By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

On David Weigel’s forced departure

For the time being, I’m going to take a pass on writing a full item about David Weigel’s firing/forced-resignation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it from the Washington Post. I recommend this round-up at Salon by Alex Pareene and a blog post by John McQuaid. And you must read Post ombudsman Andy Alexander’s commentary, as loathsome an example of the genre as I’ve seen in many years.

More: Conor Friedersdorf tells Alexander, “Rather than encouraging reporters and opinion writers to be fair, accurate, and intellectually honest, you’re creating incentives whereby reporters are encouraged to conceal their true opinions, opinion writers are encouraged to be movement hacks, and between the two there is no overlap.”

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  1. Sean Griffin

    Reminds me of an anecdote told in an Ann Beattie story. A girl finds some ants crawling over a half-eaten apple on the front porch of her house. She tells her mother. Mom comes to the porch and pours a pot of boiling water over the ants. The Washington Post is Mom.

  2. Robert David Sullivan

    I’m trying to think of any situation that would lead to the ombudsman ending a column with “But the bigger loss is The Post’s standing among liberals.”

  3. BP Myers

    Tucker Carlson is a loathsome person.

  4. Neil Sagan

    I’d say to Mr. Weigel’s critics that if you can’t find anything objectionable in his actual work — as opposed to private e-mails leaked to the press — you ought to reconsider whether you’re being critical of the wrong side in this dispute.
    – Conor Friedersdorf

    Weigel offered to resign Thursday when the first excerpts of his emails to journalism colleagues from the restricted JournoList listserve were quoted by the contemptible Betsy Rothstein of FishBowl DC. (She responds to her critics.) Weigel’s boss at WaPo declined to accept it.

    Friday, Tucker Carlson’s TheDailyCaller printed more leaked e-mails from the members only listserve. How did two right wing web sites come by the same material? Wiegel again offered to resign and his boss at WaPo accepted it.

    Ezra Klein, who founded JournoList (an exclusive listserve for center-left journalists) tell us:

    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. – Ezra Klein

    Ironic indeed. Tucker Carlson is a spiteful prick. I’d encourage readers to boycott the Daily Caller and turn to other sources for reading.

    Weigel is a “disaffectied Libertarian” with socially liberal values who voted for Ron Paul. The right did not like his criticism of the extreme right and Tea Party on his blog at WaPo, so they found (not in his journalism but in his emails from a private listserve) opinions that were personal and critical of folks on the right like Limbaugh, Drudge and others, and used it to pressure the WaPo to end his employment so they can get someone who will comment favorably on conservative politics.

  5. Neil Sagan

    Betsy Rothstein of FishBowl DC tweets:

    That Weigel is a sneaky bastard. He tried to pre-empt me. But I forgive him. I won’t hug him but I forgive him.

    @FishbowlDC 3:49 PM Jun 24t

  6. L.K. Collins

    Old saying goes: Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    Weigel was naive to presume his internet traffic, e-mail comments to a “private” listserv, were actually private. His presumption should have been that his private remarks were “not public”, but they could become so.(Such is life on the internet.)

    Is this any different from the “gotcha” journalism that has suffused both the left and the right.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the sword that got him was his own.

  7. C.E. Stead

    The real problem seems to be that the Post doesn’t know any conservative journalists to assign to that beat, as it’s a viewpoint they had never felt any need to cover before it became inexplicably popular.

  8. Bob Gardner

    Haven’t we just been through all this?

  9. Nial Lynch

    The Post has to know somebody who knows somebody.

  10. Steve Stein

    Since Weigel was a reporter on a beat and not an opinion columnist, I suppose he has to maintain some measure of objectivity. So he resigned. I get it.

    So what of the reporters covering the 2000 Democratic Primary in NH, who were booing and hissing Gore in his debate with Bradley? Why weren’t they held to the same standard?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: Not so fast. Weigel wrote a blog for the Post, and though it was newsier and less opinionated than most blogs, I don’t think it’s fair to say that is mandate was to write just like someone who worked for the city desk.

  11. Sean Griffin

    That left-wing rag The American Spectator defends Weigel:

  12. Phil Gallagher

    American Spectator is a left wing rag? That must be a tongue in cheek comment. As for Weigel harboring such views about conservatives it should come as no surprise. In 2008 Slate was one of the very few groups of journalists who printed their presidential preferences.

    It came as no surprise that 55 out of 57 went for Obama. Those kind of numbers bring to mind the Pauline Kael quote, “I can’t believe Nixon won, nobody I know voted for him.”

    The Post, NY Times, Boston Globe etc. can’t find any bias because they all agree with one another.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Phil: Urban legend. Pauline Kael never said that. Or anyone else.

  13. Steve Stein

    @Dan – well, that’s the nub of the situation for me. Weigel was hired as a blogger, yes, but I was under the impression that his responsibilities were more like a reporter’s than other WaPo bloggers like Ezra Klein.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: Read Alexander again. It’s clear that part of the problem was that Weigel proved *not* to be a right-wing tool.

  14. Steve Stein

    Well, sure. But how they could have thought he’d be a right-wing tool when they hired him, given his prior writing, is beyond my comprehension.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: I think the explanation is that this is the Washington Post we’re talking about.

  15. Neil Sagan

    Who’s more of a journalist: Sargent, who took to his own column to oppose his own newspaper’s decision with a respectful though unflinching argument, or Goldberg’s friends (who hide behind anonymity to shoot spitballs at people they dislike) and Goldberg (who recklessly grants them anonymity to do so while turning his blog into a snide little gossip column)? read more

  16. Neil Sagan

    Although Weigel’s comments were caustic and mean-spirited, they did not demonstrate that he is incapable of reporting fairly on the conservative movement. They weren’t even political comments per se, so much as locker-room, towel-snapping banter. His words were poorly chosen and to be sure, I wouldn’t have written them. (When someone reaches a threshold where there they deserve a reprimand, my usual practice is to issue that reprimand here on the blog rather than in private.) But there have been essentially zero complaints about Weigel’s on-the-record reporting. Even within the conservative blogosphere, defenses of him have probably outweighed critiques by a ratio of about 5:2. Nor did the Washington Post’s ombudsman point toward any examples where Weigel had done a less-than-admirable job of reporting under his byline at the paper.

    In contrast, there occasionally surfaces the misguided notion that having opinions of any kind ought to be disqualifying to a reporter. As expressed by FishbowlDC’s Betsy Rothstein (who abetted the leaker and broke the story) and Matt Dornic (whose passion for journolistic integrity is so deep that he moonlights as a lobbyist): link

  17. Neil Sagan

    Weigel seems like a pretty righteous guy, not in the California surfer dude way but rather in the sense of who is someone who is deeply concerned with the truth and perhaps gets a bit rankled when he encounters people who do not share this commitment. Many of the people whom he criticized, in contrast — Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Betsy McCaughey — seem relatively willing to distort the truth when it serves to advance their political agenda. Of course, there are are many liberals (and centrists, etc.) of whom this is true as well. But it’s the Drudges and the McCaugheys who Weigel encountered on his beat.

    If Weigel chose some unfortunate ways to express his frustration, the truth-seeking impulse from which it arose is the right one. As Jay Rosen wrote early last week, it is truth-seeking that is the essential mark of journalism:

  18. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    Weigel is one of the better journalists to cover the tea party/conservative movement. His own views also overlap with those of the movement in a way that isn’t captured by these individual comments (Weigel formerly wrote for the libertarian Reason Magazine and himself voted for Ron Paul). Conservatives who are cheered by Weigel’s departure should sit down and compare his writings to the hatchet jobs we’ve seen from lesser journalists.

  19. Rich Carreiro

    It cracks me up to see the lefties whining about Tucker Carlson. Ironically, he was the real journalist here — he got leaked material and ran with it. Which is what the so-called journalists love to do when it’s not about them.

    I don’t recall you people calling NYT reporters “spiteful pricks” when their leaks actually jeopardize lives or inform enemies about how we’re tracking their asset transfers and the like.

    This is a load of sour grapes and “for me but not for thee” hypocrisy.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rich: The Spiteful Pricks would be a great name for a band.

      No problem with Carlson, whom I rather like. It’s Andy Alexander I have the biggest problem with.

  20. Neil Sagan

    ….whom I rather like. You must have your reasons. Care to share a few of them?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Carlson was a terrific magazine writer in the ’90s. Wrote the definitive GWB profile, in which he described Bush making fun of Karla Faye Tucker following her execution. It should have ended Bush’s campaign right there. I know him slightly, and think he’s basically a good guy. Never much cared for him on TV, but that’s another story.

  21. Neil Sagan

    Cool. I’ll see if I can dig that article up.

  22. C.E. Stead

    This is the actual Pauline Kael quote, per the NY Times:

    “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: Correct. And here is the full context, from Wikipedia:

      Kael is frequently quoted as having said, in the wake of Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in the 1972 presidential election, that she “couldn’t believe Nixon had won”, since no one she knew had voted for him. The quote is sometimes cited by conservatives (such as Bernard Goldberg, in his book Bias), as an example of liberal bias in the mainstream media. There are variations as to the exact wording, the speaker (it has variously been attributed to other liberal female writers, including Katharine Graham, Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion), and the timing (in addition to Nixon’s victory, it has been claimed to have been uttered after Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984.)

      There is, in fact, no record of Kael making such a remark. The story may have originated in a December 28, 1972 New York Times article on a lecture Kael gave at the Modern Language Association, in which the newspaper quoted her as saying, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

      For those of you who don’t like Wikipedia, if you follow the link you will see that it’s well-sourced.

  23. Aaron Read

    The Spiteful Pricks would be a great name for a band.

    I think George Carlin played bass in a punk band called that.

  24. Neil Sagan

    I say to conservatives, let’s debate the merit of the Civil Rights Act again 46 years later but after we address some of the more urgent issues facing the nation.

    How Stossel keep his job while Weigel does not? Weigel never hung effigy of any of the politicians he covered, he just called them dumb asses when they acted like dumb assess.

    Fox host Stossel disguises his hate speech behind his polished TV persona and libertarian pose, offering his audience a path to hatred without joining Glenn Beck’s circus. July 2, 2010

    In May this year, a prominent commentator on Fox News called for the repeal of the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination in places of public accommodation. “Private businesses ought to discriminate… it should be their right to be racist,” he said.

    Fox News has a longstanding policy of giving race-baiters a soapbox, but the fascinating thing about this particular bit of vile nonsense is that even other figureheads at the channel like Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and Steve Brown — each known for their own ignorant worldviews — voiced disgust at the suggestion that racial discrimination ought to be a right granted to businesses. […]

    Stossel has become something of a Tea Party hero (he has an effigy of Barney Frank hanging above his sofa), has long been one of the most popular speakers on the conservative lecture circuit, and his syndicated column is increasingly popular.


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: I assume you’re being ironic. Stossel is doing exactly what Fox hired him to do. I guess Weigel wasn’t, since Andy Alexander told us after the fact that placating the right was part of his job description.

  25. Neil Sagan

    Stossel is doing exactly what Fox hired him to do.

    Really? If so, nobody let Murdoch in on it… or he’s a bald face liar.

    “Rupert Murdoch appeared before the National Press Club [April 6]and Seth Michaels Ari Rabin-Havt asked him if he thought it was appropriate for a news network to be promoting the tea party.”


    “Of course Murdoch said he didn’t think they should be promoting the tea party “or any other party,” so we know he’s full of it right there. FOX is the propaganda arm of the GOP after all. (Believe me, ratings are the frosting on the cake, not the raison d’etre.)”

    Would you be willing to say, at least with regard to Stossel and the Tea Party, Fox network is corrupt Journalism?

    If so, why does the establishment Journalism (IE folks such as yourself and your peers on Greater Boston) not hammer away at the charade that is Fox?

    I’m looking over your blog entries for the last year and I don’t see much on the topic.

    Do journalists fear being labeled ‘liberal’ for criticizing Fox “Journalism”? The silence from the profession is deafening.

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