Monday, June 28, 2010

David Frum on the Death of Journolist

From (ht Jonathan Chait):
Ezra Klein’s JournoList was a disaster waiting to happen. I can understand why a reporter would wish to read what was posted there, but participating in closed lists is a bad idea for any writer. The idea that likeminded journalists would engage in formalized pre-discussions amongst ideologically like-minded people before publishing for the broad public is a formula for group-think. Genuinely private discussion via email is one thing. Coordination among colleagues: very different. Coordination seems to have been the purpose of JournoList from the start. It created “secret editors” to whom journalists privately reported, different from and undisclosed to their actual editors. That seems to me a genuinely sinister enterprise, a disservice to readers and corrupting of the participants in the list themselves.
Likewise, Sung Chun Kim (ht Ed Driscoll & Instapundit):
Why is no one calling for the outing of the 400 JournoList members and an investigation of whether there were any other attempts to collude and to coordinate the media narrative? Is no else as disturbed by this as I am? We’re constantly told that the media are special, that they’re the Fourth Estate, and that their proper functioning is vital to the health of the Republic. Well, is no one else profoundly disturbed that no one is watching the watchers? Or that the watchers are actually colluding in a virtual smoke-filled back room to massage and frame the narrative?

Imagine if a conservative listserv were discovered, and that it included Rupert Murdoch and 400 conservative pundits and journalists. Imagine if it were disclosed that the participants actively discussed coordination in framing stories so as to benefit the Republican Party. Do you think there would be a ho hum “Oh, it was just a private list” response? Of course not, the liberals would be howling to the rafters about the existential threat to the Republic.

So why all the frivolity here? Even now, the Weigel story is breaking down into stupid distractions like whether Weigel actually wished death on Drudge, or whether people on a listserv have an expectation of privacy. Seriously, why is that even remotely important compared to the fact that 400 of this nation’s most prominent journalists and pundits were having discusions about killing or promoting stories based on whether they hurt the Democratic Party agenda? If there is any justice or sanity in this world, this should be bigger than ClimateGate. I want to see an archive of the JournoList postings and then compare them to any contemporaneous stories written by participants. Once that is done, we can tar and feather the bastards for betraying their profession and the people of this country.
Likewise, Jim Geraghty (ht Michael Roston):
Somebody on Journo-List didn’t like Dave Weigel and decided to publish his most furious and incendiary remarks that he thought — unwisely — that he was expressing in confidence. (At least I hope these were his most furious and incendiary remarks; what could top these? “I’m going to deafen David Brooks with a vuvuzela”?) So what else is on there that, if revealed, could make life difficult for Ezra Klein or Jeffrey Toobin or Paul Krugman or Ben Smith or Mike Allen? Or is the idea that as long as they stay in line, they’ll never have some remark they regret publicized to the world? Did Journo-List evolve into a massive blackmail scheme that ensures no one inside the club will ever speak ill of another member?
Likewise, Random Observations:
So when something like "Journolist" surfaces -- a private, liberal-only chat group where reporters and pundits discussed breaking stories -- it's likewise easy to wonder if it might have been part of the aforementioned problem. Perhaps, one might speculate, journalists all used it to frame their reporting of stories, and make sure they stayed on the same narrative page?

Not to fear: Jonathan Chait dispels such concerns:

If I hadn't been on Journolist, I probably would have been fascinated with it as well. I'd probably be imputing great powers to it, like the fantastic description weaved by David Frum.... Let me disabuse everybody by revealing that Journolist was not created for people to work out some party line. The discussion was private not because the conversations were too explosive to be made public, but because they were too mundane.

Oh! Of course, that makes complete sense. Very boring and useless information is always the kind you want hidden behind a privacy wall. Which explains why a tremendous scandal arose when even one of those postings was made public. (Exposing Dave Weigel, a supposed libertarian journalist, as actually being a lefty.)

Conversations consisted of requests for references -- does anybody know an expert in such and such...

Rather than going to, say, public sources (libraries, research departments), liberals asked each other to recommend "experts" for the various stories they were covering. What kind of "experts" would such process tend to favor? "Experts" from from the Heritage Foundation? Economists of all political stripe? Academics with a wide variety of views on healthcare reform?

No, no story-shaping here, so far.

... instantaneous reactions to events...

So: one liberal journalist posts his "instantaneous reaction" to each event, and those which were most popular among other (liberal, journalist) readers then rose to the top and were repeated most often. The people who read these narratives then went on to craft national news stories on the events in question.

Okay, no story-shaping there either.

...joshing around, conversations about sports, and the like. Why did this have to be private? Because when you're a professional writer, even in the age of Twitter, you try to maintain some basic standard in your published work. I don't subject my readers to my thoughts on the Super Bowl as of halftime, or even (usually) the meaning of the Pennsylvania special election two minutes after polls close....

Hilarious! While attempting to tell us this forum wasn't used to frame important news stories, Chait can't help but throw in example after example of political stories, such as "the meaning of the Pennsylvania special election two minutes after polls close." Concerns are being dispelled with every sentence!

Not very self-aware, is he?

Why was the group exclusively non-conservative?

Again, I thought he was supposed to be dispelling these kinds of concerns, not confirming them?
Likewise, Andrew Breitbart (in The American Spectator):
Breitbart said Journolist functioned as a "cabal" through which liberal reporters and editors colluded to counteract the influence of alternative media voices like Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh.

Especially after the 2004 election, Breitbart said, liberals realized they h
ad "lost control of the narrative," and began organizing projects aimed at preventing stories that hurt Democrats from gaining traction in mainstream media. Breitbart compared the Journolist "cabal" to Professor Peter Dreier's "Cry Wolf" project that offered $1,000 fees to academics for papers pushing back against conservative policy proposals.

By exerting peer pressure within the press corps, Breitbart said, the participants in Journalist influenced reporters like Weigel to adopt their practice of treating Drudge and Limbaugh as enemies, and to suppress story angles that favored conservatives.

"Anybody who thinks this story is just about David Weigel needs to turn in their credentials as a media critic," Breitbart said.
Likewise, this comment on Ann Althouse's blog:
craig said...

Antitrust law is fairly clear in forbidding collusion not only to set prices, but also to control what products will be offered to the public. I'm pretty sure that such collusion isn't exempt simply by declaring it "private" communications.

How is Journolist any different from a hypothetical mailing list of oil refiners, distributors, and resellers discussing how to market alternative-energy and/or alternative-fuel products to gas station consumers?