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.”
Rebecca Traister of Salon wrote to say she was grateful for Tomasky’s message. (“This is a reassuring sentiment, since at the moment, I feel like we’re in End Times.”) But the rest of the country apparently didn’t agree. Polls a few days later showed Obama’s lead in the race had narrowed to virtually nothing.
Palin’s speech had been remarkably effective. This troubled members of Journolist. On Sept. 8, 2008, five days after Palin’s national debut, some members of the group discussed producing coordinated propaganda designed to wound Palin and boost Obama.
At an appearance in Colorado immediately following the convention, Palin had remarked that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive for the taxpayers,” a point that seems commonplace now, but that at the time struck some as controversial.
Ryan Avent, then a freelance blogger for the Economist, now an editor there, complained that Obama’s supporters were missing a chance to attack. “If we were the GOP, we’d be taking this opportunity to shout long and loud how unprepared Palin is—‘She doesn’t even know what Fannie and Freddie are…in the middle of a housing crisis!’….That’s the difference in the game as played by us and by them.”
Michael Tomasky responded: “So why aren’t Dems doing that? Just wundrin’.”
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!”
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, the founder of Journolist, quickly jumped in: “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.
Mitchell replied: “Fair enough, Ezra! The list is great at as it is and I didn’t mean to suggest anything out of bounds. I am still curious about the reluctance of the left media to organize, though. The message discipline on the right seems to be one of its key advantages.”