The Daily Caller offers another installment of its Journolist exposé, only this one may be most notable for the praise given … Sarah Palin. After her speech at the Republican convention in 2008, the list members admitted their respect for the VP nominee, with one calling the speech “gangbusters.” Palin had them worried enough that a proposal floated among members to use the listserv explicitly to coordinate efforts to get Barack Obama elected:
Sarah Palin’s speech to the 2008 Republican convention impressed more than a few doubters, including even some members of Journolist, an online community for liberal journalists.
“This speech is gangbusters,” wrote Ari Melber of the Nation. “Her tone is pitch perfect.” Adele Stan of the Media Consortium agreed: “Palin is golden.”
The exuberance appeared to unnerve the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky. “People get a hold of yourselves!” Tomasky wrote to his fellow Journolisters. “It’s a very good speech with good lines. But there’s very little substance.”
A few days later, the bargaining began:
Luke Mitchell, then a senior editor at Harper’s magazine, asked Tomasky if his paper would be able to help: “Michael – Isn’t this something that can be fanned a bit by, say, the Guardian?”
Tomasky didn’t think it would work. “The Guardian? You’re kidding right? Remember the Clark County letters?” he wrote, referring to a failed attempt by the Guardian to elect John Kerry in 2004 by asking Britons to write letters to voters in a pivotal Ohio county.
Mitchell replied: “Fair enough! But it seems to me that a concerted effort on the part of the left partisan press could be useful. Why geld ourselves? A lot of the people on this list work for organizations that are far more influential than, say, the Washington Times.
“Open question: Would it be a good use of this list to co-ordinate a message of the week along the lines of the GOP? Or is that too loathsome? It certainly sounds loathsome. But so does losing!”
To his credit, Journolist founder Ezra Klein squelched the idea:
“Nope, no message coordination. I’m not even sure that would be legal. This is a discussion list, though, and I want it to retain that character,” he wrote.
But that wasn’t the end of it, according to the Daily Caller’s Jonathan Strong. Ed Kilgore of the Progressive Policy Institute and Todd Gitlin of the Columbia School of Journalism continued to push for better messaging against John McCain and Palin. Gitlin made it specific:
“On the question of liberals coordinating, what the hell’s wrong with some critical mass of liberal bloggers & journalists saying the following among themselves:
“McCain lies about his maverick status. Routinely, cavalierly, cynically. Palin lies about her maverick status. Ditto, ditto, ditto. McCain has a wretched temperament. McCain is a warmonger. Palin belongs to a crackpot church and feels warmly about a crackpot party that trashes America.
“Repeat after me:
“McCain lies about his maverick status. Routinely, cavalierly, cynically. Palin lies about her maverick status. Ditto, ditto, ditto. McCain has a wretched temperament. McCain is a warmonger. Palin belongs to a crackpot church and feels warmly about a crackpot party that trashes America.[“]
The Columbia School of Journalism should be answering that question today. What’s wrong with journalists colluding to force a political message through their reporting? Obviously Gitlin doesn’t find anything wrong with it, but perhaps the university’s ethics professors might have a bone to pick with it.
There is little doubt that Journolisters used the listserv for cheerleading and campaigning. In most cases, that would be as surprising as hearing that journalists talk politics at bars, and worthy of the same level of outrage. It’s certainly telling, however, that a man tasked with instructing future journalists has no trouble urging writers to secretly coordinate messages on behalf of the party and candidate he likes. I doubt that’s the first time Gitlin has offered that advice, and Columbia needs to respond to this revelation. Will they stand behind this as proper ethics for their students, or will they repudiate Gitlin?
Update: And don’t miss the initial Journolister foray into Sarah Palin’s uterus, although to be fair, a number of participants insisted that it was really none of their business.
Update II: John Ziegler claims vindication.
Update III: Greg Sargent claims that Ezra’s reply makes this a non-story, and that the Daily Caller is pandering to conservative media. I note that Greg (who was a member of Journolist) doesn’t address the issue of Gitlin expressly demanding coordination later in the thread or the ethics of a J-school professor saying, “Again. And again. Vary the details. There are plenty. Somebody on the ‘list posted a strong list of McCain lies earlier today. Hammer it. Philosophize, as Nietzsche said, with a hammer. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not waiting for any coordination. Get on with it!”