Ratfuckers, Crybabies, and Schoolmarms: The Dave Weigel Affair

I went off the Internet for 24 hours, and when I got back online, Dave Weigel was out of his job as the Washington Post’s blogger about conservatives. From the distant historical perspective of one day in meatspace (cardboard-box space, Verizon-technician-drilling-holes-in-the-coat-closet space), this frenzy of virtual events—some websites quoting some e-mails from an e-mail group to which a reporter-blogger belonged, leading to the deletion of the e-mail group and the resignation of the blogger—made no sense at all. It still makes no sense. “Weigel lost his job,” Post ombudsman Andy Alexander wrote . “But the bigger loss is The Post’s standing among conservatives.”

Lost his job. Because he “showed strikingly poor judgment and revealed a bias that only underscored existing complaints from conservatives,” Alexander wrote. In his unpublished e-mails. Many of which were written before he took the job with the Post.

This person who cared enough about politics to take a job writing about politics had opinions about politics. Conservatives are very upset that he had opinions. “The e-mails made negative comments about Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, among others,” Alexander wrote.

What terrible, disqualifying things did Dave Weigel say about these people? Let’s see the roundup on Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller :

“Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley.”

Patrick Buchanan is an anti-Semite . William F. Buckley said Buchanan was guilty of anti-Semitism .

“Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace.”

Newt Gingrich is a blowhard . He resigned in disgrace . Neither one of those claims seems worth disputing. “Amoral”? Perhaps Gingrich is a very moral man, and Weigel guessed wrong about that. I will only note that when I started typing “newt gingrich divor” into Google, trying to count up his marriages, Google automatically suggested ” newt gingrich divorce wife cancer .”

Weigel also called Ron Paul supporters “Paultards” (he had voted for Ron Paul) and he wrote after Rush Limbaugh’s heart attack “I hope he fails” (Weigel was not working for the Post at the time). Bad for Weigel. “Paultards” is offensive, because it plays off a schoolyard slur of the mentally disabled. And it was rude to wish death on Rush Limbaugh.

What else? He wrote that he wished Matt Drudge would set himself on fire, after Drudge had sloppily sent a wave of hate mail his way. The remedy for that would probably be for the Post to give Matt Drudge space for a rebuttal. Oh, wait, no. That would have been the remedy if Weigel had published something saying that Matt Drudge should set himself on fire. But no one was objecting to anything Weigel had published as a professional reporter.

The Daily Caller was particularly upset by the fact that Weigel had repeatedly used the word “ratfucker” to describe conservatives. As Weigel points out quite clearly and correctly on his own website , “ratfucker” is not a random piece of invective but a specific word, with a specific meaning—a word used in the Nixon White House to describe its own work. (The Nixon White House was a place where anti-Semitism was so ingrained that people suspected of being Jews were demoted or reassigned in the administration. Patrick Buchanan got his start working there.) “Ratfuck” is a word that serious political reporters know. Apparently nobody at the Daily Caller, up to its publisher , is a serious political reporter.

So Weigel was disrespectful to conservatives. What is a conservative? Apparently a conservative is someone who believes that Pat Buchanan’s professional Jew-baiting is not anti-Semitism, who admires Newt Gingrich as a shy and retiring statesman, and who is completely unfamiliar with the basic history of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And a conservative is someone who believes that no one should say anything, even in private, that might hurt his or her conservative feelings.

How one would be respectful toward such a creature, I can’t really imagine. The Washington Post, however, sees that a vital mission. The “bigger loss,” remember, is the paper’s “standing with conservatives.” With Weigel gone, the ombudsman wrote:

Instead of just a replacement, The Post might consider two: one conservative with [an Ezra] Klein-like ideological bent, and another who can cover the conservative movement in the role of a truly neutral reporter.

Finding this “truly neutral reporter” may take extra work, managing editor Raju Narisetti told Alexander:

“But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level” of inquiry, he said. “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.”

Opinions! They are a minefield. For instance, if your job were to be an ombudsman—to evaluate reader complaints against a newspaper—and your opinion was that defenders of Pat Buchanan were entitled to be upset at seeing him called an anti-Semite, I would conclude that you were witless and untrustworthy. If your job were to be managing editor of a newspaper, and you said that in making Web hires, you would look for someone who had never expressed a strong opinion even in private, I would conclude that you were either an actual infant or you were so scared of criticism that you would jabber anything at all, even something meaningless and dishonest, if you thought it would make your critics go away.

But I wouldn’t be foolish enough to put that in an e-mail where somebody might forward it to you. That was where Weigel was, as Jeffrey Goldberg gloated , inadequately trained in the profession. Never write down your opinions where only your friends can see them.

Still, there was nothing in this episode that an editor with guts and integrity couldn’t have weathered in 72 hours. Maybe someday Weigel will be lucky enough to work for one.