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The Post Retreats

I was completely stunned to learn that the Washington Post pushed out Dave Weigel, who has been reporting a blog on the conservative movement and doing a fantastic job of it. The cause of the firing is that Weigel was found to have emailed nasty things about certain right-wingers. Ben Smith has the best explanation, which is that the Post apparently hired Weigel thinking that he is a right-winger:

The current flap over Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has its roots in a fact that suprised me when I learned of it earlier this year: The Post appears to have hired Weigel, a liberal blogger, under the false impression that he's a conservative. The new controversy over the revelation that he's liberal is primarily the Post's fault, not his, except to the degree that he allowed the paper's brass to put him in an unsustainable position. ...

But the Post seems simply not to have understood what they were getting when Klein suggested they hire him. National editor Kevin Merida told me for my story on the subject in May that he never asked Weigel about his politics, and Klein said he presented him to the paper simply as the best reporter covering conservatives. (Weigel's blog is subtitled, "Inside the conservative movement.")

“The way I explained Dave is that he’s the best reporter on the conservative movement beat,” Klein said, describing Weigel as “hard to characterize politically."

“I have not heard him express many policy opinions,” he said.

Merida, in a web chat in April, was asked if the paper would be "adding more conservative/Republican voices to better balance what is now your predominately liberal/Democratic leaning coverage?”

He replied, “[W]e recently have added to our staff the well-regarded Dave Weigel, and also mentioned columnists Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer. (Merida and a Post spokeswoman didn't respond to questions about Weigel this morning.)

I bet Smith is right -- political reporters and editors, in my experience, often have shockingly poor ideological antenna. Weigel comes out of libertarianism, but it has been clear that his basic sympathies lie with the left and, indeed, that he has broken with the libertarian movement in some fundamental ways. But none of this kept him from reporting fairly and very well on the right. It seemed like his blog was part of a move to bring into the online world smart, opinionated writers who could be upfront about their views rather than pretending they didn't have any, and bring original reporting and sharp analysis to the product. Writers like Weigel and Ezra Klein conduct interviews and break news in addition to synthesizing data. They're a valuable addition to -- not a substitute for -- the traditional straight-news method.

I had assumed the Post was planning to find conservative reporter-bloggers to augment the liberal ones. Instead it looks more like the Post simply hired Weigel by accident and just plans to return to the old method. What a catastrophe for the newspaper.