L’Affaire Weigel

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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62 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    What struck me about the Weigel thing was all from the “Reason” side of things.

    Remember when that Congressman dude attacked the guy asking him questions on the sidewalk?

    Well, Weigel said the congressman “held the wrist of the first cameraman, then pulled the student to his side and grabbed him in a hug.” This made it to Drudge and everybody went apeshit the way that only everybody can.

    Dave argued that he had done nothing wrong, he meant “bearhug”, he certainly wasn’t trying to minimize it, etc, etc… but then he said this:

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/06/14/hating-the-ideology-not-the-me#comment_1753451

    David Weigel|6.14.10 @ 5:01PM|#

    Well, I really enjoyed the two and a half years I spent here, and I’m constantly confused as to why mentions of my name lead to a lot of schoolyard insults. I really can’t figure out why they do it — lack of fulfillment seems like a good enough theory. After all, I’m here, and they’re where I left them in 2008.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to my rewarding job and large circle of friends. I don’t know how my ego will ever recover…

    Note the date.

    That comment was floating in my head when I heard that Weigel was outed by someone on JournoList.

    After the emails came out, he posted to BigJournalism explaining “what really happened”… and then, of course, Matt Welch posted to Reason saying “whoa, whoa, whoa”.

    Read it here:
    http://reason.com/blog/2010/06/28/weigel-journalistic-voting-rec

    When it comes to Weigel, (as it comes to all of us), it ain’t the crime.

    It’s the cover-up.

    For me, all of the defenses of Weigel I read go through the filter of the difference between what Weigel said on his own behalf and what Matt Welch felt he had to clarify.

    That said, I wonder who is going to claim the $100,000. I wonder what else is in there that can just as easily be twisted out of context and result in not-refused resignations…Report

    • @Jaybird, To be honest, I’m not terribly interested in that angle of things. Perhaps that’s just a result of my employment law experience, in which the Rashomon effect has a tendency to play a rather large role.

      My interest isn’t even really in whether Weigel was good at what he did (even though I think he was). Instead, my interest is in what the whole incident says about the state of journalism. On that front, I think RSM’s posts have been invaluable. If you look closely, you’ll even see a remarkable amount of symmetry between what RSM’s writing and what Glenn Greenwald writes about the media.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @Mark Thompson, ah, the state of Journalism.

        I’m prone to see journalism as pretty much useless, myself.

        Journalists are too close to their sources and know that they never burn a source because they may need the source for a story tomorrow. Eventually, journalists are just copy-editing press releases.

        As such, when *REAL* journalism happens to bubble up (the McChrystal piece, the Gore 2nd Chakra story), it sparks up debate. It’s just so very surprising to read a who, what, when, where, why, how that when one enounters such a story, it results in arguments over whether it ought to have been printed.

        (For the record, that’s why I’d be interested in reading the JournoList archives if/when they ever come to light… I suspect that it’s likely that the emails include things that actually happened and yet, somehow, never made it to the page because journalism-as-it-exists-today got in the way.)Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        I think Stacy’s great but wrt l’affaire Weigel I’m reminded of his takedown of Ross Douthat (misplaced imo). Whether he resigned or got fired, I’m having a hard time seeing why, for some people, the whole episode is supposed to be a loss for anyone but Weigel.Report

        • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

          @Koz,

          It is mostly a loss for the WaPo as Weigel will more on to bigger and better.Report

          • @ThatPirateGuy, It’s also a loss for the rest of us because it signals that the WaPo (and the rest of Old Media, really) remains firmly committed to “on the one hand….on the other hand” journalism that is dull, uninteresting, and, frankly, tells us absolutely nothing, while putting allegations and facts on an equal level. Journalists like Weigel and RSM are invaluable – whatever one thinks of their world view – because they actually hit the pavement and get the story first-hand, to the best of their abilities – and then report what they observe and find rather than uncritically regurgitate what “people are saying….”Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              “Journalists like Weigel and RSM are invaluable – whatever one thinks of their world view – because they actually hit the pavement and get the story first-hand, to the best of their abilities – and then report what they observe and find rather than uncritically regurgitate what “people are saying….”

              Really? I definitely agree wrt RSM but not necessarily Weigel (it could be that I haven’t read enough from him). It seems to me that Weigel is corrupted by confirmation bias even more than a typical MSM reporter.Report

            • @Mark Thompson, Is that simply because Weigel more often than not presented a point of view that you didn’t like? Is “agrees with Koz” an appropriate standard for judging whether a journalist is being honest?

              Confirmation bias exists, absolutely. Was (is) Weigel victim to it? Certainly. So is RSM. The difference is that they don’t pretend it can be overcome by simply inserting what “people are saying.”

              The second we put words onto paper or the computer screen, we are injecting our observations with opinion, whether we think so or not and whether we try to cover that opinion up or not. The journalists I’ve come to respect understand this and don’t try to hide it. Like it or not, trying to hide one’s opinion, trying to be neutral, is taking a side every bit as much as doing nothing to hide that opinion. The difference is that doing nothing to hide one’s opinion is at least honest.

              The Weigels and RSMs of the world, while opinionated, are also nonetheless usually fair to their enemies in their reporting. “Fair” doesn’t mean neutral, though. It means instead that they actually give their subjects the opportunity to hang themselves first rather than just looking for new ways to hang those subjects. To put it another way – they have a real curiosity about their stories that they want to explore.

              It’s equivalent to the difference between, say, John Stossel and Bill O’Reilly, or between Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              @Mark Thompson, I agree of your characterization of faux-balanced journalism, and I think it reveals an interesting paradox. If Weigel’s spot was held by someone like Jonah Goldberg (covering conservatives from the right) or even Steve Benen (covering from the left), neither of whom can be accused of false balance, then this would still have been a non-issue. Sadly, while the MSM has grown quite comfortable with hyper-partisan pundits as part of it’s move towards News 2.0, it has not come to grips with credible journalists who also happen to have personal opinions.

              Weigel didn’t become a target because he reported on the far-right with skepticism, but because he claimed to do so from a credible independent position. The leaks were effective not because they revealed some imbalance in his published works (which were, frankly, quite tame), but because they revealed personal biases.

              So the lesson for journalists seems to be: either lard up your columns with faux-balance so readers see you as a mere stenographer, or tack strongly to one side so readers can discount you as merely a partisan news-based entertainer. Otherwise, you’ll be accused of of having an opinion but not expressing it loudly enough.Report

            • @trizzlor,
              Well put. I’d just add that there’s something odd about the notion – apparently accepted as unassailable truth by establishment types – that “independent” is supposed to mean “neutral” and “without personal biases.”

              What I have always enjoyed about Weigel’s writing has been that he doesn’t seem to have ever bought into this notion. Unfortunately, that’s also exactly why he was never going to fit in well with the WaPo.Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              Yeah, “corrupted by confirmation bias” is a more pejorative than what I meant. Ie, he might have accurately relayed facts relevant to Tea Partiers but what he chose to write about was largely irrelevant. It’s not a matter of whether he agreed with me, it’s more the fact that as someone who is very interested in the Tea Party phenomenon and has followed them closely, I’ve never felt to need to keep current on what David Weigel’s writing.

              And for me at least, it’s pretty clear from the hacked emails that Weigel didn’t have very much curiosity wrt the Tea Partiers.Report

            • I think the key to keep in mind here – and in almost any situation where one finds oneself evaluating another’s writing – is “who is the target audience”? The average Tea Partier is not the target audience of anyone who writes for the Washington Post (one of the reasons why I find Gerson’s piece particularly grating, by the way…it’s only possible purpose is to feed the ego of the “reasonable,” “grown up” Beltway dweller).

              Weigel’s accounts of the Right provided real, direct insight into the most passionate factions of the Movement Right to people without much direct understanding of those factions, but with a tremendous amount of interest in doing so. Sometimes that insight was less than flattering; but other times it was directly defensive thereof. The effect was to provide, on the whole, a highly independent view of the Movement Right as group with its share of crazies, and with a near-total devotion to Sarah Palin, but also as a group that was about a heck of a lot more than that, and that could not be simplistically derided as uneducated hick racists. His job was not to be a scribe for the Movement Right and to persuade the WaPo’s readers that the Movement Right is the greatest thing since sliced bread; instead, it was to provide his readers with some insight into something about which they had only minimal knowledge. Oftentimes, that insight would feed into their prejudices; but I don’t think deliberately.

              I might argue that the main difference between the Michael Gersons, Bill O’Reillys, and Keith Olbermanns of the world is the ideological perspective of their audience, whose ego they stroke. The main difference between the Rachel Maddows, RSMs, and Dave Weigels of the world is likewise the perspective of their audience, whose minds they feed.Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              “Why, after all, did I go racing off to Kentucky to debunk the “Lower Glennbeckistan” angle on the Census worker hanging? Why did I start rattling the tip-jar to go cover Doug Hoffman in NY-23 almost as soon as I got off the phone with his campaign?

              Hit ‘em where they ain’t: Find a developing story that deserves more coverage and then jump into it neck-deep.” – Stacy McCain

              I don’t read Weigel very much, but I don’t see as how he actually does this. From what I can see, the below-radar stuff that Weigel pushes should have stayed below-radar because the underlying matter is either boring or goes nowhere. Why do you see it differently?Report

  2. Avatar David Weigel says:

    My goodness, the Etheridge thing was so stupid — it revealed, mostly, how many people read headline links versus how many read articles. I never got a convincing argument on how 1) describing the video and 2) including it in the post were part of a ploy to minimize what Etheridge did. By the time it went up I was just interested in advancing the story and wondering who did it.Report

    • @David Weigel, For some reason, this comment got lost in our spam filter, but thank you for the clarification, even if it was unnecessary for many of us.

      FWIW, it strikes me as relevant that your job was to cover the Conservative Movement, not maniacal Democratic Congressmen. But you would obviously know better.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus says:

    One of the problems McCain is talking about there is something I see in academia: 1. there need to be more conservatives entering the profession, 2. conservatives have spent decades vilifying the profession. 3. young conservatives are not exactly beating down the door to enter the profession. I don’t think this is the sole reason there are too few conservative journalists, or conservative academics for that matter, but having tried, usually unsuccessfully, to convince bright young conservative undergrads to enter a profession that they’ve heard constantly is far worse than it actually is, I don’t think cons have a great strategy for reforming these institutions.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    Journalism was just another clubby, protected profession until the internet and the Information Age revealed its flaws. Now they will change or go down whining and stomping their feet like brats who’ve been told no. Roll over Dan Rather, and tell NYT the news.Report

  5. Avatar gregiank says:

    I wonder if all the people who have their panties in a bunch about Journolist would also want to see e-mails between Fox and the RNC or the White House.

    The idea of a professional list serv seems pretty anodyne. Oh and get the fainting couch, people say off color things in private, or what they wrongly assume, are private conversations.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      In his article attacking Weigel at the NRO, Jim Geraghty mentions that he’s on a mailing list called Rightblogs, but his mailing list is all about encouraging debate:

      On Journolist – Those of us on the outside can’t help but wonder if it’s how liberal bloggers and major left-of-center voices in the mainstream media work out their message coordination and sort out their differences away from the eyes of the public.

      On Rightblogs – Of course, I think it was just set up as a way for conservative bloggers to talk to each other…

      Excellent reporting! The establishment media is ostracizing Michael Hastings for being too open and honest in breaking the biggest story of the year; and the new media is in a fierce debate over whose private e-mails should be published first. What a brave new world we live in.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        “The establishment media is ostracizing Michael Hastings for being too open and honest…”

        Really? I haven’t heard anything of the sort. The consequences of that whole episode seemed to fall entirely on McChrystal, et al.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          @Koz, I may have overstated how systemic this is, but I was referring to Lara Logan’s response to the story at CBS, where she is chief correspondent: in particular, calling Hastings untrustworthy (“To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just — I don’t believe it.“) a disingenuous reporter (“That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do“) and effectively unpatriotic (“Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has“).

          Given the guarded and neutral tone correspondents usually take, I thought these were very extreme and personal accusations. Logan certainly has clout and I thought this was a very obvious shot at Hastings for breaking unwritten rules and making it difficult for everybody. Sadly, landing an impactful story is no longer the end goal of these rules.Report

    • Avatar Mike Farmer says:

      @gregiank,
      I personally don’t care who has a private email club — that’s not even pertinent really. Plus, this argument style of always claiming that critics of liberals would not also criticize conservatives assumes the world is made up of partisans and no one objectively looks at right and wrong from a nonpartisan viewpoint — this style of argumentation is valid when you ARE dealing with partisans, but it can’t be used to defend against every criticism against liberalism. This is not so much about Journolist as the state of journalism.Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        @Mike Farmer, I think people should be able to have private conversations where they can say whatever they want. Unless there is a police investigation regarding breaking a crime then private should stay private.

        I think guys like briebart are complete partisans who only care about their side winning. there are sadly people who are entirely partisan.Report

        • Avatar Mike Farmer says:

          @gregiank,
          It was one of the list members who leaked the emails. It’s up to the members to protect their own privacy — it’s not our responsibility. If it comes out, it comes out. Breitbart has a right to request the transcripts if someone will provide it. I wouldn’t, unless I had a good reason to believe they are colluding to rig the news, then I’d try to get the transcript to uncover a big story.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @gregiank, I’d *LOVE* to see those too! Additionally: WHO is on it?

      Let it all hang out.Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        @Jaybird, yes you would , but the people who are most upset about jourolist……well i don’t think they want to.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @gregiank, Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

          Let The People learn that, in private, Moe Lane uses the ‘F’ word the way that others use “very”. Let it come out that Jim Geraghty uses the word “definately” unironically. Let it come out that National Review, The Weekly Standard, and that other one are totally incestuous and spin the news to their own twisted and nefarious ends!

          And give us a list of everybody subscribed to “Compuconserve” or whatever it’s called.

          How many surprises do you think would come back to bite the Compuconservatives in the butt?

          Would you bet money that it would be a bigger number of surprises than JournoList holds?Report

          • Avatar gregiank says:

            @Jaybird, Wow. I think people have a right to have private conversations.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @gregiank, if it were merely a bunch of folks hanging and talking about their days, their lives, and their jobs, I agree absolutely.

              If, however, they’re colluding to discuss how they are going to spin news stories and discussing what information they will withhold from *ME* in the process?

              That’s no longer a “private” conversation… any more than Al Gore’s request for a release of his 2nd Chakra was a “private” conversation.

              I suspect, honestly suspect, that one of the things that JournoList was used for was to co-ordinate messages and push particular public policy.

              Does that sound “private” to you?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @gregiank, that said, if it turns out that the list was little more than someone saying “Hey, I don’t know how to statistically analyze this group of numbers” and Nate Silver writing to the list “here’s the mode, here’s the median, and here’s the mode, and the numbers prove/don’t prove what you want”, then… sure. It’s a private conversation and ought be treated as such.

              My suspicion, however, remains that it was collusion to create a narrative.

              How to deal with this? I dunno. The presumption ought to be of innocence… but Dave Weigel’s own leaked emails showed an attempt to hammer out a narrative.

              Hammering out a narrative == Bad.

              It’s a deliberate attempt to mold and shape public attention. These journolists have made themselves the story… and a leak of their emails ought be treated the same way as, say, a leak from the Pentagon or a leak from BP or a leak from a group of Climate Scientists.

              i.e., it’s legit news.Report

            • @gregiank, My thoughts on the propriety of Breitbart’s offer are conflicted at the moment, but the following things strike me as extremely relevant to any discussion here:
              1. Weigel chose Breitbart’s site to explain what happened.
              2. Someone from Journolist leaked Weigel’s e-mails to Drudge for free.
              3. Breitbart does not know the composition of the JournoList, but very badly wants to, along with communications by persons other than Weigel.
              4. To get that information – a selected portion of which was provided for free to Drudge – Breitbart is forced to offer a very large sum of money as a reward.

              I would submit the following conclusions based on the above. First, Weigel was outed for not adequately toeing the party line; if he was outed for the purpose of exposing Journolist as a whole, then Breitbart would not need to offer $100,000 to get all the details on Journolist. Second, why Weigel was outed for not toeing the party line is potentially very newsworthy. Third, Breitbart has information about Journolist that he has not yet disclosed and cannot disclose without burning his source (whose identity is obvious). Fourth, Breitbart gets why Weigel’s style of journalism is valuable, even if BigJournalism’s readers don’t.Report

  6. Avatar gregiank says:

    @jay- so should phone calls be taped or e-mails from anybody in the media by archived? Who is responsible for that? Do bloggers like the LOOG have privacy or are they subject to the same rules? Who gets privacy and who doesn’t?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @gregiank, most corporations have accepted the standard “don’t write anything down that you wouldn’t want read by a Prosecutor to a jury.”

      The problem is that the evidence I’ve seen leaked from JournoList has me seriously wondering if the JournoLists weren’t colluding to create a narrative.

      To what degree ought we protect the privacy of people who are conspiring to collectively deceive us, either by commission or omission?Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        @Jaybird, you do know many of those people worked for their own blogs or private companies. So you think you have a right to see other peoples personal communication. huh wah…. Where do you have a right to know if private citizens are talking about news. Their employers have a right if they used a company account but how to you have that right. So what about the LOOG , do you have a right to all Mark, ED, Scott, etcs e-mails?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @gregiank, it’s the *NATURE* of the communication that makes it, ahem, “newsworthy”.

          There are some things that, by their nature, stop being private even if discussed by two people in a private room… see, for example, Al Gore’s recent alleged misadventures.

          If journalists are colluding to withhold information from stories, that *IS* newsworthy. I honestly don’t see how it’s not.

          And if none of that happened? Great! Yay! Privacy is important!

          If it happened…Report

          • Avatar gregiank says:

            @Jaybird, yeah crimes stop being private. I’m just shocked at how quickly you are willing to dump privacy in the bin. So i’m guessing the LOOG is on notice that we have the right to see their private e-mails between each other.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              @gregiank, If you have trouble sleeping, I can forward you our group emails to read…Report

            • @gregiank, I think there’s a difference between the “right to see private e-mails” and the “right to seek private e-mails.” There is also the separate question of the moral propriety of seeking private e-mails in a particular instance, and then a still additional question of the moral propriety of publishing such e-mails once obtained in a particular instance. Finally, there is the still separate question of whether we should give a rat’s ass what people say in private e-mails in a particular instance.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @gregiank, if the reporters in question are pushing for policies that will result in my getting worse health care, how in the hell is that a “private” issue?

              I understand how “hey, who wants to meet up and play bar trivia at MacAnally’s tonight?” is a private issue. I understand how “I’m having trouble understanding a particular policy” is a private issue.

              I don’t understand how “don’t report this thing, report *THAT* thing, reporting this thing is doing too much damage to (political party)” could *POSSIBLY* be a “private” issue.

              You know. Like with the Edwards story. Or the Gore story.

              What other stories have you not been told, Greg?

              Was it deliberate on the part of the reporters?Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              Jaybird is right. In general, we would like to think that people can commit faux pas in unguarded moments without suffering horribly vindictive retributions. But in this case, we have to consider the broader context. In a metaphorical but still important way, Ezra Klein was the de facto President of the United States for the last two quarters of last year and the first quarter of this year.

              And for him and the rest of net-based liberal core intelligentsia, there has only been bare microns of accountability. Of course, such people should never have gotten the power they did in the first place. But they did and we have to react accordingly, and part of that is applying as much accountability as we can.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Now, here’s MattY on the JournoList:

    yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/06/after-journolist/

    It’s an interesting post and, if accurate, says that the list is pretty much 100% just a buncha just folks shooting the bull and absolutely is entitled to as much privacy as the mailbox in front of your house.

    But… well… Weigel himself discussed what people needed to talk about and not talk about. That’s weird. It gets my hackles up. *THAT* is the stuff that needs sunlight.

    If it’s just a bunch of folks chatting? That’s a privacy issue.
    If it’s a bunch of folks determining what ought to be the focus in upcoming co-ordinated stories? That’s infuriating.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      @Jaybird,

      If it’s a bunch of folks determining what ought to be the focus in upcoming co-ordinated stories?

      Then it’s the Fox News daily staff meeting.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @Mike Schilling, and if Fox News emails were leaked and it came to the fore that, my gosh, they were deliberately withholding pieces of information from The Public while, at the same time, focusing on this angle of the story to the exclusion of others… would that be something that, seriously, you don’t think you have a right to know?Report

        • Avatar gregiank says:

          @Jaybird, well i already know what i think of them from bits i see. And i don’t know why i have a right to see peoples e-mails unless they are doing gov business.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            @gregiank, is reporting on the government doing government business?

            How about pushing for particular government policies as a co-ordinated effort?

            How about attempting to sell the public on particular policies that the government is trying to push through?Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              @Jaybird,
              “is reporting on the government doing government business?” No, its called private business or a personal blog.

              “How about pushing for particular government policies as a co-ordinated effort?”

              I think Reason pushes for certain policies. Lots of groups push for things. Lots of people are open about having beliefs. So what, thats called democracy.

              “How about attempting to sell the public on particular policies that the government is trying to push through?”

              In what world do people who want certain policies still not have some right to privacy. If you write an opinion piece or freaking letter to the editor all of sudden all your communication is open to the public. I think we should be judging journlists primarly based on the product they offer us. they does not mean they cannot or should not be criticized for being to close to the gov or hiring gov shills or whatever. I just don’t why people don’t have a right to private communications.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              @Jaybird,

              No, that’s something many private organizations do. Calling that “government business” amounts to abusing the commerce clause.Report

  8. Avatar gregiank says:

    @rufus- that is what i assume, but it might be good to know if Mark calls his spouse snugglebunny or snookie-wookums.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The truly unprecedented part of this has been The Other McCain standing up for something besides white supremacy.Report

  10. Avatar vintageaccent says:

    The spin on the spin on the spin ignores the seemingly virtuous Klein ‘we don’t allow gov’t employees on Journolist’ very probably had members of Center for American Progress, a Soros funded non-profit on the list serve.

    IIRC, WaPo did an article a while back which indicated that Podesta communicated each morning with the WH. Looks to me like a smoking gun for TP preparation which was quite likely funneled out to JournoList via CAP, either directly on the listserve or posted by a useful tool such as Klein.

    There is a prima facie case that JournoList was trying to shape the message as particular phrases would pop up throughout media coverage on a story- all on the same day. Case in point: Obama sacking McChrystal was ‘brilliant.’ Interesting choice of word.

    All of this looks very suspect: WH communicates w/ CAP who quite probably communicated with JournoList. Makes the fourth estate look like a fifth column. Appears to be a conspiracy and perhaps a RICO violation.

    Sadly, I suspect many of the JournoList members cannot even understand the situation was inappropriate. They may be simply stupid pawns falling prey to memes salted about the blog like diamonds in a dung heap. Surely there is some creed within the journalistic community to not be an utter propaganda tool?

    ‘Pants on the ground, pants on the ground’Report