Prominent conservatives responded Tuesday to new reports of a 2008 discussion topic on Journolist, the now-defunct listserv of centrist and liberal journalists, that called for a smear campaign to paint Republicans as racists.
The Daily Caller revealed Monday that then-Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman argued during the 2008 presidential campaign that the best way to combat criticism of President Obama’s former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright was to accuse those who raised the issue of racism.
“If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us,” Ackerman wrote on the Journolist listserv in April 2008. “Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
While many members of the group voiced concerns about Ackerman on strategic grounds, there seemed to be no clear disagreement with the substance. The strongest repudiation came from Mark Schmitt, now at the liberal magazine the American Prospect, who said the tactic of calling conservatives racist would do nothing to advance the argument.
Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes and former White House senior adviser Karl Rove told The Daily Caller they were disappointed that there was not more criticism from other Journolist members for Ackerman’s plan of attack.
“I’d like to hear an explanation from those who participated in the Journolist about this,” Barnes said. “Why didn’t they quit the thing when smearing other journalists to help Barack Obama was advocated? Why didn’t they denounce the idea in unison?”
Rove played down the notion that members of the mainstream press agreed with Ackerman but he said he found it curious that such talk was tolerated within the group. It was important, he added, not to judge the motives of members who chose not to respond.
“I thought it was a revealing insight in the attitude of one minor player in the D.C. world of journalism,” Rove said of Ackerman’s comments. “It’s an even more important insight into a broader group of more prominent journalists that they seem to be willing to tolerate the suggestion that they should all tell a deliberate lie or that they should take somebody’s head and shove it through a plate glass window. I would hope that somebody would say, ‘Mr. Ackerman, do you really believe we ought to fabricate a lie about people just because we don’t agree with them?’”
Barnes added that even if there was an effort on the left to smear opponents as racists, the plan wouldn’t work.
“The charge has been made so often without any evidence that it has lost its sting,” he said. “It has become the last refuge of liberal scoundrels.”
Mother Jones magazine writer Kevin Drum, who participated in the Journolist discussion and worked for the Washington Monthly at the time, said in an interview Monday that charges of racism should only be used “sparingly.”
“It’s not something you should do unless you’re really, really sure,” he said.
This article originally reported that Kevin Drum worked for the Washington Independent and has been corrected.