Blogosphere, please join me in celebrating the birth of Cabalist, the wittily-named successor to Ezra Klein's infamous Journolist, the listserv of liberal bloggers, pundits and academics that inadvertently brought down (very temporarily) the ex-Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel, and which is now the subject of an endless and embarrassing (for certain former Journolist participants) investigation by The Daily Caller, which has discovered e-mail chains suggesting that certain Journolist members were secretly devising partisan campaigns to advance Democratic Party interests. (Message to normal Goldblog readers: This post will consist mainly of inside-journalism double-meta-navel-gazing; we will return to our regular programming shortly. You may stop reading now.)
Shortly after the Weigel scandal, Klein, the Washington Post's left-wing policy blogger, shut down Journolist, which was meant to be off-the-record, though why anyone thought a listserv with 400 members, many of whom were professional scribblers, would stay off the record is beyond me. But the idea behind Journolist -- a forum in which like-minded opinion-makers could share information and ideas (much of the content of Journolist that I have seen consisted of eye-glazing wonkery) but also, on occasion, plot campaigns against Journolist's ideological foes -- would not die. Hence, the birth of the heretofore secret Cabalist, which unlike Journolist, has only 173 members, rather than 400, but which in other ways resembles Journolist (such as in the propensity of Cabalist members to leak ostensibly private information to non-Cabalist members, including to yours truly). The 173 members are mainly veterans of Journolist, and don't ask me what happened to the other 227; perhaps they were purged after being judged splitters in secret on-line show trials.
I don't have any overwhelming moral, theological or political objections to the existence of either list, although my colleague Andrew Sullivan has a point when he wrote that some of what happened on Journolist smacked of secret plotting: "This collusion is corruption. It is no less corrupt than the comically propagandistic Fox News and the lock-step orthodoxy on the partisan right in journalism - but it is nonetheless corrupt. Having a private journalistic list-serv to debate, bring issues to general attention, notice new facts seems pretty innocuous to me. But this was an attempt to corral press coverage and skew it to a particular outcome."
The members of Cabalist, whose conveners are Jon Cohn of The New Republic (a great guy, by the way, but a bit too right-wing for me on matters of health-care reform), Michelle Goldberg (my favorite writer in all Creation), and Steven Teles (don't know him), spent much of yesterday debating whether to respond collectively or individually to the Daily Caller series, or to ignore it. This prompted one participant -- I don't know who this was (thought I'm finding out) -- to note, with unusual self-awareness for this group, that "it's pretty ironic that people seem to have made a collective decision not to write about this story because of the way that doing so might influence the media narrative." In other words, members of Journolist 2.0 were debating whether to collectively respond to a Daily Caller story alleging -- inaccurately, in their minds -- that members of Journolist 1.0 (the same people, of course) made collective decisions about what to write.
Okay, is that meta enough for you? In any case, I spoke with Jon Cohn this morning from his secret underground headquarters and I asked him if the members of Cabalist understood that their private listserv was not, in fact, private (although, unaccountably, Cabalist has managed to stay secret for several weeks, until this historic Goldblog moment you are now experiencing). "Personally," Jon said, "I am of the view that things are going to get out from time to time. I wouldn't do it, but clearly stuff gets out." He also attempted to refute Andrew's reasonable assertion that this whole exercise is fishy. "There will always be the danger in opinion journalism that people will close themselves off to other views and find reinforcement, but I don't think this list exascerbates this problem," he said. "People who are likely to live in a closed world will continue to do so, but you can still be on the list and go out of your way to listen to other people."
To answer the question I'm sure you're not asking at this point, no, I wasn't invited to join the first list, and I wasn't invited to join the second list. This might be because according to the Intertubes I am the founder of both revisionist Zionism and neo-conservatism. But like Andrew, I tend to believe that group-think can lead people in dangerous directions, and so I try to avoid groups like this in any case. But, in the spirit of magnanimity, let me just say, welcome to the sunlight, Cabalist. And Mazel Tov.