Here’s the latest about the Journolist scandal, and it really is a shocking example of unprofessionalism. I’d said earlier that I didn’t think it was right to use the e-mails Dave Weigel sent out on the private list (which included several hundred influential liberal journalists and professors) to burn him for having spoken ill of conservatives. I still believe that. But what Weigel did was nothing compared to this story, in which members of the list — prominent liberal journalists — conspired to try to kill the Jeremiah Wright controversy because they decided it was an illegitimate story that threatened to hurt Obama’s chances at winning the White House. Follow the link to read the depths of unethical behavior these leading journalists were prepared to go to for the sake of helping their favored candidate. They even discussed launching groundless accusations of racism against conservative journalists, for the sake of stopping the story. Andrew Sullivan is right here:
The latest revelations from Journo-list are deeply depressing to me. What’s depressing is the way in which liberal journalists are not responding to events in order to find out the truth, but playing strategic games to cover or not cover events and controversies in order to win a media/political war.
The far right is right on this: this collusion is corruption. It is no less corrupt than the comically propagandistic Fox News and the lock-step orthodoxy on the partisan right in journalism – but it is nonetheless corrupt. Having a private journalistic list-serv to debate, bring issues to general attention, notice new facts seems pretty innocuous to me. But this was an attempt to corral press coverage and skew it to a particular outcome.
I can’t say I share Andrew’s view of Fox News (the Beck show to the contrary), because I don’t have cable and don’t watch it, and have never watched Fox enough to form a judgment of my own. Nor do I agree with Andrew that thinking Rev. Wright’s racist, radical fatmouthing was a story only people with racist motivations care about. He’s very wrong about that. I can say that as someone who used to write as a conservative journalist at the national level, I never heard as much of a whisper among conservatives regarding how we had to all get together to protect “our” side, or to attack “our” enemies. It is true that there is a sense of tribalism among some leading journalists on the Right that often prevents them from taking on conservative sacred cows, but I never saw anything remotely close to the Journolist conspiracy — and would have been disgusted if I had, and left the room, so to speak.
If this were just a conservative vs. liberal thing, I wouldn’t blog on it here, because politics isn’t really my thing anymore. This, to me as a journalist, is a hugely important matter of morality and professional ethics, and a blow to the authority of journalism at a time when it is already reeling. I have worked around liberal journalists all my career, and most of them, though we disagree on many things, have struck me as men and women of real professional integrity. Yet read the story and see what some fairly prominent liberal journalists were willing to say and to do for the sake of quietly controlling press coverage in a way favorable to their side. Look at this, for example:
In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
Michael Tomasky, a writer for the Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of Journolist: “Listen folks-in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”
You see that theme in several of the quoted messages: We should do this for the sake of the country. The ends justify the means. Two well-known journalism professors also participated in the strategizing.
Here’s what I don’t get: even when I was a college journalist, I would have known that something like this was a betrayal of professional ethics. I would bet — I would hope — that most journalists in most American newsrooms, however liberal they may be, would have the ethical sense to know that this kind of thing is a shocking corruption of the basics they learned in J-school. And yet, here are some of the most prominent names in liberal journalism willing to sell out their integrity for a partisan political end.
This will be on conservative talk radio for at least the next week, and Fox will, I suppose, have a field day. Good. These journalists have brought it on themselves, and they deserve the opprobrium. This is terrible for public discourse, though, because it will just solidify the view many in the public have that all journalists do this sort of thing, and cannot be trusted, no matter what they say. It’s not true! Not all journalists do this.Those journalists did, however, and they are at or near the top of their profession. How can you blame people for thinking all journalists are corrupt in the same way, when the alleged best and brightest have behaved so disgracefully? Again, let me underscore that this is not, to my mind, a left-vs.-right thing. It is another example of the degradation of institutional authority in this country by personal and professional corruption.
And you know, I’ve changed my mind about revealing the letters on this list. Doing so to destroy a single journalist whose reporting (whatever his private opinions) was generally seen to be fair is hard to defend. But exposing something as widespread and as potentially significant as leading liberal journalists conspiring to control the news and to smear conservative journalists for the sake of changing the political game is a story of great significance, it seems to me.
UPDATE: Jonathan Chait, who was on Journolist, says this has been blown all out of proportion. He’s not defending the quotes cited in the Daily Caller story, only saying that they were not representative of the list as a whole. I think that could be true, and if/when more information comes out along these lines, I’m prepared to be less pissed off by this thing. Still, I find it really appalling that responsible journalists were part of this kind of discussion, and more than making me angry, it frustrates me, because it makes the jobs of honest journalists who try to do their jobs with integrity that much more difficult. And it provides hi-test fuel for the Noise Machine.