so long as he writes at the level to which I am accustom, I’ll read him regardless.

[…]

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. The conservatives he covers are the biggest losers here. As Ben Boychuck wrote on Twitter, “I find you insufferable, but indispensable. Sorry you resigned. I’ll read you wherever you land, you magnificent bastard.” That should be the reaction of someone who finds what Mr. Weigel wrote to be distasteful.

Marc Ambinder (“The Post Shouldn’t Have Fired Dave Weigel“):

In hiring Weigel, the Post knew it was bringing on board someone with a style of journalism — and it definitely is journalism — that was not orthodox, that would not always conform to the Post’s habits and customs, and that would occasionally become personal. Weigel does blog-based reporting better than just about anyone in the journalistic world. His opinions are plain: he’s a disaffected libertarian. Not a conventional liberal. Not even a Fred Hyatt liberal.

Weigel is best described as an anti-denialist. He hates stupid people and stupid human tricks and stupid political consultants. He’s developed a natural rapport with conservatives because he says what he thinks.  I was a member of the now defunct Journolist group. I’m also a voracious consumer of Dave Weigel’s tweets. And I can tell you that nothing he wrote on the list was more outre than what he Tweeted.

I’m really not sure whose credibility the Post was worried about. Respect for their reader’s sensibilities? Some fidelity to a “non ideological” standard that just doesn’t exist in this form of journalism?
[…]

The Post deserves credit for hiring Weigel and top policy bloggers like Ezra Klein. It needs to figure out how to manage them in a way that corresponds to the reality of the journalism universe. Weigel was a GOOD journalist who wrote provocative, value-added pieces that allowed a lot of people to really understand the way the conservative movement worked. Sure, he had a point of view, and sure, he often angered his subjects, but they respected him because they knew were he was coming from and because he took them seriously enough to care.

Matt Yglesias closes a mostly personal post about a friend (“Re: Dave Weigel“) with a bit of profound snark:

I think the odds that Dave Weigel will still be doing political reporting in 2030 are much better than the odds that Kaplan, Inc.’s political journalism subsidiary will still be in business.

I’m not sure about that, as I think the Post is among a handful of old-line brands that will survive in some form. But Weigel will land somewhere that will allow him to do reported commentary without the fig leaf of being a dispassionate “reporter.”

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. god save the weigel says:

    goodbye and goodnight weigel. condescending ego maniac. hopefully his mom and dad who paid his way through college can help him out.

    he’ll learn there is more to life than how many people follow you on twitter and getting on the tv.

    good riddance. xXx

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, borrowed this from Ann Althouse’s blog I think the only way you would read this is if someone posted it here. I think her response is more reasoned than that which you expressed.

    Consider poor, conflicted David Weigel. Hired by the Washington Post, he had the trappings of prestige and therefore he deserved the admiration of the cool young journalists of Washington, D.C. But his assignment was to cover the conservative movement, and that threatened to make him toxic, a man to be shunned. He needed a way to wriggle — to wiggle-Weigel — into the good graces of the cool kids. He had to show that he was covering conservatives, but he was not one of them.

    He could try to do that subtly, and without deviating from the good-faith performance of his assigned task, perhaps by writing in a neutral, questioning style about what was going on with the righties these days and carefully raising doubts, undermining foundations, and strategically inserting a knife blade now and then. But would they get it? Didn’t he need something a little more emphatic… and a little hipper?

    So David started letting his need for lefty approval express itself on the email list, the Journolist, where the cool kids were being intimate and snarky. But those other kids were not tasked with covering conservatives. While they might have been embarrassed if the mean things they wrote in the email were ever leaked, they didn’t have careers founded on their suitability for covering conservatives. The risk poor Dave took was of an entirely different nature. Why, Dave, why? Why did you risk the plum job?

    “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?” Weigel lamented in one February email.

    In other posts, Weigel describes conservatives as using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” According to Weigel, their motives include “racism” and protecting “white privilege,” and for some of the top conservatives in D.C., a nihilistic thirst for power….

    Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked, “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.”
    He also said:

    “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.”
    Such nastiness doesn’t hurt Matt of course. Matt drops another link, gets all the traffic, and moves on. Ironically, it is Dave who is undone. Having shown us his vivid hostility to the conservatives he was supposed to explain to us, we no longer have any reason to read him. Having destroyed the appearance of his capacity to enlighten us, he has lit the flame of his own self-immolation.

    UPDATE: Weigel resigns.

  3. What are the odds that the Washington Post would hire someone like, say, Patrick Ruffini, to report on the Left?

    Fair and balanced, indeed.

  4. James Joyner says:

    James, borrowed this from Ann Althouse’s blog I think the only way you would read this is if someone posted it here.

    I read Ann’s post and think she makes some very good points about insider privilege but that the tenor was more mean-spirited than justified. Weigel had been hit pretty hard by Drudge and others and vented stupidly and crudely in what he mistakenly thought was a private venue. That doesn’t make him a bad guy — by all accounts, he’s a pretty good guy — just one who’s unsuited to report on those with whom he holds in such contempt.

  5. nadezhda says:

    I think you misplaced your scare-quotes, Dr Joyner — it should be “dispassionate” reporter.

    Weigel doesn’t do commentary. He is a reporter, and a fine one. What he is able to do, by lots of small zippy blogging pieces rather than straight articles, is put together a much richer picture of all the action on the non-RNC right than you’ll find anywhere else.

    I’ve never met the man or traded emails or tweets with him. I have, however, been reading him for years since his Reason gig and have come to trust what he writes in terms of reporting. I’ve found he’s one of the best reporter/bloggers who’ve mastered the art balancing super-fast with accuaracy. He’s much more careful about getting quotes and characterization of incidents scrupulously accurate than most political reporters. He doesn’t fall into the Politico link-bait trap or gin up controversies out of marginal or innocuous “news”. And he’s extremely fast at updating when he gets a new piece of info that puts a different light on, or corrects what he’s previously reported.

    There’s a reason why he has good relations with lots of sources on many groups on the right, even among the various Tea Party groups. He does not hold most of the people he reports on in contempt. He’s shown that he “gets” what riles a lot on the right, even if he doesn’t necessarily share their opinions. His reporting is valuable because he does a decent job of separating out the committed from the con-men, and the principled from the crazies. He also does a good job of correcting the record when some of the far-right types get misrepresented, which they’ve appreciated. Hell, if a Ron Paul voter can’t call the rabid Paul fan-boys “Paultards” then we’ve moved so far beyond PC we’re into another universe.

    There are a few groups with whom his non-reporting communications have shown he has difficulty empathizing. Among them are folks who devote every waking moment for decades to battling the “homosexual agenda”. But he doesn’t lie about them or twist what they’re doing or saying when he reports on them. He just thinks, privately, they’re way off base. And seriously, should we require a poitical reporter who reports on a political movement to not think any of its members are morally misguided or simply full of it?

  6. An Interested Party says:

    So I guess most conservatives would welcome Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh with open arms? These are two of the important voices of the Conservative Movement?

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Also of note from Sanchez’s piece…

    “If the Princess-and-the-Pea brigade now cheering his departure would bracket their persecution complex for five minutes, they’d realize that he was consistently delivering coverage about as fair and sympathetic as could reasonably be hoped for. What they apparently wanted was a movement hack to dole out indiscriminate praise to anyone claiming the mantle of conservatism–whereas Dave took the right seriously enough to make distinctions between what he saw as its credible thinkers and its nuts and opportunists. Memo to my friends on the right: If you bristle at being stereotyped as an undifferentiated bloc of racists and crude blowhards, maybe you shouldn’t take automatic umbrage when someone points out particular individuals who are.”

  8. James Joyner says:

    If you bristle at being stereotyped as an undifferentiated bloc of racists and crude blowhards, maybe you shouldn’t take automatic umbrage when someone points out particular individuals who are.

    Agreed. And I do it myself.

    The problem is when that’s *mostly* what you’re doing in what’s supposed to be a universal view of Republicans and conservatives. That’s not reporting but smearing.

  9. sam says:

    Since we’re quoting others on l’affaire Weigel, I think Roy gives the best gloss on this I’ve seen:

    Whiny ass titty babies.

    The problem with covering conservatives is: There’s no way to do it without being offensive — at least in the bar after work, or its email equivalent. Which is apparently a resignation-accepting offense at the Post.

    They’ve run this country for most of the past thirty years. I don’t see why we should continue to treat wingnuts like special needs children who have to be shielded from criticism.

    I’d only point out that, for the most part, conservatives are special needs adults. Sorry James (I did say ‘for the most part’ though).

  10. James Joyner says:

    But that’s precisely the attitude that Weigel brought to the task. Which is fine if you’re a lefty blogger, clearly in the opinion business. If you’re a beat reporter for a major newspaper, though, you’re expected to provide fair coverage, not have an axe to grind.

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***I’d only point out that, for the most part, conservatives are special needs adults***

    How in the heck do you come up with this crap?

    Dude, the liberals, are a special needs ideology, who CREATE a special needs society to feed their special needs for power and control!

    What the heck is wrong with you Sam?

  12. sam and An Interested Party clearly have trouble thinking of people as individuals. Perhaps the tribal mentaility that animates the Left is most obvious in their criticism of their opponents.

  13. tom p says:

    ***How in the heck do you come up with this crap?***

    By reading you GA.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***By reading you GA.*** No doubt that I have special needs, but it don’t have crap to with me having a conservative or Christian philosophy on most things now.

    So when I point out, and mostly only point out that liberals are brain washed hypocrites , don’t know much about history or honesty, or anything else for that matter, and could careless to because their brain washed hypocrites because I used to be one and know all this for a fact you no likey?

    I don’t think you read nothing, heck I guess you do, but you have been programed to only understand it one way, the wrong and uneducated unhistorical way!

    I know that you don’t know that your a Marxist from what you write, and all you do is cry about special needs.

    I explain myself and the reason I mostly write goofy stuff, whats your excuse?

    but hey, stick to the one sentence vagaries, it’s much better then your usual thuggish union hate the white rich conservative/ Christian indoctrinated smack….

  15. sam says:

    I’ll tell you how I come up with that “crap”. For 30 years, as Roy — and James — pointed out, conservatism has been the dominant political philosophy in the this country. And conservatives have held power for most of that 30 years. And in all that time, conservatives have had zero success in implementing the conservative vision. Zero. So, reduced to sucking on the sour tit of political failure, and not having the mental cojones to reflect that maybe, just maybe, there’s something wrong with the vision, they blame everyone else for that failure. – Liberals, the Media, Academia, all down the list of right-wing boogie men. Whiny ass titty babies, indeed.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    “sam and An Interested Party clearly have trouble thinking of people as individuals.”

    That’s quite rich considering the blanket statements you’ve made about liberals, progressives, the left, or however you would like to term that particular group…perhaps you should check out a mirror before criticizing the same behavior in others that you exhibit…meanwhile, if we want to talk about people as individuals, it is pretty pathetic that Dave Weigel had to part ways with the Washington Post because he said some mean things about those notable human beings Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh, while the paper continues to employ torture apologists…

  17. sam says:

    “Perhaps the tribal mentaility that animates the Left is most obvious in their criticism of their opponents.”

    Way to hold up the banner of individualism, Charles. That’s quite a self-reflection deficit you got going.

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***I’ll tell you how I come up with that “crap”. For 30 years, as Roy — and James — pointed out, conservatism has been the dominant political philosophy in the this country. And conservatives have held power for most of that 30 years. And in all that time, conservatives have had zero success in implementing the conservative vision. Zero. So, reduced to sucking on the sour tit of political failure, and not having the mental cojones to reflect that maybe, just maybe, there’s something wrong with the vision, they blame everyone else for that failure. – Liberals, the Media, Academia, all down the list of right-wing boogie men. Whiny ass titty babies, indeed.**** more crap……

    ****Dude, the liberals, are a special needs ideology, who CREATE a special needs society to feed their special needs for power and control!****

    show how this is untrue, wait don’t, I have read enough of your crap for the day….

    Liberal/progressive/Marxism/evolution kill/enslaves/destroys everything it infects

    this is history this is fact this is the truth

    In this country it has been taken to a new level by a bunch of marxist gods of olympus wannabes who use votes like prayers……

  19. I just call them as I see them. Sorry if it hurts.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, Charles, your hypocrisy is very painful to observe…thank you for the apology, though…