What Weigel Tells Us About Journalism and Politics: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “How Dave Weigel Made A Career Of Highlighting The Right’s Kooks And Mainstreaming The Left’s,” which is a bit of an overstatement, but headlines gotta headline.  Moreover, as is usually the case, the column is about something a bit larger than the headline might suggest.

Regular readers here know I believe that, in a very general sense, a mass audience is drawn to stories about people before stories about events before stories about ideas.  So my point in writing about Weigel’s career is not really to critique Weigel per se, but to explain larger ideas about American political journalism and politics (as with columns I have written about Joy Reid, Jeffrey Toobin, etc.).

Weigel’s career, at least until recently has been to caricature the non-left by exaggerating the worst elements that attach themselves to conservatism, libertarianism, the GOP, etc.  As such, it was a career that operated as a caricature of American political journalism, the establishment of which otherizes and marginalizes the non-left, and is unduly credulous in conflating the non-left with its fringe elements.

As noted in the column, Weigel and his fellow travelers may view the ascendancy of Pres. Trump as vindication.  But that attitude is another reflection of the left’s problem with their role in the dysfunction of American politics.

I believe in personal responsibility, so the non-left should take the lion’s share of it when they associate themselves with racists, conspiracy theorists, etc.  But as I’ve also noted previously, the left’s exclusionary behaviors and broad smears unfortunately tend to desensitize the non-left to such criticism, while providing media oxygen to inflammatory elements of the non-left (and of the left, by the converse process of normalization).  It’s not pretty, but I take the political world as I find it.  It is an unfortunately widespread phenomenon in American political journalism.  Weigel just tends to personify it more than most, which is how he wound up as column’s focus.

What got left out?  I could have written more about the role of the conundrum in our current free speech debate in this context.  I judge Weigel by his own apparent view that giving people or stories exposure fuels them, regardless of the tone of coverage.  That view is not entirely consistent with the conventional wisdom that the solution to bad speech is more speech.  But it is consistent with progressives’ growing realization that their movement is not consistent with traditional American views on freedom of speech.  And it’s consistent with social studies suggesting that confirmation bias is so powerful that exposing people to contrary evidence can cause people to dig in on their priors.  There was no chance that I was going to resolve that debate in the column any more than I was going to do so here, but at least it’s something you can chew on further in your spare moments.

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