Journolist and Malice

Uncertainty and fear among members of the now-defunct Journolist cabal seem rampant. Some of the emails demonstrate certain liberal journalists willing and eager to employ malice as part and parcel of their professional duties.

The fact that such open malice of at least a few of the four hundred "professionals" on Journolist did not result in their expulsion from this professional Listserv, and indeed seemed tolerated at the time by its members and now by its defenders, would seem to indicate a more widespread problem. The dog doesn't bark when it's comfortable with the visitor.

Jonathan Strong of The Daily Caller broke the news about left-wing journalists conspiring on Journolist to kill the stories during the 2008 election about Barack Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Strong writes,

In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama's relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama's conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, "Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares -- and call them racists."

Ackerman skipped the intermediary suggestion of even asking loaded questions of Obama's conservative critics and proceeded directly to proposing false accusations against figures -- "who cares" -- on the right.

Strong reports that others on Journolist objected to the strategy proposed by Ackerman -- not because what Ackerman suggested involved malice, but because strategically it did not aid their cause:

Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, also disagreed with Ackerman's strategy. "I think it's worth keeping in mind that Obama is trying (or says he's trying) to run a campaign that avoids precisely the kind of thing Spencer is talking about, and turning this into a gutter brawl would probably hurt the Obama brand pretty strongly. After all, why vote for him if it turns out he's not going change the way politics works?"
Fred Barnes wrote a measured, thoughtful response to the report. Barnes' style isn't provocative or satirical, as Rush Limbaugh's or Ann Coulter's can be. All three, however, face the malice of the left because they advocate for less government.

The malice exhibited in the e-mails is about more than journalistic ethics, and it may have legal consequences, with the immediate potential to cause jitters in the bars of Georgetown and Manhattan.

Malice becomes very, very significant in the case of public figures like Limbaugh, Barnes, and Rove ever since The New York Times v. Sullivan decision. Such public figures have a very difficult time winning damages for libel because of the "malice" evidentiary hurdle announced in Sullivan. As Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner explains,

Rove is certainly a public figure and a strong case could be made that Barnes is as well. Thus, any temptation to sue they might experience would be tempered by the Sullivan standard - unless conscious, actual malice by the defendant can be proven, forget it.

On the other hand, it's not difficult to envision an enterprising attorney finding an arguable case that specific examples culled from among the voluminous comments exchanged among JournoList participants clearly indicate high levels of what sure looks an awful lot like actual malice towards all sorts of prominent people on the Right.

This might help explain a curious passage in JournoList honcho
Ezra Klein's explanation ... of his response to Tucker Carlson's request to be allowed to join the list serv:

"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." (Emphasis added.)

As The Daily Caller continues to expose vile exchanges on Journolist, we read about the hateful fantasy of one NPR producer involving Rush Limbaugh having a heart attack, and "serious" discussions that the government should shut down Fox News.

Why are any of these people still employed by news agencies instead of flipping tofu burgers?

Malice is not designed to get to the truth. Quite the opposite: Malice is designed to harm without regard to the truth. Malicious libel against public figures is not a protected press freedom. On the other hand, satirical or provocative speech, writings, or graphics, which can be biting, are designed to elucidate certain truths or positions in an attention-grabbing way.

Writing at The Daily Caller, Ben Smith observes:

The election of Barack Obama, America's first black president, was supposed to be a sign of our national maturity ... a chance to transform the charged, stilted "national conversation" about race into a smarter and more authentic dialogue, led by a president who was also one of the nation's subtlest thinkers and writers on the topic.

Instead, the conversation just got dumber.

Smith errs. It's not dumb conversation that's the problem. Malicious accusations of racism against conservatives are an old left-wing tactic. They are an intentional distraction from genuine conversations about small-government principles. Charges of racism being leveled at "who cares" damages and discredits the real issues of racism that should be addressed. Both debates are harmed by malice from the left.

The NAACP recently passed its controversial yet unreleased resolution that the Tea Party should condemn what it describes as racist elements within the Tea Party. Some news agencies agree. The Kansas City Star even proclaimed, "NAACP's criticism is valid: Tea party needs to condemn its racist fringe elements."

While the NAACP, The Kansas City Star, and others on this bandwagon may not have demonstrated malice, it is clearer now that they are pushing an agenda that has nothing to do with racism. Journolist, the "unofficial Obama campaign," proves that irresponsible, false charges of racism are accepted on the left as a political tactic.

Tea Partiers, being mostly new to political activism, may not be accustomed to dealing with leftist institutions. However, in my opinion, the Tea Party should avoid being distracted from its purposes by these attempts from the left. The left would like nothing more than to draw attention away from constitutional, small-government, fiscally responsible policies that the Tea Party advocates.

Maybe the left-wing journalists at Journolist could learn from the Coffee Party to encourage deliberation guided by reason. Oops, too late. It seems reasoned deliberation isn't as popular on the left as the strategy of smears.