On Dave Weigel

Dave Weigel is leaving the Washington Post after some creep leaked off-the-record comments he made on a private list-serv. Matthew Yglesias and Adam Serwer  have both written superb blog posts that pretty much say everything that needs to said on the matter. But I want to make a few points that need to be stressed in the strongest possible terms.

1. Dave Weigel is a great reporter who has covered a tough and important subject (the conservative movement) with fairness and intelligence. The real losers in all of this are the readers of the Washington Post, who will no longer benefit from his intelligent and informed reporting.

2. Whoever leaded those private emails is a lowlife. The leaked emails were deliberately choosen in a way to make Weigel look bad and hurt his career.

3. In the back of all this controversy was a kind of conservative identity politics. Some conservatives are upset because Weigel is covering the conservative movement but he’s not part of it. Conservatives usually decry the sort of sort of identy politics that requires only blacks to write about blacks or gays to write about gays, but some conservatives have adopted the same ethos.

4. Every good reporter has private communications — letters, emails, conversations — that make them look opinionated. That’s because any good reporter is a lively and engaged human being with a strong point of view. It’s an absurd form of positivism to require reporters to be a blank slate — no such reporter could possibly exist. The merit of a reporter’s writing is to be judged by whether his or her articles are factually accurate, bring new facts and arguments to light, and advance the conversation on a topic in a meaningful way. By that criteria, Weigel is a superb reporter while some of his critics (notably Jeffrey Goldberg) are far inferior. Yglesias is especially good on this point.

7 thoughts on “On Dave Weigel

  1. Weigel was a daily stop for me. He provided insight into the workings of the conservative movement that I often didn’t see covered elsewhere.

    I liked Yglesias and Serwer’s post, but it was a Politico post linked to by Yglesias that caught my interest:


    I had never read Weigel’s work before his stint at the Post, and once I realized he wasn’t just a conservative touting conservative issues, and was actually at times critical of the movement and the people involved, I was a little surprised. Apparently, so was the Post.

  2. Don’t miss Weigel’s own take on what happened:


    In particular, note how his commentary gives food for thought – and honest self-criticism – to the sorts of liberals on the Journolist (like Mr. Heer) who are now exploiting his case for their own purposes.


    “. I was talking, largely, to liberals who didn’t really know conservatives. So I assumed they thought Hugh Hewitt was “buffoonish.” I said Gingrich had a “screwed-up tenture” because Republicans I admired, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Ok.) and Dick Armey, had serious problems with how Gingrich ran the House.

    But I was cocky, and I got worse. I treated the list like a dive bar, swaggering in and popping off about what was “really” happening out there, and snarking at conservatives. Why did I want these people to like me so much? Why did I assume that I needed to crack wise and rant about people who, usually for no more than five minutes were getting on my nerves? Because I was stupid and arrogant, and needlessly mean.”

    “Why did I want these people to like me so much?” Whatever the answer to that question, evidently stupid, needlessly mean arrogance worked like a charm on Journolist’s liberals – who, as Weigel himself explains, essentially comprise of a self-reinforcing echo chamber.

    Also note that Weigel own self-assessment effectively confirms (“It was the hubris of someone who rose — objectively speaking — a bit too fast, and someone who misunderstood a few things about his trade”) the assessment of Jeffrey Goldberg, whose recent criticisms of Weigel have inspired a predictable round of Goldberg-bashing from Journolist types (meanwhile, Goldberg himself has been admirably self-reflective about the subject in a way one never sees from his critics).

  3. @Ziggy. Weigel’s reflections are interesting but they don’t change my basic argument that it’s absurd for him to have lost his job based on private emails, in fact they make that argument stronger. People are different in different company; we could be one type of person on the job and another type among friends (and who that type is depends on who those friends are). Weigel, as I noted, was completely professional as a reporter.

    The idea that Jeffrey Goldberg is some sort of paragon of self-reflection and thoughtfulness is amusing. Let’s rehearse the well-known facts: in the run-up to the war in Iraq, Goldberg reported in a very respected venue (The New Yorker) that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda and had WMDs. These reports helped solidify public opinion behind the war. Thanks to follow up reporting by others, and also the fact that no WMDs were found in Iraq, we know that Goldberg’s reporting was flawed. Thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead as a result. To this day Goldberg stands by his earlier reports. How’s that for self-reflection?

    For more on Goldberg, see here: http://harpers.org/archive/2006/06/sb-goldbergs-war-1151687978 and here: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/06/27/goldberg

    Finally, I’m loath to say too much about journolist because it was an off-the-record list. But I’ll simply note that it is false to say that everyone on the list was a lock-step liberal. Although everyone was broadly left-of-center, that left a lot of room for disagreement. There were people on journolist who have foreign policy views close to Jeffrey Goldberg. And there were also people like me: ss anyone who knows me knows, I’m not a liberal in any sense of the word.

  4. I actually don’t think that Weigel should have lost his job. I just think that his case is being exploited for dubious purposes. All of the attacks on Goldberg are a case-in-point: Goldberg’s reporting did not really “solidify public opinion behind the war”, and thus, it is not a “result” of his reporting that anyone is dead. Goldberg published a few misguided pieces in the New Yorker, which has never been a bellwether of American public opinion. It may have influenced a bit of elite opinion which may have in turn influenced public opinion, but that is the responsibility primarily of the elites, which they are now trying to shirk by scapegoating. A good example of this is the aforementioned Yglesias, who was once a drum-beating war blogger. In one of his few posts about his past Yglesias blamed his old war blogging on the fact that various liberal authority figures were behind the war. In other words: he’s not really responsible for anything. Yglesias isn’t respected by other liberals because he owns his own positions so much as that he rabidly adopts whatever the going position is. That’s why you see so many of this liberal posts about Weigel turning into tangential score-settling, e.g., against Goldberg: there’s a simple pack mentality (note that I never claimed that Goldberg was a “paragon” of anything, and thus never cited his Iraq war writings as an example; I cited his writings on the Weigel affair, which amount to a candid, step-by-step evolution of his opinion on the matter).

    I would also note that although you claim that Weigel was “completely professional as a reporter”, he evidently disagrees: “[N]o serious journalist — as I want to be, as I am — should be so rude about the people he covers.” Those are his last words. So whatever sort of journalism it is that Weigel is being portrayed as a martyr for, it actually is not the sort of journalism which you are endorsing. So I just say that his case is being exploited by others for their own purposes.

  5. @Ziggy. Well, I think Dave is being too apologetic. The idea that reporters never make rude private comments about the people they write about is absurd, at least in my experience of reporters. I’ve met reporters who make nothing but rude comments. No one has shown that Weigel’s reporting was flawed in any serious way. This stands in contrast to Goldberg, who, as I noted before, made serious errors about issues of real import.

    I’ll also add that you underestimate the influence of the New Yorker. Virtually every journalist I’ve ever met reads the New Yorker and it’s very trusted. The fact that the New Yorker published an article supporting the idea that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda had a huge impact in the journalistic world, which in turn helped shape public opinion. Along with Judy Miller and one or two others, Goldberg was the reporter most responsible for making Americans think that there was a credible case for war.

    Matt Yglesias was 21 or 22 years old when he wrote his blog posts in support of the Iraq war. He was wrong and should be more apologetic, but the blog posts of a 21 year old didn’t have the same impact as reports that ran in the New Yorker or the New York Times.

    And the fact that Yglesias supported the war also goes against the idea that journolist was a forum for liberal group-think, since I was an opponent of the war. The writers on journolist were in fact deeply divided on many of the major issues of the day — notably the wars in the middle east, democracy promotion as a foreign policy goal, Israel/Palestine, affirmative action, economic reform, which baseball team to support, etc.

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