JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 21, 2010
1. He accuses me of hypocrisy because I described the old left-liberal group "Townhouse" as an attempt to coordinate message, but I deny the same description of Journolist. This is because Townhouse was described by its creators as an attempt to "have a unified message in the face of a unified conservative noise machine." Journolist was not described this way by its creators, nor did it function that way.
2. He writes, "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."
Okay, so he asserts that "the point of [Journolist] was to foster common ground." The evidence for this assertion is that the "atmosphere" led to Spencer Ackerman writing a crazy post. Now, the actual purpose of Journolist was to function as a virtual water cooler. People said off-the-cuff things there because you say dumber and less well-thought out things when you're bullshitting around the water cooler than when you're writing for public consumption. However: quoting a crazy Spencer Ackerman email is actually a terrible example of this phenomenon, because Ackerman writes crazy things on his blog. The suggestion that "the atmosphere" of Journolist fostered such craziness is, in this instance, totally wrong. The atmosphere that fosters crazy Ackerman posts is Planet Earth. (I think he's dialed back the craziness of late.)
3. Referring to the one instance where some writers formed a group letter, he concludes," several members clearly saw it as a Townhouse replica, organized petitions, suggested common media strategy, and so on." Note how far this is from his original accusation that the list was created in order to decide whether or how to cover certain events. The accusation of using an email list to coordinate coverage is a serious one. It would mean that people were making decisions about what to write, or not write, behind closed doors, and readers would never know that they were acting out of coordinated political motive. But the open letter is the precise opposite of that. It was an instance where people were completely transparent with readers about their beliefs.
Moreover, even that was quickly deemed too activist, and thus contrary to the purpose of the list, to be allowed. So even if you think that writing an open letter is the same thing as secret message coordination -- and it isn't -- then the example still proves the opposite of what Andrew claims. The one time something he calls message coordination happened, it was expressly banned because it was contrary to the purpose of the list. How can this show that coordination or even political activity was the purpose of the list? If a McDonalds cashier had sex in the bathroom, and the manager discovered it and fired him, would this be evidence that McDonalds is a sex club?
4. This note at the end of Andrew's item is interesting:
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.
How is that any different than Journolist? Journolist was a space for liberals to shoot the shit in a casual way, or sometimes to promote their work or post queries. Why doesn't Andrew release all the emails from his gay center-right group so we can judge whether it was a cabal? I;m sure you could find an email somewhere where a member wrote something impolitic, or somebody suggested a topic deserved more or less attention than it was getting in the press. Come on, Andrew, let the sunlight in.