Saturday, June 26, 2010

Take Up the Weigel's Burden

UPDATE: Welcome, MinnPost readers!

I've been trying to figure out how to write about the curious saga of Dave Weigel, the young journalist who landed a plum new beat at the Washington Post, covering the strange cultural rituals of conservatives, or something like that. Weigel had worked for a time at Reason magazine, a libertarian journal that I've subscribed to periodically over the years, so someone at the Post apparently thought that he might have insight into what conservatives are thinking.

As you've learned if you've been following the matter, and I don't blame you if you haven't, it didn't work out so well. Weigel resigned or was sacked yesterday after disparaging comments he made about various conservatives were leaked to the Daily Caller website and subsequently published. Weigel made the comments on the Journolist, a e-mail circle (jerk) of prominent lefty journalists that was the province of Ezra Klein, another young journalist who has risen to prominence in the last decade. The Journolist is sort of a combination of the Dead Poets Society and the He Man Woman Hater's Club, near as I can tell.

Does that seem pretty convoluted to you? Me too. The upshot was this -- Weigel was saying things like this on the Journolist, in which he bemoans his fate covering the knuckle-draggers:

“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.

Can't say I blame him for that one -- I've denounced "right-wing group Y" any number of times myself. They are scoundrels. Then there was this observation concerning Matt Drudge:

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked, “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.”

Okay, that's impolite, but it's not 100% wrong by any means. Drudge doesn't get out much and sometimes I've wondered about that, too. But then there's this:

After Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat, threatening to kill the health care legislation by his presence, Weigel stressed how important it was for reporters to highlight what a terrible candidate his opponent Martha Coakley had been.

“I think pointing out Coakley’s awfulness is vital, because it’s 1) true and 2) unreasonable panic about it is doing more damage to the Democrats,” Weigel wrote.

From what I could tell, Scott Brown ran a better campaign than Martha Coakley. She may have been an awful candidate. But why on earth would Weigel care whether or not Coakley's loss "is causing unreasonable panic" or that it "is doing more damage to Democrats?" When you hear conservatives complain about how MSM journalists create a narrative, this is how it's done.

And this complaint of Weigel's might be most meaningful one of all, but not for the reasons he imagines:

“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,” Weigel wrote.

I don't know that Newt Gingrich is a racist. Perhaps he is, although I recall his disgrace stemmed from a zipper problem rather than racial animus. But the point about Pat Buchanan is more interesting. Weigel is correct that William F. Buckley ran off Pat Buchanan 20 years ago when it became clear that Buchanan was pretty much straight up anti-Semitic. That move hardly hurt Pat Buchanan's career at all -- he managed to have nearly a decade-long run opposite Michael Kinsley on CNN's Crossfire program and later ran for President against George W. Bush in 2000. Pat Buchanan hasn't been part of the mainstream conservative movement for a very long time, but he's always available to present the "conservative view" in the MSM. Why do you suppose that is?

The larger point is simple -- the Washington Post may have claimed that they wanted to cover the conservative movement, but they never really wanted to explain it to their readership, for the same reason that someone like Pat Buchanan can have a long career as a conservative commenter in the MSM long after he is drummed out of polite conservative circles. The Post and most of the MSM prefers that conservatives are forever in caricature, not portrait.

If the Post had really wanted to give their readership a better understanding of conservatives, they could have hired someone like the veteran conservative reporter Byron York, who has had a long and successful career writing for a variety of conservative journals and now writes for the online Washington Examiner. Instead, they hired a young snarkmeister in Dave Weigel, who treated his job as a matter of cultural anthropology, and especially dismissive cultural anthropology, not as journalism. Weigel was giving his audience the Rudyard Kipling "take up the white man's burden" approach to his reporting. Ed Morrissey used the term "conservatives in the mist" to describe Weigel's reportage. That's exactly right.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Have done with childish days--
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!


Gino said...

i'm not so sure buchanan was run out for antisemitism. there were others issues of a more populist/blue collar nature that separated him from the NR folks.

and i say this because the only ones who call him an antisemite are those who want to marginalize him. i do not believe he is.
his nemisis, and jew, kinsley even said as much, i think novak (also jewish) pretty much said the same thing, the basic explanation goe like this:

pat is so pro-usa, he has no room for divided national loyalties, this would include jews who place high importance upon USA support for israel at the expense of USA interests.

but this is off topic, i know.

my name is Amanda said...

Grrrrr! I just wrote a huge comment on this and my effing phone cut out. ugh.

Basically: a journalist is not required to treat their personal opinions as journalism. And I don't think treating ones job as anthropology is necessarily destructive to job performance quality. Whatever we need to do to get by in this world that enslaves us by requiring us to generate income, you know?

Someone wanted him out, and decided to be dirty about it.

But it doesn't matter that much bc seriously he's a privileged white male, a great writer, and the notoriety over this will only help him in the long run.