News of the existence of "JournoList," a 400-member listserv e-mail chain of liberal Washington D.C. journalists, began to emerge last year. It hit a peak several weeks ago when Dave Weigel, who was covering conservative politics for the Washington Post, was fired. Weigel’s expletive-laced frothings, aimed at some of his sources and subjects, were released to Tucker Carlson’s political website, the Daily Caller.
The list had always been highly discussed in conservative circles, but its founder, Ezra Klein, did his best to dismiss speculation that it was anything but innocuous. Weigel’s e-mails revealed otherwise. Andrew Breitbart later offered $100,000 for a member to come forward with the entire JournoList archive.
Through a source, Carlson came through with the archive last week. Weigel and his list-mates concluded that their now-revealed rants should be held private, even if shared with the inboxes of 400 other people.
Imagine, in one instance, if a state official were disclosing stories about state and security secrets at a party of 400 people. Most of those details would be online before said state official was home for the evening. But using Klein's logic, and that of his like-minded cadre, all such matters should be off the record due to privacy. That’s an important fact to keep in mind, because most Washington D.C. journalists, at least of the so-called mainstream, liberal, and objective varieties, had little qualms with the New York Times when it made decision after decision to reveal state secrets involving American intelligence, or when phone calls between John Boehner and Newt Gingrich were surreptitiously recorded and transcribed by a media outlet. Washington journalists would have you believe their own rants to an audience of several hundred are of more importance than national security matters or personal phone calls.
That’s a small kernel of the hypocrisy revealed by Carlson and the Daily Caller. For years, conservative complaints of teamwork among supposedly objective journalists and liberal politicos was said to be muckraking; that these journalists weren’t, in fact, treating politics as a team sport, but were operating objectively. The list’s existence in itself shows that isn’t the case. Several mainstream outlets are well represented among the list members, such as TIME magazine, Politico, the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post, as well as those from opinion outlets such as The New Republic, Salon, and The Nation. Conspicuous by absence are members of conservative outlets.
Inclusion of conservative members would have been detrimental to the list’s purpose. Members of JournoList corroborated in shaping the narrative on political stories in a manner benefiting the progressive movement. This ranged from outrage over the questioning of Barack Obama by ABC News during a presidential debate, to a discussion on how to handle Sarah Palin’s nomination.
The outrage over the ABC News debate prompted a letter to the network, signed by 45 members of the list, who were upset over the questioning of then-candidate Obama about his connection and relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had repeatedly made racial and other incendiary remarks from the pulpit.
That Obama had held Wright as an inspiration for his own writing and career, and that Wright seemed to share some mentor relationship with then-candidate Obama, was of no matter. The reaction to Wright’s statement that the U.S. had helped create the AIDs virus ranged from merely ignoring the story, as suggested by Chris Hayes of The Nation, to a more apoplectic response: Spencer Ackerman submitted the idea of a JournoList effort to flag politician Karl Rove or writer Fred Barnes as racist in an effort to deflect heat off Obama.
"If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us,” Ackerman wrote. “Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction."
Such hate was spat regularly at conservatives. Sarah Spitz of National Public Radio declared she would “laugh manically” if she was in the presence of Rush Limbaugh and he was having a heart attack. After her daydream was revealed, she soon offered a public apology.
That such thoughts are common among journalists is no major revelation to anyone with common sense, but the list confirms two major criticisms the Right has had of the beltway media in general.
First, some members of objective outlets and other places regularly coordinate with political activists in maintaining a narrative. Rush Limbaugh often aired audio of a wide-range of network talking heads using the same terms and arguments repeatedly in different cable airings. The most infamous of which was the excoriation of George W. Bush and his lack of “gravitas,” which became the most over-used word in the country during the 2000 presidential election. Before that, CNN executives were regular overnight guests at the Clinton White House. Then-presidential candidate John Kerry was reported to have held a clandestine hotel meeting during his campaign with executives at several mainstream outlets.
The other is the use of race as a weapon. Ackerman showed little regret in using race as a way to slander two innocent people in the name of political advantage. This is also no surprise to those who have followed racial politics over the last 20 years, but such reprehensible actions should surely lead to firings.
Unfortunately, it won't. National media outlets are decidedly insular and inbred. The fired Weigel found another high-profile job within days. Meanwhile, such corroboration will continue. Jeffery Goldberg at The Atlantic confirmed the existence of a new list called Cabalist, which began soon after the closing of JournoList. This smaller listserve will no doubt be more exclusive and less open to public scrutiny.
Meanwhile, a public that is already disinterested in mainstream news has more reason not to believe what they see, hear, or read.
B.J. Bethel is a journalist living in the Midwest. He has written about sports, government, and film for the last decade.