Normally it's not my place to weigh in on an issue lighting up the blog world. But because this is emerging as an unexpectedly polarizing moment in conceptions of journalism in general, web-based journalism in particular, the predicament and future of the Washington Post, the consequences of an "always on the record" culture, the differences between "objectivity" and "fairness," etc, I feel I should say:
I agree with my Atlantic colleagues Marc Ambinder, Andrew Sullivan, Conor Friedersdorf, and (in guest role for Megan McArdle) Julian Sanchez that the Post was wrong to force its reporter David Weigel out today, after some of his reckless private emails were leaked. This means disagreeing with my Atlantic colleague Jeff Goldberg's initial condemnation of Weigel, later modified in several posts.
Going through all aspects of the issue would require many thousands of words, on top of the zillions already written. In brief: I agree with Friedersdorf's explanation of what should and should not count as bias in journalism; Sanchez's warnings about where the veneration of faux-objectivity would lead (as opposed to fair-mindedness and transparency); and Ambinder's account of the kind of reporting Weigel actually did. Weigel was foolish to put the things he did into emails, but the posts above do a good job of explaining why that folly shouldn't disqualify his reporting. One obvious lesson: never say anything negative about a specific person in email or other digital media. Sooner or later, the person will see it. There is no exception to this rule.
To say two other things: 1) Why is this different from the recklessness of Gen. McChrystal's associates, which I said couldn't be tolerated? Because there is a difference between the military chain of command and the varied menagerie that is any healthy news organization. 2) Might this episode mark a change in the digital-generation's tragic imagination about the consequences of "living in public" through social media etc? Yes, the emails shouldn't have been leaked, and even when they were the paper shouldn't have gotten rid of Weigel. But until now, many tech viziers have said that the whole idea of discretion and privacy was antique; that when all opinions from everyone were on the permanent record, nothing could prove embarrassing; that everything should hang out. Maybe not. UPDATE: An interesting video on the "Think Before You Post" theme, plus a change of mind on the virtues of living in public, here.
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