Some personal news: Later this month, I’ll be joining the Washington Post as a national political correspondent. I didn’t expect to leave Bloomberg before the 2016 elections, but I’m proud of the Bloomberg Politics launch, and any role I had in expanding the ethos of Josh Tyrangiel’s Businessweek into the rest of Bloomberg’s news operation. General advice: If you get a chance to work for Josh Tyrangiel, take it.
(In)famously, I left the Post in 2010 after a short stint as a blogger/reporter covering “the conservative movement” writ large. I resigned after a successful campaign by The Daily Caller and the Media Research Center to exploit my arrogant and sometimes hateful social media and email snark. This is pretty well covered, and while I don’t regret resigning, I regret the comments.
Oh — one thing, though. In the mists of time, one of the controversial comments has lost all context. When college journalism students talk to me about the scandal (yes, this happens), I often have to correct them about it. It’s that I dismissed supporters of Ron Paul as “Paultards.” Tim Graham, the factotum at the Media Research Center, writes in his spittle-flecked post about my news* that “Weigel’s going to cover the Rand Paul campaign, when he used to refer to the Tea Party as ‘Paultards.'” An angry reader emailed me last night to ask how I could cover Rand Paul: “You’re writing about him while you call people “paultards”?
Anyone armed with Google can learn that I voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 presidential primary. Anyone with access to Twitter can find my personal phone number and email, and ask what I meant — so, thank you to the reader who did.
For anyone else: It’s pretty simple. On September 12, 2009, someone on JournoList started a thread about the day’s massive Tea Party rallies around the country.
“How much of this crowd is just spillover Ron Paul fanatics?” asked on lister. “Having gone to a few Paul events last year, the rhetoric and demographic looks very, very similar to me.”
Another lister, Jon Schmitt, suggested that “more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined.”
I responded (and spelled “Schmitt” wrong):
Just to address Jon Schmidt and this comment: “I think more people were there on Saturday than voted for Ron Paul in all the primaries combined.”
More 1 million people voted for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries. That said, many of those votes were cast in primaries held after the nomination was sewn up. But just in Pennsylvania, Paul polled 129,247 votes against McCain. And that’s more people than showed up on Saturday.
It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.
Just to break that down:
1) I jumped into the thread to defend Ron Paul supporters, and say that someone had underestimated their numbers by a factor of 10.
2) My use of the derisive “Paultard” was intended to refer to how Fox News viewed Ron Paul supporters. I was in Manchester, in 2008, when Ron Paul was denied entry to the final pre-primary debate. This crystallized a lot of the anger of Paul supporters, who had been listening to Fox’s Sean Hannity dismiss Paul, even (or especially) when they swarmed online polls or call-in phone lines to support him.
One night in Manchester, some Ron Paul fans — who had made Murphy’s on Elm Street into their unofficial post-work HQ — spotted Hannity and his crew entering the Radisson, also on Elm Street. They chased him to the doors of the hotel.
So, 20 months later, I remembered how Fox News and Ron Paul supporters were natural enemies. I used the “Paultard” term to distinguish the people who had been hated by Fox in 2008, and loved by Fox when they became Tea Party activists.
Stupid way to put it? The smart way would have been “Ron Paul supporters-cum-Tea Party people.” But I was trying to quickly demonstrate just how loathed these activists were until they linked up with the Tea Party.
*The post, which I won’t link to, also cheap-shots me by illustrating the post with a photo of me doing a TV hit, without makeup, in the sun, my mouth half-open. Why do I look so haggard? Well, that shot is from when I covered the riots in Baltimore, interviewing dozens of people at the scenes of fires and looting, on four hours of sleep. That’s the sort of work I’ve done over the last five years, while Tim Graham has stewed behind a keyboard.