Joan Walsh is the new editor-in-chief of Salon.com. She joined Salon as its first full-time news editor in 1998 and became managing editor in 2004. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Vogue, The Nation, and San Francisco Magazine, where she won a 2004 Western Magazine Award for her local politics column. A former consultant to national and regional foundations, Walsh is the author of two books, Splash Hit: The Pacific Bell Park Story and Stories of Renewal: Community Building and the Future of Urban America.
Brian Montopoli: I’ve been a little taken aback by the “Jeff Gannon” coverage in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Salon published a piece by Eric Boehlert that dug into salacious details about Gannon’s past — days after Gannon resigned. Does the Gannon stuff set a dangerous precedent? If we’re willing and able to expose the personal foibles of anyone who engages in journalism that people find objectionable, aren’t reporters going to think twice before sticking their necks out?
Joan Walsh: We’ve had our moments of soul searching about the details of the Gannon story. But, you know, you have a White House that’s so controlling with information, that makes it so hard for reporters to do their job. When they credential a pseudo-journalist and they don’t know his name, and he lies about the nature of these Web sites that are very easy to find, I think it’s fair game. And the fact that he’s gay — I don’t care that he’s gay. The fact that he’s gay isn’t really the story. It’s the extent to which they either didn’t know or didn’t care that this person wasn’t at all who he said he was. And then you add the hypocrisy of his [printed] stances on gay issues and gay marriage and I find it a completely fair, ethical thing to cover.
I shouldn’t be turning reporters on to who my enemies are, but, you know, I’ve been blown away by how nice the coverage of this transition [at Salon] has been, and the mail that I’ve gotten personally, the mail that has come to Salon. We got a reader letter yesterday saying, hey, Salon, you only ran nice letters about Joan Walsh’s transition. So I asked our letters editor to look. We didn’t get any negative letters. It’s been all positive — except for my friends over at Atrios, who have been trying to decide who’s more loathsome, me or Judith Miller. So I’m in good company. But anyway, one of the reasons that they hate me is that I attacked some of them for outing Andrew Sullivan a few years ago, when his online profile was uncovered and it lead to it becoming public what he might be doing in his private life. I thought that was off limits. But this is a totally different story. This is a person who has lied from the very beginning. Once you start pulling the threads, you tell the story of what you uncover. And that’s what we’ve done. I’m proud of it.
BM: Salon has carved out a niche with left-leaning readers. How do you walk the line between trying to be an intellectually honest news source and giving those who come because of their politics what they want?
JW: I think 99.9 percent of the people who come are intellectually curious people. Many of them are liberals, but they come to Salon because they are curious, because they are getting stories they can’t find anywhere else. We won’t pander. We’ve never pandered. After the election, we talked to one another about the fact that if we had run a story a day focusing on the allegations that the Ohio election was stolen, we would — we might have seen subscriptions and readership go through the roof. I shouldn’t say we absolutely would have. But there’s definitely a segment of the left that wants cheerleading and does not want a critical voice. But it’s tiny. In our readership it’s very tiny.