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Getting the message on Journolist's controversial postings

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

To conservatives, it is a pulling back of the curtain to expose the media's mendacity.

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To liberals, it is a selective sliming based on e-mails that were supposed to remain private.

But there is no getting around the fact that some of these messages, culled from the members-only discussion group Journolist, are embarrassing. They show liberal commentators appearing to cooperate in an effort to hammer out the shrewdest talking points against the Republicans -- including, in one case, a suggestion for accusing random conservatives of being racist.

Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller site, which has been dribbling out the e-mails, drew fresh reaction Thursday with a piece about Journolist members savaging Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor responded with a slam at the media's "sick puppies," saying she was confronted during the 2008 campaign by "hordes of Obama's opposition researchers-slash-'reporters.' " But the people making the most stridently partisan comments in the invitation-only group weren't reporters at all -- they were out-of-the-closet liberals acting like, well, liberals.

"It really would have been laughable to imagine that me or Mike Allen or Joe Klein were taking message orders from bloggers," says Journolist founder Ezra Klein, referring to reporters for Politico and Time. Klein, now a liberal blogger for The Washington Post, says he understands "how it comes off as coordination. But the great frustration is that it wasn't."

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Carlson, an unabashed conservative and Fox News contributor, says: "I don't think you can be a journalist and carry water for a politician, and that's what they were doing: 'Here's the line on Palin.' . . . These are political hacks, and I think they should stop calling themselves journalists. It discredits the rest of us."

The key question is whether the openly opinionated commentators among Journolist's 400 members were so swept away by ideology that they cared mainly about doing damage to the other side. The group consisted primarily of left-leaning commentators, bloggers and policy wonks, with some mainstream or centrist reporters as well. Conservatives -- Carlson himself asked to join earlier this year, and Klein turned him down -- were not accepted.

The first Daily Caller story this week featured e-mails after a 2008 campaign debate in which ABC's Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos pressed candidate Barack Obama with a series of confrontational questions, some of them about Jeremiah Wright.

"George is being a disgusting little rat snake," declared Richard Kim of the Nation.

Michael Tomasky, an opinion writer for the Guardian, wrote: "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."

Thomas Schaller, a Baltimore Sun columnist and political science professor, asked: "Why don't we use the power of this list to do something about the debate?" Schaller proposed a "smart statement expressing disgust" at the ABC anchors' questions, which was later published as an open letter signed by 48 members.


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