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.
By FRED BARNESWhen I'm talking to people from outside Washington, one question inevitably comes up: Why is the media so liberal? The question often reflects a suspicion that members of the press get together and decide on a story line that favors liberals and Democrats and denigrates conservatives and Republicans.
My response has usually been to say, yes, there's liberal bias in the media, but there's no conspiracy. The liberal tilt is an accident of nature. The media disproportionately attracts people from a liberal arts background who tend, quite innocently, to be politically liberal. If they came from West Point or engineering school, this wouldn't be the case.
Now, after learning I'd been targeted for a smear attack by a member of an online clique of liberal journalists, I'm inclined to amend my response. Not to say there's a media conspiracy, but at least to note that hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism.
My guess is that this and other revelations about JournoList will deepen the distrust of the national press. True, participants in the online clubhouse appear to hail chiefly from the media's self-identified left wing. But its founder, Ezra Klein, is a prominent writer for the Washington Post. Mr. Klein shut down JournoList last month—a wise decision.
It's thanks to Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller website that we know something about JournoList, though the emails among the liberal journalists were meant to be private. (Mr. Carlson hasn't revealed how he obtained the emails.) In June, the Daily Caller disclosed a series of JournoList musings by David Weigel, then a Washington Post blogger assigned to cover conservatives. His emails showed he loathes conservatives, and he was subsequently fired.
This week, Mr. Carlson produced a series of JournoList emails from April 2008, when Barack Obama's presidential bid was in serious jeopardy. Videos of the antiwhite, anti-American sermons of his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had surfaced, first on ABC and then other networks.
JournoList contributors discussed strategies to aid Mr. Obama by deflecting the controversy. They went public with a letter criticizing an ABC interview of Mr. Obama that dwelled on his association with Mr. Wright. Then, Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent proposed attacking Mr. Obama's critics as racists. He wrote:
"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. . . . This makes them 'sputter' with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction."
No one on JournoList endorsed the Ackerman plan. But rather than object on ethical grounds, they voiced concern that the strategy would fail or possibly backfire.
Among journalists in general, there's always been a herd instinct. Eugene McCarthy, the Minnesota senator and Democratic presidential candidate, once described political writers as birds on a telephone wire. When one bird flew to the wire across the street, they all did. In Mr. Ackerman's case, I'm glad none of the birds joined him across the street.
We've often seen media groupthink in campaigns. In 1980, most of the media decided that President Jimmy Carter was being mean-spirited in his re-election effort with his harsh denunciations of Ronald Reagan, his Republican opponent. The media turned the meanness issue into major story. In 1992, journalists treated the economy as if it were dead in the water, though a recovery from a mild recession had begun early the previous year. I could go on.
I think JournoList is—or was—fundamentally different, and not simply because one of its members proposed to make palpably false accusations. As best I can tell, those involved in JournoList considered themselves part of a team. And their goal was to make sure the team won. In 2008, this was Mr. Obama's team. More recently, the goal seems to have been to defeat the conservative team.
Until JournoList came along, liberal journalists were rarely part of a team. Neither are conservative journalists today, so far as I know. If there's a team, no one has asked me to join. As a conservative, I normally write more favorably about Republicans than Democrats and I routinely treat conservative ideas as superior to liberal ones. But I've never been part of a discussion with conservative writers about how we could most help the Republican or the conservative team.
My experience with other conservative journalists is that they are loners. One of the most famous conservative columnists of the past half-century, the late Robert Novak, is a good example. I knew him well for 35 years. He didn't tell me what stories he was working on nor ask what I was planning to write. He never mentioned how we might promote Republicans or aid the conservative cause, nor did I.
What was particularly pathetic about the scheme to smear Mr. Obama's critics was labeling them as racists. The accusation has been made so frequently in recent years, without evidence to back it up, that it has little effect. It's now the last refuge of liberal scoundrels.
The first call I got after the Daily Caller unearthed the emails involving me was from Karl Rove. He said he wanted to talk to his "fellow racist." We laughed about this. But the whole episode was also sad. I didn't sputter at the thought of being called a racist. But it was sad to see what journalism, or at least a segment of it, had come to.
Mr. Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News Channel.