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Journolist: The People Make (or Break) the Party

John on July 30, 2010 at 11:24 am

In a widely read and discussed piece at the Daily Beast, Reihan Salan asks:

Has a shadowy gang of left-wing journalists and intellectuals been plotting to manipulate the news cycle…

His answer is, yes, perhaps so, but they’d be doing it with or without Journolist. Salan is more right than he probably knows.

The list of those identified as former members of the group is now up to about 146 names, out of 400 in all. Nearly 1/4 of those individuals were connected with another media organization called the Media Consortium. The Consortium is an organization of progressive media outlets formed in 2005, a full two years before Journolist. Its dues paying member organizations include The Nation, Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, Ms., Democracy Now! and many more (a complete list is here). The purpose of the group was explicit and can be found on their website:

Our mission is to amplify independent media’s voice, increase our collective clout, leverage our current audience and reach new ones.  We believe it is possible and necessary to seize the current moment and change the debate in this country.  We will accomplish this mission by fulfilling our five strategic principles.

  • Foster Collaboration and Coordination
  • Build and Diversify Media Leadership
  • Focus on Audience Development
  • Bring Money and Attention into the Sector
  • Support Innovation in Journalism and Business Models

Several phrases, such as “Foster Collaboration and Coordination” and “increase our collective clout” seem to be exactly the sort of thing that, at least occasionally, took place on Journolist. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. All three staff members of the Media Consortium were Journolist members. And if you add up those who came from media outlets (i.e. The Nation) which are dues paying Consortium members, you find that an additional 34 of the 151 names were connected in this way:

  • Alternet – 1 – Don Hazen
  • American Prospect – 10
    • Spencer Ackerman
    • Dean Baker
    • Sam Boyd
    • Tim Fernholz
    • John Judis
    • Ezra Klein
    • Robert Kuttner
    • Mark Schmitt
    • Adam Serwer
    • Paul Waldman
  • Balcony Films – 1 – Julie Bergman Sender
  • Brave New Films – 1 – Robert Greenwald
  • Color Lines Magazine – 1 – Rinku Sen
  • Grist – 1 – David Roberts
  • In These Times – 3
    • Joel Bleifuss
    • Lakshmi Chaudry
    • Adam Doster
  • Mother Jones – 5
    • Nick Baumann
    • David Corn
    • Laura Rozen
    • Kate Sheppard
    • Jonathan Stein
  • The Nation – 6
    • Eric Alterman
    • Ari Berman
    • Chris Hayes
    • Richard Kim
    • Ari Melber
    • Katha Pollitt
  • Public News Service – 1 – Lark Corbeil
  • Talking Points Memo – 2
    • Andrew Golis
    • Kathleen Geier
  • Washington Monthly – 2
    • Kevin Drum
    • Jesse Singal

All of these organizations had previously committed to collaborating and coordinating to push a progressive agenda through the media. Should it really come as a surprise that some of this happened on Journolist? If I throw a pot luck for a large group of people, nearly 1/4 of whom are vegans, it’s a safe bet that tofu is going to make a showing in somebody’s crock pot.

Of course we don’t know that any particular reporter is committed to the goals of the Consortium. And for all you know, that vegan across the table secretly loves corn dogs. But the Media Consortium is an indication that using the media to push a progressive agenda was an idea at least generally acceptable to many of Journolist’s members. At the least, it would explain why there was so little pushback when nakedly political operatives attempted to co-opt the list.

Just to give you an idea how serious the Consortium was about this, have a look at this paper and accompanying graph co-authored by the Media Consortium’s head, Tracy Van Slyke:

It’s not quite a smoking gun since it’s not clear how accurate any of this is, but it’s certainly a sophisticated consideration of how progressives can (and indeed should) push stories into the mainstream to create change. Whether they ever succeeded is an open question, but the desire to try is beyond doubt.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out how often the Media Consortium linked to Ezra Klein’s work for the American Prospect (his job before joining the Post). Given this chummy history and the fact that, when forming Journolist, Klein invited all three staff members of the Consortium to join, it seems reasonable to conclude that he was both familiar with and sympathetic to their goals. Klein may not have countenanced open media collusion on Journolist, but he certainly seems to have welcomed lots of people who did. In the case of Consortium staff, it was quite literally their job. If nothing else, it helps me understand why Klein’s online house party repeatedly devolved into such an unappetizing tofurkey fest. In the end, the people you invite make or break the party.

[Note: I've updated the numbers from the version of this post originally published on Big Journalism. This will likely be an ongoing process as more and more names come out.]

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