My take on the Daily Caller Journolist revelations

MediaTucker Carlson’s Daily Caller has been on fire this week publishing excerpts and full conversations/debates that were leaked by someone who apparently used to be on the now-defunct JournoList. JournoList, for those of you unfamiliar with it, was started back in Feb. 2007 by liberal opinion writer Ezra Klein as a private place for liberal opinion journalists and mainstream media journalists who happened to be liberal to kick back and have “policy debates” amongst themselves, and to just vent and shoot the breeze. A little over a year ago, when news of the group became public, here’s how Klein – who now has a blog at the Washington Post and who for a brief time worked alongside fellow JournoList member and “conservative” Dave Weigel at the WaPo until Weigel’s duplicity was exposed – described it:

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.

Proof of a vast liberal media conspiracy?

Not at all, says Ezra Klein, the 24-year-old American Prospect blogging wunderkind who formed JournoList in February 2007. “Basically,” he says, “it’s just a list where journalists and policy wonks can discuss issues freely.”

Er, no. It was revealed later on in that Politico link and at other sites like Slate that the JournoList was more than just a haven for liberal opinion/MSM journalists to “debate issues freely.” It was a place where these liberals could go to help shape policy and media coverage. Nothing wrong with that on its face when you consider that both the left and right both have their “spin” centers organized in order to try and shape the news in a way that is favorable to their argument.

But the diffrence here is, as the Daily Caller has pointed out this week in several articles, is that that not only was it not just liberal opinion journalists doing this, but some of the MSM journalists were as well – and not merely just to frame the media coverage so as to paint liberals and liberal policies in a positive light, but to smear any conservative who dared to try and get in the way of that by playing – you guessed it – the race card as a way of deflecting negative coverage of Barack Obama by, in essence, shifting the debate and focus. The suggested target – made by liberal opinion journalist Spencer Ackerman? Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes. Anthony wrote about this yesterday.

Here’s the latest JournoList revelation that was posted on Daily Caller’s site today:

The very existence of Fox News, meanwhile, sends Journolisters into paroxysms of rage. When Howell Raines charged that the network had a conservative bias, the members of Journolist discussed whether the federal government should shut the channel down.

“I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework.” Davies, a Brit, frequently argued the United States needed stricter libel laws.

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time Magazine. Roger “Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organization. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air. “I hate to open this can of worms,” he wrote, “but is there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?”

And so a debate ensued. Time’s Scherer, who had seemed to express support for increased regulation of Fox, suddenly appeared to have qualms: “Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?”

But Zasloff stuck to his position. “I think that they are doing that anyway; they leak to whom they want to for political purposes,” he wrote. “If this means that some White House reporters don’t get a press pass for the press secretary’s daily briefing and that this means that they actually have to, you know, do some reporting and analysis instead of repeating press releases, then I’ll take that risk.”

Scherer seemed alarmed. “So we would have press briefings in which only media organizations that are deemed by the briefer to be acceptable are invited to attend?”

John Judis, a senior editor at the New Republic, came down on Zasloff’s side, the side of censorship. “Pre-Fox,” he wrote, “I’d say Scherer’s questions made sense as a question of principle. Now it is only tactical.”

Read the full quotes from the discussion about shutting down Fox News here.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in Major Garrett’s office today when he read about this.

Can you believe there actually had to be a “discussion/debate” on whether or not to have a mainstream news organization shut down and/or shunned? It’s just as disturbing as the response to the suggestion by Ackerman that Fred Barnes and other conservatives be smeared so Barack Obama would be able to dodge the questions more and more people were demanding to get answers to on his “spiritual mentor” Rev. Wright. They put a halt to the plot to assassinate the characters of conservatives not because of any moral reservations. As the Daily Caller story explained:

Several members of the list disagreed with Ackerman – but only on strategic grounds.

“Spencer, you’re wrong,” wrote Mark Schmitt, now an editor at the American Prospect. “Calling Fred Barnes a racist doesn’t further the argument, and not just because Juan Williams is his new black friend, but because that makes it all about character. The goal is to get to the point where you can contrast some _thing_ — Obama’s substantive agenda — with this crap.”

(In an interview Monday, Schmitt declined to say whether he thought Ackerman’s plan was wrong. “That is not a question I’m going to answer,” he said.)

Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, also disagreed with Ackerman’s strategy. “I think it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama is trying (or says he’s trying) to run a campaign that avoids precisely the kind of thing Spencer is talking about, and turning this into a gutter brawl would probably hurt the Obama brand pretty strongly. After all, why vote for him if it turns out he’s not going change the way politics works?”

But it was Ackerman who had the last word. “Kevin, I’m not saying OBAMA should do this. I’m saying WE should do this.”

In writing about the JournoList’s purpose, A-Phin (heh) slammed this one home:

In other words, a naked call to play the Race Card in American politics in order to stifle debate and criticism. Racism is the most vile charge one can make in our society; to accuse someone of it is to smear them for a long time, if not forever. And the discussants on Journolist were about to unleash it on their professional colleagues.

It’s fair to note that the people mentioned in the DC article formulating this strategy are almost all opinion journalists, such as Katha Pollitt at the progressive The Nation. One would expect them to try to shape the debate and defend their ideological positions, just as their counterparts at The Weekly Standard or National Review would do.

But not by character assassination and implying they were racists. And not by attacking members of the “objective press” for simply asking tough, legitimate questions.

That crosses the line not just into advocacy journalism, but propaganda of the worst sort, the kind I’d expect to see from the “journalistic organs” of a totalitarian state. Jack Reed and Walter Duranty would be proud.

You betcha.

Liberal opinion journalists and MSM journalists alike can rant all day long about this issue or that on whatever private list they want to, but when they turn vent sessions into conspiratorial fests which evolve into shaping the debate and media coverage by giving preferred status to your guy at the expense of smearing others? That’s way beyond the pale – especially for the so-called “objective journalists” on the list, which is why why I have no sympathy for the various folks on the list who are now “coming out of the closet” to try and put things “in context.”

I’d also like to note that I believe that the Daily Caller needs to do a better job of making it clear that most of the listers that they have referenced so far are “liberal OPINION journalists” – at this point I’ve only seen a few MSM journalists referenced (from the WaPo and Bloomberg). When talking about media conspiracies/smear campaigns against and for various politicos, having mainstream media types join in is even more disturbing than the already-troubling opinion journalists and their fascistic suggestions and it’s important to note the difference.

Comments are closed.