Lessons for Journalists: Be Public About Your Contempt

A big story recently in the journalistic/political blogosphere was the short-lived Washington Post career of David Weigel. The Post had hired Weigel as an online reporter to cover the conservative/libertarian beat, the activists, think tanks and politicians on the right side of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately for Weigel, he had written ugly, over-the-top e-mails attacking some of his conservative subjects in an ostensibly private e-mail exchange, “Journolist.” Ezra Klein, who now blogs at the Post, had created the exchange (list-serv?) for liberal pundits, journalists and denizens of think tanks to kick around issues and check facts or, as critics characterized it, to coordinate the conventional (liberal) media wisdom.

Someone on Journolist wanted to bring Weigel down and so made public Weigel’s scurrilous remarks, which happened to be the kind of impolitic things people write in private e-mails, but too bad. Weigel, his ability to report compromised, resigned.

It was the right move: Your effectiveness as a reporter and analyst is seriously and perhaps irremediably damaged if the people you write about know you hold them in contempt.


From today’s Washington Post.

The problem in Washington is not that President Obama and the Democratic Congress have created a hostile regulatory environment for investment and job creation. Rather, the problem is the hyperbole and poisonous rhetoric from the business lobby that have created a hostile environment for political compromise. Over the years, Americans have shown that they can respond creatively, even profitably, to reasonable regulation. Apparently our business leaders have lost faith that we can do it again.

These condemnations of business come from Steven Pearlstein, the Post’s business columnist. It’s not unusual: Pearlstein often reviles business and business leaders as greedy, powerful, selfish exploiters of their employees and the country.

First Amendment…yes, yes, we know. But isn’t it odd?

David Weigel writes about his journalistic subjects with contempt in a private e-mail, and he feels compelled to resign.

Steve Pearlstein writes about his journalistic subjects with contempt in a newspaper column, and he wins a Pulitzer!

P.S. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has been blogging on Pearlstein’s pro-regulation, anti-business arguments, with a Journolist angle, this week. He’s skeptical:

HOW TO GET BUSINESSES TO INNOVATE: More regulation! Plus, more politically convenient Chamber Of Commerce-bashing. Is Steven Pearlstein a JournoLister? I mean, he’s really on a roll with the Administration spin.

Posted at by Glenn Reynolds on Jul 16, 2010 at 7:49 am Link

Earlier post, with lots of reader commentary, here.

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