The latest revelations from Journo-list are deeply depressing to me. What's depressing is the way in which liberal journalists are not responding to events in order to find out the truth, but playing strategic games to cover or not cover events and controversies in order to win a media/political war.
The far right is right on this: 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. To wit:
What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.
And I think this threads the needle. 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.
I understand this is Spencer getting excited in a private context in the face of a baldly racist propaganda campaign by the FNC-RNC machine to use Wright to tar Obama. And I know that Spencer is a good person, dedicated to real investigative journalism and with more balls and capacity for hard work than most of his peers. But the attitude in this email is still not, to my mind, the attitude of a journalist. It is the attitude of a political activist.
I was never on Journo-list, of course, and would have declined if invited. I understand why the coordinated talking points of the rightwing media can infuriate. But I remain of the view that the journalist needs to be as independent as possible and as hostile to all power as possible, regardless of its partisanship, while trying to see why the powerful make the difficult decisions they often feel obliged to. One reason I would never be on such a list, of course, is my record of non-liberalism: my loathing of the Clintons, my anti-p.c. instincts, my disdain for taboos on race and gender and sexuality on the left, my early support for what I stupidly thought would be moderate conservatism under Bush and even dumber tub-thumping for war in Iraq after the trauma of 9/11. I was also shocked by George Stephanopoulos' FNC-style questioning in the primary debate, and said so in no uncertain terms. But those errors and good judgments were mine and mine alone. Unless readers understand that that is the ethic, they have every reason to suspect they are being manipulated. We are all influenced by friends and colleagues. But this list was a step way too far.
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.