There are a few reporters out there who view conservatives with the mystified wonderment (in contrast to bald-faced hostility by most reporters)–such strange, exotic creatures, conservatives–and their reporting reminds me of anthropology reports given in National Geographic.
“The natives have strange rituals: they show up at Tea Party events with hand drawn posters and seem to really believe the government is too big but on the whole seem naive and rather dull-witted. They are friendly enough, for racist, bigoted, homophibic, Nazi criminals.”
That is Dave Weigel: A nice guy when he’s not patting you on your silly little naive head. Erick Erickson describes him here:
In fact, if you go through Dave’s archives you’ll find a slew of stories from the most recent one as I write to others that no one on the right really cares about, but people on the left who see the right collectively as fringe will eat up. And that’s the whole point of why he’s there.
There’s nothing unique about this situation. If the job is to cover the right from “inside the conservative movement,” that’s not actually happening. It’s like they put Weigel in a gorilla costume to infiltrate some gorillas in the mist and he stumbled into the wrong camp and is now reporting on activity completely unrelated to what actually matters. Never mind that the Washington Post’s online coverage of conservatives reflects a view that gorillas are more civilized than conservatives. And never mind that Weigel’s reporting is clouded with the groupthink you get among up-and-coming self-styled thinker/journalists who live together in D.C., are out to have an impact, but have never lived outside the clique. Insular groupthink journalism isn’t just useless because it doesn’t talk about what’s really going on, but because it only exists to coo at the pet ideas of the epistemic closure elites, usually preceded by a Media Matters press release to help direct their path.
Sure, Dave Weigel is a nice guy. But don’t treat his reporting from “inside the conservative movement” as serious when he clearly is not on the inside. He’s there because of what he wrote for publications funded by Tim Gill and George Soros, he’s there to track the fringe, to make the fringe look like the middle, and to dig in on agenda-based topics which kowtow to the narrow views of DC elites. His smarter readers know that’s the case, and are just there to enjoy the ride — the only one who seems to think otherwise is the adolescent naif Ezra Klein, late of the Center for American Progress, who doesn’t have any journalistic incentive to be objective toward the right or even passably fair.
Like Erick, I like Dave Weigel–in the same way I liked the trained Siberian Tigers at the Sigfried and Roy show: they look interesting and exotic, but are extraordinarily dangerous–as poor Roy learned the hard way. A journalist is a wild animal with an appetite for conservative meat and should be interacted with that way–always.
I do not expect Dave to be unbiased or fair. I do not expect him to defend a conservative point-of-view, ever, and therefore, I’m not disappointed or offended when he snaps off some pithy, demeaning, diminishing remark about conservatives or conservatism generally.
When he says something sufficiently irritating, I might respond, but mostly, I suppress the urge as it’s useless. Joking at a conservative’s expense and yucking it up is easy peasy. Everyone does it. So trendy.
So no, I don’t take Dave Weigel seriously. I think he’s a gifted writer and has interesting insight. He has an sophisticated mind and I enjoy talking to him. But he’s as ideologically left as the rest, he’s just willing to lower himself to hang with the natives from time to time. And he’s welcome to do so. Conservative people treat him with more kindness because he is willing to at least publicly view conservatives as a species of human. When it comes down to it though, his reporting sounds like reports from the out-back bush.
It would be fascinating to see what conservative, inside the conservative mind, reporting would look like. Too exotic for the Washington Post, that notion. Better stick with blogs.
What I try to do is understand why the people I cover are doing what they’re doing — where an idea comes from, where a grudge comes from, where a “meme” (like Greece playing the role of “dark future that socialism will bring us” that France used to play).
Sometimes I sympathize with what’s going on. Sometimes I’m critical. I try to be open about that. But the people who talk to me know I’ll accurately report what they’re doing, and my report can either be used by some liberal to attack “those wacky conservatives” or used by some conservative to get a newsy take on something in the movement.
In his own way, I think Dave is agreeing with my assessment of his role. The thing is, Ezra Klein writes from within the neosocialist movement on the left. He writes as one of them. So even when he disagrees, his affection for the ideology shines through pure and clear.
The WaPo has no such conservative kind-eyes. Dave looks at the conservative movement with interest and to clarify and/or critique but not to defend or explain. And that’s the difference.