Team Weigel.

Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel resigned today, after Fishbowl DC and Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller published a series of comments that they deemed unprofessional, partisan and inappropriate, all of which Weigel made on a private listserve.

Now, we all know that supposedly “private” lists often aren’t. So what did Weigel say that was so terrible? [Warning: Racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist language ahead!] Was it something like, “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?” or “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.” or “They’re 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?” or “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back”?

No, those were all Rush Limbaugh, who Weigel criticized on the list.

Did he refer to gays as “the pederast proletariat”? After a Catholic priest criticized anti-Semitism did he respond with “If U.S. Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken. When Cardinal O’Connor of New York seeks to soothe the always irate Elie Wiesel by reassuring him ‘there are many Catholics who are anti-Semitic’…he speaks for himself. Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith”? Did he say that women are not equipped by nature to succeed in the competitive world of Western capitalism? Did he demonize illegal immigrants?

No, that was Pat Buchanan, who Weigel also criticized on the list.

So what did Dave Weigel do on this private listserve that was so terrible? He made an (admittedly tasteless) joke about Rush Limbaugh’s heart failing. He wrote, about covering the Tea Party, “Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes–how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?” He said that the motives behind some Tea Partiers and conservatives were racist and premised on maintaining white privilege. He pointed out that “There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes.” He said about conservative blow-hard Matt Drudge that “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.” He pointed out that the mainstream media suffers from “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.” He said Glenn Beck was racist. He was satisfied and laughing when a right-wing operative who made a career of harassment, intimidation and law-breaking was finally caught breaking into Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. He used the term “ratfuck.”

Someone fetch Republicans the smelling salts.

Now, look. I’m not going to defend all of the language used. I’m not going to defend the sentiments behind all of it — words like “moron” are problematic for reasons we’ve discussed multiple times on this blog, and I’m also not a big fan of hoping that someone dies, no matter how terrible they are. The listserve was specifically created for off-the-record conversations among journalists, and while it’s particularly shitty and unethical that someone leaked these emails, it’s also the reality that things you write online are rarely entirely private. I also understand that Weigel was covering conservatives, and so the argument is that he clearly holds some animus towards them and therefore should be relieved of his duties.

But, all of that said: Why is this a scandal or an issue, exactly? Sure, a lot of what Weigel said isn’t nice. At least some of it is stuff that, had it been left in a comment at Feministe, we would have called out for the language/hoping-people-die stuff. But that’s not what most people are taking issue with here. Rather, the problem seems to be that Weigel had the nerve to use the word “racist” to describe someone who tells a caller he assumes to be black to “take the bone out of your nose and call me back.” The problem seems to be that he had the nerve to use the word “racist” to describe someone like Glenn Beck, who relies on racist dog-whistles to frighten his audience into thinking that President Obama is a “thug” who hates “white culture.” The problem seems to be that he pointed out the fact that the media hones in on right-wing extremists and gives them airtime, because advertisers have an interest in certain positions and so they pony up for O’Reilly and Beck.

What Weigel was doing over that private list was criticizing mainstream media and their presentation of politics. He wasn’t forming some nefarious plot to use his Washington Post column to sneak in a liberal agenda. He wasn’t launching racist attacks on his opponents. Instead, he was calling the right out on their racism, sexism and anti-Semitism. He was calling the mainstream media out on their over-reliance on extreme views to fit the narratives that sell ads. He was questioning the loudest voices, and challenging, even in a private forum, powerful organizations.

He had opinions. Newspaper columnists who write about politics tend to have those.

I mean, Tucker Carlson was one of the people who published Weigel’s emails. TUCKER CARLSON. Not exactly an emblem of journalistic ethics, talent, fairness or objectivity. A dick who is hurting America, if you will. That’s the guy who is pulling the Journalistic Integrity card here? And we’re taking it seriously?

I don’t know Dave Weigel personally. I was not on JournoList. I follow Dave on Twitter, and that’s about the extent of my knowledge of him as a person. But I read his writing — and while I’m a lot more left-leaning than he is (despite all of this coverage, he comes across as a moderate, socially liberal libertarian), I’ve always found him to be fair, to engage in debate in good faith, and to lack the kind of dogmatism that often accompanies the work that political writers do. I don’t always agree with him, but he seems like one of the good ones. He seems like he takes his journalistic obligations seriously. He seems like he treats his ideological opponents fairly (a view that is bolstered, I think, by the numbers of right-of-center writers coming to his defense today). It strikes me as fundamentally unfair that the JournoList comments, which are hardly beyond the pale, led to his resignation. It strikes me as frighteningly poisonous to an open and engaged press to shut out Dave Weigel for (privately even!) calling out racism from white people, while people like Glenn Beck can run around disseminating enormous amounts of misinformation, calling Hillary Clinton a “stereotypical bitch,” promoting racist and anti-Semitic literature and and calling the President a racist mostly because the President is black.

Journalists have opinions. They will have opinions about their beats. Is it a problem to have a super-dogmatic partisan covering certain topics? Sure. But Weigel is a left-ish libertarian. His comments were about specific (and specifically horrific) right-wing commentators, and particularly problematic media practices. For once in my life I actually agree with Ross Douthat, who writes:

The more important point is that no journalistic standard was violated by firing off intemperate e-mails to what’s supposed to be a private e-mail list. Maybe Weigel should have known better than to trust the people on JournoList, and I can certainly understand why once the e-mails were leaked, his ability to cover the conservative movement would be compromised, and a parting of the ways with The Post might seem necessary. But if hitting “send” on pungent e-mails that you assume will be kept private is a breach of journalistic ethics, then there isn’t an ethical journalist in the English-speaking world.

Dave Weigel is a very talented journalist. I have no doubt that he’ll go on to do great things, and that this will hardly be a career-ender. But it’s shameful of the Washington Post, and it’s a shameful commentary on the state of American media.

Good luck, Dave. Don’t let the ratfuckers get you down.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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18 Responses to Team Weigel.

  1. Philip Klein of the American Spectator defends Dave Weigel.

    I’ve disagreed with Weigel on a number of occasions, and have called him out when I’ve felt he’s placed an inordinate amount of focus on fringe characters or extreme statements made by conservatives. But I also know that he isn’t some “drive by” journalist. He knows his subject matter well, reads constantly, goes to lots of conservative events, maintains friendships with conservatives, and talks to a lot of conservatives for his articles and quotes them accurately.

    That doesn’t sound like the partisan hack. Tucker Carlson should know partisan hacks since he is one.

  2. ballgame says:

    Good post, Jill.

  3. A Guy In Denver says:

    The Post isn’t letting him go because they disapprove of the awful things he supposedly said, they’re letting him go because he was supposedly able to cover the conservative movement from a place of understanding. Instead he’s just another left-winger, and they have plenty of those already.

  4. PrettyAmiable says:

    Oh, of course. The “left-winger clause”.

    Holy eff, Jill. How did you forget about the “left-winger clause”?? Also… we need to talk. You see, we already have a lot of liberal feminist bloggers. A lot. What we really need at Feministe is someone like A Guy From Denver. The voice of a marginalized people!

  5. Terry M. says:

    I wanted to comment that Weigel is basically the only person I can think of when I try to imagine a future for shoe-leather journalism.

    Also, Jill, I love the comments on your blog. I especially love the guy who says the only way you can report on the conservative movement is to be a member of the conservative movement. Can I get coverage like that? I mean seriously, the guy wrote for a libertarian magazine and makes fun of Democrats all the time. But because he makes fun of vile/crazy Republicans, he can no longer comprehend conservative thought enough to cover it? Awesome.

  6. Beet says:

    @PrettyAmiable,

    We’ll trade you some relatively unknown liberal, feminist bloggers for some political rock stars like Sarah Palin. I mean, it’s VERY obvious that there is a bias against liberal women in our society. My old employer had it right: “Too threatening [to the established order]”

    @Jill,

    Reichwing people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck aren’t journalists of course. They’re entertainers. But you’re definitely right that having opinions doesn’t violate any journalistic standard of ethics. It’s honesty.

  7. The Amazing Kim says:

    Odd world when calling someone racist is a worst offence than actually being racist.

  8. Jesurgislac says:

    Odd world when calling someone racist is a worst offence than actually being racist.

    The pain of important people is always worse than the pain of unimportant people.

    As has been explained to me, because being a racist is so awful, it’s very wrong to identify white people saying racist things as racist: it’s hurtful to the white people.

    It’s also wrong and bad and wrong and politically dubious to identify straight people saying homophobic things as homophobic or worse yet as homophobic bigots, because they’re not homophobic as they’re not scared of gay people and they don’t hate gay people, they just think men having sex is disgusting, mixed-sex relationships as superior, and they oppose same-sex marriage, etc: these views are normal, they are not homophobic.

    The strategy is to argue that the views being “stigmatized” as bigoted (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc) are not bigoted, they are normal. Someone who calls them out as bigoted must be hooted and hollered down.

    See the attack on Gordon Brown in the recent British elections, after what he believed to be a private comment about a bigoted woman was made public.

  9. A standard of impartiality might be the journalistic ideal, but underneath it, most of us are heavily partisan. I have to say that I myself would find it difficult to cover the conservative movement because I have such distaste for it.

    But in a larger sense, I know there’s a particularly lulling and possibly dangerous sense of false anonymity in the internet, but it has also given me the ability to recognize just how dangerous repression can be. And it’s also let me know that we’re a lot more similar to each other than we often even recognize. If we could ever get to the point where we put our Puritanical programming aside and in so doing really took into account our common humanity, then we’d be getting somewhere. We can’t begin to understand each other so long as we keep our cards clutched tightly to our chests.

  10. Sharon says:

    I have less of a problem with Weigel’s opinions than him suggesting ways reporters can cover their subjects to boost Democrat goals and legislation. Seems to me that Weigel was ratfucked for ratfucking.

  11. PrettyAmiable says:

    Sharon, are you under the impression that Limbaugh doesn’t do the same thing?

  12. PanoramaIsland says:

    I’m with you on this.

    I’m also totally okay with ranting crazily about the people you think are causing The Problems In The World and using clearly hyperbolic language like “DIE IN A FIRE!!!111″ and “go jump off a cliff!!!!!11″

    A world in which we are eternally polite and diplomatic to everyone because we might hurt someone’s feelings somewhere is a world in which we are all very repressed and very, very sad.

    Weigel saw hate and bullshit coming from the right, and (whatever your qualms with this word or that, which may well be problematic) he cussed and fumed about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, cussing and fuming included.

  13. Matt says:

    Jill, this is incredibly well written and a substantively awesome defense of Weigel.

    I have to say that I’m sad to see him leave the Post. He was one of the writers who persuaded me to become a habitual reader of the Post. I’m sure that he’ll continue to do well.

  14. Sharon says:

    Sharon, are you under the impression that Limbaugh doesn’t do the same thing?

    I’m under the impression that Limbaugh isn’t a journalist, doesn’t hold himself out as a journalist nor is he required by the ethics of the journalistic trade to withhold his opinions on world events. And if you have some examples of him saying he wants this or that liberal to die, I’d like to see them.

    Weigel is human and prone to mistakes. Anyone who writes something on the internet is foolish to think it’s ever private. Moreover, Weigel’s work has been defended repeatedly in the past few days by conservatives who considered it to be thoughtful and as close to objective as conservatives can expect fro MSM types (there’s some debate on that). What Weigel’s nasty, childish, vitriolic behavior shows is (a) the paranoid right has reason to be paranoid and (b) no conservative source will be honest with Weigel again. It’s one thing to think this reporter you talk to dislikes conservatives; it’s another to know it.

    The revelation that Weigel is just another leftwinger who thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us wasn’t really a problem. The problem is that the revelation made it impossible for him to perform the duties of his job properly. He’ll land somewhere else and do quite well, but one hopes he learned something useful, and not that “Republicans are ratfuckers.”

    I’m all for a return to jounalism that doesn’t pretend to be objective. Then I’ll know which sources to reward and which to avoid.

  15. William says:

    A standard of impartiality might be the journalistic ideal

    Impartial is not the same as unopinionated. Somehow we’ve come to interpret the ideal of impartiality to be complete neutrality and objectivity as opposed to being a friend to none and a hounder of all.

    The thing that gets me is that Weigel is catching hell for saying in private the kinds of things that great journalists used to (and in many cases still do) say in public. Nothing Weigel said on that listserve was half as venomous as Mencken, Buckley was known to say some fairly foul things in colorful language, and Hitchens still sets himself apart from the rest of the pack by being an absolute (and entertaining) bastard. And thats before we start to talk about people outside the mainstream like Thompson. Hell, some of the stuff printed in Reason is arguably as “bad” as what Weigel was saying on the listserve.

    To me, this looks suspiciously like a hit on a specific journalist who made the wrong people angry and doesn’t have the juice to fend off a backroom attack. Its also very interesting to me that a lot of the comments Weigel made are, well, pretty mild when you consider the broader context of modern journalism. Sure, the big newspapers, newsrooms, and cable channels avoid that kind of passion (at least when it comes to the left and center, the right still gets a pass on pretty much anything so long as they can work in a flag and a grunt about some kind of brown people doing something dangerous) but once you get to any of the alt sources, magazines, or blogs Weigel seems pretty mild.

  16. piny says:

    Somehow we’ve come to interpret the ideal of impartiality to be complete neutrality and objectivity as opposed to being a friend to none and a hounder of all.

    Except, of course, when it comes to telling your television audience that you think that Dubya was damn sexy in his full-metal codpiece.

    This isn’t a standard that people can be held to, especially not people who are political wonks, and especially not in an era where everyone is talking constantly and nobody is talking privately. So long as nobody can make the case that Wiegel reported in a biased way, there’s no scandal here.

  17. piny says:

    The revelation that Weigel is just another leftwinger who thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us wasn’t really a problem. The problem is that the revelation made it impossible for him to perform the duties of his job properly. He’ll land somewhere else and do quite well, but one hopes he learned something useful, and not that “Republicans are ratfuckers.”

    What evidence do you have that he cannot perform his job properly?

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