Luke Mitchell’s rambling response to the DC

The Daily Caller
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The Daily Caller revealed that Luke Mitchell, then an editor at Harper’s, suggested members of Journolist coordinate a progressive weekly message to help President Obama win the election, even though that “sounds loathsome.”

The DC’s Jonathan Strong asked Mitchell for comment, and this is what he said:

I was saddened by your failure to respond to my previous two queries. Just to remind you: I had wanted to know first which you thought had greater news value – the merits of U.S torture policy or private chit-chat about a liberal television personality – and second how it was that your boss came to the conclusion that I am “dishonest” and “corrupt . . .”

I get that some people just aren’t that interested in policy. But I do hope you can at least shed a bit of light on the second question. I try very hard to be honest, but maybe I’ve missed something.

And now onwards!

You ask: “Why, in your view, would [using a listserv to coordinate a left partisan message of the week] be loathsome?”

The construction of your question is a bit misleading. It suggests I had asserted that using a listserv to coordinate a left partisan message of the week would in fact be loathsome, but that left partisans nonetheless should do so. That simply is not the case. Had I been writing for a public audience – or even just for the employees of the Daily Caller – I would have tried much harder to make myself clear. Lesson learned!

Anyway, let’s recast this to be the more open-ended question that I myself was attempting to ask. How about: Would using a listserv to coordinate a left partisan message of the week be loathsome?

Better, no? Asking why something is loathsome closes too many doors right off the bat. Asking IF something is loathsome gives you a whole new layer of ethical conundrum to ponder. And all of those layers foment just the kind of endless egghead discussion that I really enjoy. (As I assume you know from reading so much of my private email.)

But before I finally answer this interesting and complex question, let’s recall why I was not previously able to discuss it: Ezra Klein asked me to halt that discussion before it even began, and so I did. That was that. There has never been any message coordination on JournoList, nor has there ever been any discussion of such coordination – indeed, there has never even been any discussion ABOUT having such a discussion.

That’s right. We have refrained even from meta-discussion.

I hope you will make that clear to your readers. They seem to be under the misimpression that, for instance, when McCain picked Palin, liberal journalists coordinated the best line of attack. But of course that’s just not the case.

Now on to your query. Would using a listserv to coordinate a left partisan message of the week be loathsome?

Great question!

As I am sure you also know, message coordination is an important part of politics. In the United States, such coordination has served mostly right-wing media outlets and the policies (such as they are) that those outlets promote. I have long wondered if the left should attempt some kind of countervailing coordination of its own.

I hasten to add that the overdetermined conflict between “left” and “right” is itself often inimical to the true interests of most Americans, in that it serves to disguise deeper material conflicts in the structure of American society. But even if for the sake of shorthand we accept the basic notion of an ongoing left-right policy battle in the United States, this question about loathsomeness will still require a bit more unpacking.

First, is there something inherently loathsome about the coordination itself? Or is the real problem the loathsome nature of the people doing the organization? If the latter, then people of good will should not hesitate to work together to promote (say) a change in U.S. torture policy. But if the coordination is itself corrupting, then perhaps left partisans are best off continuing as they have, alone and anarchic.

It may not be possible to know which is the case, alas. Certainly we all have opinions about who is and who is not loathsome. But can we ever say for certain what caused loathsome people to be that way?

There is another, perhaps more practical question: Even if coordination is not loathsome, could some large section of the public nonetheless be made to perceive it as loathsome, thereby undercutting the very project (say the reform of U.S. torture policy) the coordination was meant to serve?

In this regard, at least, the answer is knowable. Thanks to your own work, readers of the Daily Caller have come to believe that left partisans are indeed coordinating coverage, and – judging both from the violence a few of your readers have threatened and the traffic all of them continue to generate – it is clear they find such coordination to be not just loathsome, but awesomely loathsome. Torture policy, meanwhile, remains largely unexamined.

Even so, the larger question is likely unanswerable. After thinking about it for a couple of years, I have come to the more basic conclusion that the real problem (at least from a news coordination perspective) is not who is and who is not loathsome, but rather that a discussion of U.S. torture policy simply doesn’t generate enough clicks.

I hope this helps clarify matters, and I do hope you will at some point respond to my own queries in kind.