It's not even lunchtime and already we've got two vicious spats that are so good, we just had to cover them both. And, big surprise, they're both spawned off Wonkette's controversial ode to Trig Palin on his third birthday. If you only want a quick sense of just how nasty this has gotten, look for the key swipes we've highlighted that have propelled this thing forward. Otherwise, hold onto your hats: we're diving into some seriously insidery bile.
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Players: Wonkette editor Ken Layne; Slate blogger Dave Weigel; Fishbowl DC editor Betsy Rothstein; Mediaite writer Tommy Christopher.
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Opening Serve: After Papa John's Pizza announced it would no longer advertise on the site, Adweek reached out to both Layne and Weigel. Layne insited in his response that "It's *Sarah Palin* who is the target of our disgust, because of what she does to that child. Jack should not refer to the child as "retarded," even in a clearly over-the-top piece of political satire, because obviously the people who are going to act outraged about this are not going to be following the nuances of a notorious meta-humor website like Wonkette." The Wonkette editor added: "Dave Weigel is a weasel. Let's see who runs to his defense next time he's fired for calling Tea Party people a bunch of 'Paultards'! What's wrong with that guy, anyway?!"
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Layne also cc'd Weigel who, earlier that day, had called the Wonkette post "gross" despite last year being fired from the Washington Post after using the phrase "Paultard Tea Party" in a leaked email to the controversial Journolist listserv started by The Washington Post's Ezra Klein.
Return Volley: Weigel's response: "Sorry to learn that I'm a weasel, but 1) I'll stick up for any satire that doesn't *make fun of a mentally disabled toddler* and 2) there's a subtle difference between private e-mails that get leaked out of context and material that's written and published for everyone to read. There's a more obvious difference between a generic term that uses the suffix -tard and a personal joke at the expense of some kid who, through no choice of his own, will not be able to live a completely normal life."
Fishbowl DC's Betsy Rothstein, who broke the Weigel-JournoList story in 2010, then responded to the Slate blogger's self-defense in Adweek. In a post entitled, "Dave Weigel, Please," Rothstein writes: "Please stop professing that WaPo's Ezra Klein's 400-member email list was private. Also, please stop suggesting there is anything 'subtle' between what you wrote for WaPo and what you thought and shared with your listserv friends. That wasn't subtle at all. You were a WaPo journalist covering conservatives who was writing one thing by day and professing your 'real' thoughts about those you covered to a special list of people protected by nothing." Also, "spare us your heartfelt defense of Trig Palin. It's rather easy to defend a child with Down’s Syndrome."
Weigel reacts to Rothstein's post with one feisty tweet: "Hah! At what point does MediaBistro realize how embarassing its DC gossip blog is?"
Over at Mediaite, writer Tommy Christopher is engaged in an email-based back and forth with Layne, the highlights of which include:
Layne's explanation of why, on the Internet, there is no point in taking down posts, because they can always be recovered.
Why even try that? So people like you can get another freelance internet column out of it by feigning outrage again? .... But in this case, like all such cases over the decades, you sometimes put a note on the post apologizing for offending anyone, and making it clear that your target is Sarah Palin, an empty grifter and dollar-chaser and tabloid-fame monster with a delusional following of poor white people who somehow think her interests converge in any way with their interests. It is certainly not about her innocent child.
Christopher, with two special needs children of his own, has clearly lost his patience by the fourth email. Saying that he gets Layne and his staff have to stay in Wonkette character, he takes exception to the jabs about freelancing and asks Layne to imagine that the child being mocked in the original post was one of his own. "Maybe if I was a dick Wonkette writer, I'd think you were an oversensitve pussy for getting your booty-shorts in a twist, but as a fellow parent, I wouldn't assume you were just a craven opportunist." He concludes: "You think I want to be in a feud with the Inglorious Basterds of internet dickheads? I don't."
What They Say the Fights Are About: It seems as though Weigel would really just like everyone to get over his "Paultard" comment. Rothstein would really like Weigel to stop insisting that his private emails were leaked and get over the fact that he was caught badmouthing the people he was covering.
Tommy Christopher, revealing that he is the father of two special needs kids, was appalled by Stuef's post, not because "edginess, and even poor taste, have no place in political writing," but because this particular post lacked "redeeming value beyond [its] shock value." Layne, through it all, argues for Wonkette's right to poke fun at Sarah Palin by any and all means necessary.
What the Fights Are Really About: The power of the Trig post. It took two whole days--forever in Internet years--for this post to spark debate but once it did, the fury quickly spread from right-wing commentators to liberal bloggers, grabbing the attention of everyone in between.
Who's Winning Now: No one except perhaps spectators. In the Rothstein-Weigel spat, there's Weigel's insistence that what he said on JournoList wasn't nearly as bad as what Stuef said on Wonkette overshadowed by a rather ugly side debate about the usefulness of Fishbowl DC. In Christopher-Layne, Christopher may have some moral high ground, but he mostly just got himself riled up battling the inflexible Layne. And, though Wonkette may originally have benefited from the spotlight, it's probably starting to burn. We noted yesterday that the site was sticking to its guns, but since then Stuef has apologized, Layne has denounced calling Trig retarded and confirmed that Stuef has been, somewhat, punished.
Got all that?
Update: Wonkette has since removed the post from the site, citing the requests of "some people who have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, but who do have an interest in the cause of special needs children. We apologize for the poor comedic judgement."