1) Weigel is a fine reporter. He writes intelligently and insightfully about the conservative world. If somebody is doing his job, he should keep it. Now we learn that Weigel was dismissive and disparaging about some of the people he covered in what he thought was private conversation. OK, unwise of him to trust the confidentiality of a 400-person listserve. But would anybody demand that a reporter covering Wall Street admire all his subjects? Congress? It’s a theoretically interesting question: can you provide fair coverage to people you may inwardly dislike? Weigel answered that question in his work: yes.
2) Ezra Klein’s JournoList was a disaster waiting to happen. I can understand why a reporter would wish to read what was posted there, but participating in closed lists is a bad idea for any writer. The idea that likeminded journalists would engage in formalized pre-discussions amongst ideologically like-minded people before publishing for the broad public is a formula for group-think. Genuinely private discussion via email is one thing. Coordination among colleagues: very different. Coordination seems to have been the purpose of JournoList from the start. It created “secret editors” to whom journalists privately reported, different from and undisclosed to their actual editors. That seems to me a genuinely sinister enterprise, a disservice to readers and corrupting of the participants in the list themselves.
3) First McChrystal, now Weigel. Not to equate a national hero and a promising young writer but there is this one commonality: both stumbled over the ever-greater vulnerability of private remarks to public report. The people at Facebook are right: We’re all going to enjoy less privacy in future. There are two obvious responses to that change. Either we all turn into tight-lipped self-protecting careerists in every waking hour, never emitting an untoward remark, never repeating an improper joke – or else we’re all going to have to develop a much greater tolerance for normal human indiscretion, sarcasm, flippancy and political incorrectness. We all know that people sometimes ventilate in private. They say things in the moment that do not reflect their considered or settled opinion. They are uncharitable, irritable, sarcastic, over-emphatic. If those remarks can appear in public at any time, as it seems they can, we all need to develop some new willingness to judge the careless words of others as we would wish to have our own careless words judged.
4) Weigel’s private comments confirm what is obvious from his writing: he is not a member and supporter of the conservative movement. He’s a critical but knowledgeable outsider. Some see that as a disqualification for his job as a writer. Some even suggest that the only way to cover conservatism “fairly” would be to hire a committed conservative. Thus blogger John Hawkins:
Here we have a leftward leaning Libertarian writing a column called ”Inside the conservative movement and Republican Party with Dave Weigel.” Except Weigel isn’t a conservative, he isn’t a Republican, and he relentlessly runs down Republicans and the conservative movement.
You may say: Well who cares what John Hawkins think? Reasonable point – except that Hawkins is the person entrusted by Google to determine who may join the conservative blogads cloud. (Disclosure: He decided that FrumForum could not participate. We no longer qualified as conservatives because we had criticized other conservatives, particularly Rush Limbaugh.)
The challenge a paper like the Post would have if it hired a conservative to blog about conservatism is that such a person would be subject to tremendous pressure – might well feel personally obliged – to provide PR, not coverage. A lot of crazy things are happening inside the conservative world today. These are not marginal or unimportant things either. Ron Paul won the CPAC straw ballot. Glenn Beck was CPAC’s keynote speaker. This is a movement in moral and intellectual crisis. Yet it’s very difficult and even dangerous for a committed conservative to acknowledge that crisis or to write about the crisis without excuse or apologetics. Weigel did just that, and very successfully. He is no Max Blumenthal, a self-identified ideological counter-warrior bent on harassing and humiliating those who disagree with him. He is a sympathetic and skeptical outsider, as the best reporters almost always are.