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Journolist leaks: a great reason to drop media neutrality claims

With the exception of Spencer Ackerman’s incredibly stupid and unethical scheme to randomly accuse  conservatives of racism, the latest Journolist revelations from The Daily Caller aren’t all that shocking. Ackerman’s modest proposal was this:

If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.

Ackerman specifically wanted to use charges of racism as a weapon against conservatives who were raising questions about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s relationship with the loony Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

[F]ind a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

That willingness to level unfounded accusations in service to a political cause really should get Ackerman fired and render him unemployable.

But the other members of the list seemed, according to The Daily Caller’s quotes, to be more interested in burying the story, or protesting its coverage via an open letter. That’s the sort of thing like-minded people do in support of one of their own. As Alex Pareene snarkily puts it in Salon, “This sort of campaign doesn’t work when you’re trying to discredit avowed liberal commentators by proving that they secretly hold liberal beliefs.”

Why should anybody be surprised that liberal pundits discuss strategy for defending their ideas and promoting their pet candidates? Katha Pollitt and Todd Gitlin share ideas on how to sell lefty programs and politicians? What a surprise!

But not everybody on the list is “out” as an opinion journalist or professional applier of spin to news stories. Some of the participants are supposed to be objective/unbiased/establishment journalists. To the extent that they participated in these conversations, they undermine their supposed neutrality.

The solution should be obvious: Drop bullshit claims about the unbiased nature of the news media. If journalists come clean about their affiliations and biases — they don’t have to abandon their professionalism, but just admit to the fact that their opinions do, inevitably, color their work — then there’s little risk of embarrassment from leaked emails and discussions.

After all, nobody actually believes that journalists steadfastly keep their opinions out of their work. A little honesty wouldn’t just insulate them from Journolist-style leaks — it would improve their credibility.

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  • While I agree that journalist objectivity is a joke, the characterization “loony Reverend Jeremiah Wright” is unwarranted. Most Mr. Wright’s rants are entirely warranted. For example, 9/11 was blow back for decades of meddling in the Middle East.

    While the assertion that aids constituted biological warfare against blacks lacks evidence, it hardly marks Mr. Wright as a loony. Given the Tuskegee syphilis experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment), how the government exposed populations to potentially harmful biological agents (http://www.democracynow.org/2005/7/13/how_the_u_s_government_exposed), and how the post 9/11 anthrax attacks almost certainly originated from U.S. government stock piles (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=sandia-anthrax-mailing-investigation), Mr. Wright’s assertion may be wrong, but it is hardly loony.

    If every American who made a claim unwarranted by evidence was deemed loony, we would have to denounce most of the population. As for Mr. Wright in particular, I have to prefer him to Obama. At least Mr. Wright is not seeking political power.

  • Objective journalists equate to the tooth fairy: they don’t, and can’t, exist. Everyone has an opinion and simply choosing which story to cover expresses that opinion.

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