The Radical Professors and Left-Wing Extremists of JournoList

August 10th, 2010 12:00 AM

JournoList founder Ezra Klein characterized the members of his listserv as merely “center to left of center.” While plenty of reports have highlighted what working journalists and others said on the listserv itself, further review of the reported membership suggests a farther-left ideology than Klein initially acknowledged.

    One member boasts on his website of having been president of the socialist activist organization Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s.

    Another called for a “climate Nuremberg” trial for global warming skeptics.

    Others promoted the vulgar slang “teabaggers” as a label for Tea Party protesters, railing against “right-wing trolls” and “low-lifes” and comparing conservative leaders to racists and dictators.

The professors and liberal activists on JournoList may not be as well-known as their journalist friends, but their public comments shed further light on the ideological foundation of the group, and raise questions about just how “left of center” it was.

Socialism on the March

For starters, there's Todd Gitlin, who noted on his personal website that he was president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a radical youth movement that launched in the 1960s. SDS had its origins in socialism, and spawned even more extreme groups including the Weatherman, recently back in the news because of Bill Ayers.

Gitlin was president of SDS in 1963-1964, according to his bio, and helped organize “the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War and the first American demonstrations against corporate aid to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Gitlin is currently a journalism and sociology professor and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at ColumbiaUniversity. His bio on the school's website omits his SDS activities.

In an interview for the book “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One,” Gitlin told author Zev Chafets he supports government limitation of free speech. In Limbaugh's case Gitlin wants the talker removed from the air. “Limbaugh is a liar and a demagogue, a brander of enemies, a mobilizer, and a rabble rouser,” Gitlin told Chafets. “The corner that right-wing radio has on the medium is a warping factor in our politics.”

Michael Kazin, a professor at GeorgetownUniversity, criticized famously left-wing historian Howard Zinn – for going too easy on capitalism. In a review of Zinn's seminal work, “A People's History of the United States,” Kazin complained that Zinn “makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?”

In a February appearance on PBS “Newshour,” Kazin also promoted using government pressure to shame Americans into silence about homosexuality, equating opposition to gay marriage with opposition to the Voting Rights Act.

With passing of the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, Kazin said, “racism began to be something that was marginal, that you had to talk about in private. And that I think could begin to happen also with views about gay rights.”

'Right-Wing Trolls, Raised in Pig-Sties'

While comparing supporters of traditional marriage to opponents of equal voting rights might raise some eyebrows, Kazin's comment was relatively benign when compared to others who have been named as JournoList members.

David Roberts, a blogger for the environmentalist website Grist, drew criticism in September 2006 when he compared global warming skeptics to Nazis and called for them to be tried.

“It's about the climate-change 'denial industry,' which most of you are probably familiar with,” Roberts said of a recently-released book. “When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards – some sort of climate Nuremberg.”

Roberts issued a statement about a month later, affirming his call for “public accountability” but acknowledging that “my analogy to the Nuremberg trials was woefully inappropriate – nay, stupid. I retract it wholeheartedly.”

Another JournoList member, Chris Hayes of left-wing magazine The Nation, in December 2009 said a Washington Post op-ed about energy taxes from Sarah Palin, the former governor of oil-rich Alaska, was “like if they turned [the op-ed page] over to someone who wanted to argue that 9/11 was an inside job. The Washington Post would never, in a million years, do that and they shouldn't be doing this.” 

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles and contributer to the blog, “The Reality-Based Community,” responded with invective to the leaking of JournoList content that resulted in the list's demise.

Kleiman called people publishing names of JournoList members “right-wing trolls, raised in pig-sties” and “low-lifes.” He expressed pride at being listed “in the distinguished company of JournoListers.”

But Kleiman's harsh anti-conservative rhetoric didn't begin with the JournoList leak. He repeatedly referred to Tea Party demonstrators with the vulgar sexual term “teabaggers,” calling participation “an infantile disorder.” In one post, he compared the Tea Party to the John Birch Society, which he called “the fringiest fringe of the Republican Party.”

“More than one person has remarked on the similarities between the Tea Party/Limbaugh/Beck ideology and that of the Birchers,” he wrote. “And the Republican leadership is making what may prove to be a mistake in embracing the movement. So the key question is whether the public comes to identify the Teabaggers as a lunatic-fringe group, to the point where Republican office-seekers are afraid to be associated with them.”

Kleiman recognized the role the “mainstream” media play in characterizing the Tea Party movement as extremist, praising a report in The Washington Post that noted some GOP leaders were cautious about embracing the Tea Party because of perceived extremism. “The more discussion of 'Republican extremism,' the better,” Kleiman concluded.

Kleiman's insults were particularly compelling in light of a post he wrote in October 2008 criticizing John McCain supporters for calling Obama and Nancy Pelosi socialists and hooligans during a campaign rally. “Since all of us are Americans first, we should indivisibly call our political opponents socialists and hooligans,” he wrote. “I'll remember that.”

Jonathan Zasloff, another UCLA professor who blogs at “The Reality-Based Community,” once compared U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., to dictator Augusto Pinochet. He also referred to her as “reality-challenged” and cited her as a Republican from “Insane Asylum.”

Far-Left Proposals

Even as many JournoList members published harsh commentary on conservatives, others publicly pushed far-left policy proposals.

Brad DeLong, an economist and blogger, called for nationalization of banks in 2008, drawing the praise of another JournoList member, Paul Krugman. “Nationalization has the best chance of avoiding large losses and possibly even making money for the taxpayer,” DeLong wrote. “And it is the best way to deal with the moral hazard problem.”

Columnist Robert Kuttner, who once called George W. Bush the “lying heir to the lunatic fringe,” expressed excitement that a Democratic majority in Congress could mean a reversal of “the lopsided distribution of wealth, security, and opportunity in America.”

And University of California Berkeley professor Michael O'Hare, another contributor to The Reality-Based Community” blog, proposed to solve the problem of illegal downloading by making music “free” and authorizing the government to pay artists.

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