June 26th, 2010

The WaPo ombudsman is terribly terribly sorry Weigel got caught

If you take a look at the last paragraph of the piece in which WaPo ombudsman Andy Alexander tackles the Weigel imbroglio, it’s hard to escape the notion seems that he places most of the blame for the entire episode on the person or persons from Journolist who ratted Weigel out.

After quoting the lament of Ezra Klein—creator of the listserv, who has closed it down in response to what happened to Weigel—that such discussions can be “dangerous” because they lull members into thinking that they are private when they are not, Alexander adds:

Alas, it took only one listserv participant to bundle up Weigel’s archived comments and start leaking them outside the group. The result is that Weigel lost his job. But the bigger loss is The Post’s standing among conservatives.

Alas, indeed. Clearly, Alexander would have preferred that Weigel and the WaPo have been allowed to go on pretending that Weigel was able to give conservatives a fair and objective shake, while remaining a man filled with hatred for them who saw fit to freely spew his bile only in the comfort of a (supposedly) private club of like-minded folks.

Alexander defends the WaPo by saying that it vetted Weigel as it does any of its writers, by looking at his published work and checking his references. Alexander quotes WaPo managing editor Raju Narisetti, who oversees the paper’s website, as saying:

But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level…It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: ‘In private… have you expressed any opinions that would make it difficult for you to do your job.’

Again, it appears that the emphasis is on avoiding detection and not leaving a paper or cyber trail, not on insuring an actual objectivity of thought. And perhaps that makes sense, because true objectivity in politically interested people is most often a polite (or impolite) fiction, very difficult and rare—although newspapers and their reporters would like to pretend differently, at least to a gullible public. Far better, however, (as Alexander ponders at another point in his column, in response to a suggestion by Dan Gainor, a VP at the conservative Media Research Center) to acknowledge bias if it cannot be avoided.

But even then, Alexander doesn’t get it (or pretends not to). He writes [emphasis mine]:

The Post might consider two: one conservative with a[n] ideological bent, and another who can cover the conservative movement in the role of a truly neutral reporter.

And who, pray tell, might that latter person be? Practically no one, and it does no good to pretend otherwise. Far better to either drop all pretense of objectivity and identify the paper as liberal or conservative, and write accordingly. Or, if the best approximation of objectivity is desired, then attempt to hire a roughly equal number of equivalently excellent conservative and liberal journalists. Fat chance, right?

But either solution would blow the cover of the MSM itself, which for the most part continues to attempt to maintain its increasingly threadbare facade of objectivity.

[NOTE: Neil Patel of The Daily Caller asks a pertinent question:

Why did Klein and other JournoList contributors who work for the Washington Post stand by and allow their newspaper’s readers to be conned into thinking that Weigel was an objective reporter with no axe to grind when they knew for a fact that wasn’t true?

Perhaps Patel's question was rhetorical, and he knows the answer already. But if not, I can offer one up right now: it is standard operating procedure. Yes, there are opinion journalists on the left, such as Klein himself, who are upfront about writing from the liberal point of view. But the entire MSM in its present form rests on feigning (wink, wink) an objectivity that does not exist in its reportage.

And one other thing---how could Weigel have thought his emails were inviolate, even on a liberal listserv? It's another example of a bizarre amount of naivete.]

25 Responses to “The WaPo ombudsman is terribly terribly sorry Weigel got caught”

  1. CBDenver Says:

    It seems to me the most important point about the listserv that Weigel contributed to is that its intent was to shape how journalists reported the news. Weigel’s posts demonstrate he was giving “talking points” to other about how to report on subjects like Palin’s death panels. For those of us who feel that the MSM slants the news, I think this is a smoking gun.

  2. Dennis Says:

    If WP editor Raju Narisetti, or most MSM counterparts, asked reporters the question posed, ‘In private… have you expressed any opinions that would make it difficult for you to do your job.’, would that not disqualify about 85 to 95 percent of them? It would seem that this only re-enforce the idea that the MSM is incapable of objective reporting and that one should be vary skeptical of anything they report.

  3. gcotharn Says:

    re “a truly neutral reporter”

    To me, this refers to a political moderate who is naturally positioned between left and right. However, that person who considers himself or herself a political moderate is now widely considered a right wing extremist by the MSM, as that one time political moderate now opposes the grasping, overbearing, civil-liberties-infringing big government policies of Obama/Pelosi/Reid. Huge government has forced everyone’s hand. Excepting the socialists, we are all extremists now.

  4. Tom Says:

    The WaPo ombudsman, the NYT Public Editor are craven prostitutes, total frauds, and deserve only to be utterly ignored.

  5. Gringoe Says:

    artflgr’s comment on a related thread about being able to control both sides of the dialogue is spot-on. When at the WaPo you have Ezra Klein reporting on the left blogosphere and a member of his listserv of like-minded people reporting on the right blogosphere, that is precisely what you have. That the WaPo didn’t do anything about this until they got called on it is not to its credit. Certainly the WaPo realized when it hired Weigel that an endorsement from Ezra Klein had a certain bias to it, a bias with which the WaPo was quite comfortable.

    Weigel spent much of his time reporting on the “extremists” of the right. Ezra Klein about the left? Yeah, right. :)

    I doubt that the WaPo, its subsidiary Newsweek, and other such media outlets will ever realize that one of the reason for their decline in financial health is that the right side of the aisle have decided to stop sending money to media outlets that denigrate their points of view as extremist and troglodyte.

    Even in 2008, the extremist and troglodyte POV got 46 % of the vote. The WaPo and the like are cutting themselves off from revenue from about half the population.

  6. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    You don’t even have to be neutral or unbiased. Just honest. That’s the part people who defend the MSM keep missing in their discussions of bias. They throw up their hands and say, well, no one is completely unbiased, everyone’s got a POV, yada yada…

    Just be honest. When Wiegel is giving any sort of advice about how this news should be treated and what the journolist folks should do going forward, no only he, but every person reading it knows it is not honest. Stop right there. Enter into no further discussion with your pals about the role of media.

  7. gs Says:

    Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    You don’t even have to be neutral or unbiased. Just honest.

    That comment moved me to look for W.F. Buckley’s Firing Line. Subject to funding, the Hoover Institution is in the process of digitizing the videotapes. Some transcripts are available online; others can be ordered; some shows can be ordered from Amazon. The link also includes a link to an online Buckley archive.

  8. Scott Says:

    Neo: I am a “newbie” to your blog, having first diiscovered it last year. You wrote a post several weeks ago that was so contrary to liberal doctrine that it prompted me to remark in a comment how hard it is to believe you had ever been a liberal. I said then I was eager to read the essays under the category “the mind is a difficult thing to change” to learn how and why you changed your political philosophy/worldview.

    I procrastinated, procrastinated, and then I procrastinated some more. Until this morning, when I told myself I was going to read one or two of the essays today. If they sparked my interest, then I would try to read a couple each day until I had either lost interest or read them all. While it seemed like a good plan, it didn’t work out so well.

    Instead, once I started reading I didn’t want to stop. I was finally forced to stop to run some errands for a couple of hours earlier this afternoon. But once I got back, I couldn’t wait to finish reading the rest of the essays. I hoped it would be a fascinating, or at least a thoughtful and reasoned journey. I was not disappointed.

    I can only imagine how therapeutic the exercise has been for you. I’ve seen the quote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down” attributed to a couple of different great writers, so I don’t know who to give credit to, but I bet you can identify with the sentiment to some degree as the project has progressed.

    Thanks for taking the time to share the essays with your readers.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Scott: thanks so much! It’s been a while since I wrote one of those essays. I keep planning to get back to the story. You give me renewed inspiration.

  10. ELC Says:

    But either solution would blow the cover of the MSM itself, which for the most part continues to attempt to maintain its increasingly threadbare facade of objectivity.

    That remarks strikes to the heart of the issue.

    Most of the time, I think that most of the MSM folks actually do think they’re “objective”. Then JournoList makes the news again, and I cannot but think that the facade of objectivity is, indeed, consciously and carefully crafted.

  11. Metamorf Says:

    There’s a saying along the lines of, never attribute to malice what can be explained by (take your pick) stupidity/ignorance/incompetence, etc. As it applies to media bias, I think at least some of that is explicable in terms of a very limited sense of the range of possible political opinions. So one reason they often insist that they’re not biased isn’t that they’re dissembling — it’s just that they really can’t imagine that there can be legitimate views outside of the narrow range they do cover. (If they consider conservative views at all, for example, they have to be of the harmless T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII variety.)

    I’m not saying this stunted vision excludes dissembling and outright malice (which some of the Weigel email exhibits quite clearly) — I’m just saying it may be an aspect of the problem, and in some ways the more serious aspect.

    P.S. Like Scott above, I’ve been interested in your blog in part because of the theme of personal political change. Recently started a blog (or two) that deals with the same theme from my own perspective, here. So I join him in thanking you for your time, and also for the inspiration.

  12. Gringo Says:

    Metamorf: a very high percentage of the commenters here are, like Neo, former liberals, or as Assistant Village Idiot (check out his website) puts it, Post Liberals. For me , the process took a long time. Here were a number of changers along the way.

    1)Back in the day, I saw that the SDS types were often self-righteous unthinking , ignorant sectarians. Having grown up in a small town with a disproportionate number of refugees from Communism probably helped me back off from SDS.
    2) In my student years, working in institutions for psych patients or the mentally retarded made me skeptical about “social change” types who proclaimed that with money, they had a program that would change the world. I saw first hand the gap between intentions and results.
    3) My working in Latin America showed me that the “progressive” catechism that I learned in university about the region did not accurately describe Latin America.
    4) I was a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam War. Cambodia showed me that as long as vicious thugs roam the earth, no one has clean hands. We gave peace a chance, and it didn’t work.
    5) Combining 3 and 4: my experience in Latin America and extensive library research convinced me that libs were utter fools regarding Central America back in the 80s.

    Even so, I voted Third Party most of the time until the last two Presidential elections.

  13. jon baker Says:

    A number of persons above have commented on bias in the media in general. Allow me to link to a site below that tracks left wing bias on a daily basis-I have been reading both it and this site for several years now. There are usually a half dozen or more new articles every day. One pattern that emerges is that much of the bias is by ommision. One blatant example of this in the last year is the media coverage of ACORN. It took some in the MSM days to cover the undercover footage that showed ACORN employees willing to help with the taxes of a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute who were claiming they were bringing in UNDERAGE girls into the country for prostitution. I observed with my own eyes media , once they finally reported it, leaving out the whole CHILD sex issue. There are no doubt many in this country who only heard about the fake prostitute- not the children that would be involved.

    http://www.newsbusters.org/

  14. Tom Grey Says:

    Funny how Scott finally read your fantastic “A Mind is a difficult thing to change” articles.

    And Gringo, We gave peace a chance, and it didn’t work. , well after the Killing Fields were done with the killing, it sort of worked.
    Not.

    Noah Pollak talks about Peter Beinart becoming an

    The liberal Zionists, when it has mattered most, have defected. It has been easier to join the critics of Israel, who are fellow liberals, than to appear jingoistic and tribal by defending the hated Zionists. Some peace processors, such as Israeli “new historian” Benny Morris, have acknowledged the flaws in their thinking and have become cautious and skeptical. But some cannot come to terms with the reality of their mistakes, the failure of their predictions, and the durability of Arab rejectionism. In the liberal imagination, this is not how the world is supposed to work. In the liberal vision, everyone desires progress and the good life, and when given the choice will prefer compromise and material comfort over ideological stubbornness.

    The Left cannot come to terms with the reality of their mistakes.

    One thing I learned from Barbara Brandon’s book on Ayn Rand — every smart person is smart enough to tell lies to themselves, so they believe those untruths.

    Even the still-Marxist Dalai Lama.

    Pride, not coming to terms with imperfection, is the path towards the greatest evil.

  15. Tom Grey Says:

    an… Israel Scold.

  16. Tom Grey Says:

    Try link to cmmentarymagazine again:

  17. Tom Grey Says:

  18. pablo panadero Says:

    If the WaPo wanted a conservative blogger that could relate to a left-lunging newspaper, how could have they overlooked NeoNeocon? Talk about perfect for the position. The convert always sings loudest in church, and since the convert knows the thinking of the other side, can best relate.

  19. david foster Says:

    I wonder how many people actually *read* the WP blog, anyhow? Does the set of people who want to get their news/opinions from old-media institutions overlap seriously with the set of people who read blog?

  20. NeoConScum Says:

    Shocked. Shocked, I say.
    Izvestia manipulating the news, commentary, editorials, sports(?), etc. is shocking.

    Right.

  21. Curtis Says:

    Pride, not coming to terms with imperfection, is the path towards the greatest evil.

    Tom, where did you get that statement? It’s a good un!

    How about: Pride, not coming to terms with limitation, is the path towards the greatest evil.

  22. Rick Says:

    “The Washington Post’s standing among conservatives”? There isn’t a conservative anywhere near Washington who would even use the Post to line his birdcage. G. Gordon Liddy used to refer to it as the Washington Piss.

    From my personal reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Post has been a pro-Communist rag from the FDR days. They *still* cling to the myth of Alger Hiss’ innocence, for example.

  23. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Gringo – thanks. I recommend PJ O’Rourke’s Give War A Chance, BTW.

    Metamorf – we have a rough consensus here that there are some well-meaning incompentents, some opportunistic thugs, some true believers…well, you get the picture. Where this gets interesting is in examining the dissonance when the ideas don’t work, or Hey, it’s our guys who are corrupt and crooked. We find, to our alarm, that even decent people aften seem unable to deal with this data, and we speculate why this might be. That there is gradual descent into greater levels of self-deception seems the best general explanation: people don’t avoid reality that thoroughly overnight.

    I come from the side that says liberalism is not an intellectual choice, but one that confers certain social and personal psychological benefits. Reasoned arguments and factual data, then, don’t have as much effect on liberalism as we think it should. But as to offering them a social escape route, we are hampered, because we’re not as cool. We are well-known to be less intelligent, less fashionable, less educated, boorish bigoted rednecks, and who wants to join a group like that? I mean, non-liberals don’t catch your sophisticated innuendoes or anything. When you say “Sarah Palin” or “Dan Quayle” with a meaningful lift of the eyebrow, they don’t find that funny! Rubes.

  24. stan Says:

    My old friend Tony Snow and his friend Andrew Ferguson liked to say of their liberal journalist friends that the MSM left-wing bias was not a conspiracy, but a consensus. Unfortunately, the evidence keeps piling higher and higher that it really is a deliberate policy of lefties to present the news in a way that helps Democrats and hurts Republicans.

  25. Jamie Says:

    It’s amazed me for some time that there’s even been question about progressive bias in the media. I mean, how can anybody doubt it, much less argue against it? Why does THIS need to be the “smoking gun”?

    One smoking gun, as pointed out by (sorry, can’t remember exactly where I was) ?somebody quoted by Insty perhaps?, is that the WaPo found it necessary to HAVE a conservative-beat reporter, but not a liberal-beat one. If it ain’t news, nobody needs to report on it…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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