A Few Thoughts on Dave Weigel

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    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.