Friday, June 25, 2010

L'affaire Weigel

Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has resigned after e-mails of his to the private "JournoList" made it out into the media. I was initially hopeful that Weigel's blog would have some interesting content. Sometimes it did, but I was disappointed by his rather glib coverage of the DOJ's abrupt dropping of the New Black Panther Party case, a matter that I won't write about in detail here because it's too close to home (home = work.)

Still, although some of Weigel's comments (e.g the bit about Matt Drudge lighting himself on fire) were certainly intemperate and over the top, I don't really think this is the sort of thing that ought to be a firing offense. (Or, as may be technically more accurate, the sort of offense that leads to a strongly encouraged resignation.) After all, he did send these comments to a private e-mail list. A large private e-mail list, to be sure. But, as Alyssa Rosenberg writes at Washingtonian, this still raises questions about the motivations of the person who leaked Weigel's e-mails in the first place. Like many other conservatives and libertarians, I was upset about Stephanie Grace's being raked over the coals when a controversial private e-mail of hers was leaked. There was too little said at first about the possible motivations of the person who leaked Grace's e-mail to BLSA, and the same thing is also true here.

There's another Weigel/Grace parallel in that each scandal invokes a)what types of communications ought to be considered truly private and b) what norms ought to be used to judge intemperate but at least quasi-private communications. As is often the case, Julian Sanchez makes some great points in a post about the Tracy Flick-ization of public life: "Lots of folks seem oddly resigned to living in a culture where anyone who is even remotely a public figure must expect to be defined by the least flattering thing they've ever said or done. Let the public mask slip for a moment--heaven forfend you're foolish enough to do it in a recordable online context--and you've only yourself to blame when, predictably, it becomes the focus of today's Two Minute Hate. Is this a culture anyone actually wants to live in? Forget the cost to the public figures--does anyone really want to live in a world where the only people prepared to risk engagement in politics are either so rigidly self-disciplined and boring that they provide no fodder for these outrage kabuki rituals, or such consistent over-the-top blowhards that no particular comment stands out as a focus of outrage?" Julian's touching on many of the same themes that I did in the Grace post, so let me say that I agree wholeheartedly.

Again as is entirely predictable, Tyler Cowen also has smart things to say. Cowen calls our current norms "a tax on the moody, the volatile, the web-savvy, the non-mainstream, and a subsidy to in-control smooth talkers and careful writers." Let me add that they're also a tax on online extroverts who are real life introverts. Without our laptops, we'd probably just keep hiding inside our houses reading because real humans are loud and scary; I think Tyler himself conceded this point in Create Your Own Economy. Real life extroverts, please understand -- if you make us too cautious about leading our lives online, you'll effectively deter us from one of the best ways we have of comfortably connecting with the rest of humanity. Do you really want that? Please to think of the children, real life extroverts?

Oh, and because D.C. libertarian circles are tiny, and because this sort of thing seems virtually obligatory in posts of this type -- I've met Weigel a couple times at happy hours and such, but I doubt either of us could pick the other out of a line-up.

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