Monday, June 28, 2010

Momentary Diversion -- On the "Journolist" Thing (Now With UPDATE!)

Every few years, there's a big mea and a culpa or two on the "lefty" blogs over something that's been going on in the background -- something that many readers suspect but can never quite put their fingers on.

It's not just "background," it's a backchannel, a semi-private message system, email list, whatever you want to call it, by which "A List" lefty bloggers stay in touch with one another, batting around potential posts, discussing among themselves what's important and what's not, whom to skewer and whom to celebrate, and so on. Admission is by invitation only, and invitation is extended with a certain amount of judicious care. Wouldn't want the riff raff to sully the air, as it were.

"Journolist" was a backchannel that Ezra Klein came up with in 2007, in which he invited and managed to assemble a pretty good cross-section of "liberal" journalists and "new media" to chat among themselves in semi-privacy.

Readers had no idea that this thing existed, but it started having an immediate impact on the "progressive" blogosphere -- because it was so insidery -- and Ezra was suddenly an Oracle. His name was everywhere, usually stated this way: "Ezra says..." A twenty-something snot-nosed kid out of nowhere all of a sudden has this position of complete and utter knowledge of all things, especially what's important.

And what's not.

Readers did wonder, and many challenged "Ezra says..." They got no satisfaction whatever from the "A List" bloggers -- who defended Ezra passionately, denied he was being treated like an Oracle, and for the most part explained nothing about what was going on in the backchannel. Finally somebody -- I don't remember who just now -- did mention that Ezra had put together "Journolist," and it was an important means for bloggers and journalists to communicate with one another out of the hustle and bustle of day to day deadlines and such.

Though no one would admit it, that explained Ezra's sudden position within the firmament of sources and resources. Over time, it became clear that Ezra was a tool of the Powers That Be and that his primary objective was his personal advancement, which he managed quite well all in all. Salacious rumors circulated about him. Some people decided he really got where he is because he is "cute." If anyone had actually seen him and heard him speak they might think otherwise, but he does photograph well.

And so. Ezra has pulled the plug on Journolist due to a breech in security last week that led to the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post (Ezra's employer as well.) Apparently some of the "private" emails on the list were published by someone and scandal ensued. Exactly what it was all about, I don't know. It's of little concern to me in the vast, eternal scheme, and I am not connected with any of the backchannel lists which serve as information clearinghouses for the Big Blogs.

But over the weekend, David Dayen posted a very strange mea and culpa at FDL mentioning his association with Journolist, and others have mentioned it, including Glenn Greenwald. Exactly what was going on and what was said and what the scandal was is never made clear. The defenses of these backchannels is always the same: it's not that important, everyone emails everyone else, it's not a conspiracy, we don't get together and collude to cover this and not cover that, there are many opinions, what's wrong with people communicating with one another, everybody does it, it's not that big a deal. Really.

Every time, it goes the same way.

Most of the time, readers have no idea what's being yabbered about. Not only are the meas and culpas very insidery, the denials ring hollow.

All we really need to derive from these periodic events is that major proprietors in the alternative media do keep in relatively close touch with one another outside the view of you and me; they do sort wheat from chaff in these communications, they do discuss and from time to time set priority stories to cover, and they do -- sometimes -- get tips and "secrets" through their various backchannels which they then blog about.


UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart announces a bounty of $100,000 to anyone who will provide him with the complete Journolist Archive. He has the intention of Destroying the Left with this acquisition.

What fools we mortals be.

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