Upholding the standards of MSM didn’t require the resignation of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, whose off-the-record slams at Matt Drudge and others wound up leaked and very much in the arena this week. (For a round-up of conservative reaction, see Matt Lewis’ compilation.)
Saving the MSM requires more of the no-holds barred Weigel, but also more authenticity in expression, and more transparency from the pundit class.
Anyone surprised by Weigel’s hostility to center-right thought and the opinion journalists sympathetic to it hasn’t been paying attention to Weigel’s career. The folks who followed his work knew his tilt, but they also found his stuff worth reading. Two weeks ago, I shared a platform with Reason’s Michael Moynihan at Pepperdine University and we spent too much time agreeing on Weigel’s gifts. It was for me an admission against interest, as the trial lawyers say, because I have been on the receiving end of more than a couple of Weigel’s darts, but he writes well, works hard and loves the craft.
Journalism is a craft, as the late, great Michael Kelly used to tell my audience, not a profession. It doesn’t have rules of professional responsibility, it doesn’t have a governing board, and it doesn’t depend on licensing. (And if every pundit who used profanity or vulgarity in emails was dimissed there’d be very little to read.) What it does have, at its higher levels, is facility with words and energy. Great journalism informs and entertains, and the very best at work today have plenty of both and deep wells of specialized knowledge as well.
There are the scribblers you cannot trust because either they deny their obvious bias, or they make things up, or they just aren’t that smart. But ideology or sharp words aren’t reasons not to read someone. I’d rather read The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder or the Post’s Ezra Klein on a big event over any of the allegedly neutral accounts of any controversy appearing on page one of any major daily.
What MSM really needs is more Weigels unplugged from their boring conventions and poses of “neutrality.”. While the use of any form of “retard” remains one of the genuine cruelties of the trade, Weigel’s employ of “Paultards” wasn’t a hanging offense and there cannot be anyone genuinely convinced Weigel wished Matt Drudge physical harm. Unless there was more, there wasn’t enough to call for a dismissal.
Ezra Klein’s explanation of “Journolist” confirms what most people must have suspected — a place for the lefties to gather, gossip and complain about their dashed plans and the windmills that threaten them. One of their number was assigned the Post’s “conservative beat.” Who is surprised? Who thinks it mattered a whit except that Klein’s own announced rules clarify how one should have been reading Weigel from the start if they had any doubt to begin with. (Klein’s piece also underscores that the Post still cannot bring itself to hire a genuine, honest-to-God new conservative voice like Mary Katharine Ham or Guy Benson.)
What ought to matter is that Weigel and other MSMers be interesting and factual when they purport to be dealing in facts, and that we know how to approach their “reporting” because we know their political sympathies.
If the Atlantic or Politico is on the ball they will snap up Weigel and the traffic that will follow him.