I’ve been engaged in a friendly debate about Journolist with the American Spectator’s John Tabin. Tabin is a conservative who actually defends Journolist because… Well, Journolist is really no big deal, you see. And besides, everyone does it, even Grover Norquist and other conservatives!
Norquist, of course, has long hosted a weekly Wednesday Group meeting of conservative activists. Tabin contends that these off-the-record deliberations are no different from Journolist.
Not quite. In one respect, of course, Tabin is absolutely right: Both the Wednesday Group and Journolist are avowedly political enterprises designed to coordinate and effect political activism and political change.
But Norquist and the Wednesday Group are honest and forthright about what they are doing. The Journolisters, by contrast, continue to dissemble.
In fact, insofar as I can tell, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias, Spencer Ackerman, Michael Tomasky, Jonathan Chait, Dave Weigel, et al. have yet to acknowledge the explicitly partisan political purpose behind Journolist.
Moreover, Tabin fails to distinguish between an independent conservative journalist attending and observing the activist Wednesday Group, and a pack of liberal Journolisters trying to direct and coordinate media coverage in support of partisan political ends.
Directing and coordinating media coverage and composing partisan talking points is political, conspiratorial and antithetical to real journalism. A solitary journalist independently covering an event, by contrast, is the very definition of journalism.
Tabin also says that the Journolisters were liberal commentators gathering information and talking points from other liberals — so what’s the big deal? But not everyone on Journolist was a commentator. Many Journolisters, in fact, were conventional reporters, producers and writers at legacy media outlets. And even the commentators were doing far more than simply gathering information.
Again, they were explicitly trying to direct and coordinate media coverage, while composing partisan political talking points. That’s why Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas Schaller urged his fellow Journolisters to “use the power of this list to do something.”
The “power of the list” itself is telling. That power involved the ability to decisively shape the media narrative. And the “something” that Schaller had in mind was a collective statement heaping professional opprobrium on ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson for some tough questions that they had dared to ask presidential candidate Barack Obama.
This power to shape the media narrative also is why Matthew Yglesias initiated a post with the subject, “The line on Palin.” Yglesias meant by this the political narrative that he and his fellow Journolisters were trying to compose and direct. And, as the Daily Caller reports, “the line” included savagely attacking Sarah Palin:
“Mother Jones’s [reporter Jonathan] Stein loved the idea [to attack Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign].
‘That’s excellent! If enough people — people on this list? — write that the pick is sexist, you’ll have the networks debating it for days. And that negates the SINGLE thing Palin brings to the ticket,’ he wrote.”
No one begrudges Stein and other Journolisters from trying to effect political change while supporting specific candidates and parties. But there’s a word for that and it’s not called journalism. It’s called activism. Conservative politicos admit to it; leftist Journolisters do not. But they’re both doing the same thing.
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