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Washington Post Reporter's 'Bigots' Tweet Criticized by Right

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gay marriage opponents protestWhen The Washington Post recently hired blogger Dave Weigel to cover the conservative movement and the GOP, one right-leaning site, Newsbusters, was not impressed. "The paper has hired another blogger who has been critical of the Right," it wrote, "and his beat will be, you guessed it, covering conservatives."

Now, a Tweet Weigel sent out Saturday has confirmed conservatives' fears. While much of official Washington was preparing for the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, Weigel sent out the following Tweet: "I can empathize with everyone I cover except for the anti-gay marriage bigots. In 20 years no one will admit they were part of that."

Perhaps Weigel will turn out two decades from now to have been prescient, but "bigot" is awfully strong language for a person who is making the case for tolerance – and this comment simply reinforced a longstanding view among social conservatives that The Washington Post and most of the rest of the mainstream media are not only implacably opposed to their policy agenda, but personally hostile to them as well.

(Disclosure: I like Dave Weigel. I've had him on my podcast several times. He has written about me in the past, and I have found him accurate and fair. So it gives me no joy to write about this.)

But opposition to gay marriage is hardly a fringe movement. A majority of Americans tell pollsters they are opposed to it, a number that, if you take him at face value, includes President Obama. Presumably Weigel would also count as "bigots" the 70 percent of African-Americans who backed Proposition 8 in California.

Conservatives, whom Weigel is paid to cover, were understandably irate. Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America (CWA) told me, "If (Weigel) ever tweeted that African-Americans are bigots on this issue he would no longer be employed by The Washington Post. His own arrogance disqualifies him as a serious journalist assigned to covering conservatives . . . for The Washington Post to assign him to cover Concerned Women for America is like assigning a weasel to watch the hen house."

Dan Gainor, a vice president at the Media Research Center, told me, "This is how the Post covers the conservative movement: Find someone who doesn't even understand the traditional values that made our nation great and then assign him to report on the right. Throw in the fact that Weigel loves to bash conservatives and he's the ideal Postie. At the same time, the paper hired a hard-core lefty in Ezra Klein to advocate for the left. It's a ridiculous double standard. The Post should be both embarrassed and ashamed."

When I confronted Weigel about his Tweet, he initially responded by Tweeting: "Unpleasant words are so much worse than watching 54% of your peers nullify your marriage," a comment that struck me as the response of an activist more than a journalist. When I asked him of the ethics of such a Tweet being sent out by a reporter tasked with covering conservatives, he responded by explaining: "I like (and largely agree with) pro-lifers. But I do not understand or respect the motivation of anti-gay marriage campaigners."

Last September, the Post issued a self-imposed policy on Twitter. The guidelines stated, "Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything -- including photographs or video -- that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility."

Weigel seems to have violated both the spirit and the letter of this policy concerning bias, and to have gone even further by stating flatly that he cannot be "empathetic" when covering those who oppose gay marriage.

Were Weigel merely a blogger -- or an opinion writer (such as myself) -- this Tweet would be of little concern. But Weigel is now a credentialed Washington Post reporter with a press pass, specifically tasked with covering the conservative movement/Republican Party beat.

This is not to say Weigel's position on gay marriage is right or wrong, but I do question his ability to effectively, let alone fairly, report on social conservatives. As Penny Nance told me, "I, for one, will never talk to him."

How can he now go to the Family Research Council's "Value Voters Summit" and objectively report on it? How can his coverage of a Rick Santorum speech, for example, be trusted? Some have wondered why the Post would hire a non-conservative to cover the conservative movement. One obvious inference in light of this development is that conservatives are not welcome at that paper. Before joining The Washington Post, Weigel previously wrote for the libertarian "Reason" and the liberal Washington Independent. He frequently appears on such programs as NPR's "Fresh Air" and MSNBC offerings, like Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddow Show.

In 2006, when conservative blogger Ben Domenech joined The Washington Post to cover this beat, his tenure was short-lived. Liberal bloggers quickly leveled plagiarism allegations, and Domenech resigned within days of his hiring. I wondered as I hit my deadline for this piece if Weigel would in any way be chastised for violating the Post's own self-imposed Twitter policy. A partial answer was revealed a little while later, when Weigel expressed remorse for his choice of words in a posting on the Washington Post Web site. Conceding he'd been "disrespectful," Weigel issued a mea culpa that included the following passage: "First, I apologize for calling same-sex marriage opponents 'bigots.' I was specifically referring to people who spend their working hours opposing gay marriage, not just people who vote to ban it. But those people aren't bigots, either."

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Perhaps before we get out the rope to lynch Mr. Weigel - it would be instructive to review the definitions of the terms he used. His job as a reporter is to accurately report the area he covers, in this instance the conservative movement.
If he is to maintain any journalist integrity, his choice of words must reflect the most accurate description of what he observes, not water down his language to appease the targets of his reporting.

His comment concerned the anti-gay marriage activists, describing them as bigoted.

Wikipedia defines bigot as:"A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices."

As a fellow reporter (and political conservative) I find nothing erroneous in this description - not because of the position these folks espouse, but in the unquestioning fashion in which they hold and present these ideas, and due to the well-documented animosity and intolerance of not just differing opinion, but even of questioning the basis and evidence supporting their position. (To be sure this is not true of every same-sex-marriage opponent, but seems to accurately describe the vast majority of those who chose to publicly state their position on this matter).

I personally think this is another example of where political correctness is more important than the accurate reporting of facts, though the irony of the intolerant being intolerant about being called intolerant is quite rich...

June 21 2010 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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