JournoList Revelations Suggest Founder Ezra Klein Not Accurate in Defenses of Liberal Group

July 23rd, 2010 1:00 PM
The more details emerge about the liberal media listserv JournoList, the more it resembles the cabal of leftist message-coordination many conservatives feared. Though perhaps not the "vast left-wing media conspiracy" Fred Barnes proclaims, evidence points to concerted efforts to coordinate talking points, and now, to direct links between the Obama White House and JournoList members.

Ironically, those are two elements of the listserv of which creator Ezra Klein explicity claimed JournoList was completely devoid. "Is it an ornate temple where liberals get together to work out "talking points?" Of course not," Klein stated last year. He added, "There are no government or campaign employees on the list."

Both of those assertions are provably false (whether or not they were at the time). The former has been contradicted by a number of instances of JournoList members doing just that: coordinating talking points. The second claim is upended by recent revelations that Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economic adviser, and unpaid "surrogate" adviser to the Obama campaign, was a member of JournoList while advising then-candidate Obama on economic issues.

So not only was Bernstein privy to vitriolic discussions about Sarah Palin after her selection as the GOP vice presidential nominee, but he was also cued into the liberal media attack plan against the Governor. He was even in a position to suggest lines of attack, though there is no evidence that he did.

Since joining the White House (and after being removed from JournoList), Bernstein has held meetings with high-profile liberal bloggers - all confirmed or likely JournoList members - at the White House.

When Klein insisted that "there are no…campaign employees on the list," he was addressing the reasonable concern that political campaigns could use JournoList to promote a political message through the media. The liberal press, it was feared, could act as a mouthpiece for political candidates, without ever disclosing the fact. Bernstein's membership on JournoList screams "conflict of interest".

Bottom line: a campaign adviser was able to sit in on discussions about how best to hone the message against Republicans. And contrary to another one of Klein's claims, talking points were in fact discussed in the JournoList forum.

Spencer Ackerman encouraging his fellow JournoListers to choose an Obama critic, "Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares - and call them racists," Michael Tomsky telling his colleagues, "we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy [the Rev. Wright scandal] in whatever venues we have" - listserv members collaborated to kill stories by sharing lines of attack.

The list's members brought their journalistic collaboration to the next level after Palin was nominated. Academic Daniel Levy could not have made JournoList's talking-point-formation role any clearer:
This seems to me like an occasion when the non-official campaign has a big role to play in defining Palin, shaping the terms of the conversation and saying things that the official [Obama] campaign shouldn’t say – very hard-hitting stuff, including some of the things that people have been noting here – scare people about having this woefully inexperienced, no foreign policy/national security/right-wing christia [sic] wing-nut a heartbeat away …… bang away at McCain’s age making this unusually significant …. I think people should be replicating some of the not-so-pleasant viral email campaigns that were used against [Obama].

Jared Bernstein was privy to this message and to the entire back and forth concerning how best to collectively address Palin's nomination.

And sure enough, we see remarkably similar talking points show up in a Huffington Post piece written by Bernstein in October 2008: Palin as "a newcomer on the national scene with scant governing experience, little knowledge of the major issues, and few deeply held views … [and] unfettered, thin, talking points." You know, unlike Obama, with his swathes of executive experience (less than Palin) and concrete, substantive policy positions (Hope and Change).

In fact, message-coordination went far further than just discussing how best to frame an issue. For instance, Time columnist Joe Klein told his colleagues in one email that he had worked their suggestions into his latest column. As Ed Morrissey notes, Klein "represented those opinions as his own — and one has to wonder how many other talking points from JournoList Klein passed off as his own over the years at Time."

In other words, the answer to Ezra Klein's question - "Is [JournoList] an ornate temple where liberals get together to work out 'talking points'?" - is the not the resounding "of course not" he offered last year.

But the real issue is not whether Klein was being honest with his readers when he made the above assertions. More important is the fact that the accusations about JournoList Klein was trying to fend off were not at all off-base. The listserv has acted as a forum to coordinate talking points, and included at least one member of a presidential campaign, who later, as a top White House adviser, invited the upper crust of liberal bloggers to the White House for an exclusive meeting.

Klein was obliged to defend JournoList against these accusations, but the more we find out, the more we realize just how accurate those accusations were.

Presumably, Klein wants to clear up the situation and remove the ethical cloud from above him. To that end, here are some questions that should be answered:

Was Klein aware that at least one member of JournoList was advising the Obama administration?

How on earth did Klein expect to enforce rules against the presence of campaign officials on the list? How did he account for the possibility that individuals could slide into one of the two forbidden groups - government and campaign workers - without his knowledge?

If Klein were aware that a government or campaign official had somehow made it onto the listserv, would he have banned that individual? Did that ever happen?