David Weigel Affair Reveals Just How Isolated Media Left Is from Conservatives

June 28th, 2010 2:28 PM
One emerging narrative from the tale of Dave Weigel's resignation is the extent to which the journalistic left is insulated from opposing views. The two institutions involved, JournoList and the Washington Post, are exemplars of liberal epistemic closure.

Ezra Klein's now-defunct email list provided a forum for journalists to collaborate, as long as they were, in his words, "nonpartisan to liberal, center to left." No conservatives allowed. The Washington Post, meanwhile, hired Weigel, perhaps two notches left of center, to cover the right, while relying on Klein, a full eight notches left, to cover the liberal movement.

The scarcity of conservative views both on JournoList and in the Post demonstrate the insularity of political conversation among legacy media players. They apply intense scrutiny to conservatives, and fail in the most basic measures of introspection.

That is one element of the whole situation that Weigel's defenders seem to be missing: the issue is not his personal political views, per se, but rather the Post's failure to provide balance in its blog-based political coverage.

There is nothing inherently wrong with assigning someone hostile to certain views to cover a movement espousing those views. Indeed, that can be a very healthy way to challenge preconceived notions and political orthodoxy where it otherwise would be taken for granted.

As Byron York wrote at the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog,
There's little doubt that the most interesting coverage of events on the left and right generally comes from journalists on the other side. Much of the time, the right sees things happening on the left, and connects them, in a way that the left doesn't see, and the left sees things happening on the right, and connects them, in a way that the right doesn't see. In opinion journalism, it's a good thing to have each side examining the other.

The Post doesn't seem to understand that, even though it has jumped into opinion journalism with both feet. The paper hired a bunch of people from the left-wing blogosphere -- Ezra Klein, Greg Sargent, Garance Franke-Ruta, and, for a short time, Weigel -- who often write about the right, even though Weigel was the only one specifically assigned to it. But they haven't hired any conservative to write about the left. It's the worst kind of one-sidedness.
Sure, Weigel could arguably serve a valuable journalistic function by scrutinizing the right more, perhaps, than a conservative would. But the Post did not do the same for the left. Klein is a rank and file liberal.

So if the rationale for Weigel's employment was that it is healthy to assign political reporters to cover movements they do not agree with or belong to, perhaps the Post should re-hire Weigel, fire Klein, and replace the latter with someone who is demonstrably hostile to, or at the very least openly skeptical of, the political left.

Klein himself seems not to realize just how insular his own political conversations are. In his post-Weigel-resignation piece on his WaPo blog (linked above), he wrote that JournoList was meant to be
An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another. The eventual irony of the list was that it came to be viewed as a secretive conspiracy, when in fact it was always a fractious and freewheeling conversation meant to open the closed relationship between a reporter and his source to a wider audience.
Klein extrapolates a "secretive conspiracy" from what is really just a secretive conversation among the center-left. No one is claiming a conspiracy - the use of the term is probably meant to discredit those skeptical of a forum where liberal journalists collaborate on the latest stories.

That Klein calls JournoList "a fractious and freewheeling conversation" demonstrates his epistemic closure. He considers "fractious and freewheeling" a conversation that necessarily included nobody that openly espoused a conservative position as his or her own. Klein openly discusses his decision to exclude conservatives from the list, precisely so it would not devolve into a "debate society."

Could there have been significant disagreement among even the liberal members of JournoList? Undoubtedly there was. But Klein made a concerted effort to exclude conservative voices. How can such a list possibly claim to be adequately informing its members on the political goings on of the nation while excluding and entire school of American political thought?

Media liberals seems to be trotting happily down this path of epistemic closure. Reporters continue to cover the right, as NewsBusters contributor Dan Gainor put it in discussing Weigel, as if they were "visiting a zoo." Or, as New York Times editor Bill Kellor put it, "We wanted to understand them."

Yes, who are these strange creatures who call themselves conservatives?