The “Journolist,” When Press Desires for Personal Relevance Outweigh the Public Interest

In the past, Americans have reaped the benefit of investigative reporters like Pyle and Hersh (shown respectively in black and white). Yet, today the public is living in the era of the pundit, marked by people like Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly (shown respectively in color). This punditocracy is shaped by journalist feuds, journalist infighting, and the "Journolist."

by Matthew L. Schafer

Today, the conservative website The Daily Caller released excerpts from what has been dubbed the “Journolist.”  The Journolist was created by rising Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein in February of 2007.  The Journolist is an email listserv that was comprised of hundreds of lean-to-the-left journalists, scholars, pundits, and contributors.  Its existence was first revealed by Political in early 2009.  In the article, Klein dismissed the list’s importance.

“It’s just a list where journalists and policy wonks can discuss issues freely,” Klein told Politico in 2009.

Despite the recent attention to the list, over the past three years the list has only been mentioned in about 225 news articles in the LexisNexis database.  This may be due to the list’s off-the-record policy.  The list, however, has still suffered several leaks since the original Politico article describing its existence was published.  The Daily Caller has cried foul on some of the leaked information, citing certain passages that show some journalists planning a counterstrategy to fend off Rev. Jeremiah Wright election attacks by conservatives.

“It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense… What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left,” Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent (ironically) wrote during the election.  “In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window.”

While Obama did get more favorable coverage during the election, it is impossible to make any inferences that this was the result of Journolist’s existence as The Daily Caller and Sarah Palin are suggesting.  In a time when conservatives are embattled with charges of racism, which were enflamed by a NAACP amendment released last week, conservatives see the revelations of the Journolist as proof of liberal press bias.  The press war rages, and in today’s press climate it’s all about who comes out on top.

While determining who is right, wrong, racist, or not, will surely be address by the press in light of the new information, the list seems to prompt a more important question regarding the state of the news media.  Who’s doing the real journalistic digging, while many journalists–both left and right–are strategizing and plotting against each other?  This is not to say that any discussion among journalists is taboo.  Indeed, in the past journalists have lived in packs.  But, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out, whether it is listservs with less than cogent commentary or White House-Press club get-togethers or propagated misinformation or press mudslinging as in the current case, it appears the press “is stuck.”

While rays of light still remain, investigative reporting and quality journalism are ceding to increasing amounts of press grandstanding, press fraternizing, press posturing, and press aspirations for fame.  This self-destruction of America’s Fourth Estate should worry all citizens.  In many cases, the press is becoming the celebrity, not the watchdog.  For example, the Daily Beast, a relatively young Internet news magazine, recently ran with a story entitled “BPs Gulf Oil Spill: The Hunks,” which featured the “most attractive” male correspondents covering the spill.

The Journolist, celebrity journalists, partisan press antagonizing each other and not the government–it is all a sign of the rise of the new celebrity press.  A press that is concerned more about its image and its position in the political hierarchy it is supposed to be monitoring than it is about the people.  Indeed, it seems what American journalism needs is another I.F. Stone, another Ernie Pyle, another Seymour Hersh.  Instead, we are stuck with Keith Olberman, Sean Hannity, and the myriad of other “celebrity journalists” who seek fame, not fact.

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About Matthew L. Schafer

Matthew L. Schafer graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Studies. He later attended Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication where he earned a Masters of Mass Communication and Georgetown University Law Center where he earned his J.D.
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One Response to The “Journolist,” When Press Desires for Personal Relevance Outweigh the Public Interest

  1. Pingback: Week in Media: Rewind « Lippmann Would Roll

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