Is there any such thing as “off the record”?; Update: Weigel resigns

posted at 12:15 pm on June 25, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

One of the toughest lessons to learn in business, and in media relations, is that written communications will never be entirely secure or private.  In the corporate world, I had to learn that lesson the hard way — that my e-mails and messages would get forwarded without my knowledge or permission, and that whatever I thought I had said in private could become public at any time.  Over the same period, roughly that of my entire adult life, I have also had to learn the hard way that ill-considered eruptions of anger would also become public eventually, and that angry responses to e-mail and to events around me may prove satisfying in the moment but lead to headaches and regrets in the future, and usually in the near future.

Of course, I didn’t commit my many missteps among colleagues who supposedly understood the concept of “off the record” as a core principle, either, as Dave Weigel believed in his interactions with Journolist, the “secret” liberal listserv conclave.  The participants are supposed to keep the communications private, but someone leaked Weigel’s incendiary entries to the Daily Caller, and they’re not pretty:

Weigel was hired this spring by the Post to cover the conservative movement. Almost from the beginning there have been complaints that his coverage betrays a personal animus toward conservatives.  Emails obtained by the Daily Caller suggest those complaints have merit.

“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?” Weigel lamented in one February email.

In other posts, Weigel describes conservatives as using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” According to Weigel, their motives include “racism” and protecting “white privilege,” and for some of the top conservatives in D.C., a nihilistic thirst for power. …

Republicans? “Ratfucking [Obama] on every bill.” Palin?  Tried to “ratfuck” a moderate Republican in a contentious primary in New York. Limbaugh? Used “ratfucking tactics” in urging Republican activists to vote for Hillary Clinton in open primaries after Obama had all but beat her for the Democratic nomination.

The term “ratfucking,” for those who don’t know, refers to dirty tricks in a political campaign.  It’s hard to understand its usage here, since opposition to bills in Congress hardly amounts to dirty tricks.  Rush’s “Operation Chaos” may have been an attempt to get an outcome Rush desired, but since New York has open primaries, it’s not a dirty trick to vote in the opposite party’s primary.  If New York didn’t like that, they would vote to close their primaries instead.

This seems more like projection:

Right wing “memes” begin in “ WND/FreeRepublic/talk radio swamps,” Weigel wrote, referring to conservative websites World Net Daily and Free Republic. Sometimes, they spread like a virus into liberal sites, a fact that clearly upsets Weigel.

Given the previous coverage of the JournoList last year, that’s a little bit ironic.  The private association of liberal journalists first came to light when Michael Calderone noted that it had influence over news coverage at traditional media outlets:

But some of the journalists who participate in the online discussion say — off the record, of course — that it has been a great help in their work. On the record, The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin acknowledged that a Talk of the Town piece — he won’t say which one — got its start in part via a conversation on JournoList. And JLister Eric Alterman, The Nation writer and CUNY professor, said he’s seen discussions that start on the list seep into the world beyond.

“I’m very lazy about writing when I’m not getting paid,” Alterman said. “So if I take the trouble to write something in any detail on the list, I tend to cannibalize it. It doesn’t surprise me when I see things on the list on people’s blogs.”

For his part, Weigel has apologized in public (and in private) for his remarks in a blog post yesterday:

I’m a member of an off-the-record list-serv called “Journolist,” founded by my colleague Ezra Klein. Last Monday, I was deluged with angry e-mail after posting a story about Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) that was linked by the Drudge Report with a headline intimating that I defended his roughing-up of a young man with a camera; after this, the Washington Examiner posted a gossip item about my dancing at a friend’s wedding. Unwisely, I lashed out to Journolist, which I’ve come to view as a place to talk bluntly to friends.

Below the fold are quotes from me e-mailing the list that day — quotes that I’m told a gossip Web site will post today. I apologize for much of what I wrote, and apologize to readers.

I should note that Dave and I are on friendly terms, and he appeared on my show this week to talk more about the flap over his Etheridge reporting.  That criticism had a little more merit than his JournoList commentary, since it had to do with his actual reporting and not his conversations among friends and colleagues not intended for public consumption.  Most of these comments are fairly laughable and I’m certain routine in parlor discussions on the Left.  What matters, as Dave says, is his reporting, although it’s fair to say that this kind of exposure of his attitudes towards the Right won’t help build credibility for his reporting on conservative politics, which is his beat for the Washington Post.

That’s why I wonder why someone on JournoList decided to leak Weigel’s commentary.  Dave is hardly the most high-profile contributor on JournoList (well, before today), and he seems a strange choice for someone’s animus.  His incendiary comments certainly are sensational, but that’s about the only thing about them that makes them at all pertinent — unless someone on JournoList doesn’t like the fact that the Washington Post is focusing on conservative issues in any way, shape, or form.  While I don’t think Dave has been unduly hostile in his reporting, he’s not exactly been cuddling up to the Right, either, but that may not be enough for someone on JournoList.  Or, conversely, it could be a JournoList member with more sympathy towards conservatives than his colleagues suspect that has objections to Dave’s coverage of the Right.   Either way, it’s hardly a fair way to go about criticizing the work Dave does.

Perhaps the Post should reconsider this idea anyway.  Having an anthropological study of conservatives, such as Dave provides, would work if the Post had a similar anthropological look at liberals from someone on the outside to balance it.  As it stands, however, Post readers get a Conservatives In The Mist approach that seems to predicate itself on the belief that they can’t figure conservatives and conservatism out for themselves.  That’s not a reflection on Dave, but a criticism of the editorial decision to pursue a one-sided strategy of critical analysis at the Post.

Meanwhile, this is yet another lesson that written communications will only be as “off the record” as one’s antagonists want to leave them.

Update: This is unfortunate:

After WaPo conservative-beat blogger Dave Weigel‘s anti-conservative comments surfaced on FishbowlDC and Daily Caller over the past two days, the Washington Post has confirmed that Weigel offered his resignation this morning.

I’m actually surprised and disappointed that the Post didn’t do more to defend Dave in this instance.  The real problem, as I note above, is the lack of balance in the paper’s approach, and not any of the reporting that Weigel has done.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2 3 4

If you go to the Post for your Conservative commentary then you deserve no better than Weigel.

Hardly shocking that the Post’s token Conservative is not one.

Spider79 on June 25, 2010 at 11:29 PM

>>I’m actually surprised and disappointed that the Post didn’t do more to defend Dave in this instance.

Ed, you’re surprised? Why? As you correctly point out, this reflects as badly (or more) on Post management as it does on Weigel. Of course Post management is gonna throw Weigel under the bus!

Glenside on June 26, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Journolist is shutting down. Delete archives. Maaaaaan, I’d love to see those discussions dating from after August 29, 2008.

ddrintn on June 25, 2010 at 11:11 PM

Oh, not to worry. They’ll just dismantle the clubhouse, rebuild it in a new tree, slap a coat of paint on it and change the secret handshake, and they’ll be right back in business wishing all conservatives would just DIAF.

Gator Country on June 26, 2010 at 12:10 AM

It’s funny, Ed, because I was thinking that the WaPo should hire you to replace Dave. After all, your current job requires you to know the conservative blogosphere, you’re not anonymous (hi AP :-) ), and you’re actually a conservative. :-)

Of course, that last part is why they won’t actually do it. The last thing they want is someone who actually things well of conservatives.

Greg Q on June 26, 2010 at 1:37 AM

However, in your case, you might want to consider changing the “L” to “C” as “cackling your as.. off” would likely be more appropriate.

Rod on June 25, 2010 at 11:10 PM

Gee, Rod! Why am I so UNsurprised that you omitted most of my comment, and you didn’t actually address any of the points I made? Pretty pathetic, pal.

JannyMae on June 26, 2010 at 1:47 AM

I used to think that the WaPo was the more serious and weighty paper, that the NYT was the more ideological and driven cheerleader for the Dems.

Boy was I foolish. I won’t make that mistake again.

victor82 on June 25, 2010 at 8:00 PM

They used to be. Ever since Politico took off I think they feel highly threatened, they aren’t the only game in town for inside the Beltway reportage. Politico sounds new, shiny & in the know, like they have all the inside scoops, places like DNCTV have them on to do the ‘Playbook’ each morning to get the inside scoop, not WaPo reporters.

That seems to be when they decided to go to online only content, but instead of doing what Politico did, get actual experienced reporters, they went with the just out of diapers crowd who seem to view life & journalism as a frat party. Hiring people off opinion journals and instead of putting them in a cub reporter role, give them a huge microphone – which matches their egos – and let them become a signature of the Post.

lizzie beth on June 26, 2010 at 3:16 AM

LOL.

Man Ed…..are you for real?

I’ve rarely seen such unabashed naivete on display.

It should have been obvious to anyone for quite awhile that Weigel was a first class ****head and snake. Quite the little punk, even for a business full of them.

No mention of how Weigel tried to influence other journalists on that listserv regarding their assignments of doing an objective analysis of certain events. He tried to influence them, not on the grounds that their analyses were faulty, but rather that they were to unfriendly to the Democratic Party. Great journalism there.

That little detail was mentioned by Karl in his much more astute analysis, on a Green Room post.

Change the meme, otherwise the Republicans might take over Congress!!! Yikes!!!

Who dropped a dime on him? Easy. Who had the most to gain? Somebody from the Times of course. Take out a competitor. It’s as simple as that, I’d be willing to wager.

Wake up. The “culture”, (Media, Arts, Social Science Academia, the NGOs, and the mid-level policy-making bureaucracy) is even more stacked against you than you thought. Which is saying something. The whole idea of Weigel’s column/blog/whatever-it-was is ample demonstration of that. Why any conservative would cooperate, even peripherally, with such an condescending and ridiculous undertaking, is beyond me.

Dreadnought on June 26, 2010 at 3:28 AM

You know, this was a major victory for the truth today and a reason for conservatives to celebrate. Ed is the only “conservative” who could possibly say this was “unfortuneate”. Ed, I think you’ll never live this down.

-Aslan’s Girl

Aslans Girl on June 26, 2010 at 5:16 AM

Ed and Stacy McCain have fallen into the trap of liking a guy personally and believing that somehow their honor requires they defend him no matter what. It doesn’t, of course, and they are both making fools of themselves trying.
`
Read the damn emails. Oh, sure, they are “taken out of context” or “intended for a narrow audience,” but does that make them more or less sincere or more or less vile? In what possible context is hoping for Limbaugh or Drudge’s death not a reprehensible thing?
`
Instead, for the conservative defenders of Weigel, this should be a wake-up call. Your leftist friends are NOT your friends. If their side had their way, they would be denouncing you to the thought police. Don’t doubt it for a second.

Adjoran on June 26, 2010 at 6:16 AM

Just in case anyone missed it…

Wanna see the contempt Weigel feels for conservatives? Check out the email quotes reported by the Daily Caller:
June 26, 2010
E-mails reveal Post reporter savaging conservatives, rooting for Democrats

petefrt on June 26, 2010 at 7:12 AM

Gee, Rod! Why am I so UNsurprised that you omitted most of my comment, and you didn’t actually address any of the points I made? Pretty pathetic, pal.

JannyMae on June 26, 2010 at 1:47 AM

I’m sorry. You had a point??

Would that be, “Those that utter kind words about the enemy shall cause gnashing of teeth and rending of garments amongst the ideologues”?

If that was it then … we agree! And this thread is proof positive of that statement.

Other than that, you don’t have the right to call me pathetic: Only my wife can say that … which she does … frequently.

Oh, and I’m not your “pal”. That’s reserved for my dog … who, now that I think about it, you bear an uncanny resem …. never mind.

Rod on June 26, 2010 at 7:15 AM

Your leftist friends are NOT your friends. If their side had their way, they would be denouncing you to the thought police. Don’t doubt it for a second.

Adjoran on June 26, 2010 at 6:16 AM

Amen to that!

chai on June 26, 2010 at 7:20 AM

He made his living smearing conservatives under the guise of journalism. May all like him meet the same fate.

WannabeAnglican on June 25, 2010 at 2:58 PM

Weigel might be the poster boy for LSM’s much ballyhooed “objective journalism”, righteously masquerading as unbiased whilst pushing a leftist agenda

petefrt on June 26, 2010 at 7:26 AM

Weigel might be the poster boy for LSM’s much ballyhooed “objective journalism”, righteously masquerading as unbiased whilst pushing a leftist agenda

petefrt on June 26, 2010 at 7:26 AM

He’s the smoking gun, a complete on man clinical study in leftwing media demagoguing and systematic manipulation.

the_nile on June 26, 2010 at 7:32 AM

This whole episode reveals as much about our “conservative journalist” in and around DC as it does Weigel himself. I must say, I have even less trust now in the people who write and cover our side, this site certainly not withstanding.

I’ve heard Rush call Ed an “old friend” before. He consistantly sites his work on the radio and has interviewed Ed in the Limbaugh Letter… I take it that they are friends. If some poser said that about my friends, the last thing I’m gonna do is defend him.

My disdain for “journalist” grows more each day.

Big Orange on June 26, 2010 at 8:35 AM

I think this little Metro-D.C. fairy is a jerk, too, guys…but you should abandon the meme that he was a liberal journalist and therefore a plant or something.

He was a gossip columnist covering conservatives. That’s what his blog was all about, and while I don’t the stupid Washington Post I don’t think they were advertising this column as “journalism”. Wrong tree.

Jaibones on June 26, 2010 at 9:15 AM

and you’re actually a conservative

Man Ed…..are you for real?
I’ve rarely seen such unabashed naivete on display

.

It’s not naivete, ed wants to be in their club.

Ed is the only “conservative” who could possibly say this was “unfortuneate”. Ed, I think you’ll never live this down.

ed is a squishy, he’d prefer to be considered enlightened. He spends his time sitting on the fence. And everyone seems to forget how quickly he threw Michelle Bachmann under the bus when chris matthews ambushed her.

into the trap of liking wanting to be in the same club as a guy

Either way, it’s hardly a fair way to go about criticizing the work Dave does.

ed thinks a propagandist who slips up and blatantly shows his true colors is a victim.

peacenprosperity on June 26, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Journolist is shutting down. Delete archives. Maaaaaan, I’d love to see those discussions dating from after August 29, 2008.

ddrintn on June 25, 2010 at 11:11 PM

Don’t worry, you effectively did, minus the expletives and uncontrolled snark. The MFM repeated it every day well past Nov. 4.

Makes we wonder how many conservative bloggers are really conservatives? Its certainly just as possible to infiltrate the blogosphere and cunningly undermine “fringe wingnuttery” in favor of more establishment or progressive memes. hmmmmm.

Firefly_76 on June 26, 2010 at 9:48 AM

So everyone who wants smaller government is a racist trying to protect white privilege?

Paul-Cincy on June 26, 2010 at 9:50 AM

I don’t think they were advertising this column as “journalism”.
Jaibones on June 26, 2010 at 9:15 AM

I guess how WaPo represented his column is the issue, at least according to the WaPo ombudsman…

Andy Alexander / Ombudsman Blog:
Blogger loses job; Post loses standing among conservatives

But his departure also raises questions about whether The Post has adequately defined the role of bloggers like Weigel. Are they neutral reporters or ideologues?

And, given the disdainful comments in his e-mails, there is the separate question of whether he was miscast from the outset when he was hired earlier this year.

petefrt on June 26, 2010 at 9:57 AM

So everyone who wants smaller government is a racist trying to protect white privilege?

Paul-Cincy on June 26, 2010 at 9:50 AM

They sure are! Have you not read “Unpacking The Knapsack Of White Privilege” by Peggy wass-er-face or attended one of Tim Wise’s many college talks? White privilege is as much a threat to humanity as global warming! That’s why there should be a UN commission to investigate the Tea Party!

Sharke on June 26, 2010 at 10:06 AM

I think this little Metro-D.C. fairy is a jerk, too, guys…but you should abandon the meme that he was a liberal journalist and therefore a plant or something.

He was a gossip columnist covering conservatives. That’s what his blog was all about, and while I don’t the stupid Washington Post I don’t think they were advertising this column as “journalism”. Wrong tree.

Jaibones on June 26, 2010 at 9:15 AM

If you read his emails you’ll see that he was a scheming plant. There’s no excuses for his doublespeak. He and his cabal are everything what’s wrong with journalism today.

the_nile on June 26, 2010 at 10:12 AM

How many romance novels are filled with liberal heroes? Um, none. Seeing a picture of that weasel confirmed for me what I know about liberal vs. conservative men–and I’m not talking about physical appearance. It’s the duplicity in his eyes.

He shows up on the doorstep for a date with my daughter, my husband sprays him with the fire extinguisher–guaranteed. He looks smarmy.

Grace_is_sufficient on June 26, 2010 at 10:20 AM

It’s not naivete, ed wants to be in their club.
peacenprosperity

Correct. You can just feel AP and Ed’s desperation in wanting to be one of the cool kids. Neither has made secret their longing for recognition and approval from the Journolista-types. Even if it means making excuses for a pathological liar-bestest friend forever:

Just One Minute – “Widely Unremarked In The Weigel Debacle”

On the other hand I’m glad that the fringe-left media is so mightily internet-dumb they actually believe their psychotic rantings on a Google list-serv were secret. There’s a reason it’s called the “World Wide Web”. Incredibly, but thankfully, they are amazingly stupid people.

whatcat on June 26, 2010 at 11:35 AM

I’m actually surprised and disappointed that the Post didn’t do more to defend Dave in this instance. The real problem, as I note above, is the lack of balance in the paper’s approach, and not any of the reporting that Weigel has done.

I have to disagree with you here, Ed. This is the blind-squirrel WaPo finding a nut. What little credibility Weigel had was completely wasted when these emails came out. Letting him go was the easiest call the Post will make all year.

I do agree with you with regards to the WaPo needing balance if they’re going to dabble in this sort of “reporting”, though.

holygoat on June 26, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Years ago, I learned, “never write anything in a fanzine (or mailing list or electronic newsgroup or anything that can be handed to any third party) that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

It’s true.

And don’t be too sure about your ability to control the distribution of your spoken words.

As a result, regardless of the privacy settings on my Facebook page, I assume everything I write is public.

karl_lembke on June 26, 2010 at 12:18 PM

By George, I think I’ve got it!
`
`

Stacy McCain, Ed Morrissey, and David Frum all rush to defend the conservative-hating leftist kid . . . hmmm, they are all about the same age, roughly a generation older than Weigel . . . this could be a candid camera lead-in to that red-hot Beltway game show hit, “Who De Baby Daddy?” (or, possibly, the bathhouse cult classic film, “Four in a Hot Tub”).

Adjoran on June 26, 2010 at 10:15 PM

means making excuses for a pathological liar-bestest friend forever:

Ever notice that anyone ed has ever interviewed is his “good friend”? Kind of creepy.

peacenprosperity on June 26, 2010 at 10:40 PM

This is unfortunate

Boy, that’s an understatement. Congrats, Washington Post! Keep on circling the drain!

Proud Rino on June 27, 2010 at 5:02 PM

Weigel might be the poster boy for LSM’s much ballyhooed “objective journalism”, righteously masquerading as unbiased whilst pushing a leftist agenda

petefrt on June 26, 2010 at 7:26 AM

But that’s not true. Weigel is a libertarian. Everyone who read him knew his views on most of these topics. He didn’t hide anything.

He’s also a good reporter and a good writer.

What is frustrating is that people like you apparently think that there is actually such a thing as an “unbiased journalist.”

What matters is what he reports – not whether it is biased, necessarily, but whether it is fair. And Weigel was about as fair as they come.

Proud Rino on June 27, 2010 at 5:08 PM

Comment pages: 1 2 3 4