Journolist Liberal Conspiracy Story: Scandal or Overblown?

Writers discussed coordinating coverage of Jeremiah Wright

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Conservative news site The Daily Caller sparked a controversy today after uncovering private e-mails from a now-defunct listserv of liberal journalists, JournoList. The documents show journalists discouraging one another from covering the Rev. Jeremiah Wright story during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. In one case, The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman, now of, encouraged his peers to label conservatives racists if they make an issue out of the controversial figure. Ackerman wrote at the time:

If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.

To be clear, the journalists the story mentions all write for opinionated publications—so the story is not so much an exposé on purportedly objective reporters as it is a window into the privately professed views of opinion writers. Regardless, the story is sparking a wave of commentary on the whether the documents are scandalous or overblown:

  • A Low Blow by Spencer Ackerman, writes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air: "Let’s put this in its proper perspective.  Ackerman wasn’t talking about a strategy to expose real racists, in the media or anywhere else.  The Washington Independent reporter wanted to conduct a campaign against any figure on the Right, including journalists like Fred Barnes, to smear him as a racist for the political purposes of electing a Democrat to the White House.  Notice that Ackerman doesn’t even bother to ask people to look for actual evidence of racism, but just suggests to pick a conservative name out of a hat."

  • A Blow to the MSM, writes Andrew Breitbart at Big Government: "American journalism died a long time ago; today Tucker Carlson got around to running the obituary. What The Daily Caller has unearthed proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that most media organizations are either complicit by participation in the treachery that is Journolist, or are guilty of sitting back and watching Alinsky warfare being waged against all that challenged the progressive orthodoxy."

  • I Don't See the Scandal, writes Steve Krakauer at Mediaite: "The pay off largely isn’t there. What the Daily Caller proves is that many liberal opinion columnists, not necessarily supposedly-unbiased reporters, didn’t like the mainstream media talking about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That’s not surprising. Also, their attempts to ‘plot to fix the damage’ largely failed (a well-orchestrated response quote regarding an ABC debate came and went mostly unnoticed), as the Wright story bubbled up for a significant part of the campaign, across the entire media."

  • Not Scandalous But Revealing, writes Daniel Foster at the National Review:

Little in the threads the Caller publishes rises to the level of a nefarious "mainstream media conspiracy," as most of the journalists quoted are columnists or work for lefty opinion rags like The Nation and Mother Jones...

This all being said, the thread does reveal the kind of naked flackery that characterized much of the lefty media's coverage of the 2008 presidential race, a paranoid Obamania in which the then-candidate's cheerleaders in the press did their best to bury potentially damaging story-lines, in this case by trying to recast any criticism of Obama as latent right-wing racism. The participants in the thread are perfectly forthright — maddeningly so — that this should be their strategy in shaping the Rev. Wright narrative.

  • This Won't Hurt Anyone's Career, writes Alex Pareene at Salon: "The best part of this is that Andrew Breitbart thinks this will get Spencer Ackerman fired for privately expressing the crazy opinion that white Republican political strategists and pundits are racist. This would be the Spencer Ackerman who was fired from The New Republic three days after starting a public blog called 'Too Hot for TNR,' and who has a history of publicly calling out journalists he considers cowards or craven careerists. This sort of campaign doesn't work when you're trying to discredit avowed liberal commentators by proving that they secretly hold liberal beliefs."

  • Good Riddance to JournoList, writes Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic:  "I'm glad Journo-list is over. It should never have been begun. I know many of its members are good and decent and fair-minded writers. But socialized groupthink is not the answer to what's wrong with the media. It's what's already wrong with the media."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.