JournoList (sometimes referred to as the J-List) was a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the news media with 400 "left-leaning" journalists, academics and others. Ezra Klein created the online forum in February 2007 while blogging at The American Prospect and shut it down on June 25, 2010 amid wider public exposure. Right-leaning journalists later pointed out various off-color statements made by members of the list denigrating conservatives, as well as a seeming conspiracy to prop up then Presidential candidate Barack Obama. Others defended such statements as being taken out of context or simply a matter of private candor.
Ezra Klein controlled the forum's membership and limited it to "several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics." Klein justified excluding conservatives from participation as "not about fostering ideology but preventing a collapse into flame war. The emphasis is on empiricism, not ideology." Posts within JournoList were intended only be made and read by its members. Klein defended the forum structure saying that it ensured "that folks feel safe giving off-the-cuff analysis and instant reactions." JournoList member and Time columnist Joe Klein said the off-the-record nature of the forum was necessary because "candor is essential and can only be guaranteed by keeping these conversations private." The existence of JournoList was first publicly revealed in a July 27, 2007 blog post by Mickey Kaus.
However, the forum did not attract serious attention until March 17, 2009 when an article published on Politico detailed the nature of the forum and the extent of its membership. The Politico article set off debate within the Blogosphere over the ethics of participating in JournoList and raised questions about its overall purpose. The first public excerpt of a discussion within JournoList was posted by Mickey Kaus on his blog on March 26, 2009.
Statements by JournoList members and responses
On July 20, 2010, The Daily Caller (DC) published the dialog of the JournoList concerning Jeremiah Wright. The contributors discussed killing the Wright story, as it was reflecting negatively on Barack Obama. In a separate discussion, about an ABC News-sponsored debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton, Michael Tomasky, a writer for The Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of JournoList: “Listen folks – in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people". James Taranto observed that one JournoList contributor, Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent, stated "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 was also quoted as saying, "find a right winger’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." In response, Daily Caller commentator Jim Treacher posted a photo of a building with multiple plate glass-windows destroyed with text over the building reading "Ackerman Wuz Hear" (a LOLCats reference).
The Daily Caller published a story by Jonathan Strong on July 21 about JournoList members wanting the federal government to shut down Fox News. According to Strong, Jonathan Zasloff, a UCLA law professor, wrote that the government should be able to pull the broadcasting license of the cable channel. But Zasloff later said Strong did not correctly characterize his comment, which was "really more of a question than anything else, and nobody really picked up on it. That turns into my demand to shut down Fox News?" The article also reported that one member of the discussion group, Sarah Spitz, a producer for a public affairs radio program at a National Public Radio affiliate station, wrote that she would laugh if she saw conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh have a heart attack in front of her. "On JournoList," according to the DC article, "where conservatives are regarded not as opponents but as enemies, it [the comment] barely raised an eyebrow." On the day Strong's story was published, Spitz apologized for the comment. The article also quoted Ryan Donmoyer, a reporter for Bloomberg News, comparing members of the Tea Party movement to Nazis. Strong wrote, "In the view of many who've posted to the list-serv, conservatives aren't simply wrong, they are evil."
Tucker Carlson, who edited several of Strong's articles about JournoList, wrote in a July 22 article: "Again and again, we discovered members of Journolist working to coordinate talking points on behalf of Democratic politicians, principally Barack Obama. That is not journalism, and those who engage in it are not journalists. They should stop pretending to be. The news organizations they work for should stop pretending, too. [...] I've been in journalism my entire adult life, and have often defended it against fellow conservatives who claim the news business is fundamentally corrupt. It's harder to make that defense now. It will be easier when honest (and, yes, liberal) journalists denounce what happened on Journolist as wrong." Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, discussed JournoList saying, "... hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism."
Defense of JournoList members
JournoList member Jonathan Chait says that "the group as a whole did not jointly participate" in any particular discussion thread. "Almost every discussion was limited to a small percentage of the group that was interested in the topic. Most people ignored most of the topics."
Kathleen Parker, writing in The Washington Post, argued that "perspective is needed here." She stated that comments had "been presented out of context and, besides, were offered as part of an ongoing argument among colleagues who believed they were acting in good faith that theirs was a private conversation." She also referred to JournoList writings as "the private comments of people who, for the most part, have no significant power" and had an expectation not to be 'outed'.
List member Joe Klein wrote at his Time blog, "The views I expressed on Journolist were the views I express here." He identified himself as moderate compared to most leftist members, who subjected his ideas to "onslaughts". He stated that allegations that list members colluded to produce talking points or plan activities with each other are simply false and the group debated with each with members valuing their individuality. He recounted that the only time list members could agree on "joint actions" was "meeting up at some bar."
Foster Kamer of The Village Voice, who was not a JournoList member, has remarked that, emphasis in original, "off-the-record means off-the-record, and an assault on a journalist's right to express him or herself in private is an assault on both the freedom of the fourth estate and free speech in general". Greg Sargent of The Washington Post, a list member, criticized Carlson for not posting JournoList threads in their entirety. He wrote that "publishing them would make it tougher to paint J-Listers as a secretive and omnipotent political cabal, rather than just a bunch of geeks and eggheads venting and arguing about politics".
Ezra Klein recounted Tucker Carlson's effort to become a member of JournoList, which he said he supported, and wrote:
"I want to be very clear about what I was suggesting: Adding someone to the list meant giving them access to the entirety of the archives. That didn't bother me very much. Sure, you could comb through tens of thousands of e-mails and pull intemperate moments and inartful wording out of context to embarrass people, but so long as you weren't there with an eye towards malice, you'd recognize it for what it was: A wonkish, fun, political yelling match. If it had been an international media conspiracy, I'd have never considered opening it up. The idea was voted down. People worried about opening the archives to individuals who could help their careers by ripping e-mails out of context, misrepresenting the nature of the ongoing conversation, and bringing the world an exclusive look into The Great Journolist Conspiracy, as opposed to the daily life of Journolist, which even Carlson describes as 'actually pretty banal'."
After Klein shut down JournoList, a new group, calling itself "Cabalist" was started by Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic, Michelle Goldberg and Steven Teles, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. The group, which had 173 members by late July, was made up mostly of former JournoList members. Its existence managed to stay secret for several weeks, until The Atlantic magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg revealed its existence in a blog post on July 21. Goldberg reported that one recent discussion concerned whether or not members should ignore the articles on The Daily Caller website. "In other words, members of Journolist 2.0 were debating whether to collectively respond to a Daily Caller story alleging—inaccurately, in their minds—that members of Journolist 1.0 (the same people, of course) made collective decisions about what to write."
- Greg Sargent. "We Will Not". Washington Post. Retrieved July 26, 2010.
- Calderone, Michael (2009-03-17). "JournoList: Inside the echo chamber". The Politico. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- Klein, Ezra (March 17, 2009). "OBLIGATORY JOURNOLIST POST". The American Prospect.
- "JournoList". Google Groups.
- Mickey Kaus (2007-07-27). "Educating Ezra Klein". Slate (magazine). Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- Mickey Kaus (2009-03-26). "JournoList Revealed! Inside the Secret Liberal Media Email Cabal". Slate (magazine). Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- Jonathan Strong, Documents show media plotting to kill stories about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, The Daily Caller, July 20, 2010.
- James Taranto, 'Call Them Racists', online.wsj.com, July 20, 2010.
- Strong, Jonathan, "Liberal journalists suggest government censor Fox News", July 21, 2010, The Daily Caller, retrieved 2011-06-09.
- Hagey, Keach, "Zasloff responds to Caller story", July 21, 2010, Politico website, retrieved same day.
- Gura, David, "Public Radio Publicist Apologizes For Controversial Remarks About Limbaugh", 2:15 p,m., July 21, 2010, "The Two-Way: NPR's News Blog", National Public Radio website, retrieved same day.
- "Raw Journolist emails: Do Tea Party members ‘parallel’ Nazis?". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
- Carlson, Tucker, "Letter from Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson on The Daily Caller's Journolist coverage", July 22, 2010, The Daily Caller, retrieved same day.
- Fred Barnes (2010-07-22). "The Vast Left-Wing Media Conspiracy; Everyone Knew Most of the Press Corps was Hoping for Obama in 2008. Newly Released Emails Show That Hundreds of Them were Actively Working to Promote Him.". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-07-22.
- Chait, Jonathan (July 20, 2010). "The Journolist Conspiracy Continues". The New Republic.
- Parker, Kathleen (July 25, 2010). "Journolist flap shows a destructive 'gotcha' mentality". The Washington Post.
- "On Journolist". TIME.com. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
- Foster Kamer (July 26, 2010). "The Village Voice Finally Makes Journolist!". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 26, 2010.
- Ezra Klein, "When Tucker Carlson asked to join Journolist," Washington Post, July 22, 2010.
- Goldberg, Jeffrey, "Meet the New Journolist, Smaller Than the Old Journolist", blog post, July 21, 2010, The Atlantic website, retrieved same day.