Jul 29 2010

Journolist: The Right’s Tempest in a Tea Cup

In case you thought that the “Journolist” controversy over a now defunct, left leaning e-mail list created by Ezra Klein when he was 22 and working for The American Prospect, which was the source of the leaked e-mails by Washington Post right wing blogger, David Weigel that got him fired, well, it still rages among journalists from the left and the right. As Joe Conason points out it isn’t the left that has the problem it is the right wing journalists who have their knickers in a knot.

Joe Conason: On the team: The stunning hypocrisy of Journolist’s critics

They speak at GOP banquets. They meet to plot in Grover Norquist’s office. Yet the wingers find a listserv shocking

Nothing much can be learned from the manufactured media uproar over Journolist, except as a case study of how the right-wing propaganda machine still dominates America’s daily narrative — and how conservative journalists remain astonishingly exempt from the standards they are pretending to uphold.

Look no further than the outrage feigned by two of the nation’s most prominent right-wing journalists, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard (and Fox News) and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, both of whom could barely contain their indignation over the revelation that a few hundred progressive writers and academics engaged in political discussion via e-mail. Having read a single Journolist e-mail that suggested tarring him as a “racist,” Barnes suddenly detects a departure from “traditional standards” :

  When I’m talking to people from outside Washington, one question inevitably comes up: Why is the media so liberal? The question often reflects a suspicion that members of the press get together and decide on a story line that favors liberals and Democrats and denigrates conservatives and Republicans.

   My response has usually been to say, yes, there’s liberal bias in the media, but there’s no conspiracy. The liberal tilt is an accident of nature. The media disproportionately attracts people from a liberal arts background who tend, quite innocently, to be politically liberal … Now, after learning I’d been targeted for a smear attack by a member of an online clique of liberal journalists, I’m inclined to amend my response. Not to say there’s a media conspiracy, but at least to note that hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism.

   My guess is that this and other revelations about JournoList will deepen the distrust of the national press.


Perhaps it is appropriate to give the last word to the American Spectator’s John Tabin, who has written a striking dissent from the right-wing hysterics over Journolist:

Everyone who has been shown to have their work influenced by conversations on Journolist is, likewise, a commentator. That Chris Hayes tries to get perspective from other liberals before he goes on TV to opine on a topic, or that Joe Klein incorporates ideas from off-the-record exchanges into his blog posts, is not exactly earthshaking news. Commentators on the right do exactly the same thing — it’s just our emails don’t get leaked because we’re smart enough not to conduct these exchanges on listservs where we let the audience expand to include 400 people. This practice is a double-edged sword — you get the benefit of idea-sharing, but you have to be careful not to get sucked into groupthink. Liberals seem more prone to the latter failing, but that’s more a problem for them than for anyone else, and it’s not much of a scandal …

This brings us to the conduct of the Daily Caller itself … [Editor Tucker] Carlson is being flat-out disingenuous when he puts the burden on Journolist members to release the context of the threads that Jonathan Strong has reported on with a gloss that the people quoted all say is misleading. Everyone on Journolist was party to an off-the-record agreement. As explained above, having people trust you to keep conversations off the record is an important part of practicing journalism. (It shouldn’t be a surprise that my source, who was willing to break the agreement to the extent that he treated an off-the-record discussion as an on-background discussion, is an academic, not a journalist.) The Caller is in possession of the complete threads (I gave them too much credit when I assumed they must not be), and was not party to that agreement. If the Caller is witholding information from readers to sensationalize the narrative, as the people they’re quoting all claim that they are, they are practicing tabloid journalism …

If Tucker Carlson wants to run his website like a tabloid, he’s welcome to do so — but he shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about journalistic scruples.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post’s Line points out that the Journolist flap shows conservative media conspiracy, not liberal one

That’s the real story behind the Journolist flap, no matter what you’ve read to the contrary on news sites, reputable or otherwise.

Consider today’s lead story on the Daily Caller, the conservative site that’s led the charge on the J-list “scandal.” The story “exposes” a J-List thread in which the topic of some kind of journalistic coordination came up. It has this huge headline:


Journolist debates making its coordination with Obama explicit

But way down in the 13th paragaraph, the story quotes a post from the very same thread in which J-List founder and Post blogger Ezra Klein excplicitly rules out any such coordination:    

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, the founder of Journolist, quickly jumped in: “Nope, no message coordination. I’m not even sure that would be legal. This is a discussion list, though, and I want it to retain that character,” he wrote.

Again, Sargent reiterates that the problem is the right wing media and quotes Mark Halpern of Time

As I’ve been arguing here regularly, the moral of the Shirley Sherrod affair is that not all partisan media are created equal. Though this is overwhelmingly obvious, few media figures have been willing to state clearly that the problem isn’t “partisan” media in general, but the conservative media in particular.

Now Mark Halperin, to his credit, goes there:


The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny.

   Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

   …all of us who are involved in politics and media should take a moment to recognize that we have hit a low point. And let all of us resolve that, having hit bottom, it is time to start climbing out of the pit.

As Steve Benen notes, Halperin is widely respected by the Beltway media elite, so here’s hoping they listen to him.

In other words, Tucker Carlson whose byline is the Daily Caller, Fred Barnes and John Fund are making a mountain out of a mole hill to shut down the left leaning journalists and  they lack the very journalists scruples that they are whining that the left lacks.  

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