Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 25, 2010

DAVE WEIGEL GOT SCREWED.... I don't know Dave Weigel especially well. We've never met in person or talked on the phone, but we occasionally trade emails and tweets. And so when I express my deep, visceral disgust for what's happened to him this week, I approach this with a degree of detachment.

I've come to admire and respect Dave as one of the best political journalists in the business, but my anger is not personal. It's the result of a media professional who got screwed for no good reason.

When he arrived at a party on the Huffington Post's D.C. office roof-deck on Thursday evening, Washington Post reporter/blogger David Weigel felt secure in his job. Earlier in the day, the media-focused site FishbowlDC had published a series of off-the-record emails written by Weigel in which he had disparaged members of the conservative movement that he covers.

But after checking with the powers that be at the Washington Post, it was relayed to him that they found the material not consequential enough to be a firing offense. Weigel, a well-regarded chronicler of all things Tea Party, had been an immediate success at the paper, and his offer of resignation was seen as highly gratuitous.

By Friday morning, however, things had changed. Weigel made a call to the Huffington Post at roughly 10:15 a.m. to privately relay that he was, in fact, leaving the Post. A new set of off-record Weigel emails had been disclosed to The Daily Caller disclosing even more snide quips about major conservative players (as well as comments expressing hope that health care reform would pass Congress).

The conservative-leaning website was ostensibly making the argument that Weigel was no longer objective enough to cover his beat. The Post editors agreed. The resignation he offered the night before was now viewed as the best path forward. And by noon the final deal had been struck to end Weigel's three-month run at the paper.

Dave's off-the-record emails, which were written before he joined the Post, came on a listserv called Journolist, created several years ago by Ezra Klein (if it matters, I joined Journolist more than three years ago). Dave, like most members, came to think of the list as a safe place to throw around ideas, vent, ask questions, highlight news, and engage in spirited debate. On a few occasions, Dave, like plenty of others sharing thoughts on a private email list, shared some uncharitable words and opinions about others. What's wrong with that? Nothing; he was among friends.

Or so we thought. Someone -- it remains unclear who -- decided to try to destroy Dave professionally by leaking emails from the list. Tragically, it worked.

As much as the Post deserved enormous credit for having the good sense to hire Dave in the first place, the paper deserves equally strong blame for accepting his resignation today. For three months, he did exactly what he was hired to do -- cover the conservative movement -- and he did it better than anyone in American journalism. Was Dave let go because the emails brought his objectivity into question? If so, that strikes me as inherently ridiculous -- his left-leaning libertarianism wasn't a secret, and it helped shape the quality of his reporting.

Worse, I'm at a loss to explain the Post's approach to ideology. Marc Thiessen and Bill Kristol can publish dubious, morally-bankrupt nonsense, and remain contributors in good standing. Dave Weigel trashed Drudge and "Paultards" in a private email and has to go?

The whole fiasco just leaves me sad. Dave's out of a job; Journolist, which I've come to cherish and rely on, has been shut down; the Post loses one of its most important voices; and the bastard who leaked Dave's emails in the first place isn't facing any consequences at all.

It's not a good day.

For more on this, Greg Sargent, one of Dave's Post colleagues, has a very thoughtful, worthwhile piece, and Marc Ambinder makes a compelling case that the Post made the wrong call today.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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Comments

--and Erick Ericson remains at cnn, that bastion of Objectivism.

Posted by: cld on June 25, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

This really stinks to high heaven.

Posted by: June on June 25, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

God bless the 'liberal' media.

Posted by: thorin-1 on June 25, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Weigel sold himself to the WaPo and his readers as a libertarian. That's strike one. If you're going to tell your readers that you are one thing, but really are another, you have a problem. That's not just a problem with objectivity. It's lying.

And yes, mocking and insulting the group of people you are supposed to cover objectively kind of destroys the objectivity. If he's a reporter, he should be objective. If he wants to be a commentator, then fine, no objectivity needed.

He also wished Drudge would die in a fire. That's just plain stupid and petty.

I'm not blaming the WaPo for this one. Weigel brought it on himself.

Posted by: Da Pup on June 25, 2010 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

"If he's a reporter, he should be objective."


There has never been a reporter anywere, anytime or any political bent that has not said some unkind things about the people they cover. If you think otherwise, you're a bleepin' idiot.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on June 25, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Every new day provides more evidence that ending my subscription the the Post was one of the best moves I could ever make.

Posted by: bubba on June 25, 2010 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

What's the problem here? Being fired by the Washington Post is a badge of honor that any respectable journalist would proudly wear. That he'd stain himself by working for the the Post is the real stain on his reputation. But being fired clears him. Hopefully, Ezra Klein will be fired too. He's too good to be working for a rag like the Washington post.

Posted by: fostert on June 25, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at least we now know it was Tucker Carlson who leaked the stuff.

Posted by: moe99 on June 25, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

And yes, mocking and insulting the group of people you are supposed to cover objectively kind of destroys the objectivity. If he's a reporter, he should be objective.

Bullshit. Read Steve's post again: First, Weigel was on a private email list. He was not writing on the WaPo's email system, or as a representative of the paper. Second, having worked in a couple newsrooms myself, there wasn't a single reporter I worked with that didn't at some point make disparaging or humorous or off-color remarks about the people and situations they covered. Third, he was covering the conservative movement, which it goes without saying is filled to overflowing with extremists, radicals, unhinged nutjobs, quacks, fools; the list goes on and on. To cover these people, busy as they are trying to tear down the country, and not get mad at some point and call them out for what they are would mean Weigel would have to be some sort of robot, not a human being.

Dave Weigel got screwed, period.

Marc Thiessen and Bill Kristol can publish dubious, morally-bankrupt nonsense, and remain contributors in good standing. Dave Weigel trashed Drudge and "Paultards" in a private email and has to go?

Of course, reprobates like Thiessen and Kristol are Republicans (and Villagers) in good standing, and therefore Very Serious People, so they can say anything they want.

Just like the equally ridiculous stunt the Post pulled with Dan Froomkin, this is just bullshit.

Posted by: electrolite on June 25, 2010 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

For years now, I have heard how liberal the WA Post is. That may be true of their reporters but I don't think its true of mgmt. The Post was one of the biggest cheerleaders of the Iraqi war and helped make it happen. Their praise of Bush/Cheney was steadfast right until the very end. I don't trust that paper any farther than I can throw it.

Posted by: ted on June 25, 2010 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

I was really feeling your side of the issue.

Until I saw that at least two of the "leaked" mails from Weigel were not "venting."

They were calls to action for the herd on JournoList to slant coverage.

They were "message" tuning things.

One was his request for a link boycott regarding someone who had been uncharitable to him; the other was an explicit request for message synchronization with an unabashed reference to it being good for the Democrats to do so, re: Scott Brown's victory in MA.

Look, I'm going to J school. I want to play in this field. I know we're human beings and we have opinions, but that's screwed up. That's voluntary PRAVDA, man.

It just is.

Unless Dave Weigel is an absolutely social tool with no idea of audience or tone (and, of course, he's not) the only explanation for his posting of those sort of propaganda coordination requests is that it was the sort of thing routinely coordinated on "the list." He was in Rome behaving as a Roman would.

TO the author here: Disagree with me, Steve? Then I defy YOU to post YOUR OWN emails to the list (sanitize the names of any people you mention so as to avoid mention of anyone else's participation). But if you want to claim everything was above board, prove it! Waive your own "expectation" of off the record status and lets see what YOU used the list to communicate.

I'll be making this request of everyone who laments that their favorite off the record hang out is now defunct.

Of course, I'll also note who simply deletes the comment as that will say more than anything.

Posted by: Goonzo on June 25, 2010 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

the wapo is so discredited that i believe alex jones is more credible and more fun anyway

Posted by: hayduke on June 25, 2010 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

At this point, I just wish Eugene Robinson and Ezra Klein would leave the Post. Then I could take that crappy paper off my radar altogether.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on June 25, 2010 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

The conservative-leaning website was ostensibly making the argument that Weigel was no longer objective enough to cover his beat. The Post editors agreed.

How's Ceci Connolly doing these days, anyway?

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on June 25, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Relax.We are all Marxists now.We won.

Posted by: karl on June 25, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

IOKIYAR

That's all.

Posted by: UnEasyOne on June 25, 2010 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Support school prayer? No problem. Compare the Democratic president to Hitler? No problem. Declare your disbelief in evolution? No problem. Get "caught" supporting HCR? You're out of here.

The Weigel episode has been another edition of IOKIYAR.

Posted by: karen marie on June 25, 2010 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

As a non-journalist, I don't know what's more surprising--the idea that A) Weigel (and other journalists) seriously think/thought that their personal opinions expressed on *any* website would not be subject to disclosure, or that B) people in the journalism business still think it a firing offense if journalists act in a manner contrary to the agreed fiction that journalists are impartial or lack opinions on the matters they choose to cover.

Weigel is a fine journalist. He's better off away from the Post, which is no longer a fine place to practice journalism.

Posted by: crabgrass on June 25, 2010 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

seriously think/thought that their personal opinions expressed on *any* website would not be subject to disclosure

Isn't it an email list, not a website?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on June 25, 2010 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, website or listserv. The point being, it's information that's out in a public or semi-public domain, and probably available to anyone determined enough to look for it.

Posted by: crabgrass on June 25, 2010 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

Your headline captures it all! And it also notes another instance of distructo-politics - destroy the norms of civil discourse while monopolizing air and text space with the extreme!

If indeed Mr. Weigel's shared thoughts were on a closed email list, his private right to political speech is ironically what cause his quite excellent public reporting to be ruined for now. Have the hard right among us no sense of common decency? And what of our cowardly post-Reagan press crops where access is more important than speaking truth to power?

Good, decent Americans like David Weigel are being screwed by ideological puritans daily, throughout our nation. For now, Mr. Weigel's reporting will be sorely missed, and I can think of no immediate replacement who would do us well, in the mean time, do you? The puritans have won another round! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on June 25, 2010 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Disney

Posted by: SW on June 25, 2010 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, thanks for the well-thought-out post on Dave Weigel, whose blog I read every day at WAPO. His beat was a risky one in this childish, unprofessional media atmosphere; he reported on issues factually, cleverly and without discernable bias. Naturally, that made his position precarious--he wasn't a brainless or amoral hack relaying the truth about a universe peopled by precisely those types! Leaking his private -list postings or emails was despicable and I hope he gets a new gig soon. I'll be watching out for it. Of course, WAPO is a thoroughly discredited 'news' outlet, where torture-apologists, warmongers and stenographers of the high-and-mighty write articles and op-eds. But I'm sorry the guy lost his paycheck; in these post-Bush meltdown times, that's almost as punitive as covering the right-wing crazies must have been....

Posted by: nancycadet on June 25, 2010 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Someone is surprised to discover that Fred Hiatt is a fascist bastard, who - he he been editor 35 years ago - would be happy to claim responsibility for Nixon being President for Eternity.

Posted by: TCinLA on June 25, 2010 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

@ crabgrass:

The point being, it's information that's out in a public or semi-public domain

Well, that's just it, though. Is an email list a "public or semi-public domain"? I think there's a distinction between "private venue that can be compromised by backstabbers" and "public domain."

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on June 25, 2010 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm at a loss to explain the Post's approach to ideology. Marc Thiessen and Bill Kristol can publish dubious, morally-bankrupt nonsense, and remain contributors in good standing. Dave Weigel trashed Drudge and "Paultards" in a private email and has to go?"

Actually, I think the Post's approach to ideology is pretty obvious ...

Posted by: somethingblue on June 25, 2010 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

> I was really feeling your side of the issue.
>
> Until I saw that at least two of the "leaked"
> mails from Weigel were not "venting."
>
> They were calls to action for the herd on
> JournoList to slant coverage.
>
> They were "message" tuning things.
>
> One was his request for a link boycott
> regarding someone who had been uncharitable
> to him; the other was an explicit request for
> message synchronization with an unabashed
> reference to it being good for the Democrats
> to do so, re: Scott Brown's victory in MA.
>
> Look, I'm going to J school. I want to play
> in this field. I know we're human beings and
> we have opinions, but that's screwed up.
> That's voluntary PRAVDA, man.

Which is what baffles me about the attitude of Ezra Klein and every other participant on Jourolist. A private mailing list of 8-10 friends or colleagues? Hard to see how that would be different from a conversation at a bar or dinner party. A mailing list of _300_ key opinion-making traditional media journalists and up-and-coming Juiceboxers? How could that NOT turn into groupthink, defensiveness, and eventually coordination?

Cranky

And yet the participants in Journolist are all weirdly lacking in any self-reflection on this.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 25, 2010 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sad but not surprising...there is little HONOR anywhere in our society today...it's all about getting the upper hand and using whatever methods will get you there...all grass has SNAKES...beware!

Posted by: Dancer on June 25, 2010 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

So will reporters who have been known to mock and disrespect Democrats lose their jobs at the Post? Of course not.

Posted by: Joe Buck on June 25, 2010 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Of what conceivable interest is the galloping decadence of an old-money patrimony like the Post? Its best and highest use is for bums who wipe their butts with cast-off copies.

Posted by: inside baseball on June 25, 2010 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

@FlipYrWhig:

Well, that's just it, though. Is an email list a "public or semi-public domain"? I think there's a distinction between "private venue that can be compromised by backstabbers" and "public domain.""

The RWers about and among whom Weigel plies his trade are not going to pull punches because they value and respect distinctions between the personal/private and the public domain. They see themselves as being engaged in a total political conflict--and in principle nothing is out of bounds, really. (This, incidentally, is because they are extreme, not because they are RWers per se.)

Really, does anyone think that there is much, outside of politically-motivated violence, that much of the RW would not go along with? Nailing a journalist with his own words from a listserv doesn't even rate as shocking to my mind, and a lot of people would think it naive to suppose there are any rules to this game anymore.

And incidentally, as long their tactics succeed, as they did in Weigel's case, they will continue to use them.

Posted by: crabgrass on June 25, 2010 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

"For years now, I have heard how liberal the WA Post is."
Posted by: ted on June 25, 2010 at 6:07 PM

Not from any liberals you haven't.

Posted by: smartalek on June 25, 2010 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Weigel didn't get screwed. He got fired. And he got fired for two very good reasons:

1. He made his employer look bad.

2. He pretty much made himself radioactive when it comes to covering his beat.

If he wants to vent, vent to a friend or family member in person. But don't vent on the internet - even an exclusive listserv - and expect it to be private, or protected.

First rule of the internet: don't expect anything you write on the internet to remain private.

Posted by: dennis on June 25, 2010 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think that is the point though. Steve Benen's anger is directed at the post, who fired Weigel for something he wrote in a private forum before he ever went to work for them, but continue to employ conservative writers who have made even more prejudicial comments in public (I am not familiar with Weigel's writing, so it is the 2nd part of that that resonates with me).

Oh, and he is rightly pissed off and whichever journalist violated the confidentiality of Journolist by leaking Weigel's emails to a conservative website. It is likely that the identity of that journalist will never be known, in which case Benen is right about them not facing any consequences. However, if they are identified, I would hope it would effectively destroy their career. What they did was equivalent to burning a confidential source, or using material that had specifically been provided on background.

Posted by: tanstaafl on June 25, 2010 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of the four stages of tequila.

1. I'm rich
2. I'm good-looking
3. I'm bullet proof
4. I'm invisible

And 5. I'm so very busted.

It's just as fanciful to think that talking trash about "important" people with folks who don't totally have your back, is going to last forever without any blowback. At least in a situation where the blowback can have real repercussions.

Maybe, conceptually, there was supposed to be some honor amongst the group. But Dave, how did that work out for you? Really, he's got no one to blame but himself.

I mean, Mr. B, your Mama raised you right, and you aren't prone to talking trash anyway, but would the only reason that you might hold back on something like Journolist be because you had good manners? No thought at all to thinking that it might not be a great idea to let fly with all manner and ideology of consorts hanging around?

Some things are best kept to oneself or to a small, very trusted group. That invisibility thing...it wears off. And leaves a splitting headache.

Posted by: burro on June 25, 2010 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Well, that's just it, though. Is an email list a 'public or semi-public domain'?"
Posted by: crabgrass on June 25, 2010 at 10:03 PM

Two thoughts on this:

1) "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you."

2) One of the best compliments I ever received in my life was from a Harvard Law professor, who is also the husband of someone I've done some work with over the years. On one of my first meetings with her, I told her that although I would die before breaking a confidence, she should nevertheless never write anything to me in an e-mail, leave on voicemail, or tell me something out loud in a public place, that she wouldn't want printed on the front page of the Times the next day. Mr Law Professor, when told of this, said, "that's a smart guy."
He of course was grossly overgeneralizing from one data point. I'm pretty stupid in a whole lotta ways -- but knowing that information wants to be free, and will always, sooner or later get free -- that's not one of them.
NOTHING that you put on the web is "safe." NOTHING that you send thru the web is "secure." And nobody under the age of 30 (such as Mr Weigel) has any excuse not to know this -- especially a soi-disant "journalist." No matter how bright, how accomplished, how good a reporter this guy is, putting anything like what's described here on or thru the web, and expecting it never to surface, is an especially high order of stupid. It's mil-spec, weaponized stupid.
(It should go without saying -- but it doesn't, hence my saying it -- that none of this suggests that Weigel "deserved" what happened, makes the WaPo's action any less vile or hypocritical, or alters the realities that whoever was involved in leaking Weigel's private e-mails is/are lower than pond-scum, and should be shot for the betterment of the race.)

Posted by: smartalek on June 25, 2010 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

Weigel's private comments are less odious and contain more truth than all the public comments the post has bought from Thiessen, Kristol, Will, and Krauthammer. The crime here isn't lack of manners or lying, vices they gladly pay for and preemptively forgive from a whole panoply of right-wing commentators; the crime is pissing off conservatives.

And that's today's WaPo for you. The buried the Washington Times by becoming the Washington Times.

Fired for insulting Drudge. Imagine.

Posted by: Jon on June 25, 2010 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

I am confused. His beat was, essentially, opinion journalism, right? And he is a columnist, not a hard news guy, right?

So he lost his job as an opinion writer for being opinionated?

Presumably, the Post thinks he has the wrong opinions.

Posted by: g on June 26, 2010 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Your confusion re the Post editorial staffing baffles me. The Post is no longer an objective platform for ideas, and has not been for some time.

Posted by: rbe1 on June 26, 2010 at 4:36 AM | PERMALINK

"So he lost his job as an opinion writer for being opinionated?"

No, he lost his job of writing about a specific group of people once info surfaced which would make sure said group of people would have nothing to do with him anymore. And those people being willing to have something to do with him was somewhat critical to his job.

I suppose if you had a really good ape costume, you could do a great job as an anthropologist covering a troop of apes. But if one of them yanked your fake gorilla head off one day, the gig would be over.

Conservatives now know he ain't one of them, never was, and means them ill. He can't do the job he had once that's known.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore on June 26, 2010 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a high school teacher, and my students seem to think that what they post on their Facebook accounts, such as photos of them drinking, is private. It's not. Weigel just learned the same lesson as a sixteen year old. If it's documented, it's public.

Posted by: Mass Hysteria on June 26, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Please, we can all list 100 things that conservatives can do that liberals cannot from calling for political assassination and insurrection to lying to Hitler comparisons to wearing diapers with prostitutes. Don't act shocked that the double standard extends to the Post. I actually think it originates there.

Posted by: Kija on June 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Hopefully, this marks the beginning of the end of the Baby Bolshevik Bloggers - those twenty-something liberals who have never done a damn thing in their young lives, yet know how to run the world.

Posted by: Roark on June 26, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Please, we can all list 100 things that conservatives can do that liberals cannot from calling for political assassination and insurrection to lying to Hitler comparisons to wearing diapers with prostitutes. Don't act shocked that the double standard extends to the Post. I actually think it originates there.

Funny. Conservatives were wondering the same thing during the height of the last Bush administration, at the height of BDS.

Frankly, I'd love for both fringes to up and leave the country and let the moderate middle enjoy a wingnut/libtard-free existence.

Posted by: SeeBassTea on June 26, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

It really doesn't matter if Mr. Weasel remains at the Post. After all the fish that is wrapped in it will not care one way or another and that is really the only legitimate use for a newspaper.

The only thing worse than a journalist is a lawyer.

Posted by: trooper york on June 26, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

right trooper york, we shouldn't have lawyers to defend and prosecute criminals, and we shouldn't have a free press--just believe whatever the politicians and our oh-so-pure government tells us.

you are beyond stupid.

Posted by: whatever on June 26, 2010 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Post was right to can Wiegel. A newspaper has the right to can -- or at least reassign -- any reporter tasked with producing fair (that is, not clearly delineated opinion) stories if word gets out that he or she has a strong bias, either for or against, his subject. You want to vent, you can't leave a paper trail.

Posted by: beejeez on June 26, 2010 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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