Despite its name, membership in the liberal online community Journolist wasn’t limited to journalists. Present among the bloggers, reporters and editors were a number of professional political operatives, including top White House economic advisors, key Obama political appointees, and Democratic campaign veterans. Some left government to join Journolist. Others took the opposite route. A few contributed to Journolist from their perches in politics. At times, it became difficult to tell who was supposed to be covering policy and who was trying to make it.
Two of the administration’s chief economic advisors, Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s top economist, and Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, were members of Journolist until they began working officially for Obama.
Ilan Goldenberg, now an advisor on Middle East policy at the Pentagon, was a member until he joined the administration. Moira Whelan left Journolist to work at the Department of Homeland Security. Anne-Marie Slaughter left to work at the State Department. Former Journolist member Ben Brandzel is now a top staffer at Organizing for America, the political arm of the Obama White House.
Josh Orton, a former spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), became Obama’s deputy director of new media during the 2008 presidential campaign. After the election, he joined Journolist.
Journolist founder Ezra Klein, a staffer at the Washington Post, says he “tried to be very strict” in making sure no active political operatives joined Journolist. “It’s possible I missed someone,” he explained in an email.
In fact, he did. Jeff Hauser wrote scores of posts on Journolist during the time he was managing the New Jersey congressional campaign of Democrat Dennis Shulman. Hauser didn’t do much to hide his affiliation. Indeed, his posts on Journolist were signed, “Campaign Manager, Shulman for Congress,” followed by the campaign’s web address. After the election, Hauser took positions at a 527 group and a political action committee. He never left Journolist.
Jared Bernstein, meanwhile, worked as an unpaid surrogate for Barack Obama during much of the campaign. All the while, he remained a member of Journolist. Even after the campaign ended, and he had joined the Obama administration, Bernstein continued his contact with the group. In May of 2009, Bernstein contacted Ezra Klein to pass a message along to list members.
“Calling all Journos,” Bernstein wrote in a message relayed by Klein. “I thought we got too little love from progressive types re our tax changes targeted at businesses with overseas operations. We’re maybe going for another bite at the apple this Monday,” he wrote. Bernstein invited members of the list to join him on a conference call on the issue a few days later.
Not everyone was sold. A couple of members on the list, including Greg Anrig of the Century Foundation and Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer, panned the administration’s plan to crack down on offshore tax havens as a misleading political stunt.
Dean Baker, at the time a blogger at the American Prospect, agreed the policy was dishonest, but defended it anyway. “Sure, some of the things they are saying are not true (the jobs story first and foremost),” he wrote, “but the industry groups have this town blanketed with lobbyists and own a large portion of Congress outright. … There has to be some counterforce to the industry groups and that is the populist rabble. It might not be pretty, but that’s Washington.”