JournoList, Day 3: Debate moves to the media
posted at 8:48 am on July 22, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
On the first day of JournoList, Daily Caller gave to me … a plot to spike the Wright stuff. On the second day of JournoList, Daily Caller gave to me … demands for government intervention with Fox News, and a plateful of irony from accusations of fascism. On the third day, however, Daily Caller catches mainly opinion journalists offering and soliciting opinions about John McCain’s choice of running mate, Sarah Palin, in exactly the terms that people discussed in public as well:
In the hours after Sen. John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the last presidential race, members of an online forum called Journolist struggled to make sense of the pick. Many of them were liberal reporters, and in some cases their comments reflected a journalist’s instinct to figure out the meaning of a story.
But in many other exchanges, the Journolisters clearly had another, more partisan goal in mind: to formulate the most effective talking points in order to defeat Palin and McCain and help elect Barack Obama president. The tone was more campaign headquarters than newsroom.
That is true, but the Journolisters involved were mainly (and publicly) political activists, bloggers, and opinion journalists, with a few arguable exceptions. Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker and CNN contributor called Palin “a joke,” which was hardly a reaction the Left kept private. Ryan Donmoyer of Bloomberg, who we discovered yesterday badly needs a remedial history course on Nazi Germany, noted that her story of keeping her baby even after being informed of his Down’s Syndrome was a “heartwarming story” that “appeals to a vast swath of America.” Ben Adler, then at Politico and now at Newsweek, responded that “leaving sad [sic] baby without its mother” would negate that appeal if Palin’s opponents weren’t “too afraid to make that point.”
Mostly, though, the conversation went much like a barroom bull session at the end of the day. The participants were certainly critical of Palin, as they were in public, but the bigger revelation may have been how much they worried that Palin might do real damage to Barack Obama’s chances. Interestingly, many of them thought an attack on Palin’s lack of experience would backfire by forcing the media to focus on Obama’s thin resumé. There are no big, splashy revelations of smear campaigns in these exchanges, but instead a conversation where the group clearly wanted to find its footing after getting surprised by the choice of Palin.
Jonathan Strong saves the real story for last, however:
Time’s Joe Klein then linked to his own piece, parts of which he acknowledged came from strategy sessions on Journolist. “Here’s my attempt to incorporate the accumulated wisdom of this august list-serve community,” he wrote. And indeed Klein’s article contained arguments developed by his fellow Journolisters. Klein praised Palin personally, calling her “fresh” and “delightful,” but questioned her “militant” ideology. He noted Palin had endorsed parts of Obama’s energy proposal.
This piece makes the argument that JournoListers attempted to shape coverage through their debates. Klein wrote this article in the first person, attributing these ideas to himself. He could just as easily have written, “Political activists are wondering about the following” in his list of issues in this first reaction to the Palin announcement. Instead, Klein wrote, “I wonder about the following,” which misleads readers into believing that these points sprang from his own forehead as Athena from Zeus. While Klein is very clearly an opinion journalist at Time, he represented those opinions as his own — and one has to wonder how many other talking points from JournoList Klein passed off as his own over the years at Time. The magazine needs to address that issue immediately.
Update: Added a [sic] after “sad” in the above quote; that’s how the article quotes Adler, although the context is clearly “said”. Also, to respond to some in the comments protesting that I’m downplaying this, it’s because there’s nothing wrong or unethical for journalists to converse with each other about current events and politics. There’s certainly nothing wrong with opinion journalists having opinions, either. Nothing said in this exchange was particularly noteworthy, and all of it was considerably milder than what some of the participants said publicly about Palin. It’s pretty clear, after all, that no one took Ezra Klein’s advice to ignore Palin and focus on McCain, or multiple suggestions not to attack her lack of experience. The one exception is Klein’s regurgitation of the suggested points of attack from Journolisters as his own thoughts and his reporting back to Journolist of having done so.
Update II: Jim Geraghty also focuses on Klein.