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Posted by on Jun 26, 2010 in Breaking News, Media, Politics, Society | 0 comments

The Media’s Game of “Let’s Pretend”

Matthew Yglesias points out the child’s game that informs the Washington Post‘s decision to “accept” Dave Weigel’s “resignation” over emails lifted from a private list and published on a D.C. gossip site and a right-wing political site:

Something that pops up every time old/new media tensions emerge is the view—which I find, frankly, bizarre—common in the newspaper world that pretending to not have opinions makes your work better. One underlying presumption here is the odd notion that the ideal reporter would be someone who actually doesn’t have opinions, as if “the facts” were purely transparent and could be merely observed, processed, and then regurgitated into inverted pyramid form without passing through the muck of “judgment” or “thoughts about the world.”

Then the secondary presumption is that you can somehow make things real by pretending. Like if you want to express judgments about politicians in conversations with your friends, that’s fine, but you have to never publish them. Thus if you foolish assume that a private, but large, email list will be kept genuinely private and then something “private” goes “public” now your actual professional work is invalidated. But why? Somehow keeping the views secret is supposed to be a close substitute for not having them. But of course having a secret is totally different from having nothing. The conceit that make-believe is just as good as the real thing only arises because the real thing is impossible to achieve. That should make you rethink why you would deem it desirable, but instead leads to the odd conclusion that the best journalist is a consistently dishonest one.

Speaking of consistently dishonest, check out Jeffrey Goldberg’s Two-Minute Whine at being called on the carpet for the fact-challenged invective he wrote against Dave Weigel in response to Weigel losing his job.

I’m getting a bit of the Two Minutes’ Hate from the usual suspects about my posting on Dave Weigel. The same old stuff: I started the Iraq War, I’m an AIPAC stooge, a bloodthirsty Likudnik, I’m a sociopathic fabulist, I drive a mini-van, etc.

Goldberg doesn’t identify “the usual suspects” but based on the content of this post, Adam Serwer at The American Prospect is clearly one of them:

Of all the reactions to Weigel leaving the Post, I found Jeffrey Goldberg‘s to be the most revealing:

I gave my friend the answer he already knew: The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.

This is an extraordinary statement from someone who touted a nonexistent link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Goldberg’s reporting was cited by President Bush as proof that even the liberals knew his claims about Iraq were true. Of course it doesn’t matter that these claims were false, or that they helped lead the country into an unnecessary war where thousands died because Goldberg is “toilet trained.”

It’s a pity that Goldberg cannot do better than snivel about what a meanie Serwer is, and engage in sarcastic rhetorical misrepresentations of what his critics actually said about his support for the Iraq War (“Yes, yes, I know, I started the Iraq War” and “I realize that Saddam had no relationship at all with Al Qaeda”). If he were a less cowardly and a more intellectually honest writer, he would at least make the attempt to address the substantive points Ken Silverstein makes in the Harper’s piece to which Serwer links in the above-quoted post.

James Fallows links to several of his colleagues at The Atlantic who all agree that the Washington Post should not have fired Dave Weigel. (Jeff Goldberg appears to be the only there who not only thinks the firing was justified, but who appears to have a personal animus toward Weigel.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates calls Goldberg’s attacks on Weigel’s journalistic integrity “unfortunate” and says that those attacks “greatly misunderstand Dave’s work.”

Here is Jeff quoting a journalist at the Post making these two claims:

“It makes me crazy when I see these guys referred to as reporters. They’re anything but. And they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters.”
“Ezra Klein is a talented guy, but he’s just an absolute partisan. If this is where journalism has to go, so be it, but I don’t want to go there.”
I’m assuming Jeff at least partially endorses this view-point, as he puts these quotes out there without much comment. Taking the latter first, the view that Stephen Glass was tolerable, that Jayson Blair was presumably tolerable, that Judy Miller was tolerable, but that Ezra Klein is of sufficient threat to drive someone from journalism entirely is rather astounding. The Washington Post, in particular, is a paper that–for all the good its done–once accepted a Pulitzer for a wholly made-up story, and publishes a magazine whose arguably defining moment was announcing that a 40 year old woman was more likely to “be killed by a terrorist” than ever be married.
The press corps is toting water-pistols, and so armed, merrily carousing with the very people they claim to cover. But Ezra Klein is the scourge of the North.
On the former point, what people need to remember here, is this–whatever your take on Dave’s emails, Dave is–quite literally–a reporter. I got the sense reading Jeff’s posts that most of the people he talked to had never actually read Dave’s work, so much as they saw “fallen high profile blogger,” and flush with envy, reached for the can of Schadenfreude. And then the phone. There is something much deeper at work here, something about the decline of privilege. This isn’t about the future of journalism. This is about people who don’t want to have to compete, or be held accountable for the falsehoods they write.
Coates adds that he has “great respect” for both Weigel and Goldberg as reporters:
It’s always a problem when you have to state your affection for someone you’re blogging about–but I have great affection for Jeff. That’s the personal side–the side that makes this a very uncomfortable post. But professionally, I have great respect for him as a reporter. I feel the same way about Dave Weigel. No blogger better, and more routinely, defied the stereotype of simply opining. Dave traveled. Dave worked the phones. And Dave wrote stories.
I have no argument to make about the affection part. Affection is a personal, heart thing. Affection is not earned in the same way that professional respect is earned. But if Coates respects Weigel as a reporter because of his willingness to do the legwork of going to the sources and getting the facts right, it’s difficult to see why he would find Goldberg worthy of that kind of respect. On this point, I prefer John Cole’s acerbic take-down:

That’s the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who single-handedly wrote the absolutely most factless pieces of propaganda in the run-up to the war in Iraq this side of Judy Miller, and to my knowledge has never corrected the record in detail and atoned for his sins.

That’s the same Jeffrey Goldberg who is so incapable of forming constructive arguments that he basically spent the earlier part of the year sputtering that his co-worker Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Israeli propagandist. That is, of course, until the adults at the Atlantic probably stepped in and told him to knock it off (an assertion of mine that has at least as much evidence as Goldberg’s assertions about WMD. Although it is entirely possible he just stopped because he was losing the argument).

And we could go on and on, whether the topic is Chas Freeman, Iran, etc.

If that is the kind of bile and trash that Jeffrey Goldberg thinks makes him a refined and “toilet-trained” writer, then I can only assume that every one of the adults in his blackberry and in his rolodex still shits the bed. The rules still hold true- all sorts of disgusting and bizarre worldviews are acceptable among the “toilet-trained” Beltway elites (Krauthammer, Will, Thiessen, Kristol, and many others still write for the WaPo), but don’t drink out of the finger bowl or use a four letter word or your ass is history.