A New Take on JournoList: In Your Twenties, You Form Your 'Team'

One conservative who isn't angry about the liberal listserv

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"The twenties are the age when you form your team." This thought lies at the center of Reihan Salam's somewhat unusual response to the JournoList controversy. Many conservatives have seen the exposed private emails of left-leaning journalists, if not as evidence of insidious liberal media bias or conspiracy, at least as proof of some unwise and inappropriate groupthink. Salam, a New America fellow who also contributes to the National Review, isn't so sure. JournoList, in his view, was "a marriage of young and old, built on the premise that everyone had something to learn and to teach. It was less a liberal conspiracy than a low-key effort to build a cognitive community."

Salam's take, in turn, has spawned a new debate: what is the place for "teams," and when are teams based on politics okay?

  • 'Your Team'  The idea about one's twenties being the age of team-forming comes from an art critic friend of Salam's. Here's the expanded idea:
For the rest of your professional life, your team will be doing battle with other teams, whether you know it or not. The smart thing is to stay close to your friends, and build them up when you can. The building of teams can happen on the web, sort of. But the real building of teams happens in more intimate settings, where there is no email trail. Consider the networks of women and evangelical Christians and gay men that have emerged in countless industries to provide mutual support while climbing professional ladders. These networks are many things, including a safe space for venting. We can condemn the cliquishness of JournoList. But are we going to condemn the fact that like-minded people become friends and start to think even more alike and help each other out? If not, the time may have come to shut up about JournoList and move on.
  • Otherwise Known As: 'Opposites Don't Really Attract,' points out Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. "People have always sought out their own kind for friendship, romance, and collaborative work, but with the rise of the Internet there's been a lot more hand-wringing about it." It's time, he says, "to acknowledge that there's a more benign side to this human propensity for team-formation. The fact is, it just makes life easier." Arguing "constantly about politics or religion" with the people in your life just doesn't make sense," and "common values" are often the "basis" for relationships of all sorts. In other words, while it's important to expand one's circle and keep an open mind, "we shouldn't be surprised when we still end up sorting ourselves into teams of one kind or another."
  • Otherwise Known as Careerism, complains blogger Mickey Kaus, summarizing Salam's argument as he sees it: "Team Ezra [Klein, the founder of JournoList], which seems to include Salam himself as a sort of sixth man, is a network of 'real life friendship and working relationships' that's here to stay, 'for some time to come' so we'd better get used to it." Kaus says the service Salam says JournoList performed "could easily have been done in public," but was not. "What exactly did making Journolist private accomplish? Aside from giving those who were 'in' a career leg up on those who were 'out' (with Klein as the gatekeeper)?"
  • What a Team Looks Like  Salam objects to Kaus's accusation of "careerism," and tries to clarify his argument: "What I meant to say ...  is that [JournoList] is inevitable." He thinks its members were "guilty of nothing worse than a universal human foible." What's more, he's not saying it out of self-interest, as he goes to great lengths to explain by way of personal details:
I do indeed have a team. It is not, however, the JList team ... My mentors are an idiosyncratic and diverse group, all of whom are either on the political right or apolitical. My friendship circle is centered on friends I made in high school, college, and in New York, which is a big reason why I moved to New York. I have far more friends working in film, television, the arts, literary criticism, and theater than in opinion journalism ... The number of conversations I have about politics when I'm not on the clock is very, very, very small, and I like it that way. Among opinion journalists, my closest friends are my erstwhile co-author, two staffers at The Weekly Standard, a D.C.-based sports writer, and a Pashto-speaking writer and reporter I've known since I was sixteen with completely inscrutable politics. And my "media connections," such as they are, reflect friendships and working relationships I formed at a selective university in the late 1990s, not in D.C. My friends on the left are writers, editors, and researchers at New York-based newspapers and magazines — n + 1, not The American Prospect.
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