There has been a lot of news in the last week or so: the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, the oil spill off the Gulf Coast, the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings, the cratering economy and stock market, even the World Cup. But for a few days at the end of June, Beltway pundits were consumed with the ballad of David Weigel, a blogger for The Washington Post, briefly assigned to cover the "conservative beat."
And just what is the conservative beat?
Well, according to many of the nation's leading editors, it's that shadowy, often-sinister world where carbon-based life forms of a generally humanoid appearance say and do things relating to, and supportive of, conservative causes and the Republican Party. These strange creatures have been observed using complex tools, caring and nurturing their young and even participating in complex social rituals. Most worship an unseen sky god that traces its roots back to the ancient Middle East. Even more astounding, these creatures are having a noticeable impact on American politics.
And that is why many of our leading journalistic enterprises have found it worthwhile to assign full-time reporters to the task of spelunking through the dark caves of conservatism to better understand these fascinating, if vaguely worrisome, beings.
As for Weigel, though he officially resigned from the Post, theories still abound about whether he really jumped from his perch there or was pushed. Either way, the reason he had to go stemmed from comments he made in an off-the-record online chat group for liberal journalists. He said he hoped that Internet phenom Matt Drudge would "set himself on fire" and that Rush Limbaugh should drop dead.
Conservatives, according to Weigel, are obsessed with protecting "white privilege" and are bigots for opposing gay marriage. The GOP is the "party of Mordor" and, if left unchecked, will one day deliver the West into the hands of Sauron. (Not really, but if you read between the lines, it's in there.) Note: Weigel's actual work product was far more balanced and seemingly open-minded than what you'd expect knowing his private views.
The incident has sparked a lot of discussion over how mainstream journalistic institutions such as The Washington Post and The New York Times should cover conservatives. Even if you leave aside the ancient arguments about media bias, this is still an old debate. In 2004, the Times assigned a reporter to cover conservatives full-time in order to better inform their readers and staff how the conservative movement works.