News About the People Behind the News

Posted on July 21, 2010

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It seems the much talked about, but highly confidential, JournoList emails are starting to see the light of day.  For those of you unfamiliar with JournoList, it was an invitation only listserv for approximately 400 people involved in the news media, some political activists and a few from the halls of “higher education.”  The listserv was started by Ezra Klein of The Washington Post  in 2007, and was a gathering place, where those who had been invited, could discuss current events.  And, as it turns out, it was also a place where those people would discuss various ways to “spin” stories in support of their political agenda.  Yes, it was a bit like a “vast left-wing conspiracy clubhouse.” 

The private listserv first came to light back in 2009 in a Politico story.   Of course any claims of liberal conspiracy or collusion were denied at the time as were the identities of most of those involved in the list:

In an e-mail, Klein said he understands that the JList’s off-the-record rule “makes it seems secretive.” But he insisted that JList discussions have to be off the record in order to “ensure that folks feel safe giving off-the-cuff analysis and instant reactions.” 

 One byproduct of that secrecy: For all its high-profile membership — which includes Nobel Prize-winning columnist Paul Krugman; staffers from Newsweek, POLITICO, Huffington Post, The New Republic, The Nation and The New Yorker; policy wonks, academics and bloggers such as Klein and Matthew Yglesias — JList itself has received almost no attention from the media.

 A LexisNexis search for JournoList reveals exactly nothing. Slate’s Mickey Kaus, a nonmember, may be the only professional writer to have referred to it “in print” more than once — albeit dismissively, as the “Klein Klub.”

 While members may talk freely about JList at, say, a Columbia Heights house party, there’s a “Fight Club”-style code of silence when it comes to discussing it for publication.

Fast forward to June of this year.  Dave Weigel, a reporter assigned to cover the conservative movement for The Washington Post, who was a member of the JournoList, gets into a dustup with a fellow list member.  The next thing you know, some of his assumed “in confidence” emails are leaked to the blog The Daily Caller.  The leaked emails show Mr. Weigel’s contempt for the subjects in his stories and he uses some pretty profane language when doing it (so be warned if you click on the above link).  Before you could say “your assumed private emails really aren’t private” or something to that effect, Mr. Weigel finds his offer of resignation accepted by the Post and he’s out of a job. 

On the same day as Mr. Weigel’s resignation, and in light of the fact that emails have been leaked from the private listserv, Ezra Klein (the founder) shuts it down . In Klein’s announcement he makes a telling revelation: that his private little club was established for those from “non-partisan to liberal,” and from “center to left.”  No one from the right, or the conservative viewpoint, was allowed to join.  And, while most of the coverage at that time was about the shutting down of  JournoList and Mr. Weigel’s contempt for the right, little notice was paid to the fact that Weigel had actually been using the listserv as a sounding board to shape his stories to “benefit the left.”  That was back on June 25.

And here we are today. 

The big news?  Someone from the defunct JournoList is now leaking like a sieve to The Daily Caller.  At least 3 stories have come out so far, and wouldn’t you know, it seems that the claim these JournoList participants weren’t actively conspiring to shape the mainstream news wasn’t entirely true.  I won’t go into detail on every story, but will give you quick summary and urge you to go to the yourself to read the stories in their entirety.

First up, in the heat of the 2008 presidential race, when the fiasco of Reverend Wright was getting hot and posing a possible threat to the Obama campaign, there was a suggestion on Journolist that a conservative be singled out and labeled as a racist to act as a distraction from the Rev. Wright story.  It didn’t matter the conservative, and it didn’t matter if the charge was baseless, the point was to save candidate Barack Obama.   Sounds a bit like the racist charge being thrown at the TEA party these days, doesn’t it?  There were a number of journalists involved in this effort, at least eleven by my count, across numerous media outlets.  Click on the link to read the story and find out who they were.  You can also check out an interview with the Daily Caller’s publisher, Neil Patel, discussing the topic with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

Next up, Sarah Spitz, a producer for National Public Radio admits in an email that she would laugh “loudly like a maniac” at Rush Limbaugh if he were dying of a heart attack in front of her and she wouldn’t bother with any attempt to help him.  Also in the same Daily Caller story are some truly hateful quotes from members of the JournoList about TEA party participants, and a member who suggests that the government simply take Fox News off the air.   Yeah, those pesky First Amendment rights are overrated, aren’t they?

Lastly are numerous excerpts from some of the Journolist emails with their authors’ identities shown.  These include Daniel Davies (The Guardian), John Judis (The New Republic), Michael Scherer (TIME), Dave Weigel (The Washington Post), and Jonathan Zasloff (UCLA law professor). 

This is just the beginning, folks.  I’m sure there is more to come.  Make sure to stay tuned.  And, don’t worry about those former Journolist members, I’d bet they’ve reconstituted their private little chatroom somewhere else.  But, of course, they won’t be trying to figure out how to spin news stories anymore 😉 .