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The Post’s Idea of a Conservative

11:40 AM, Jun 27, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Here's THE SCRAPBOOK on the Washington Post and Dave Weigel:

When the Washington Post hired Dave Weigel to produce a reported blog on conservatives and Republicans, management apparently did so because they were under the misimpression that Weigel is a conservative, or at least a libertarian who’s not hostile to conservatives and their ideas. In an online chat, the Post’s national editor, Kevin Merida, was asked whether the newspaper planned to hire any conservatives to balance its growing stable of left-wing opinion reporters. Merida noted that the Post had “added to our staff the well-regarded Dave Weigel” and mentioned the paper’s handful of right-leaning columnists.

So what kind of balance did Weigel provide? Not much. Weigel was a member of a now-defunct 400-person email group known as JournoList. The politics of the group were decidedly left-wing, and although the messages they sent each other were supposed to be off-the-record—well, we are talking about 400 snarky lefties. Leaks happen. In this case, a smattering of Weigel’s emails ended up being published on two websites, FishbowlDC and the Daily Caller.

They showed Weigel to be a proponent of the tired old all-Republicans-are-racists trope. He accused the party of protecting “white privilege” and of using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” He also complained about his beat. “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?”

There was standard-issue liberal name-calling: Newt Gingrich is an “amoral blowhard,” Rush Limbaugh should drop dead of a heart attack,  Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire”—in short, the kind of playground bluster that passes for wit in liberal circles (and, for that matter, got Al Franken elected to the U.S. Senate).

More surprising, for a writer supposedly hired for his libertarian leanings, his steadfast support for the massive government expansion of health care under this administration led him to repeatedly apply his epithet of choice—ratf#$%ers—to Obamacare opponents like Sarah Palin. In May, he briefly got in trouble with his bosses for tweeting, “I can empathize with everyone I cover except for the anti-gay marriage bigots.” But it turns out that he really couldn’t empathize with anyone but his JournoList comrades—and unfortunately for him at least one of his fellow JournoListers couldn’t empathize with him.

So Weigel considers social conservatives “bigots,” Republicans racists, he favors government-run health care and scorns those with different views. None of this should be surprising, considering how Weigel came to occupy his perch on the Washington Post’s website. Weigel got his job thanks to a recommendation from his friend, left-wing Washington Post writer Ezra Klein, who also happens to be the founder of the JournoList. And Klein told Politico’s Ben Smith that Weigel is “hard to characterize politically.” Of course, Klein said this after many of Weigel’s snarky, anti-conservative emails had been distributed by his own JournoList. 

Did Klein misrepresent Weigel to his new bosses at the Washington Post? That’s unclear. The real comedy of this whole episode is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Weigel’s political views, however pungently expressed in what he believed were private emails, and those of his colleagues and bosses at the Post. Unfortunately for Weigel, the Post believed he was a diversity hire, someone they could point to whenever conservatives complained about ideological imbalance at the paper. His emails undermined their talking-point. They wanted a reporter who would allow them to maintain the fiction that they run a balanced newsroom. He embarrassed them by holding opinions indistinguishable from their own.

Well, you can’t embarrass your bosses like that. Late last week, the Post accepted Weigel’s resignation, perhaps hoping that doing so would bring to an end this embarrassing episode. The editors of the Post may have some hard questions to ask Ezra Klein, who had been reading Weigel’s anti-conservative tirades for some time before telling his editors that Weigel would be “the best reporter” on the conservative beat. But The Scrapbook hopes they’ll show a little understanding. From Klein’s end of the political spectrum, pretty much everyone else looks conservative.

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