FishbowlDC Defends Publishing Weigel Emails: “We Have A Vested Interest”


As the controversy over Dave Weigel’s resignation from the Washington Post unfolds, the people at the center of the Weigel storm are Betsy Rothstein and Matt Dornic, two media bloggers for Mediabistro’s FishbowlDC who launched the beginning of Weigel’s end.

It was Rothstein’s story about leaked e-mails from Journolist that forced Weigel to issue a mea culpa the day before his resignation.  While it’s unclear how long Jonathan Strong of the conservative Daily Caller had other e-mails, it was Rothstein’s reporting that put the attention on Weigel.

In an e-mail to Mediaite, Rothstein defended FishbowlDC’s decision to write about the leaked e-mails, saying “this is serious for a blogger who covers conservatives. We have a vested interest in knowing and informing that a conservative beat journalist has a clear and angry opposition to the subject of his reporting.”

When pressed on whether there were second thoughts about reporting on e-mails leaked from a private listserv where the participants are expected to maintain confidentiality, Rothstein said she had no concerns. “We are not a member of JournoList. It’s not law. It’s a club,” she said. “It’s private to the members. Once the contents of messages are extracted, they are not private.”

While not speculating on the motivations of the leaker, Rothstein said that the leaker ran the risk of attracting the wrath of Journolist members but that FishbowlDC wasn’t obligated to abide by Journolists’ confidentiality.

Rothstein–a former gossip columnist for The Hill–and Dornic have taken a hard, traditional journalism stand in going after Weigel’s transgressions.  In a post about an e-mail Weigel sent to conservative staffers, Rothstein and Dornic said:

We at FishbowlDC question why Weigel continues airing his political laundry. If you’re a reporter, you’re supposed to be objective. We shouldn’t know if he voted for Ron Paul, President Obama or David Hasselhoff. If you’re going to be reporting on any political movement, you are supposed to take an unbiased position.

That set-off a quick response from new media public intellectual Jay Rosen, who tweeted: “So @FishbowlDC has decreed in its clownish stupidity that there is only one way to be trusted as a reporter, “bystander.””

Dornic–who has spent his career in public relations before joining the blog–has been forced to defend his position that Weigel overstepped the boundaries when it came to venting his frustrations with the people he covers. Dornic called for Weigel’s firing just moments before the resignation was announced.

In the end, Rothstein rejected Mediaite’s assertion that there bad blood between FishbowlDC and Weigel based on a series of  especially relentless posts in the last two weeks. She told me she’d never met or seen Weigel until last night at a Huffington Post party.  By the way, she reports he refused to shake her hand.

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