Steve Benen gets it right, liberal bias edition: Sometimes, Steve Benen drives us semi-crazyand we think he does it on purpose. To our ear, he tends to support the home team, and drive tribal war, in ways which arent likely to help.
But good lord! Benen gets it massively right in this post about recent press history. When you see how easily he makes his point, its stunning to think how rarely the liberal world has made this point in the past.
Benen was discussing the way some reporters disparaged a recent speech by Sarah Palin. (This was Palins June 25 speech in Turlock, California. The reporters comments were captured by an open mike.) Did these negative comments mean that the reporters in question have a liberal bias? Not necessarily, Benen said. Among other things, he noted that conservative icon Peggy Noonan made similar disparaging comments near an open mike after a speech by Candidate Palin during Campaign 08.
Reporters will make comments. Especially when such comments are fairly sensible, this doesnt mean that theyre biased. But omigod! After making these sensible points, Benen recalled a bit of press history, putting this recent event into a wider context:
BENEN (6/30/10): What's more, I think the right should also remember that in 1999, political reporters covering a presidential candidate debate openly mocked and jeered Al Gore during the event. Time's Eric Pooley wrote that during the debate, the reporters in the press room responded to Gore "in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd." Another reporter added, "The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something."
If the Palin mockery is evidence the media is liberal, was the media's response to Gore proof that the media is conservative?
Benen describes a truly remarkable incident, one to which three major reporters later attested. (The second reporter Benen quotes is Howard Mortman, then an editor at the Hotline. In December 1999, Jake Tapper made it three, describing this same astonishing incident during a C-Span appearance.)
Question: Do you realize how few voters have ever heard that the press corps behaved that way? Benen describes astonishing conduct on the part of the mainstream press. But the liberal world let it go in 1999, along with mountains of other misconduct. Leaders of the liberal world have almost never mentioned it since.
Big picture: American voters constantly hear about the press corps alleged liberal bias. But over the past several decades, the liberal world has routinely agreed to avoid telling voters the truth about this high-profile matter. When incidents like this one go unmentioned, the liberal world is engaging in a form of political malpractice. But then, the liberal world has long agreed: We must never tell the truth about the press corps misconduct during the Clinton-Gore years.
If the liberal world behaved like its conservative counterpart, that jeering incident would be famous. October 27 would be a National Day of Remembrancea day set aside to recall the way the national press corps trashed Gore. But liberals dont behave like conservatives. Routinely, liberals fawn to the mainstream press, a source of future employment.
Benen gets it massively right with this post. But alas! Over the past eleven years, the liberal leaders you foolishly love have sold your interests down the stream. In the process, this remarkable bit of misconduct got itself deep-sixed.
The press corps did an astonishing thing that nightbut the liberal world agreed not to tattle. In an act of gross malfeasance, they agreed that they must never tell.
WHO IS DAVE WEIGEL (permalink): Well admit itthe analysts chuckled when they read Brian Stelters account of the Dave Weigel flap. Weigel is gone from the Washington Post, but hes been signed by MSNBC, the One True Liberal Channel. The chuckling came when Stelter described Weigels political leaningsemphasis on the plural:
STELTER (6/28/10): Journalists, like all people, have opinions. Should those privately held opinions preclude them from writing?
That age-old debate was reignited, with a twist, last week when the blogger David Weigel resigned from The Washington Post after he made disparaging comments about conservatives on a private e-mail list called Journolist.
Mr. Weigel has largely declined interview requests, but he told The Daily Caller last week, Ive always been of the belief that you could have opinions and could report anyway. His blog, called Right Now, did not present a conservative viewpoint per se; he has described himself as a libertarian and a registered Republican who votes for Democratic presidential candidates.
The case bewildered many people in the clubby world of Washington journalism...
Emphasis on the clubby. That said, the analysts chortled over that political self-description. (We think Stelters paraphrase is basically fair.) Put aside the foundational questionwhat the heck is a libertarian anyway? (For details, see below.) The larger description of Weigels views pretty much made the analysts laugh.
Weigel has described himself as a libertarian and a registered Republican who votes for Democratic presidential candidates? You can probably see why they chuckled. Why the heck would a libertarian register as a Republican, then vote for the Democrats? The analysts reminded us of a jibe we composed in 1996, when Lamar Alexander was campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, walking across the state to do it. His ideological self-definition had been a bit blurry. As part of our (humorous) Election Town Crier, we penned this small winning jibe:
ELECTION TOWN CRIER (1/96): Alexander, a moderate conservative populist Republican outsider with good listening skills, has been walking across the state of New Hampshire to get acquainted with Granite State voters. Evidence from recent statewide polling suggests the technique has paid off.
Alexander is polling well, in all age groups, among walkers, joggers, hitch-hikers, vagrants and people whose cars have just had a flat tire. But the maddening scarcity of these groups has kept the Tennessee walker from the top of the polls.
We thought of that emboldened prose as we read about Weigel last week. And then, the impossible happened! As we perused Weigels endless apologies for all the unpleasant things he has said, we asked a question we thought wed never ask, given our nations recent history. Heres the question which popped in our head:
Does Dave Weigel know who he is?
Does Dave Weigel even know who he is? Or is he, in some sense, the classic, confused American climber? The question returned with a vengeance after we read Weigels apology at Andrew Breitbarts Big Journalism site. Breitbart is one of the biggest fools in recent American discoursebut Weigel took his apology tour to that site this week. He explained why he had said all those bad things about Rush and Drudge and Newtand even about Hugh Hewitt:
WEIGEL (6/28/10): A few weeks later, Ezra Klein invited me to join Journolistwhich Id known about for a year. I dont know why he did, but I think it was an assist to a friend trying out a new job, and a way to build my list of sources. I was dazzled by the sudden, immediate access I had to more than a hundred journalists and academics, mostly on the left, some without an ideology I could discern. And I was encouraged that they were so blunt about what they were thinking about and working on.
I was talking, largely, to liberals who didnt really know conservatives. So I assumed they thought Hugh Hewitt was buffoonish. I said Gingrich had a screwed-up tenure because Republicans I admired, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Ok.) and Dick Armey, had serious problems with how Gingrich ran the House.
But I was cocky, and I got worse. I treated the list like a dive bar, swaggering in and popping off about what was really happening out there, and snarking at conservatives. Why did I want these people to like me so much? Why did I assume that I needed to crack wise and rant about people who, usually for no more than five minutes were getting on my nerves? Because I was stupid and arrogant, and needlessly mean. Yes, Id trash-talk liberals to Republicans sometimes. And Id tell them which liberals mattered, who was a hack, who was coming after them. Did I suggest which strategies might and might not work for liberals, Democrats, and the president? Yes, although I do the same to conservativesin February, for example, I told many of them that Scott Browns election hadnt killed health care reform, and they needed to avoid dancing in the end zone, because I was aware of what liberals were saying about how to come back.
Still, this was hubris. It was the hubris of someone who roseobjectively speakinga bit too fast...
Stendahl couldnt have written it better (click here). On the worlds dumbest pseudo-conservative site, Weigel explained why hed failed. He had been dazzled by all his new accessand he felt he had to snark at conservatives to make these liberals like him. On the worlds dumbest conservative site, Weigel told the worlds oldest tale: It was the hubris of someone who rose a bit too fast, he confessed.
Were sure Dave Weigels a decent guy. But you can gag us with a spoon. You can just gag us right there.
That evening, Keith Olbermann proudly introduced Weigel to the world as MSNBCs newest hire. Question: Why would The One True Liberal Channel want to sign a guy who had just announced, on historys dumbest conservative site, that hed been talking fake smack to us liberals? We havent read Wonkette since the days when Ana Marie Cox (actual name) wrote the site, so thorough was our traumatization from reading all her dirty-girl posts. But we thought Josh Fruhlinger, one of Coxs successors, pretty much snarked it right:
WONKETTE (6/29/10): Weigels hiring was actually announced by arch-Marxist and bloated anger bag Keith Olbermann right in the middle of his show last night
while Dave was trying to explain Rick Barbers latest 19th century cosplay lunacy to TV audiences. The fact that Weigel was criticized so angrily by the leaders of American conservatism (i.e. the commenters on Andrew Breitbarts web site) pretty much guaranteed him a fat television paycheck from MSNBC, because there are only two teams in American politics and journalism, and they are both run by children.
That highlighted statement comes pretty close to being true at this time.
In a rather typical Weigel moment, the new hire quickly tweeted that his position at MSNBC is just a way to keep coming on as I get my next reporting gig. Surely, pay and position mean nothing to a man like Weigelto a libertarian who registers as a Republican but votes for Democratic candidates.
A ton of nonsense has swirled through this stew. Well suggest you consider three themes:
The careerism: In his piece for Breitbart, Weigel served a familiar stew, mixing abject self-denigration with bombast about his alleged career. (We have no idea why Weigel thinks hes already had a career, but that is clearly what he is claiming.) Weve warned you before about the problems which have afflicted the liberal world, due to the career ambitions of the young writers who pose as our intellectual leaders. At Breitbarts site, Weigel was full of apologies for his hubrisand he was full of defiance about his imagined career:
WEIGEL: Im talking to a few media companies about what Ill do next. Anyone who wanted to force me out of this business will have to settle for the consolation prize of me having to tediously inform sources of a new e-mail address. No serious journalist has defended the leak of my private e-mails; no one who works in politics or journalism would accept a situation where the things they said off the record could immediately become public. But no serious journalistas I want to be, as I amshould be so rude about the people he covers.
Dick Nixon couldnt have said it better. Trust us: The career ambition of young liberal journalists have created many problems for progressive interests in the past several decades. We assume that Weigels a decent guy. But even as he blubber/boo-hoos abut his rudeness/hubris, he is defiant about his career. Serious people should trust but verify the instincts of such confused scribes.
The clubbiness: One of Weigels three hundred apologies concerns his rude, hubristic reaction to this silly gossip item in the Washington Examiner (or to some version thereof). Its sad that such a silly item ever got into print in the first place; its sad that Weigel felt he had to react, then apologize; its sad that another young Washington journalist decided to waste the time of the world explaining his role in this stupid affair. But as you read these pitiful items, understand this: You are reading the work of a new group of self-impressed journalistic losers, a group of Kool Kids every bit as inane as the older group the left has vilified in recent years. Expecting serious work from such people is like expecting root beer-flavored rain.
The lack of performance: Weigel felt he had to apologize for wishing death on Matt Drudge. It would be a wonderful thing for the world if someone did the actual journalism about the pernicious work of Drudgeabout the effects his work has had on our political discourse. Instead, Weigel offered loud bombast for his four hundred new friends, dazzled as he was by their presence; soon, he was crawling off to apologize for this to Breitbart. Question: Has any one of these four hundred souls ever done the serious work about Drudge? Not that we know of, but so it goes with clubby, self-impressed climbers. (For the record, some perfectly good journalists, young and creaking, were part of the Journolist group.)
Summing up, Dave Weigel is almost surely a good, decent guy. But does Dave Weigel know who he is? Weigel is a libertarian who registers as a Republican but votes for the Democrats. Now, hes part of the One Liberal Team! Aint semi-inanity grand?
What is a libertarian: If you ever want to amuse yourself, just try to settle this question: What the heck is a libertarian? Weve occasionally chuckled at Wikipedias valiant attempts to puzzle out this conundrum. Its posting alternates incoherent definitions of the libertarian philosophy with lists of the several hundred different forms of libertarian thought. (The splinter groups seem to go on forever.) According to Wikipedia, this is the way the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines this school of thought:
INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY: Libertarians are committed to the belief that individuals, and not states or groups of any other kind, are both ontologically and normatively primary; that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others; that liberty, understood as non-interference, is the only thing that can be legitimately demanded of others as a matter of legal or political right; that robust property rights and the economic liberty that follows from their consistent recognition are of central importance in respecting individual liberty; that social order is not at odds with but develops out of individual liberty; that the only proper use of coercion is defensive or to rectify an error; that governments are bound by essentially the same moral principles as individuals; and that most existing and historical governments have acted improperly insofar as they have utilized coercion for plunder, aggression, redistribution, and other purposes beyond the protection of individual liberty.
Go aheadlaugh out loud.
According to this encyclopedia, libertarians believe that individuals, and not states or groups of any other kind, are both ontologically and normatively primary. No one on the face of the earth could explain what that gumbo means. But that isnt all! Libertarians also believe that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others. So does everyone else on the planet, Pol Pot perhaps to the side.
Can anyone explain what a libertarian is? Well guess that no one actually can. For what its worth, heres our attempt:
A libertarian is someone whose views about government non-interference are quite a bit weirder than yours.
David Brooks, part 3: Tomorrow