In the first (and still best) “Austin Powers” film, a United Nations representative makes a faux pas and calls the film’s villain “Mr. Evil.”
“It’s Dr. Evil,” he huffs. “I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called ‘mister,’ thank you very much.”
This is how I feel when I’m referred to as a “blogger,” sometimes with a political qualifier like “liberal” or “conservative” attached. I’m a reporter. I’ve been a reporter since high school. Like a lot of other people, I lucked into some reporting jobs that took advantage of the speed of the web — thus, I blogged. And I left the Washington Post because I was intoxicated by this medium by and the privileges of reporting. The leak of my private e-mails wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago; but then, neither would have my career been possible.
You’ve read this far, so you must think I’m trying to explain away the emails leaked this week. I’m not. Here’s what happened.
After the 2008 election, I drove up from Atlanta to D.C. and was greeted by my editor [at Reason], Matt Welch, with surprising news. It would be better, he said, if I worked somewhere else. I’d voted for the Obama-Biden ticket (having joked, semi-seriously, that I was honor-bound to vote for a ticket with a fellow Delawarean on it) and wasn’t fully on board with the magazine’s upcoming, wonky focus on picking apart the new administration. My friend, Spencer Ackerman, immediately bought me Ethiopian food and suggested I come to work at his magazine, The Washington Independent. I was dicey about the suggestion, partly because I was already doing some work for The Economist. At Reason, I’d become a little less favorable to Republicans, and I’d never been shy about the fact that I was pro-gay marriage and pro-open borders. But could I do the same work if I jumped to a left-leaning web magazine? I figured that I could, largely because I wouldn’t change at all.
A few weeks later, Ezra Klein invited me to join Journolist — which I’d known about for a year. I don’t know why he did, but I think it was an assist to a friend trying out a new job, and a way to build my list of sources. I was dazzled by the sudden, immediate access I had to more than a hundred journalists and academics, mostly on the left, some without an ideology I could discern. And I was encouraged that they were so blunt about what they were thinking about and working on.
I was talking, largely, to liberals who didn’t really know conservatives. So I assumed they thought Hugh Hewitt was “buffoonish.” I said Gingrich had a “screwed-up tenture” because Republicans I admired, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Ok.) and Dick Armey, had serious problems with how Gingrich ran the House.
But I was cocky, and I got worse. I treated the list like a dive bar, swaggering in and popping off about what was “really” happening out there, and snarking at conservatives. Why did I want these people to like me so much? Why did I assume that I needed to crack wise and rant about people who, usually for no more than five minutes were getting on my nerves? Because I was stupid and arrogant, and needlessly mean. Yes, I’d trash-talk liberals to Republicans sometimes. And I’d tell them which liberals “mattered,” who was a hack, who was coming after them. Did I suggest which strategies might and might not work for liberals, Democrats, and the president? Yes, although I do the same to conservatives — in February, for example, I told many of them that Scott Brown’s election hadn’t killed health care reform, and they needed to avoid dancing in the endzone, because I was aware of what liberals were saying about how to come back.
Still, this was hubris. It was the hubris of someone who rose — objectively speaking — a bit too fast, and someone who misunderstood a few things about his trade. It was also the hubris of someone who thought the best way to be annoyed about something was to do it publicly. This is the reason I’m surprised at commentary accusing me of misrepresenting myself.
I’m talking to a few media companies about what I’ll do next. Anyone who wanted to force me out of this business will have to settle for the consolation prize of me having to tediously inform sources of a new e-mail address. No serious journalist has defended the leak of my private e-mails; no one who works in politics or journalism would accept a situation where the things they said off the record could immediately become public. But no serious journalist — as I want to be, as I am — should be so rude about the people he covers.