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The Court Eunuch Standard of Blogging Exposed by Dave Weigel’s Resignation

As many may be aware, Dave Weigel, a reporter for the Washington Post resigned after emails to a private listserv called Journolist were publicly released.  These are the things he wrote which cost him his job:

•”This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

•”Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

•”I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

•”It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”

I’ve spent some time reading around the web, and the main criticism of Weigel seems to be that he wasn’t impartial: not only didn’t he like the right wing folks he was covering, he despised them.

This is exactly what is wrong with US journalism.  The responsibility of reporters is not to be “impartial”, their responsibility is to tell the truth.  Should reporters have been unmoved by the fact that that America was torturing people?  Should that not bother them as people?  S Should they be unmoved by the fact that Bush sold a war based on lies, and millions of people were displaced, killed and injured as a result?

Is that we want?  Sociopaths who have no personal opinions?

Weigel isn’t being attacked because he wrote anything in his public work which wasn’t true, because he didn’t write any such thing.  As Friedersdorf writes, his public work was of the highest quality and that should be the only thing which matters.

I’ll defend to death, however, the proposition that the work of a journalist should be the only standard by which he is measured. Mr. Weigel’s work is superb: he breaks news, his foremost loyalty is to the facts, and he reliably treats fairly even folks with whom he very much disagrees…

…Firing Dave Weigel incentivizes more digging into the personal opinions of journalists, and validates the idea that they should be judged on the basis of those opinions, rather than the content of their work. What’s next? E-mails sent to a few people and leaked? Opinions offered at a bar over beers and surreptitiously recorded? Can I reiterate how glad I am to have moved away from Washington DC? (You should hear what I say about De Beers in private!)

If you taped everyone’s conversations, and intercepted all their emails, the very few people who could not be hung by their own words, who have never said anything that doesn’t sound bad, are exactly the people you don’t want as reporters or bloggers.

People who are either so self-controlled they never say anything intemperate, or so passionless they have no beliefs that get them riled up are the sort of folks who have nothing useful to say: the sort of folks who don’t challenge a President who wants to attack a country which never attacked the US, has nothing to do with 9/11 and has no weapons of mass destruction.

This standard, the “court eunuch” standard, is exactly why you have a press corp that is worthless for holding those in power responsible.  People with no strong beliefs, or whose ambition or fear is so great they never express those standards strongly, are the sort of people who know that bucking a President isn’t good for your career, and so who cares of hundreds of thousands of people die because you’re a gutless careerist?


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  1. Ian writes:

    Is that we want? Sociopaths who have no personal opinions?

    Simple answers to simple questions:


    For some definition of “we,” that is.

  2. >>People with no strong beliefs, or whose ambition or fear is so great they never express those standards strongly

    Hard to tell whether you’re talking about the media or our political so-called leaders.

    Carolyn Kay

  3. Tom Hickey

    This is not playing out well for the Post. They hired young people like Exra Kline and Dave Weigel because they know they have to appeal to youth as well as the DC Establishment if they are going to prosper in the coming years, when print will be increasingly under the gun profit-wise. Their business model is collapsing.

    Firing Weigel like this is incredibly stupid and it will cost them big in demographic market share. They are coming to be perceived not as a competitor of the times but of the WSJ and other Murdoch properties.

    Talk about tarnishing the brand. Incredibly stupid, in addition to revealing the true nature of US mainstream journalism. Eunuchs, indeed.

    Now Rolling Stone on the other hand…..

  4. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, Rolling Stone is doing amazingly well. Another magazine that you’d never expect to write important stories which does is Vanity Fair.

    Anywhere except mainstream newspapers, it seems…

  5. beowulf

    Nahh, I blame Ezra Klein. Journolist is a bad idea. The idea that anyone would write something under their real name on a listserv of any kind and not considering it publication is just D-U-M dumb. Heck, look at that Harvard law student who got hammered for what she wrote in an private email, a listserv with hundreds or thousands of recipients– geez, he might as well cc’ed Katharine Weymouth. You’re responsible for what you write and if you don’t want your words available to anyone who googles your name, use a pseudonym.

    David is known as a Washington Post writer, if he publishes something under his own name that his employer (Ms. Weymouth) may disapprove of, he shouldn’t be surprised if there are consequences. If he doesn’t like that, there are plenty of jobs outside of journalism where they don’t care what you write on your own time….. but then he wouldn’t be on journolist in the first place… so yeah, I blame Ezra.

  6. anon2525

    … the main criticism of Weigel seems to be that he wasn’t impartial…

    This is exactly what is wrong with US journalism. The responsibility of reporters is not to be “impartial”, their responsibility is to tell the truth.

    1) The claim that Weigel* was impartial is classic WaPo/NPR propaganda that they throw out whenever they want to criticize someone whose statements they don’t agree with, just as they’ll use “fiscal irresponsibility” to criticize anyone whose economic policy does not benefit them.

    2) To be impartial is to tell the truth. To be impartial is to write that “Earth is round, not flat.” To be “impartial” is to write “Views on Earth’s shape differ.” It’s the ongoing battle for language. We’re Orwell’s warriors.

    3) WaPo/NPR/Time/NYT/Newsweek/TV Networks have zero claim to impartiality at this point. (My departure from them started with the Lewinsky affair and was finalized with the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.)

    4) What is wrong with American journalism is not simply that reporters are required to be “impartial.” More deeply, it is that news editors no longer do their job. The job of the news editor is to look out at the events of the hour/day/week and use their judgment about history/politics/economics and decide (for their readers who are busy with other jobs) what should be reported as “news”, that is, filter through all of the events and attempt to discern what is really occurring with some perspective. They have failed at this and are now attempting to push on us their view of what they want to happen, while claiming that they are impartial, that is, stating what is happening.

    Two famous, egregious examples of this are the reporting of Walter Pincus at WaPo during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, which was moved off the front page(s) so that the neocon agenda could be “reported,” and the “reporting” of Judy Miller at the NYT, which was moved on to the front pages for the same neocon agenda. That was followed up with the defense of Miller during the Libby trial, showing that the editor at the NYT had learned nothing.

    5) This has lead to the problem that we, the adults who need to be informed in order to make decisions about governing, have today: How do we get news about what is going on given that we now have to do the news editor job? (I’m hoping that Ian Welsh will add a new tag, “How to stay informed” or something similar to his “How to Think” tag.)

    *I have no idea who this guy Weigel is, by the way.

  7. Oaktown Girl

    Is that we want? Sociopaths who have no personal opinions?

    Well of course. That way they can better serve their corporate overlords. And as we all know, corporations do indeed meet the criteria for the clinical definition of “sociopath”.

    I also liked what Amanda had to say:

    But there’s nothing incorrect about the point that Dave was making—Matt Drudge is a fucked up person, and everyone knows it. He’s a creepy little twerp whose “politics” spring less from any coherent belief system and more a combination of sadism and attention-whoring. (snip) People who use Drudge for leads should be ashamed of themselves. Anyone who defends him should eat a shit sandwich in shame.


    Nothing has really driven home to me how immature supposedly grown people can be like this bullshit over Journolist. I like gossip as much as the next person, but for fuck’s sake, have some perspective. There’s a gusher of oil under the Gulf of Mexico, people coming home in body bags, and an increasingly alarming turn to the violent and wacked-out in the conservative movement. And people are going to shit their pants because someone talked shit on a listserv? Are you fucking kidding me?
    That is all. Fuck me, this whole thing is the stupidest round of bullshit I’ve seen in a long ass time.

    There’s no “preview” button, so in case my attempt at html didn’t work, here’s the link to that:

  8. Celsius 233

    I’d love the idea that some of my words evoked enough emotion to want me hung by some stupid retards. Er, I mean right wingnuts.

  9. b.

    That’s the Kagan nomination, in a nutshell. Judges are eunuchs just as the media, for similar reasons.

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