David Weigel provides a demonstration of how nothing on the web is really private–even on closed lists where such privacy is assumed. Weigel is a left libertarian whose views of the right wing seem to be similar to my own. It is not so much their views which repel myself and I believe Weigel, but that their actual policy positions turn out to be quite different from their limited government rhetoric. On top of that, there is the anti-intellectualism, adherence to conspiracy theories and revisionist history, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism which, while not true of everyone on the right, is far too common for comfort.
Weigel was hired to cover the right wing for The Washington Post to some degree I did question a major newspaper hiring him for such a position, suspecting from the start that his views might give conservatives more fuel for their attacks on the imaginary “liberal media.”
If this was the outcome, it wasn’t because of any unfair bias being displayed in Weigel’s work. Even some conservatives were supportive of Weigel, such as at The American Spectator:
To start with, it’s important to note that all of the comments at the center of the recent uproar were made on a private email list that was supposed to be off the record. Just for a moment, think of the things that you’d say if you were joking or venting anger among friends, and imagine if they became public with context removed. If everything we said privately were public, I wonder how many of us would be able to maintain jobs or friendships. Weigel is being attacked for writing that the world would be better if Matt Drudge could “set himself on fire.” But people make off hand remarks like that all the time without literally wishing bodily harm upon other humans.
This and other private comments by Weigel have contributed to the charge that he’s hostile toward conservatives and a standard issue liberal, but I don’t think that’s accurate. I could just as easily report on private conversations in which he’s revealed a fondness for Ronald Reagan, a willingness to vote for Bobby Jindal as president, and agreed that Van Jones should have been fired for his 9/11 trutherism. Plus, it should be noted that in the past, he’s even contributed to the American Spectator.
It should also be noted that he went on Keith Olbermann’s show and shot down a story about Sarah Palin committing perjury that had been lighting up the liberal blogs and defended Cato’s Michael Cannon against a “dishonest and unfair hit” by the Center for American Progress.
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.
Weigel’s resignation came not as a result of any signs of bias in his work but because of comments written on Journolist, a private email list, which were leaked. Unfortunately Weigel probably saw his comments as being the equivalent of private conservation when in reality any comments made on line can wind up being as public as anything posted on a blog.
It is unfortunate that Weigel is no longer at The Washington Post, but I am confident that he will find other sources to write for. I certainly hope so as we certainly need voices like his to help counter all the ignorance, hatred, and misinformation being spread by the authoritarian right.