We began our series on Journolist earlier this week with the expectation that our stories would be met with a fury of criticism from the Left. A hurt dog barks, after all.
The response hasn’t been all that furious, actually, probably because there isn’t much for the exposed members of Journolist to say. We caught them. They’re ashamed. The wise ones are waiting for the tempest to pass.
There have, however, been two lines of argument that we probably ought to respond to, if only because they may harden into received wisdom if we don’t. The first is that our pieces have proved only that liberal journalists have liberal views, and that’s hardly news.
To be clear: We’re not contesting the right of anyone, journalist or not, to have political opinions. (I, for one, have made a pretty good living expressing mine.) What we object to is partisanship, which is by its nature dishonest, a species of intellectual corruption. Again and again, we discovered members of Journolist working to coordinate talking points on behalf of Democratic politicians, principally Barack Obama. That is not journalism, and those who engage in it are not journalists. They should stop pretending to be. The news organizations they work for should stop pretending, too.
The second line of attack we’ve encountered since we began the series is familiar to anyone who has ever published a piece whose subject didn’t like the finished product: “You quoted me out of context!”
The short answer is, no we didn’t. I edited the first four stories myself, and I can say that our reporter Jonathan Strong is as meticulous and fair as anyone I have worked with.
That assurance won’t stop the attacks, of course. So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various New Republic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back.
Plus, a lot of the material on Journolist is actually pretty banal. In addition to being partisan hacks, a lot of these guys turn out to be pedestrian thinkers. Disappointing.
We reserve the right to change our minds about this in the future, but for now there’s an easy solution to this question: Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself. Every member of Journolist received new threads from the group every day, most of which are likely still sitting in Gmail accounts all over Washington and New York. So feel free to try to prove your allegations, or else stop making them.
One final note: Editing this series has been something of a depressing experience for me. I’ve been in journalism my entire adult life, and have often defended it against fellow conservatives who claim the news business is fundamentally corrupt. It’s harder to make that defense now. It will be easier when honest (and, yes, liberal) journalists denounce what happened on Journolist as wrong.