A Response to Weigel Resignation Aftermath

By now, you know that Dave Weigel and the WaPo have parted ways. And by now, you may or may not be aware of the heavy criticism (and more privately, praise) that FishbowlDC has received for first publishing e-mails from Weigel to the private email listserv, Journolist.

MSNBC Keith Olbermann has named me among his “Worst Persons in the World.” I was called “Fishbowl F-ck” and a “scumbag” (HuffPost’s Jason Linkins). I was called “sleazy” and “skuzzy” and to DIAF (that would be die in a fire (HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney). I’ve been called a “hack” journalist. I’ve been told I’m the one who should be fired, not Weigel.

The criticisms are missing the mark, but like any journalist, I’m not above rebuke, so allow me here to address the critics:

1.) I have something against Weigel personally.

This is untrue. I had never met Weigel in person until Thursday night at a HuffPost party. We had exchanged a couple of e-mails in the past. He was icy. But I wasn’t surprised, hurt, or offended. A little background: Journalists have always had a love/hate relationship with FishbowlDC: Reporters love its inside-baseball, occasionally catty, sometimes serious look at the reporting world in D.C. But they hate it when they’re the ones getting covered unless it’s glowing. “Fishbowl is not supposed to be writing about [fill in the blank]” is a frequent defense when a reporter is asked for a response to something involving them. But it’s not that they don’t understand — they do — it’s just that they’re uncomfortable that our beat is them. Business reporters cover Wall Street. Military reporters cover Iraq and Afghanistan. FishbowlDC covers journalists.

So, Weigel is a journalist and it’s my job to cover him and hundreds of others in Washington. It’s understandable that Friends of Weigel (FOW’s) are defensive on the topic of his departure from WaPo. While the motives of the Journolist leaker are fair game for critique, my decision to publish them is me doing my beat dutifully. It’s business, not personal. That said…

2.) We shouldn’t have published the emails.

Yes, we should have (see above, it’s my job and my beat). Anyone who
thinks otherwise may not understand this: It’s not a reporter’s job to worry about the outcome of a genuine news story in that it may upset some people.

What’s noteworthy here is that the anger to publishing the e-mails is a selective anger. For instance: We’re not the only ones who have published private emails from Journolist. So, too, have respected journalists such as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Yahoo! News’s Michael Calderone, who wrote about Journolist while at Politico. In fact, they did it long before FishbowlDC did. Find out how TIME’s Joe Klein felt about having his listserv emails disclosed by Greenwald in 2009. Read Greenwald’s post. But what’s alarming here is they haven’t come under the same squall of ethical scrutiny as FishbowlDC has because, well, they’re all in the same protective bubble of friends (talk about a real life Fishbowl…). So, when HuffPost’s Linkins — displaying an apparent deep-thinking maturity — says of me and my co-editor Matt Dornic that we’re “Fishbowl F-cks” for our work and that “this is how scumbags launder their karma,” one has to wonder: Did he write about Greenwald and Calderone with a similar scathing bitterness? Of course not – they’re friends. He wrote that those not on #TeamWeigel are “sellouts, scumbags and bitchasses.” With such selective outrage, spare me lectures on journalistic integrity.

3.) I cost Weigel his job.

No, I didn’t. I didn’t write those messages to some 400 people on Journolist. I wasn’t in management meetings at WaPo when what to do with Weigel was discussed. My take on Weigel’s behavior as a journalist covering media: I don’t believe a reporter can hate those he or she covers and do it carefully or fairly. There are some who blame WaPo for Weigel’s behavior, but in the end, it’s Weigel who is responsible. But I’m not in charge of him. I wasn’t in charge of him. The aftermath? Out of my hands.

4.) FishbowlDC focused on this story for the traffic.

The reality is most websites worry about traffic. Like how you worry about earning a paycheck to pay bills. Or how you eat enough to sustain energy. Or that you breath enough so that you might not pass out. These are basics. But Wonkette claimed we are “trying to get some traffic for the long-ignored mediabistro blog by posting some banal crap from that ‘JournoList’ email group.” Salon’s Alex Pareene thinks the aim was to score a Drudge link. Traffic did, in fact, come our way because it was a genuine story. Traffic did, in fact, go Weigel’s way for it, too. Some may not have liked that someone leaked Weigel’s e-mails. Others may not have liked that WaPo parted ways with Weigel. But the notion that a reporter’s biases on his own beat are not grounds for a legitimate discussion here on FishbowlDC or anywhere else is short-sighted at best.

> Update: Apparently I’m not alone in my views. Read WaPo’s Ombudsman report by Andrew Alexander on the Weigel matter here. In addition, read Greenwald’s explanation of why he printed Klein’s e-mails back in 2009 here.

Secondly, a correction: HuffPost‘s Delaney didn’t say I should DIAF (die in a fire). That was another gem from his colleague, Linkins. What Delaney did say was this: “FishbowlDC takes a break from sucking up to DC media types to cost a guy his job.” He also called our posts “jackass sanctimony.” A little over an hour later, he apparently felt badly and said over Twitter, “I should say FishbowldDC didn’t cost @daveweigel his job, since they’re reporting what they’re getting from whoever’s got it in for him.”