Outed!

by Henry on July 22, 2010

I’ve been hesitating today over whether to write a post responding to the Daily Caller’s publication of a message I wrote on Journolist, talking about how I got emotional on the day that Obama was elected, when I saw African-Americans talking about what this meant to them. Perhaps a bit embarrassing, given that Obama has been in many ways a disappointing president – but as I said in a blogpost on the day, the fact that an African-American with a foreign-sounding name became President was important in itself, regardless of what disappointments came later. My personal feeling about this earth-shattering fact being made public is the kind of mild annoyance felt by Saki’s Ms. Scrawen – even if one’s private conduct has not been especially embarrassing, one doesn’t necessarily want it to be revealed to all and sundry without one’s permission.

Still, I do think that this tells us something about the whole Journolist-in-the-media saga. That a middling obscure and openly left wing university professor gets teary when an African-American is elected president can be described in many ways, some of which, depending on your point of view, might be uncomplimentary. But what it cannot be described as is breaking news. And that the Daily Caller makes this part of its top front page story, with a headline festooned with exclamation marks, tells us something about the newsworthiness of the material that they have. Without sympathizing with them at all, I can sort-of understand their position. If you believe that there is a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy ranged against conservatism, it must be very exciting to finally get your hands on the Top Sekrit archives of the shadowy network that you think Controls It All. And it must be extremely disappointing to discover that those archives in actuality consist of journalistic gossip, heated political arguments between people who disagree over an enormous range of topics, endless (and to me extremely tedious) threads about baseball and the like. This doesn’t justify the Daily Caller’s demonstrably dishonest efforts to dress mutton as lamb, and pretend that they have smoking gun evidence of coordinated plots against the right. But it does help explain them.

Update: Since Jim Lindgren has been getting very excited about the possibility that Journolist organized multiple campaigns against this or that obscure conservative figure, coordinated its message with the Obama campaign, and maybe was behind that guy who cut him off when he was on the way into work the other day, he may want to look at this most recent post by Ezra Klein.

If this series now rests on Tucker’s credibility, then let’s talk about something else he doesn’t mention: I tried to add him to the list. I tried to give him access to the archives. Voluntarily. Because though I believed it was important for the conversation to be off-the-record, I didn’t believe there was anything to hide. … At the time, I didn’t know Carlson was working on a story about Journolist. And I’d long thought that the membership rules that had made sense in the beginning had begun to feed conspiracy theories on the right and cramp conversation inside the list. … then wrote this e-mail to Journolist:

As folks know, there are a couple of rules for J List membership. One is that you can’t be working for the government. Another is that you’re center to left of center, as that was something various people wanted back in the day. I’ve gotten a couple of recent requests from conservatives who want to be added (and who are people I think this list might benefit from), however, and so it seems worth asking people whether they’d like to see the list opened up. Back in the day, I’d probably have let this lie, but given that Journolist now leaks like a sieve, it seems worth revisiting some of the decisions made when it was meant to be a more protected space.

As I see it, the pro of this is that it could make for more fun conversations. The con of it is that it becomes hard to decide who to add and who to leave off (I don’t want to have to make subjective judgments, but I’m also not going to let Michelle Malkin hop onto the list), and it also could create even more possible leaks—and now, they’d be leaks with more of an agenda, which could be much more destructive to trust on the list.

I want to be very clear about what I was suggesting: Adding someone to the list meant giving them access to the entirety of the archives. That didn’t bother me very much. Sure, you could comb through tens of thousands of e-mails and pull intemperate moments and inartful wording out of context to embarrass people, but so long as you weren’t there with an eye towards malice, you’d recognize it for what it was: A wonkish, fun, political yelling match. If it had been an international media conspiracy, I’d have never considered opening it up. … When I e-mailed him to ask about some of these omissions, his response was admission mixed with misdirection. … Journolist has taken the Daily Caller from about 50,000 hits a day to more than 200,000. There are a lot more answers in those numbers, I fear, than in his editor’s note.

Carlson clearly has access to the list – so if Ezra were not telling the truth about this, he could give him the lie. But Ezra is telling the truth, so he can’t. A political conspiracy led by someone who wants to invite his ideological enemies to come in and take a look is a decidedly peculiar class of conspiracy. I look forward to seeing how Lindgren (and others taking the same line) explain this.

{ 66 comments }

1

Salient 07.22.10 at 12:46 am

Right-wingers have become so weirdly mean-spirited. I don’t know when it happened, or if it’s always been like this and just wasn’t detailed in the history books… I think conservative mean-spiritedness has been the norm for as long as little not-so-old me as been alive, but this year it’s felt so weirdly directed. I no longer wonder how people can lead such angry lives, but I wonder how they can lead such weirdly angry lives. What kind of person rejoices at the opportunity to hear about (much less publish) this email of yours?

For that matter, what kind of person doesn’t get worked up at the existence of a new BCFP, but rises into palpable vocalized anger over the possibility that Elizabeth Warren might head it?

…just because it irritates me, I note that the DC’s current headliner article contains a factual error in the first sentence of its second paragraph. (It is true that Fox News does not have a front-row seat in the briefing room. But neither does SyFy.) Please tell me nobody pays attention to this pathetic rag.

2

qb 07.22.10 at 12:50 am

J’accuse!

3

P O'Neill 07.22.10 at 1:13 am

Fred Barnes says he doesn’t discuss storylines with fellow wingers but the first phone call he got after the latest DC e-mail dump was from … Karl Rove.

4

y81 07.22.10 at 1:26 am

That reporters from what are purportedly the mainstream, “neutral” press get together with opinion journalists to plot what coverage will advance their joint agenda was news to me. Not particularly exciting or meaningful news, since I don’t read Time or other publications of that nature, but surely at least as interesting as, say, emails from rating agency personnel. (They too charge money for what purports to be neutral, just-the-facts analyses.)

That bloggers like Kevin Drum who purport to be giving an individual view actually co-ordinate their coverage with hundreds of others, to decide on and promulgate was news to me, and has certainly destroyed my interest in what he has to say.

The maunderings of left wing profs at second-tier universities are, I agree, not news.

5

qb 07.22.10 at 1:43 am

Objectivity is the value you’re looking for, not neutrality. Neutrality aims only for balance between two sides, regardless of their merits.

6

Delicious Pundit 07.22.10 at 1:50 am

Don’t most news outlets exist to affirm the prejudices of their readers? I mean, have you seen those New York Times ads on cable? They’re filled with people I just want to punch, if I didn’t see them in the mirror every morning.

You’d think the converted wouldn’t like so much preaching, but it turns out it’s only thing they do like.

7

Salient 07.22.10 at 1:56 am

That reporters from what are purportedly the mainstream, “neutral” press get together with opinion journalists to plot what coverage will advance their joint agenda was news to me.

If you can call a thing which is not true “news” … also, see, more weird language:
~ plot
~ co-ordinate
~ promulgate

Granted, y81 doesn’t seem ruffled, so weirdly angry is inapt here. But it’s still weird.

8

Claremont 07.22.10 at 2:01 am

The content of the messages is largely irrelevant in terms of how this whole episode plays out. Most of them seem relatively innocuous, and it seems pretty unlikely that any truly over the top statements which can ruin someone’s professional reputation are going to surface.

The reason DC/Breitbart have seized on it this, and the real reason the story has gotten so much attention is because it is somewhat of a confirmation of what lots of people (namely, the crowd DC are playing to) have suspected for some time but not been able to back with discrete evidence: that lots of people on the listserv covered the election from the perspective of “How can I minimize the potential damage to Obama’s image/chances” rather than “What are the substantive facts about this story that people need to know to form their opinion.” Note, I am not trying to make a statement about whether this is true or not, just saying how it is interpreted by many people.

One of the implications is that no blatantly offensive messages have to appear in order for the integrity of those involved to be damaged, as this is about the mindset of the people involved, not specific statements they have made. The story will be as damaging to their integrity as any given individual wants it to be, since people are largely going to interpret this in a way consistent with their preconceived notion about whether the media is/isn’t biased.

9

Map Maker 07.22.10 at 2:09 am

“This doesn’t justify the Daily Caller’s demonstrably dishonest efforts to dress mutton as lamb, and pretend that they have smoking gun evidence of coordinated plots against the right. But it does help explain them.”

It is the era we live in, and for that my appologies. Conspiracies live because they are easier and nicer than thinking the world is a mix of people, beliefs, experiences and outcomes. 9/11 conspiracies are probably a non-partisan topic for us to agree on – if one is a believer, no evidence will disprove, and random out-of-context quotes from various groups on the supposed inside only confirm the tinfoil hat crowd’s beliefs about what really happened.

10

Claremont 07.22.10 at 2:25 am

That reporters from what are purportedly the mainstream, “neutral” press get together with opinion journalists to plot what coverage will advance their joint agenda was news to me.

The other implication is, what does it say about how the reporters involved would react to coming across a potentially crippling fact or story about the candidate they want to win, and if had the hypothetical choice of reporting what they knew to be true vs making sure it never was revealed, what would they do? If it is revealed that a reporter regularly insults with similarly inclined colleagues about how their work can increase or decrease a certain candidate’s election prospects, it gives skeptics lots of room to run with their skepticism. Like I said, people are going to read into this what they want to read into it.

I think that what Klein and the list’s other outspoken defenders would really like to say is, “This is unfair for us to be put in the spotlight like this, the people hyping this are hypocrites since they are doing the exact same thing as what we are being accused of, and try to influence popular opinion and the news cycle in the same way. Andrew Breitbart? Daily Caller? They are the ones trying to impugn our credibility and act as the stewards of good practice here?” But they can’t really say that directly, instead they are going to point out that nothing “that bad” was said, and portray it as a place where people could go to “bounce ideas” off each other, etc.

11

PHB 07.22.10 at 2:39 am

The accusations of the Republican party are all pure projection.

They are racists, so they accuse the NAACP of being racists.

They are hatemongers so they accuse the left of being filled with hatred.

They are liars, manipulators and frauds. So they accuse the climate scientists of being frauds.

They co-ordinate their message to push the GOP line continuously. So they claim that the left does the same through Journolist.

They hire gay prostitutes to carry their luggage and ask them softball questions in White House press conferences. Then they accuse the left of having a hidden pro-gay agenda.

They run up the largest deficit in history through wasteful spending, unpaid for tax cuts and the catastrophic effects of their deregulation policy. Then they say that the left is not worried about the deficit.

They preach abstinence and family values, then hire prostitutes (Vitter) have affairs and attend orgies in the Watergate building (we never actually proved Cunningham and Ney did that but it is pretty clear it happened, the hot tub prostitutes were in the indictment).

They help raise funds for terrorist groups (Rudy Giuliani) and give their leaders humanitarian awards (Giuliani again), then demand Middle East countries crack down on terrorism.

Come to think about it, do the Republicans ever talk about anyone other than themselves?

12

bianca steele 07.22.10 at 2:47 am

PHB,
Of course, that’s the secret code! You don’t think the liberal media allow actual conservatives to publish, do you? Those are liberal infiltrators who know you know they know you know: whenever they say “The NAACP is racist,” you know they know you know they are really saying “We are racist”!!!! That is how they protect us against themselves!

Or maybe they are confessing that they are bad right-wingers who deserve public calumny, in other words they themselves must they are sorry to say confess to being themselves “left.” It’s tough to decide.

It works less well as I go down your list, though. Do they believe they know you know they know they themselves are actually climate scientists?

13

Metamorf 07.22.10 at 4:28 am

Before:

Lots of people have made the correct point that it’s silly to think reporters, like Weigel, should have no opinions. But beyond that, it’s silly to think reporters should not have opinions about the dynamics of opinion-formation – opinions about how prominent crazy people and spin doctors in the public sphere affect public discourse. And it’s silly to think reporters do not have a positive duty to act on these opinions, changing up their stance to counteract the influence of perceived craziness, the better to help their readers form sensible opinions.

After:

If you believe that there is a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy ranged against conservatism, it must be very exciting to finally get your hands on the Top Sekrit archives of the shadowy network that you think Controls It All.

14

ajay 07.22.10 at 8:45 am

That reporters from what are purportedly the mainstream, “neutral” press get together with opinion journalists to plot what coverage will advance their joint agenda was news to me

The role of the press is not to be neutral, y81. Especially in the US today, telling the truth in public is not a neutral act. It is deeply unfortunate for your country that so many journalists think that their role is to pick a spot exactly halfway between the two opposing sides and sit there. This isn’t honesty and impartiality, it’s cowardice.

15

Hidari 07.22.10 at 9:34 am

‘If you believe that there is a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy ranged against conservatism, it must be very exciting to finally get your hands on the Top Sekrit archives of the shadowy network that you think Controls It All. And it must be extremely disappointing to discover that those archives in actuality consist of journalistic gossip, heated political arguments between people who disagree over an enormous range of topics, endless (and to me extremely tedious) threads about baseball and the like. ‘

Yes, but this explains the mindset of any conspiracy minded group of people, anywhere. CF the ‘climategate’ fiasco when the Right really did manage to get hold of the Top Sekrit files of the Syentists who were creating the Conspirassy of global warming, and found……nothing. Not that that didn’t stop the Not Particularly Liberal Media (e.g. the Guardian) from getting tremendously excited and deciding that Something Was Going On Here.

Much more interesting are macro and micro explanations of why the ‘paranoid style’ of the Right so in fashion right now. Macro explanations being to do with why this particular form of explanation is so popular in the United States, micro explanations to do with why they are so popular right now.

The answers, I think, won’t be a complete and utter surprise to anyone who reads CT regularly, but it’s worthwhile to look at the relevant empirical data in any case.

16

Alex 07.22.10 at 10:48 am

You should sue Fatbeard the Trivial. Not that this, in itself, is important – it’s the principle of his bullying and snooping.

17

Satan Mayo 07.22.10 at 11:52 am

That reporters from what are purportedly the mainstream, “neutral” press get together with opinion journalists to plot what coverage will advance their joint agenda was news to me. Not particularly exciting or meaningful news, since I don’t read Time or other publications of that nature, but surely at least as interesting as, say, emails from rating agency personnel. (They too charge money for what purports to be neutral, just-the-facts analyses.)

That bloggers like Kevin Drum who purport to be giving an individual view actually co-ordinate their coverage with hundreds of others, to decide on and promulgate was news to me, and has certainly destroyed my interest in what he has to say.

Interesting. Where did you learn this? It doesn’t seem to have been discussed anywhere in the Journolist archives.

18

Anderson 07.22.10 at 12:21 pm

Henry’s explanation is as good as any, but I continue to be nonplussed. It turns out that liberal journalists talk to one another. They also discuss current issues and use bad words about their political opposites.

Why would anyone imagine that conservative journalists behave any differently?

19

Tom T. 07.22.10 at 12:23 pm

“Right-wingers have become so weirdly mean-spirited.”

One detects just a wee bit of mean-spiritedness among the Journolisters too, it seems to me.

Still, Henry’s right that this latest salvo seems pretty weak. Henry, you might be interested to see that Ann Althouse had the same reaction as you.

I do think that those news outlets that market themselves as “objective” probably are considering whether membership by their reporters on Journolist (or any right-wing equivalent that may develop) works against that branding, but obviously that’s a non-issue for a college professor or a opinion writer.

20

Daragh McDowell 07.22.10 at 12:38 pm

This is just one of a number of episodes in the past two years that have convinced me that a) the GOP and its operatives are not responsible ‘small-d’ Democrats, and are in fact a rather deranged bunch, b) what the USA laughably calls journalism is so facile, skin-deep and generally ignorant that 99% of it is utterly worthless c) when you combine a+b, the consequences for the actual governance of the state are rather catastrophic.

So, have spent the last 5 years furtively dreaming of the day I would one day complete my DPhil and escape to the ‘new world’ I am now pretty much over my Americo-philia, and content to remain here in the godless badlands of the EU. It may not be perfect, but its a helluva lot better than the alternatives.

21

y81 07.22.10 at 12:54 pm

Interesting piece by Fred Barnes in the WSJ today. Prof. Farrell’s point seems to be that he was kind of like one of the Big Dan’s spectators: he might have clapped and laughed, but he didn’t do the deed himself. It was other people who suggested tarring randomly selected Republicans with unfounded accusations of racism.

I absolutely believe that even though Prof. Farrell doesn’t publicly object to the making of unfounded accusations against his political adversaries, he would never go along with allowing tenure decisions on that basis. I’m positive, absolutely positive, that his evident integrity would rise to the surface in the latter case.

22

Salient 07.22.10 at 12:57 pm

One detects just a wee bit of mean-spiritedness among the Journolisters too, it seems to me.

Really? Where?

23

Salient 07.22.10 at 12:59 pm

It was other people who suggested tarring randomly selected Republicans with unfounded accusations of racism.

Wait, what?

… (sigh)

24

Wax Banks 07.22.10 at 1:25 pm

The Right’s shadowy policy-klatch consists of evil billionaires and the Chamber of Commerce, and the nominal Left has a bunch of bloggers, some of them in their first full-time fucking jobs?

Best publicity Ezra Klein’s ever going to get, ever. It’s just so…smallish.

25

Metamorf 07.22.10 at 1:35 pm

Just wanted to let you know I’ve expanded on the comedy of all this here.

26

belle le triste 07.22.10 at 1:38 pm

The most newsworthy breaking story on this thread is surely that Fred Barnes has written an “interesting piece”

27

gatherdust 07.22.10 at 2:16 pm

Think of it as Alice in Wonderland set in 1992 Bosnia. White weirdness is blossoming in the U.S.

A solid chunk of white Americans are dusting off their truly racist sentiments while another segment are more openly weary at all the race-talk.

So if you’re shedding a tear about a black man with a foreign name getting elected, then you’re trafficking in race talk. Thus you’re biased and need to be called on it.

In our variation of theme on the Looking-Glass, the objective, neutral position would be to express skepticism about Obama’s racist revenge mindset.

It’s a Breitbart world. You only suffer in it.

28

Salient 07.22.10 at 3:22 pm

You only suffer in it.

Truer words. Not much else seems to happen in the Breitbartian paradise.

29

ajay 07.22.10 at 4:29 pm

That bloggers like Kevin Drum who purport to be giving an individual view actually co-ordinate their coverage with hundreds of others, to decide on and promulgate was news to me, and has certainly destroyed my interest in what he has to say.

“I used to be a liberal, but ever since Journolist I’ve been appalled by…” (copyright American Airspace)

30

Henry 07.22.10 at 4:36 pm

y81 – I participate in a lot of forums where people sometimes make arseholish comments that I don’t agree with – including the comments section of this here blog. If you think that this somehow compromises my objectivity, then the very best of luck to you.

31

JJ 07.22.10 at 6:47 pm

There was no left-wing conspiracy to elect Obama. In fact, the conspiracy, if you choose to call it one, was the unspoken, iron-clad, racist Republican expectation that no sane (white) person would vote for a black left-wing professor named Barack Hussein Obama, that Hilary (the Feminazi) Clinton would gain the Democratic nomination (sexism trumps racism in their moral universe) and that, by contrast, Sarah “read my patriotic lipstick” Palin would propel her political mate to victory. That Obama won the nomination, let alone the election, was, given their expectations, an obvious indication of a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. Hung by their own petard, the Republicans stumbled from one racist fiasco to the next, to their eventual demise.

32

Oscar Leroy 07.22.10 at 7:05 pm

Henry, I felt the same way on election night.

33

Oscar Leroy 07.22.10 at 7:13 pm

“That bloggers like Kevin Drum who purport to be giving an individual view actually co-ordinate their coverage with hundreds of others, to decide on and promulgate was news to me, and has certainly destroyed my interest in what he has to say.”

I see this kind of thing more and more in America: “I don’t care if what X has to say is true or not; I just want to know is X biased, or angry, or partisan, or [fill in the blank with some other irrelevant quality]”

If you have reason to believe something reported by Kevin Drum is untrue, that’s fine. But don’t go looking for reasons to write off what he says so you no longer have to think critically about it.

34

y81 07.22.10 at 7:53 pm

“If you have reason to believe something reported by Kevin Drum is untrue, that’s fine. But don’t go looking for reasons to write off what he says so you no longer have to think critically about it.”

But that’s not realistic. There are thousands of bloggers; I couldn’t possibly read them all. One filter that I customarily apply is that I don’t read blogs written by people without graduate degrees. (Kevin Drum has been a bit of an exception.) Another filter is to find independent voices, so that I encounter a diversity of views. If I find that Kevin Drum is in fact channeling a party line, that is sufficient reason to add him to the thousands of unread blogs. If you want to say that I am failing to think critically about all those thousands of blogs, go ahead.

Some other filters: (i) I don’t read blogs that are excessively intemperate or angry or where the author seems like a crank (e.g., Arnold Kling, Clayton Cramer); and (ii) I don’t read blogs that don’t allow comments (except Instapundit, because I think he has a valid reason, given the size of his readership) or censor comments.

35

David Margolies 07.22.10 at 8:10 pm

Off topic, but your metaphor about what the DC is doing (dressing mutton as lamb) reminds me of a joke: what is the motto of the butcher who dressed mutton as venison? Buy sheep, sell deer.

36

piglet 07.22.10 at 8:34 pm

y81, it’s not that anybody is really concerned about which blogs you read. But your claims don’t make sense. If you realize that blogger X is writing pretty much the same as blogger Y, you would be reasonable to conclude that one of them is redundant. But if you have been reading blogger X, found his posts interesting and worthwhile reading, but stop reading them because somebody told you that X is just “channeling a party line”, that doesn’t make sense. The reasonable position would be to that blog X should be read or not based on its own merits, not based on how it is related to other blogs.

37

Bruce Baugh 07.22.10 at 8:44 pm

Of course, the easy way to tell if someone like Kevin were channeling a party line would be simply to compare what he writes about and how he writes about with other bloggers, journalists, pundits, and so on, and with his own opinions of the past. Party lines are, after all, about what is said and done, not what is thought. I mean, duh.

Simple examination shows that Kevin was and is a very technocratic moderate, barely left of center even by American terms, who became increasingly partisan in the ’00s out of rising disgust at Republican antics. But that’s not nearly so much fun as random gossip about whose stooge he might be, I guess.

38

Martin Bento 07.22.10 at 8:49 pm

Henry, a link would be nice. There are now several front page stories on Daily Caller discussing Journolist. I found your quote through a site-specific Google search for your name.

No, there is nothing damning about that discussion, save for reminding us how sentimental people were about Obama. But I do think there’s a there there in a sense.

Why is it that all the major media almost completely agree from day to day on what the important stories of the day are? Yesterday, the top story in the US was Sharrod, not the fact that the oil well may need to be uncapped. I imagine other potentially newsworthy things happened that were not covered at all. Now, the media are probably tired of talking about the oil well, so I understand the decision. But independent media sources seem to reach very similar decisions day after day on what the discussion for that day should be about and which takes on it are legitimate and which are fringe or otherwise unworthy of mention, which is not something about which universal agreement would be expected, given the general differences in values, priorities, and attitudes that exist in the human race. After all, I and my personal friends do not always agree on what the media should be talking about and we probably have more in common than random members of the public. So seeing that these people are talking off-set and formulating their ideas and attitudes in group discussion reinforces the notion that we are dealing with group think here. It is what I suspected all along: that the mainstream media discuss their coverage among themselves and reach a lot of broad consensus outside of public purview. It is not scheming and it is probably not mostly conscious, but it is not nothing, and it does have visible results.

39

Bruce Baugh 07.22.10 at 9:02 pm

Martin, I could be really mistaken about this, but I’m fairly sure that few if any of the people on Journolist were at the editorial level where the kinds of decisions you’re talking about get made. (I phrase it that way because I’m not bothering to follow the leaks in any detail and I’m sure there’s a lot of disclosed info I don’t have.)

40

Martin Bento 07.22.10 at 9:14 pm

Well, in that case, I suspect people at the editorial level are also having their discussions. In previous eras, these probably took place in bars, Today, maybe still, but I wouldn’t be surprised at email lists, though more exclusive than this one. If the culture of journalism breeds this uniformity of thought without communication, I think that would be even more damning, but that’s not what I believe. If it is natural for journalists to chat, it is also so for editors.

41

piglet 07.22.10 at 9:38 pm

Times have really changed. People used to be concerned about media outlets being owned by politically biased billionaires or by for-profit corporations, and about corporate advertisers influencing the editorial line. Nowadays people seem to be concerned that journalists talk to each other. What next?

42

Henry 07.22.10 at 10:00 pm

Martin – sorry about that – but I would prefer not to give them any links whatsoever. Perhaps they can write a new article using this as evidence of a _deliberate plan_ mounted in a _left-leaning discussion board_ to _silence and censor_ the truth tellers at the Daily Caller ! ! ! !

43

JJ 07.22.10 at 10:17 pm

Apparently, sexism is a more legitimate cultural norm than racism. The Republicans were expecting to run their aging white warrior with his trophy wives against an aging, angry white feminist with her philandering, draft-dodging husband. You don’t need a conspiracy of wealthy weathermen to know which way the winds are blowing.

44

Natilo Paennim 07.22.10 at 10:21 pm

I really haven’t had much cause to get excited about this whole tempest in a teacup. I don’t think most Beltway journalists are any more useful to my politics than your average insurance salesman or small-town school board member. But I have been a journalist in the past, and I do know quite a few people currently employed by the mainstream media, and from that perspective, I really have to question the perspicacity of anyone who thinks this scandal is anything but small beer.

Journalists don’t spring forth from J-school with some perfectly “objective” guidelines for reporting hardwired into their brains. Even the ones who pride themselves most on their “objectivity” (i.e. those who are the most devout adherents to the Ideology of American Journalism), have to get story ideas, and glosses, and background and edits from somewhere. The Journalist does not sit in his or her ivory tower, shining a powerful spotlight on the groundlings until some piece of “news” is illuminated. Journalists make the news. And they do that based on the influence of many other people. Some of those influences are well-defined and public — the named source in a story, the editor on the masthead — and some are less obvious — the background source who speaks only without attribution, the junior copy editors who have the first crack at messing up cleaning up the reporter’s prose. There’s also everyone at the news meeting, the journalist’s friends and family, the publisher, the publicist who wrote the press release, the salespeople, the reporters from other news organizations on that beat. So this idea that a journalist’s reportage can be (or even should be) sacrosanct and inviolate is fairly absurd on the face of it. Once you get beyond the baseball scores and yesterday’s high temperature, everything else in the news is a matter of interpretation.

It’s also ridiculous to talk about a “party line”, as though we lived in a dictatorship rather than an oligarchy. There doesn’t need to be a “party line” — the ideology we swim in is far, far too strong to need to resort to that kind of ham-fisted thought policing. Go to any town with two competing newspapers (if you can still find one) — several times a week their front pages will be virtually identical. Is that because there exists some objective standard by which we can say that the most important story that day was a bonding bill being voted down, the second most important story was a big house fire that killed three students and the third most important story was the arrest of a serial rapist? Of course not. It’s simply that journalists spend a huge amount of their time and energy making sure that they all agree on a consistent interpretation of the world, and they police themselves to make sure that they all adhere to it.

45

Dan Simon 07.22.10 at 10:34 pm

By the surly beard of Mrifk, Grignr kneels to no man!”
scowled the massive barbarian.
“You dare to deal this blasphemous act to me! You are
indeed brave stranger, yet your valor smacks of foolishness.”
“I find you to be the only fool, sitting upon your pompous
throne, enhancing the rolling flabs of your belly in the midst of
your elaborate luxuryand …” The soldier standing at Grignr’s
side smote him heavily in the face with the flat of his sword,
cutting short the harsh words and knocking his battered helmet to
the masonry with an echo-ing clang.
The paunchy noble’s sagging round face flushed suddenly
pale, then pastily lit up to a lustrous cherry red radiance. His
lips trembled with malicious rage, while emitting a muffled
sibilant gibberish. His sagging flabs rolled like a tub of upset
jelly, then compressed as he sucked in his gut in an attempt to
conceal his softness.

46

y81 07.22.10 at 10:49 pm

“But if you have been reading blogger X, found his posts interesting and worthwhile reading, but stop reading them because somebody told you that X is just “channeling a party line”, that doesn’t make sense.”

Interesting theory, but I am too much of an American for that: the cult of authenticity has me in its grip. If you aren’t presenting your own honest opinions, then I don’t want to hear what you have to say. If your book is ghostwritten, I don’t want to read it. If you copied your sermons off the internet, I’m not coming to your church. Etc. Life is too short to listen to anyone inauthentic.

47

Martin Bento 07.22.10 at 10:50 pm

Natilo, your last sentence is about what I was getting at. I don’t think, though, that this is a state of affairs that should be blithely accepted. Journalists who seem to think they should have more credibility than they do might want to evaluate this. Recently, there was a brohaha in the mass media over a study that showed that people with strong opinions tend to move more strongly in the direction of the pre-existing judgments, even when a news story related facts that contradicted their thesis. This was, near as I can tell, universally treated in the mass media as entirely a problem of the opinionated that they are impervious to facts that do not fit their world view. At least in the media coverage (didn’t read the actual study, but wouldn’t be surprised if it were left out there too) is the possibility that people do not necessarily believe everything they read in the paper, and there are arguments that they should not. The notion that “news stories” may not be perfectly accepted as sources of information, much less that there may be reasons for tthis that are not irrational, doesn’t seem to come up for consideration.

48

Martin Bento 07.22.10 at 11:00 pm

Previous comment written hastily, and I should have read it before posting. I think the meaning comes across though.

49

piglet 07.22.10 at 11:01 pm

y81, methinks you are merely channeling a party line and so I will stop reading what you have to say.

50

qb 07.22.10 at 11:24 pm

Man, what is with everybody putting scare quotes around “objectivity”? It’s like there’s a bunch of motherfucking relativists running around in here.

Once you get beyond the baseball scores and yesterday’s high temperature, everything else in the news is a matter of interpretation.

Now that’s just lazy. The fact that some facts are hard to describe in terms everyone can agree on doesn’t mean it’s all interpretation. Does Obamacare mandate death panels? Is waterboarding torture? Is Obama a Muslim? Does he have a birth certificate? “Well, that depends what you mean by…” Please. Nobody thinks journalists are infallible conduits of truth, but pretending not to see bullshit for what it is isn’t “interpretation;” it’s just more bullshit.

51

Red 07.22.10 at 11:32 pm

Zzzzzz. A lot of b.s about a t. in a tp. (s. in tc in BE).

52

Natilo Paennim 07.23.10 at 1:42 am

49: Now that’s just lazy.

I should have thought it was obvious that I was intentionally engaging in some hyperbole there, but apparently I was mistaken.

46: I don’t think, though, that this is a state of affairs that should be blithely accepted.

Nor do I, and again, apparently my intention was not clear. When I was working regularly as a journalist, and even today when I email or speak to my journalist friends, I try and tried to do whatever I could to disabuse them of the notion that they could function without some ideological bias, and also the notion that there was some positive standard of objectivity to aspire to. And I think I got through to a few of them. But they’re realists. And they have careers to manage. And my voice crying in the wilderness isn’t nearly as loud as that of the editor they see every day, nor the couple of grand that appears in their bank account every two weeks. When I was an editor, I had some tiny amount of power to struggle against that tide, but again there were Editors-in-Chief and publishers and those sorts of people who curtailed what I was able to accomplish.

53

John Quiggin 07.23.10 at 3:57 am

@qb The point about the scare quotes is that, in ordinary journalist-speak, “objectivity” means maintaining neutrality on any factual issue that is disputed by Republicans and Democrats. Thus, objectivity requires that the NY Times avoid the word “torture” to describe beatings or near-drownings administered by Americans (since this use is disputed) while invariably using the term to describe the same pain administered by America’s enemies (since any softening of terminology in this respect is objected to by rightwingers).

54

Linkmeister 07.23.10 at 7:26 am

y81 writes “I don’t read blogs written by people without graduate degrees. “

I’m sure that wasn’t intended to be funny, but good grief. Read what you write. Listen to what you say. Then ask yourself, “how’s that going to come off to people who read it?”

55

Tim Worstall 07.23.10 at 8:46 am

“There was no left-wing conspiracy to elect Obama.”

Really? I agree, it wasn’t all that left wing nor was it all that secret but there certainly was a Democratic Party at the last election.

56

alphie 07.23.10 at 9:20 am

I used to pick up a Weekly World News whenever Bat Boy was on the cover, so I can’t knock Daily Caller and Breitbart readers for having the same instincts.

57

Humphry Slocombe 07.23.10 at 11:44 am

A “political conspiracy” run by a very clever but careerist milquetoast centrist who is ten degrees to the left of center in the best of times and ten degrees to the right of center if column space or invitations to Rahm’s beach bashes are at stake would also be an unusual looking leftist conspiracy.

58

Uncle Kvetch 07.23.10 at 2:27 pm

y81 writes “I don’t read blogs written by people without graduate degrees. ” […] Listen to what you say. Then ask yourself, “how’s that going to come off to people who read it?”

And when you consider y81’s frequently expressed loathing of academia and academics, it’s even weirder.

59

alphie 07.23.10 at 4:22 pm

The Daily Caller’s traffic sure has spiked over this:

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/dailycaller.com#

Mission Accomplished!

60

central texas 07.23.10 at 9:10 pm

What is left unexplained, and to me remains inexplicable, is how Ezra could have ever expected something different from Tucker Carlson? I can think of nothing that he has added to thought, content or tone in political discussion for as long as he has enjoyed some form of notoriety. What Ezra expected him to contribute is a mystery. His Daily Caller appears to be a holding action after somehow missing out on the grander streams of right wing welfare for conscience-free hacks. He should be very grateful to Ezra for helping him to regain temporary popularity.

61

Red 07.23.10 at 10:34 pm

This is inane, Daniel. Why would the list need to be “representative” of America or the Democratic Party to exist? And it’s hardly progressive (Joe Klein!). And what paranoia are you talking about (projection again)? Not to mention that sneer at Jews.

62

Alex 07.23.10 at 11:10 pm

If this was some Great Liberal Conspiracy, it’s a pretty ineffective one. For instance, what the hell is Jonathan Chait doing?

However, I must say I’m impressed that you got the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on board.

Daniel:

Really? A Jewish Conspiracy? Are you sure you want to go down that route?

63

Henry 07.24.10 at 12:15 am

Daniel has been banned from commenting for anti-Semitism, and his comment deleted.

64

Alex 07.24.10 at 2:47 am

Further evidence of a conspiracy!!!1!

65

Alex 07.24.10 at 2:48 am

Huh. Apparently three exclamation marks in a row equals no exclamation marks.

66

Metamorf 07.24.10 at 11:24 am

I don’t understand the concern here. Aren’t Carlson et al reporters? Don’t reporters have opinions? Especially about, you know, “the dynamics of opinion-formation — opinions about how prominent crazy people and spin doctors in the public sphere affect public discourse“? And isn’t it “silly”, therefore, to think that they don’t have “a positive duty to act on those opinions … the better to help their readers” — that’s y’all — “form sensible opinions”? And now that you’ve been helped, shouldn’t you be, well, maybe appreciative at least? Where’s John Holbo? … John? … Anyone?

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