Former Washington Post "conservative movement" reporter Dave Weigel, who resigned last week after some unflattering (but silly!) private listserve emails about Matt Drudge and other conservatives leaked, has spoken up: he should never have written those things, but come on.
Weigel spends a bunch of time explaining his background, from high school to college to major media, and how he became a Reporter, not merely a Blogger. He says that reporters should be able to have opinions about the people they're covering, but their opinions probably shouldn't be as mean as his were. He was just trying to fit in on a listserve of liberals. We've all been there. (Not really.)
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, I'd trash-talk liberals to Republicans sometimes. And I'd 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 conservatives - in February, for example, I told many of them that Scott Brown's election hadn't killed health care reform, and they needed to avoid dancing in the endzone, 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 rose - objectively speaking - a bit too fast, and someone who misunderstood a few things about his trade. It was also the hubris of someone who thought the best way to be annoyed about something was to do it publicly.
I find the idea of journalists not being able to vent in any way they like in private to be depressing. The lesson from this episode, alas, will be simply to wall off private beliefs and comments and jokes and vents into a tighter and tighter personal space. A list-serv isn't safe. Are any emails safe? At some point, our hacks may become Elena Kaganized. Can you imagine a worse fate?
Being a Supreme Court justice? No, we cannot. But come on! People, all people, reporters and actual famous famous alike, can still vent in fairly wide personal spaces. They can still write emails on non-governmental accounts to their specific friends and have a good chance of these things staying safe forever, or at least until Google's robots take over the Earth. (But we'll all be murdered in that case anyway.)
It's just not a good bet to send one's venting to a listserve of 400 journalists with petty grievances against each other all the time, whether it bills itself as "off-the-record" or not. Still, whichever anonymous loser leaked Weigel's emails? You're not a hero. Just fyi.