A Few Thoughts on Dave Weigel


    It looks like everyone else is weighing in on the firing resignation of Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel (over “scathing” emails on a “private” listserv), so I figured I might as well throw my 2 (or 3) cents in as well.

    First off, the Washington Post’s attempt to integrate bloggers into its business model and to make itself relevant in today’s media world has taken yet another hit. It’s all so confusing.

    With bloggers such as Weigel, “I think The Post needs to decide what it wants to be online,” said Dan Gainor, a vice president at the conservative Media Research Center. “Does it want to be opinion? Or, does it want to be news? The problem here was that it was never clear.”

    Good point. Personally, I can’t really figure out what category to put many of these people into — reporters? opinion writers? bloggers? “professional” journalists? objective? subjective? — and that’s probably because the Post is just as confused. Here in the political blogosphere, there are many faults you can point to, but at least we’re honest about who we are – in our case, progressives who generally support the Democratic Party and its candidates.  What about the newspapers these days?  Do they know who they are and who they want to be?  Not as far as I can tell.

    Second, the double standard here truly boggles my mind. As a wise friend of mine pointed out, if a conservative writer on the left-o-sphere had said that stuff on TV, they’d be fine (a la Michelle Malkin or Anne Coulter). Also, it’s ok for the Washington Post to publish an outright climate change denier like George Will, but not to publish someone who said things that many (most?) people think about Matt Drudge and others? Of course, as Matt Yglesias points out, “obviously no organization that employs Charles Krauthammer on a regular basis can be counted on to exercise sound judgment in a consistent way.”

    Third, I agree with Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander that, ultimately, “Weigel bears responsibility” for his comments. Essentially, Dave Weigel probably should have known not to put such inflammatory material in written form on a (large) group listserv, unless he trusted each and every one of the listserv’s members (including future ones) to keep that material private. Forever. Not something most of us would bet our career on, and, in the end, it was a mistake for Dave Weigel to bet his (although my guess is he’ll end up back on his feet, soon enough).

    Fourth, as much as Weigel “bears responsibility” for his comments, the individual who leaked those comments from a semi-private listserv did something really slimy here.  I certainly hope that person is “outed” at some point, and that are shunned from working in the “news” business – or as a blogger anyone takes seriously – ever again.  

    Fifth, there’s also the issue of the media outlets that published these leaked emails. Overall, I have mixed feelings on that subject: they certainly had the right to publish the emails, but I’m not sure they should have published the emails. It’s a tough call, but the bottom line is that someone would have eventually published the emails, so it’s probably futile to get angry at the “messenger”.  

    Sixth, it appears that there’s no such thing as “private” listserv, Google group or email anymore (if there ever was). That’s reality, but it’s also unfortunate, as it crimps reporters’ and bloggers’ ability to talk “off the record,” to compare notes, to bounce ideas around, to let off steam once in a while.  It’s also another double standard; if you’re an administration official and you tell Jake Tapper something at a cocktail party, it’s assumed to be confidential.  Of course, there are many gray areas; just ask Stan McChrystal about that subject.  

    Seventh, although Dave Weigel is extremely talented, he was in a tough position with this job (a liberal-leaning blogger/reporter covering the conservative blogosphere). In many ways, I find it amazing he lasted as long as he did. To cover a beat these days, does an individual have to be complete cipher, with no past writings or overt political leanings of any kind?  Is that realistic? I don’t see how it is.

    Finally, in the end, I guess my conclusion – and I take no pleasure in this whatsoever – is that you always have to think about what you say with everyone.  Essentially, if you don’t want something in the headlines, you’d better not put in an email or group listserv.  Essentially, it’s the “Panopticon” concept, and overall it’s not a pleasant state of affairs. Yes, Dave Weigel exercised less-than-stellar judgment and gave ammunition to his enemies, but ultimately, this debacle flows from a system of absurd double standards, a pervasive and 24/7 news cycle where “public” and “private” are increasingly (and disturbingly?) blurred, a “gotcha” mentality if not outright viciousness, lack of accountability, and the gray zone between the “professional” media and the blogosphere. That, for better or worse, is the world we live in these days. As Dave Weigle just found out, the hard way.

    • bobnox

      Good post, Lowell

    • jsrutstein

      I’m totally with you on the Post’s erratic behavior.  It’s interesting to note that, while Yglesias is free to question the Post’s judgment, his pal and I think former housemate (and, I also think the person behind the valiant listserv) Ezra Klein won’t be caught being so free with his opinion on his employer.  I hope Weigel quickly gets back on his important beat at a more worthy outlet, like his former one, The Washington Independent.

      I quit my 20+ year subscription to the Post back in 2006 when it not only again endorsed Tom Davis, but essentially dismissed the Dem as unqualified.  They missed the wave that year and are continuing to demonstrate their primary allegiance to the big money behind the establishment of both parties.  I don’t doubt the difficulty of sustaining their business model, but do they have to die so ungracefully?

    • KathyinBlacksburg

      I am willing to bet that had this not happened this particular week, he would have kept his job. But given the tempest over McChrystal, WAPO exerted zero tolerance.  The thing is that there is a huge difference in the two cases, however.  McChrystal mocked much of his chain of command.  He defied the civilian control of the military. His London speech alone should have cost him his job, not just because of its timing (he was trying to force Obama’s hand by manipulating public and international opinion), but also in its breathtaking arrogance. In his dissing of allies, he made our foreign policy more difficult. And in his blatant disrespect for all of those he must work with, he made it impossible for him to continue.

      Weigel dissed some folks out in the trenches.  It could have cost him the trust of the Palins and Coulters.  But that hardly rises to the level of the “other firing.”  He was foolish to publish his thoughts so widely, but a reprimand would have been more appropriate.

      Does anyone believe that a conservative saying similar things about progressives would have been fired?  No.  It goes on all the time.  Yet there is no calling on the carpet for them.

    • jsrutstein

      I may need to walk back part of what I argued about the Post.  Perhaps this is old news to some of you, but I just discovered, via an article at HuffPo, that the Post actually links to certain political blogs, including both Blue Virginia and Not Larry Sabato.  But if you click on the link to those sites at the Post, you’ll get the posts there (which is especially funny in the case of NLS’s post on Weigel’s canning) but you don’t get the comments, although the Post has its own comment field for those posts.  Talk about confusing.  I also learned that Ezra Klein in his own post at the Post announced the end of his listserv.

    • The Richmonder

      What a bargain!

      The WashPost has certainly blurred the lines in their approach to “blogging.”  On the one hand they have linked to some real blogs like NLS, Blue Virginia, and Bearing Drift.  On the other hand they have their own “bloggers” on their payroll who post stories on the WashPosts own “blogs.”

      Are these really “blogs” and “bloggers” devoted to their writer’s own opinions and thoughts, or is this just a kind of “print” journalism that just never gets printed?  Do the WashPost’s “bloggers” really blog, or are their “blogs” just another reflection of the editorial positions of the Washington Post as a whole?

    • libra

      Weigel will go back to writing for the Washington Independent blog now; I’ve missed him badly there, since I refused to follow him to WaPo (which has gone so downhill in the past 6-8 yrs, it’s almost dug its way to the Antipodes).