The emergence of the Journolist listserv at The Daily Caller has created quite a stir on the Internet, but among mainstream media journalists, the silence is deafening. The listserv creates the impression that the entire profession of journalism protected presidential candidate Barack Obama in the spring of 2008, when controversy over his attendance at the church of Jeremiah Wright reached its zenith, and ever since.
The Journolist has now been outed, and a similar, smaller listserv known as Cabalist has also surfaced. But in my opinion, it wasn’t unanimous. At that time, the mainstream media were deeply divided. There were some journalists who were supporting Obama, and others who were supporting his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
My experience with the mainstream media’s preferences came as a freelance writer for Newsmax. In the summer of 2007, since senior Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler was covering the association between Obama and Wright from Washington, and since I live in the Chicago area, I was assigned to find out whether Obama was still attending Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), where Wright served as senior pastor.
There were five Sundays in the month of July 2007. I attended services at TUCC six times that month. They had three sermons every Sunday: an early sermon at 7:30, a late morning sermon at 11:00, and an evening sermon. Each was preceded by a 15-minute “praise and prayer” service. I took notes in a three-by-five spiral-bound notebook that I kept in my pocket.
The sixth time I attended, Barack Obama was there. I was never 100% certain that the date of that particular sermon was July 22. As originally submitted, my Newsmax story didn’t even contain a date — I just said that it was in July. But my editor at Newsmax, David Patten, called and asked for an exact date. I was 99% sure that it was July 22, and I remain about 99% sure.
While I was working on this story, there was absolutely no response to repeated phone messages left at Trinity United Church of Christ and at the Obama campaign for comment. After the story was published, there was still no response. I tried working on a follow-up story and again got no response to my calls. Finally my editor, David Patten, canned the follow-up story. For seven months, there was no sign of any reaction by the campaign to this story.
In a Webcast sermon on August 12, however, I heard the speaker caution listeners about “reporters in the congregation.” So I got the impression that they had seen the story when it was published.
I’ve never had any formal training as a journalist. My background is in information technology and the law. But one of the important things I learned from my parents is that the answers you get depend on the questions you ask. The wording of the question, as well as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language of the questioner, have a profound effect on the answer.