Greg Sargent is a Washington Post
blogger. He's also a former member of JournoList and a friend of Ezra Klein. Any or all of that may explain why he's twice used his platform at the Post
to claim that there is a media conspiracy surrounding the Daily Caller's
publication of JournoList archives
The real media conspiracy here is on the right. It's a conspiracy to pretend that there's a story here when there isn't one.
Yes, you read that right. He's accusing the right of a media conspiracy. It's the sort of fabulist, black-is-white inversion of reality we've come to expect from Media Matters, not from the Washington Post
. So let's take a look at Sargent's case for a right-wing media conspiracy and see if it passes the belly laugh test.
In his first stab
at this claim, he took issue with the headline for one of the Daily Caller's pieces:
It has this huge headline: JournoList debates making its coordination with Obama explicit. But way down in the 13th paragraph, the story quotes a post from the very same thread in which J-List founder and Post blogger Ezra Klein explicitly rules out any such coordination...In other words, the headline on this story could have been: "J-List founder ruled out conspiracy."
If the Daily Caller was part of a right-wing conspiracy, why bother to include the line Sargent just quoted, or the one that came immediately afterwards which also depicts a list member rejecting the idea? Wouldn't the conspiracy be more successful without any contradictory evidence? What Sargent wants us to blithely ignore is statements like this from Todd Gitlin of Columbia University:
On the question of liberals coordinating, what the hell’s wrong with some critical mass of liberal bloggers & journalists saying the following among themselves: McCain lies about his maverick status. Routinely, cavalierly, cynically. Palin lies about her maverick status. Ditto, ditto, ditto...Again. And again. Vary the details. There are plenty. Somebody on the ‘list posted a strong list of McCain lies earlier today. Hammer it. Philosophize, as Nietzsche said, with a hammer.
It's not clear whether Gitlin wrote this before or after Klein nixed the idea; either way there's no denying the idea was being discussed. Therefore there was nothing dishonest about the Caller's headline.
[caption id="attachment_100722" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Todd Gitlin, JournoList member"][/caption]
Sargent sees further evidence of manipulation in the Caller's choice of story topics based on the list:
The Daily Caller builds stories by cherry-picking from threads about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh -- and gets rewarded with pickup on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. It does a story transforming J-List discussion about Sarah Palin into "coordination," and Palin -- who's fast becoming a media figure in her own right -- responds by giving it a big push herself. And on and on.
So let me get this straight. Someone on the progressive J-list envisions giggling while Rush Limbaugh expires. The Caller publishes this with the full and reasonable expectation that Rush might talk about it on his radio show. And because Rush mentions the source we now have a vicious right-wing feedback loop (cue dramatic orchestra hits!).
Now ask yourself, does Greg Sargent apply this standard to any media outlet on the left? Does he apply it to Media Matters? To The Nation
? To Mother Jones
? They publish material aimed at a liberal readership. If they succeed and are mentioned (linked or otherwise credited) on a blog or radio show, it raises their profile. They make a living doing this. Does that make The Nation
, for instance, a left-wing conspiracy? If the answer is yes, then Sargent’s point is a trivial observation; if no, it demolishes his original claim.
And that's the sum of Sargent's first effort. He’s proven no conspiracy or even something close to being one. Unfortunately for him, his second attempt is just as slight. He writes:
[NBC News director Chuck] Todd...clarified that his primary concern is that the right is successfully using this to carry out its larger program of tarring the mainstream press as liberal.
As I've just pointed out, Sargent hasn't come close to demonstrating that the criticism of JournoList is unfair. In fact, he admits near the end of his second story that "a few J-Listers probably did screw up by suggesting coordination..." But even if Sargent had proven his case that the treatment was unfair, recall that this comes the same week that everyone from the NAACP, to MSNBC, to an endless list of left-wing bloggers have repeated in ways both subtle and not that Fox News was responsible for the firing of Shirley Sherrod. Howard Dean went so far as to accuse the network of racism on national television.
Mediaite is one of the few outlets that has fought the tide
on this story, and proclaimed the idea that Fox is responsible a media "myth." Did Sargent get the memo? Apparently not. He wrote a post about Sherrod which criticized
the "Breitbart-Fox News axis," (nice!) but so far hasn't bothered to point out that Fox had no appreciable role in her firing. Physician heal thyself.
The real difference is that Chuck Todd doesn’t give a rip about the reputation of Fox. And why should he? They’re the competition. Todd’s concern, as Sargent implies, is for the liberals on his own MSNBC network. Because of the right’s JournoList coverage, he worries some people might come to believe that Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann are…wait for it…biased. Talk about shutting the door after the horse has left the barn. I think the word is out, Chuck. Go get some sleep.
That’s the sum total of Sargent’s argument thus far. And again, this is in the Washington Post
which, I suspect, is the only reason anyone would take such a weak attempt seriously.
I'm on record
that the failings of JournoList aren’t the fault of Ezra Klein, who founded the group. The record so far supports his contention that it was founded with good intentions. Nevertheless, it clearly got away from him at times. Indeed, he repeatedly had to step in to cut off discussions that were spinning into troubling territory, including some talk by professional journalists and professors that was ethically lax, conspiratorial, and just plain immature. That's a story, even if Greg Sargent doesn't understand why.