James Joyner Did The Joke Already: David Weigel To Be Replaced By David Petraeus

Betsy Rothstein at Fishbowl DC:

FishbowlDC has obtained e-mails written by WaPo‘s conservative-beat blogger Dave Weigel, that the scribe sent to JournoList, a listserv for liberal journalists. (Read up on JournoList with Yahoo! News’s Michael Calderone‘s 2009 story that he wrote for Politico).

Seems Weigel doesn’t like (and that would be putting it mildly) at least some of the conservatives he covers. Poor Drudge – Weigel wants him to light himself on fire.

Weigel’s Words:

•”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.”

•”Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

•”I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

•”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.”

Weigel says he “happy to comment” to FishbowlDC but it seems he’s tied up on the phone. Will bring you his remarks as soon as he provides them.

David Weigel:

Below the fold are quotes from me e-mailing the list that day — quotes that I’m told a gossip Web site will post today. I apologize for much of what I wrote, and apologize to readers.

- “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 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.

- “Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

I stand by this — I was offended by the way that item was written. I do apologize for reacting like this against the entire Washington Examiner, as my gripe was with one reporter, and the person who gave them this item was apologizing to me.

- “I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

I stand by that reaction but apologize for belittling Byron York.

- “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.”

I stand by this, although I apologize if people find the word “Paultard” offensive. It was a neologism coined during the 2008 campaign to describe fanatical supporters of Paul — I used it in this case to convey how Fox covered those supporters in 2008.

Jonathan Strong at Daily Caller:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously said he hoped President Obama would “fail” in January, 2009. Almost a year later, when Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, Washington Post reporter David Weigel had a wish of his own. “I hope he fails,” Weigel cracked to fellow liberal reporters on the “Journolist” email list-serv.

“Too soon?” he wondered.

Weigel was hired this spring by the Post to cover the conservative movement. Almost from the beginning there have been complaints that his coverage betrays a personal animus toward conservatives.  E-mails obtained by the Daily Caller suggest those complaints have merit.

“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.

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

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.”

In April, Weigel wrote that 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.”

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

After making a number of disparaging comments about elements of the Right — including Ron Paul supporters, gay marriage opponents, and fellow blogger Matt Drudge — on a private listserv called “Journolist,” Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has reportedly resigned this morning.

UPDATE: Early word is that Weigel will be heading to the Huffington Post.

UPDATE II: The HuffPo talk now seems premature. Weigel was seen at the blog’s DC offices today, but it was apparently a social call.

Also, Daily Caller has a bunch of new e-mails from Weigel, disparaging everybody from Rush Limbaugh to Newt Gingrich. I hadn’t seen these yet because the DC‘s servers had been down for much of the morning.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The liberal blogger Dave Weigel, who was hired by The Post to cover the conservative movement, has resigned, after advising Matt Drudge on a semi-public forum for leftish commentators to set himself on fire. Put aside the controversy over whether the Post, which was advised by its star blogger, Ezra Klein (who once advised parties unknown, via his Twitter account, to “fuck tim russert. fuck him with a spiky acid-tipped dick”) that Weigel would do an excellent and balanced job of reporting on conservatives, even understood that it was hiring a liberal, and not a conservative (Ben Smith has more on this aspect of the controversy), the issue in the newsroom today is, How did the Post come to this?

“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.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic responds to Goldberg:

Mr. Goldberg and I are in agreement that Mr. Weigel showed poor judgment in emails he sent to a listserv for liberal Washington DC journalists. The indiscretion is something that most journalists I know would guard against, and I also found objectionable his suggestion that links should be withheld from The Washington Examiner as retaliation for a mean-spirited item written by one of its gossip columnists. Links ought to be afforded on the basis of merit, full stop.

But the main “stupidity” on display here is that Mr. Weigel trusted the members of an avowedly private forum to keep his rants off-the-record, as advertised. In others words, he trusted his colleagues too much, and that isn’t a flaw that should disqualify someone from being a reporter, nor should the fact that they have strong, occasionally intemperate opinions, as do we all.

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. Obviously that isn’t the standard that high profile media corporations use when hiring reporters and writers, and Mr. Goldberg and I probably both feel a responsibility to our various employers to maintain some hard to define level of discretion when writing for public or even semi-private consumption.

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.

Let’s examine the implications of the standard that The Washington Post is actually employing here, and that most newspaper companies would also employ.

– In the excerpt above, Mr. Goldberg quotes an anonymous Washington Post staffer who, it should be noted, spoke disparagingly of his or her own newspaper in a conversation with a journalist from a competing media company. This source disparaged Dave Weigel, The Post, and the people responsible for hiring him, anonymously. In other words, this source’s very actions imply that he or she knows The Washington Post would look unfavorably on the public airing of this opinion, but decided that lack of discretion isn’t the problem so much as being stupid enough to get caught. Do journalists really want to help establish a standard whereby “stupidity” equals transparency?

– 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? Can I reiterate how glad I am to have moved away from Washington DC? (You should hear what I say about De Beers in private!)

– Mr. Goldberg suggests that this episode might “lead to the re-imposition of some level of standards” at The Washington Post, suggesting that the newspaper’s problem is that it employs people like Ezra Klein and Dave Weigel, who’ve exercised poor judgment in writing intended for a private audience. I submit that seeing these two staffers — who are intellectually honest and talented, whatever their flaws — as the problem at The Post is to miss the Mark Theissen for the trees.

Oops, Freudian slip. What I mean to say is that The Washington Post publishes many talented writers at the tops of their games — Gene Weingarten, I’d give half of what I own if I could clone you — but its most egregious flaw is confusing what actually consists of inexcusably poor judgment. To be more specific, by firing Dave Weigel, and continuing to employ columnists like Marc Thiessen, the Post is saying that it is inexcusably poor judgment to utter honestly held, intemperate opinions if they wind up being made public, but it is perfectly acceptable to write an intellectually dishonest, error-filled book on the subject of your main expertise, and to publish columns of the same quality.

Mr. Goldberg and I agree that Dave Weigel showed poor judgment, but by holding him up as the poster child for declining standards at The Washington Post, as opposed to other more deserving targets, the inescapable message is that the quality of a journalist’s actual work for publication matters less than the public image he is able to project. As far as I know, Mr. Thiessen has never said anything intemperate on a semi-private listserv. Apparently that is what’s required if he’s to resign his column — that’s the consequence of a weird standard whereby firings at a newspaper are utterly unconnected to single word actually published in its pages.

More Goldberg:

A couple of people I know and respect have told me that my criticism of Dave Weigel is misplaced; that he tries harder than I thought to be a fair reporter; that he makes mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. And they’ve provided me with examples of his good reporting. So maybe I’ve made a mistake myself by blogging too fast and too thoughtlessly on this issue. On the other hand, I was repulsed — really repulsed — by his invitation to Matt Drudge to kill himself. I despise violent keyboard-cowboyism, and not only because I’ve received various invitations over the years to kill myself, or let myself be killed, because I’m a supporter of Israel, or because I support the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam, or because I supported the invasion of Iraq (mainly because I’m a supporter of Israel, actually).In any case, I wanted to say this now, and with any luck I’ll return to this subject later.

Ross Douthat:

Set aside the fact that Weigel — who’s actually a left-tilting libertarian rather than a liberal partisan — really is a good reporter, good enough and fair enough to have a number of conservative bloggers rallying to his defense, or at least speaking well of his reporting. The more important point is that no journalistic standard was violated by firing off intemperate e-mails to what’s supposed to be a private e-mail list. Maybe Weigel should have known better than to trust the people on JournoList, and I can certainly understand why once the e-mails were leaked, his ability to cover the conservative movement would be compromised, and a parting of the ways with The Post might seem necessary. But if hitting “send” on pungent e-mails that you assume will be kept private is a breach of journalistic ethics, then there isn’t an ethical journalist in the English-speaking world.  The real story here isn’t Weigel’s public embarrassment — it’s the shame of FishbowlDC for publishing private correspondence, and the disgrace of JournoList for harboring at least one would-be career wrecker. The only decent response is to disband the email list — and to his credit, its founder is doing exactly that.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Somebody on Journo-List didn’t like Dave Weigel and decided to publish his most furious and incendiary remarks that he thought — unwisely — that he was expressing in confidence. (At least I hope these were his most furious and incendiary remarks; what could top these? “I’m going to deafen David Brooks with a vuvuzela”?) So what else is on there that, if revealed, could make life difficult for Ezra Klein or Jeffrey Toobin or Paul Krugman or Ben Smith or Mike Allen? Or is the idea that as long as they stay in line, they’ll never have some remark they regret publicized to the world? Did Journo-List evolve into a massive blackmail scheme that ensures no one inside the club will ever speak ill of another member?

Liz Mair

Bruce Bartlett:

Apparently, Dave Weigel has been forced out over some utterly trivial e-mail rants that were published by some shameless idiot. Speculation is that the Post didn’t want a thinking conservative who cared more about facts than the party line, but would rather have some whack-job Glenn Beck wannabe representing the conservative position on the Post web site. I am canceling have canceled my subscription to the Post.

Ezra Klein:

I began Journolist in February of 2007. It was an idea born from disagreement. Weeks, or maybe months, earlier, I had criticized Time’s Joe Klein over some comments he made about the Iraq War. He e-mailed a long and searching reply, and the subsequent conversation was educational for us both. Taking the conversation out of the public eye made us less defensive, less interested in scoring points. I learned about his position, and why he held it, in ways that I wouldn’t have if our argument had remained in front of an audience.

The experience crystallized an idea I’d been kicking around for some time. I was on all sorts of e-mail lists, but none that quite got at the daily work of my job: Following policy and political trends in both the expert community and the media. But I always knew how much I was missing. There were only so many phone calls I could make in a day. There were only so many times when I knew the right question to ask. By not thinking of the right person to interview, or not asking the right question when I got them on the phone, or not intuiting that an economist would have a terrific take on the election, I was leaving insights on the table.

That was the theory behind Journolist: An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another. The eventual irony of the list was that it came to be viewed as a secretive conspiracy, when in fact it was always a fractious and freewheeling conversation meant to open the closed relationship between a reporter and his source to a wider audience.

At the beginning, I set two rules for the membership. The first was the easy one: No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join. The second was the hard one: The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left. I didn’t like that rule, but I thought it necessary: There would be no free conversation in a forum where people had clear incentives to embarrass each other. A bipartisan list would be a more formal debating society. Plus, as Liz Mair notes, there were plenty of conservative list servs, and I knew of military list servs, and health-care policy list servs, and feminist list servs. Most of these projects limited membership to facilitate a particular sort of conversation. It didn’t strike me as a big deal to follow their example.

But over the years, Journolist grew, and as it grew, its relative exclusivity became more infamous, and its conversations became porous. The leaks never bothered me, though. What I didn’t expect was that a member of the list, or someone given access by a member of the list, would trawl through the archives to assemble a dossier of quotes from one particular member and then release them to an interested media outlet to embarrass him. But that’s what happened to David Weigel. Private e-mails were twisted into a public story.

[...]

It was ironic, in a way, that it would be the Daily Caller that published e-mails from Journolist. A few weeks ago, its editor, Tucker Carlson, asked if he could join the list. After asking other members, I said no, that the rules had worked so far to protect people, and the members weren’t comfortable changing them. He tried to change my mind, and I offered, instead, to partner with Carlson to start a bipartisan list serv. That didn’t interest him.

In any case, Journolist is done now. I’ll delete the group soon after this post goes live. That’s not because Journolist was a bad idea, or anyone on it did anything wrong. It was a wonderful, chaotic, educational discussion. I’m proud of having started it, grateful to have participated in it, and I have no doubt that someone else will re-form it, with many of the same members, and keep it going. Hopefully, it will lose some of its mystique in the process, and be understood more for what it is: One of many e-mail lists where people talk about things they’re interested in. But insofar as the current version of Journolist has seen its archives become a weapon, and insofar as people’s careers are now at stake, it has to die.

As for Dave, I’m heartbroken that he resigned from The Post. Dave is an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend. When this is done, there will be a different name on his paychecks, but he will still be an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend.

James Joyner:

It’s a shame that Dave, who most agree is a rising star, had to pay such a high price for some indiscreet emails, especially since a fellow journalist violated his confidentiality.   One suspects, and I certainly hope, that he’ll land on his feet soon.  My guess is that Reason or the Washington Independent, both of which are much more openly ideological publications than WaPo, will happily take him back.

You know who would be a good replacement for him at the Right Now blog?  David Petraeus.

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez at Megan McArdle’s place

Philip Klein at The American Spectator

Tyler Cowen

James Wolcott

Foster Kamer at The Village Voice

Weigel himself at Big Government

Greg Sargent responds to Goldberg

Goldberg responds to Sargent

Matt Welch at Reason

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

UPDATE #2: Greg Marx at Columbia Journalism Review

Andy Barr at Politico

UPDATE #3: David Carr at NYT

Matthew Yglesias

Digby

UPDATE #4: Weigel in Esquire

Charles Johnson at LGF

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “James Joyner Did The Joke Already: David Weigel To Be Replaced By David Petraeus

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