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Jonah Goldberg / Jul. 23, 2010

Open Conspiracy Is No Longer Merely Ajar

The Journolist has started to leak like an overripe diaper.

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave, or if you only get your news from MSNBC, here’s the story. A young blogger, Ezra Klein, formerly of the avowedly left-wing American Prospect and now with the avowedly mainstream Washington Post, founded the e-mail listserv “Journolist” for like-minded liberals to hash out and develop ideas. Some 400 people joined the by-invitation-only group. Most, it seems, were in the media, but many hailed from academia, think tanks and the world of forthright liberal activism generally. They spoke freely about their political and personal biases, including their hatred of Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and their utter loyalty to the progressive cause and Democratic success.

That off-the-record intellectual bacchanalia has started to haunt the participants like an inexplicable rash after a wild party during fleet week.

Last month, David Weigel, a young Washington Post blogger hired to report on conservative politics, ostensibly from a sympathetic perspective, left the Post thanks to his damning statements on Journolist (conservatives are racists, Rush Limbaugh should die, etc.).

Now the diaper is coming off entirely. Perhaps stretching the diaper metaphor too far, what’s inside Journolist may stink, but it’s no surprise that it does. Journolist e-mails obtained by The Daily Caller reveal what anybody with two neurons to rub together already knew: Professional liberals don’t like Republicans and do like Democrats. They can be awfully smug and condescending in their sense of intellectual and moral superiority. They tend to ascribe evil motives to their political opponents – sometimes even when they know it’s unfair. One obscure blogger insisted that liberals should arbitrarily demonize a conservative journalist as a racist to scare conservatives away from covering stories that might hurt Obama.

Oh, and – surprise! – it turns out that the “O” in Journolist stands for “Obama.”

In 2008, participants shared talking points about how to shape coverage to help Obama. They tried to paint any negative coverage of Obama’s racist and hateful pastor, Jeremiah Wright, as out of bounds. Journalists at such “objective” news organizations as Newsweek, Bloomberg, Time and The Economist joined conversations with open partisans about the best way to criticize Sarah Palin.

Like an Amish community raising a barn, members of the progressive community got together to hammer out talking points. Amidst a discussion of Palin, Chris Hayes, a writer for the Nation, wrote: “Keep the ideas coming! Have to go on TV to talk about this in a few min and need all the help I can get.” Time’s Joe Klein admitted to his fellow Journolisters that he’d collected the listserv’s bric-a-brac and fashioned it into a brickbat aimed at Palin.

Many conservatives think Journolist is the smoking gun that proves not just liberal media bias (already well-established) but something far more elusive as well: the Sasquatch known as the Liberal Media Conspiracy.

I’m not so sure. In the 1930s, The New York Times deliberately whitewashed Stalin’s murders. In 1964, CBS reported that Barry Goldwater was tied up with German Nazis. In 1985, the Los Angeles Times polled 2,700 journalists at 621 newspapers and found that journalists identified themselves as liberal by a factor of 3 to 1. Their actual views on issues were far more liberal than even that would suggest. Just for the record, Ezra Klein was born in 1984.

In other words, Journolist is a symptom, not the disease. And the disease is not a secret conspiracy but something more like the “Open Conspiracy” H.G. Wells fantasized about, where the smartest, best people at every institution make their progressive vision for the world their top priority.

As James DeLong, a fellow at the Digital Society, correctly noted on the Enterprise Blog, “The real problem with JournoList is that much of it consisted of exchanges among people who worked for institutions about how to best hijack their employers for the cause of Progressivism.”

For a liberal activist that’s forgivable, I guess. But academics? Reporters? Editors? Even liberal opinion writers aren’t supposed to “coordinate” their messages with the mothership.

The conservative movement at least admits it is a movement (even though conservatives outnumber liberals 2-1 in this country). Establishment liberalism, not just in the press but also in the White House, academia and Hollywood, holds power by refusing to make the same concession. “This isn’t about ideology. … We just call them like we see them. … We don’t have an agenda.”

The open conspiracy that perpetuates that lie is far more pernicious than any chat room.

© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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