Despite the obvious fact that Journolist clearly created a tone of group-think and collective response to right-wing shenanigans - replicating exactly what's so wrong with conservative discourse in Washington - Jon Chait defends it. Yes, it once tried to organize a petition, he notes, but only 41 signed it. Yes, it often conveyed arguments about how to shape the discourse - but these were rebutted by some on the list. Then this:
Now, you could say that Hayes' post was an attempt at message coordination if you define the term very loosely. Here was a writer saying that a story did not merit attention. Since he emailed a lot of other writers, his attempt to persuade them that the Wright story didn't merit attention could be seen as an attempt to get liberals to stop writing about Wright. But of course, this would also be true of anybody who suggested that a particular topic merited more or less attention. It's the same as if you ventured such an opinion at a party, or in a published article.
This is ludicrous.
It is obviously different to propose message coordination on a private list-serv for liberal journalists than in a free-standing article in a magazine or newspaper, available to anyone, right, left and center. The whole point of Journo-list was collective discussion on the liberal left. I'm sure there were disagreements; but the point of it was to foster common ground and when that atmosphere encourages proposals for calling Republicans racists purely as a strategy, and when there are emails calling to ignore the Wright issue to a group of liberal bloggers and writers as a political strategy, it's obviously an unhealthy, cliquish and corrupting aspect of today's polarized media climate. I'm not the only one to have made this argument:
The most important of these is an e-mail list called Townhouse. It includes "many bloggers and other representatives of the netroots as well as a large number of partisan journalists and grassroots groups," Moulitsas has written, and its purpose is to "have a unified message in the face of a unified conservative noise machine." The party-line sensibility that pervades the netroots is not some artificial, Stalinist imposition... In replicating the form and structure of the conservative movement, inevitably the netroots have replicated its intellectual style as well.
So Chait agrees with me on Townhouse and disagrees on Journo-list. Maybe Journo-list had more debate, but that several members clearly saw it as a Townhouse replica, organized petitions, suggested common media strategy, and so on ... seems to me to blur the difference. And Townhouse was unabashedly for activists and partisans; Journo-list was for allegedly fair reporters as well as opinion writers.
Look: there's a place for list-servs to share ideas, air arguments, vent, etc. I'm sure Journo-list contained a lot of this as well. I have long belonged to a small list-serv for right-of-center gays that informs me all the time of facts and events and legal issues. And it is an attempt to create a space where the intimidation of the gay left can be resisted. But it is not a massive network of journalists talking about how to manipulate their work to promote a party line. That's cliquishness that puts fellow journalists on a higher plane than the readers we are all supposed to serve; and Chait was a part of it, however much he wants to spin it now.