But it does mean that institutions like the Post have both an opportunity and an obligation to take advantage of what this new model offers—to find a way to, as Tkacik writes, “combine the best of both.” Instead, at the first sign of trouble, they cut Weigel loose. And rather than thinking about how it might have made this experiment work—for example, by making clear to readers this was an experiment in a new form, or by providing support from an editor who could help Weigel navigate the shifting terrain—the Post seems determined to draw the wrong conclusions. A point-missing blog post by the paper’s ombudsman, Andy Alexander, contained this passage:
“I don’t think you need to be a conservative to cover the conservative movement,” [managing editor Raju] Narisetti told me late today. “But you do need to be impartial… in your views.”
He said that when Weigel was hired, he was vetted in the same way that other prospective Post journalists are screened. He interviewed with a variety of top editors, his writings were reviewed and his references were checked, Narisetti said.
“But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level” of inquiry, he said. “It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: ‘In private… have you expressed any opinions that would make it difficult for you to do your job.”
Who knows what that remark about being “impartial… in your views” is supposed to mean, or whether it would make any more sense without the ellipses; focus instead on that last line. If there is any reporter anywhere who has not expressed views in private, or on a bar stool, that might make it difficult for him to do his job were they made public—and I doubt that there is—he is barely a sentient human being, let alone a good journalist.
In the course of encountering the world people draw conclusions and form views, and a good journalist encounters more of the world than most folks. What’s happening now is that the fiction that those convictions don’t, or shouldn’t, shape the tasks of journalism is disappearing. That doesn’t mean that anything goes; it means we have an opportunity to establish a new set of journalistic values—one that valorizes fair-mindedness, intellectual honesty, and proving your point with serious reporting, and that accepts a variety of ways to achieve these goals. Weigel is not blameless here, but as a colleague said to me over the weekend, “If you’re the Post, you have to find a way for somebody like Dave to work.” The rest of journalism already is.