Ezra Klein mounts a weak defense of the JournoList:
Journolist is meant to serve a very specific purpose that’s actually related to my experience building this blog. The work of this site has always been to illuminate standard political reporting with expert policy commentary. In that, I’ve been helped by the many experts who have adopted the medium as their own: Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, Matthew Holt, Peter Orszag, Andrew Gelman, Larry Bartels, Dani Rodrik, John Sides, among others. As a journalist, it’s hard to always know who to call or which questions to ask. The joy of those blogs is that I don’t have to guess what experts think is important: They simply explain what they think is important and I can use, or follow-up on, the information.
And therein lies the problem. Ezra’s trying to say, “What’s the big deal? Lots of people discuss stuff over email, message boards etc.” If explicitly liberal bloggers, activists and policy wonks want to want to get together several times a week and burn black candles and perform obscure magick rituals to converse with FDR from beyond the grave, that’s fine with me. But when supposedly objective journalists or, worse yet, people such as Peter Orzag who until recently was the head of the Congressional Budget Office, participate in their shennanigans and at the very least fail to disclose it, then I have a problem.
I would like to think that journalists whose credibility rests on working for publications that represent themselves as objective news outlets as well as very influential civil-service employees would see the problem in granting exclusive access to people with a specific political agenda. Even the appearance that the news, let alone actual policies that affect all Americans, are being shaped disproportionately by reporters and unelected civil servants in the thrall of ideological crusaders is a problem. To some extent I can’t fault the list’s overtly liberal members for trying to get in even better with the press and policymakers than they already are, but if Klein and others on the list want to sluff off the questions here by saying “what’s the big deal?” — well, that’s a problem too.
I’d like to believe that a great many people on the list originally saw this as an informal opportunity to chat and share ideas and didn’t think beyond that. Nonetheless, I suspect a great many people on this list are more aware of the ethical conflicts here than they’d like to admit and their willingness to compromise their ethics has probably been informing their reporting and policy prescriptions for a long time. Ultimately, when it comes to diagnosing Washington’s ethical ailments, the JournoList is the symptom and not the disease.