Weigelgate… Bigotgate… Let Us All Tweet Our Name For The Gate

Matt Lewis at Politics Daily:

Perhaps Weigel will turn out two decades from now to have been prescient, but “bigot” is awfully strong language for a person who is making the case for tolerance – and this comment simply reinforced a longstanding view among social conservatives that The Washington Post and most of the rest of the mainstream media are not only implacably opposed to their policy agenda, but personally hostile to them as well.

(Disclosure: I like Dave Weigel. I’ve had him on my podcast several times. He has written about me in the past, and I have found him accurate and fair. So it gives me no joy to write about this.)

But opposition to gay marriage is hardly a fringe movement. A majority of Americans tell pollsters they are opposed to it, a number that, if you take him at face value, includes President Obama. Presumably Weigel would also count as “bigots” the 70 percent of African-Americans who backed Proposition 8 in California.

Conservatives, whom Weigel is paid to cover, were understandably irate. Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America (CWA) told me, “If (Weigel) ever tweeted that African-Americans are bigots on this issue he would no longer be employed by The Washington Post. His own arrogance disqualifies him as a serious journalist assigned to covering conservatives . . . for The Washington Post to assign him to cover Concerned Women for America is like assigning a weasel to watch the hen house.”

Dan Gainor, a vice president at the Media Research Center, told me, “This is how the Post covers the conservative movement: Find someone who doesn’t even understand the traditional values that made our nation great and then assign him to report on the right. Throw in the fact that Weigel loves to bash conservatives and he’s the ideal Postie. At the same time, the paper hired a hard-core lefty in Ezra Klein to advocate for the left. It’s a ridiculous double standard. The Post should be both embarrassed and ashamed.”

When I confronted Weigel about his Tweet, he initially responded by Tweeting: “Unpleasant words are so much worse than watching 54% of your peers nullify your marriage,” a comment that struck me as the response of an activist more than a journalist. When I asked him of the ethics of such a Tweet being sent out by a reporter tasked with covering conservatives, he responded by explaining: “I like (and largely agree with) pro-lifers. But I do not understand or respect the motivation of anti-gay marriage campaigners.”

Robert Stacy McCain:

Weigel proclaims that he will “happily entertain arguments for the contrary,” but why should he? In the manner of all bien-pensants, he believes he is not merely right but good, and therefore that those who disagree with him are not merely mistaken, but evil.

As I have said of others, Weigel’s basic problem is that he is young. The young generally know only what they have been taught, and teaching nowadays is a profession increasingly monopolized by those who subscribe to dogmatic notions of egalitarianism, the established faith of academic today. Dissenters are as rare as witches in 17th-century Salem (whereas witches are now quite plentiful on campus, as Larry Summers could attest), and we need not marvel that few dare speak heresy.

According to the egalitarian view, inequality is always synonymous with injustice. From such a perspective, those who insist that homosexual relations should be treated differently than marriage — an institution ancient and universal, held by Judeo-Christian tradition to be a holy covenant in accordance with divine commandment – are benighted, prejudiced and, as Weigel says, “bigoted.”

Weigel long worked for the libertarian journal Reason. Despite my own profound libertarian tendencies (being an admirer of the Austrian economists Mises and Hayek), I’ve often found myself at odds with those Reasonoids who see same-sex marriage as a libertarian issue when the arguments for it are in fact egalitarian.

Ben Domenech at New Ledger:

Unlike his colleague Ezra Klein, Weigel is being asked by the Post to do shoe leather journalism, not just opinion and analysis — but unless this view will result in him not getting calls back from people he’s writing about, I see no reason why his expression of his personal opinion on those who oppose same sex marriage should spark any reaction other than “well, that’s what a lot of people in the media think.” (Frankly, Klein’s view that Joe Lieberman’s opposition to the health care bill would result in the deaths of thousands is a far more jarring comment. But that’s beside the point.)

I don’t know Weigel and I have never met him, but as far as I know he doesn’t represent himself as a conservative, just as someone who primarily writes about them. He first contacted me several years ago while doing a story for Campaigns & Elections in just that arena, wrote a bit for the libertarian Reason, and then moved to smart lefty journal The Washington Independent, funded in part by the Gill Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. So why would anyone assume that Weigel, after working for places funded by same sex marriage activists like Tim Gill, would have any difference of opinion on the matter than the rest of his colleagues?

Sure, conservatives might have hoped for more balanced coverage after Weigel professed his eagerness to write fairly about the Tea Party movement, and responded to those on the right who doubted his approach by saying “I’m going to work hard on changing your mind about this.” But I don’t know why anyone would assume that’s more than just polite pleasantries (delivered with Weigel’s typically sarcastic tone). He’s covering the right with the traditional “conservatives in the mist” approach, and nothing I’ve seen that he’s written thus far would indicate he has a more unique perspective to offer.

David Weigel:

Over the weekend, I got an e-mail from one of the organizations that campaign against gay marriage. The tone was boastful and celebratory about the push for a same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota. It irritated me enough that I tweeted: “I can empathize with everyone I cover except for the anti-gay marriage bigots. In 20 years no one will admit they were part of that.”

That comment offended some people, so I want to do two things. First, I apologize for calling same-sex-marriage opponents “bigots.” I was specifically referring to people who spend their working hours opposing gay marriage, not just people who vote to ban it. But those people aren’t bigots, either.
Second, let me explain what it meant. I’m a bystander in the same-sex marriage debate — I haven’t given to any cause on either side. But in 2006 I did vote against a Virginia same-sex marriage amendment, which passed. I didn’t, and don’t, think social issues should be subjected to votes like that. I don’t support much direct democracy in general — this is a republic, and we shouldn’t throw these kinds of decisions to the electorate at large.

But why was I willing to be so disrespectful to one group of activists? Unlike with most activists, I don’t really see the direct impact on their lives, or on the lives of the people who agree with them, of the cause they oppose. Antitax protesters are threatened by higher taxes. Anti-health-care-bill protesters fear their coverage will get worse. Anti-meat-eating protesters believe animals are being murdered and the environment is being made worse.

Even the birther movement has always made a kind of sense — oust Obama from office, and you get a chance to reverse what damage you think he’s done to your country.

But who’s threatened by legal same-sex marriage? Whose life is made worse? If there was science suggesting that children raised by same-sex parents are worse off than children raised by traditional families, that would be one thing, but I haven’t seen it. We’ve watched legal same-sex marriage in several European countries and several states, and it hasn’t ushered in some decline in the quality of life, or marriage, for those who don’t participate in it.

That’s what I don’t understand. That’s my bias, for now. I’ll happily entertain arguments for the contrary.

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Washington Post has juiced up its political coverage recently with a handful of new hires, including people I’ve long enjoyed reading, like Dave Weigel and Jason Horowitz, and a couple of smart young reporters for its PostPolitics page.

But it’s also made the decision to give much of its political space* to talented, reportorial, and openly left-leaning bloggers — Greg Sargent, Ezra Klein, and Weigel.

All news organizations are pretty much flying blind at the moment, and there’s been a great deal of erosion of traditional journalistic neutrality from both sides. But many organizations try to hew fairly clearly to the old aspiration of objectivity. I try in this space to stay on the neutral side of the line between sensibility and opinion.

The alternative, long promoted by advocacy journalists on left and right, is transparency: Everybody has a bias, the argument goes, so just be open about it. That’s how Weigel — who worked for a libertarian magazine, then a left-leaning web outfit — dealt with a flap roiling the conservative blogosphere, one that erupted after he tweeted about “anti-gay marriage bigots.”

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

I asked Weigel if he found the accusation of being biased against bias ironic.

I really do regret saying “bigots.” I like to follow a policy of calling people what they want to be called — or at least don’t object to being called. This is why you don’t see me call people “teabaggers.” I’m a Methodist, and I am friends with plenty of people who disagree with me on this issue, and understand how it’s not really comparable to, say, anti-black racism. Many opponents of gay marriage take that stance because they believe that gays are misled, and they can lead another lifestyle. I disagree, but believing so is not “bigoted.”

I like what he had to say about calling people what they want to be called. “Teabagger” outlived its usefulness a long time ago. It was funny and edgy for about 5 minutes, but now, like most name-calling, it’s just an obstacle to understanding.

As for whether the gay marriage opponents whom Weigel describes are “bigoted,” I suppose you could argue that the element of hatred isn’t there, and amend that to “ignorant.”

In any case, I hope there’s no movement to oust Weigel from WaPo. His reporting on the conservative movement is far more useful to the right than a raft of cheerleading blogs. He’s in a position to offer fair, tough-love analysis to the GOP that they won’t get somewhere else. Besides, better the devil you know. Would conservatives like Matt Lewis prefer someone like Markos Moulitsas to cover them?

More Smith at Politico:

The once-cautious Washington Post has begun to invest heavily in the liberal blogosphere, transforming its online presence – through a combination of accident and design – into a competitor of the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo as much as the New York Times.

The Post’s foray into the new media world received some unfavorable attention last weekend when its latest hire, Dave Weigel, who covers conservatives, referred to gay marriage foes as “bigots.” But the resulting controversy brought into relief a larger shift: The Post now hosts three of the strongest liberal blogs on the Internet, and draws a disproportionate share of its traffic and buzz from them, a significant change for a traditional newspaper that has struggled to remake itself.

Besides Weigel, who came from the liberal Washington Independent, the Post also has Ezra Klein, hired last May from the American Prospect to bring his brand of deliberately wonky policy writing to its website; and Greg Sargent, who the paper said Tuesday will soon move to the Post itself after coming from TPM to run a political blog for the Post-owned website, WhoRunsGov.com, as well as two editors recently hired from the Huffington Post to handle online aggregation and strategy.

The quote from me in Ben Smith’s article is from a longer argument I made in our interview: Analytical reportage has traditionally been the province of magazines. It’s the stock-in-trade of the Atlantic, the New Republic, the Economist, the American Prospect, the Washington Monthly, and Reason, just to name a few. And if you want to play six degrees, I interned at the Washington Monthly and worked at the American Prospect; Greg worked at New York magazine and moved to Talking Points Memo, which was started by a former American Prospect editor; and Dave got his start at Reason and The Economist, both of which are right-of-center magazines.

All of those magazines write reported, analytical (and opinionated) articles for a sophisticated audience. But because their publishing cycles are slow, they’ve not traditionally been major players in the day-to-day conversation. But now you’ve got people who trained at those magazines and adopted their sensibilities writing at internet speed, which is to say, faster than the daily cycle. And that’s working, I think. At the very least, it’s working with elite audiences.

But it’s not, as Smith suggests, a story of ideology (though Tucker Carlson and David Frum might tell you that conservative publications place less emphasis on reporting and that accounts for why liberals and libertarians have gotten the first of these jobs), or even corporate strategy. Small magazines adopted blogs early because they were desperate for an entryway into daily reporting. Newspapers, for obvious reasons, were less concerned. But as newspapers got more concerned, they’ve hired the bloggers trained at small magazines because those bloggers report and write in a way that traditional media organizations recognize.

The media isn’t so much changing as repackaging, and my guess is that five or 10 years from now, there will be a lot of bloggers doing analytical reporting and everyone will agree that that was just a natural process of adaptation to a faster medium with a more elite readership and no space constraints. Those who’re inclined to more structuralist explanations will says that as the flow of information sped up and opinions multiplied there was more demand for reported, analytical content that helped people make sense of it all.

The first wave of these folks came from small magazines that have a more opinionated bent, but the second wave will come from inside newspapers and online publications that play it a bit straighter. But it won’t be, and isn’t now, a story of ideology. It’s a story of technological change, and the way in which new markets first get served by marginal players and then get swallowed up by established institutions.

James Joyner:

People forget that the business of journalism is business.  Hiring respectable bloggers with very high traffic levels — which was certainly the case with Klein — is just bowing to reality.  Especially when one considers that the Washington Post is losing money by the truckload, showing “an operating loss of $163.5 million in 2009, compared to an operating loss of $192.7 million in 2008″ and only manages to stay in business — if you want to call it that — thanks to the huge subsidy provided by Kaplan Testing.

Ultimately, this is just a further consolidation of the Power Laws model that Clay Shirky was propounding just as I was launching OTB.   The highest traffic bloggers are getting scooped up by the mainstream media or other big entities and further consolidating their power.   And, for reasons Ezra explains, that mostly means left-of-center bloggers are going to be hired, because they’re much more apt to write in a style which makes the major media companies comfortable.

Bill Scher and Peter Suderman at Bloggingheads


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Filed under Gay Marriage, Mainstream, New Media

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