A Qualified Partial Semi-Defense of The Washington Free Beacon

I have mostly tried to ignore The Washington Free Beacon (if you originally read that as “Free Bacon,” you are not alone, my friend, and should go get yourself some brunch), the new online conservative magazine launched by the also-new Center for American Freedom think tank. Once I read Conor Friedersdorf’s post, which says most of what needs saying on the subject, I figured I could regard the the Free Beacon as one of those low-level irritations where the worry outweighs the actual harm, like a friend who is really, really annoying but lives four states away.

Still, because I’m a masochist I couldn’t help but peruse it a bit today, and it’s pretty underwhelming. There’s some actual reporting in there, yeah, but the site is mostly rather half-assed servings of red meat. For instance, did you know that Big Government is paying the cell phone bills of poor people? Poor people!

Also, the mega-huge headlines near the top drive me crazy. Maybe this tabloidish style is in vogue right now (and The Huffington Post is certainly part of the reason why), but when I see a massively bold, all-caps headline, I expect the attached story to refer to a major celebrity being found dead (or, in the case of celebrities thought to be deceased, alive), not something like OCCUPY PROTESTER TRASHES U.S. PRESIDENT ON IRANIAN PRESS TV. Seriously, who cares?

But it would be hard to laugh too hard at the Free Beacon without being a bit of a hypocrite, even if it quietly peters out over the next few months (and that’s by no means assured, since the editor, Matthew Continetti, has a fair amount of juice in conservative circles and the site obviously has some dollars behind it).

There are huge amounts of ideological money sloshing around in Washington, and a lot of it ends up getting spent in inefficient ways. Vanity projects abound; rich people with lots of cash and strong convictions get suckered into funding projects that don’t, by any objective standard, have a reason for existing.

This is quite prevalent on the left. While I was at Campus Progress, which is part of the Center for American Progress (the Free Beacon exists, Continetti wrote, in part to counter CAP’s influence), we were exposed to a steady stream of solicitations from people with really bad concepts, folks who thought they had come up with new ideas but who hadn’t. Some of these bad ideas eventually got funded by someone; there was very little correlation between whether a given project added value and whether it got money. In the then-energized environment of progressive politics and youth activism in general, it was standard practice not to ask basic, corporate-type questions: Does anyone want this thing I came up with? How will we measure whether or not it is a success? What do our competitors look like?

So what I’m saying is that, controlling for ideological preference and without naming names, there are plenty of organizations and outlets and projects on the left that are at least as pointless as the Free Beacon.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.