Politics & Policy

‘The line,’ &c.

I know that “Journolist” has been mightily picked over — and picked on — but I have done very little of it. And would like to do some picking now, if you can bear with me. “Journolist,” you remember, is — was — an e-mail community of hundreds of liberal or left-wing or whatever journalists. Plus professors, operatives, and some assorted others. They hashed things out privately — but the Daily Caller has obtained their e-mails, or at least a lot of them, and published them. Or some. Enough to get the flavor — more flavor than you would probably want.

Okay, let me commence with a little picking . . .

#ad#‐Bob Novak used to say, ‘That’s the line” — he said it with dismissive contempt. Someone else, usually on the left, would make some excuse or give some talking point, and Novak’d say, “That’s the line.” I can just hear him.

My friend Jeff and I took this up between ourselves: Someone would say something — maybe even one of us would — and we’d say, “Yeah, that’s the line!” It was just kind of fun. “I don’t think I’ll play very well tomorrow because I’m in the process of making some swing changes.” “Yeah, that’s the line!”

So I was interested to see that a Journolister headed an e-mail — or “e-mail thread” — “The line on Palin.” He was not being ironic, as far as I can tell. He was really and truly formulating a line. And the line was this: “John McCain picked someone to help him politically, Barack Obama picked someone to help him govern” (Biden).

You know, I remember hearing that a lot, from the Left, in the immediate post-Palin days. Do you?

Okay, some more line-formulation — I’ll quote from a Daily Caller piece on Journolist:

After Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat, threatening to kill the health care legislation by his presence, [a Washington Post reporter] stressed how important it was for reporters to highlight what a terrible candidate his opponent Martha Coakley had been.


“I think pointing out Coakley’s awfulness is vital, because it’s 1) true and 2) unreasonable panic about it is doing more damage to the Democrats.”

It seems to me that journalists don’t think and talk this way, or should not; party operatives think and talk this way. Party operatives sit around coming up with the line. To see journalists doing it is a little . . . sick-making.

‐Always, there is the herd mentality — we see the herd at work. A big-time writer said, “Listen folks — in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have.” What he meant was, people from ABC had asked Candidate Obama about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That was intolerable; the askers had to be “killed.”

And don’t you love that “in whatever venues we have”? Oh, they have a lot! Most of the media, in fact.

Another big-timer gave a link to a piece he had written and said, “Here’s my attempt to incorporate the accumulated wisdom of this august list-serve community.”

‐Another big-timer, on another subject: “As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?” Barone is not insane; he is one of the best political minds in America. Often, he expresses conservative opinions — and that, of course, is what makes him “insane,” according to some. Back in the USSR, they used to put those with dissenting views in nuthouses. They were merely ill, you see.

‐One thing that struck me about Journolist was the sheer thuggery of the talk. I mean, it’s a little shocking. Here you go:

It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [something] 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.

Well, that’s good to know! The same Journolister wrote, “Let’s throw Ledeen against a wall.” That would be Michael Ledeen, one of the country’s foremost experts on the Middle East (and Italy and other things). Or “throw him through a plate glass window.” This guy seems to have a thing for plate-glass windows. “I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the fuck up, as with most bullies.”

Ledeen knows nothing about how to bully compared with this crew. You know, what Ledeen does with most of his life is fight the mullahs — fight the extremists and oppressors and bombers in the Middle East. You would think that other liberal democrats would join him. If that’s, in fact, what they are. (Am I a McCarthyite for saying that?) Ledeen thinks of the mullahs and their associates as the enemy; other Americans, I’ve noticed, think of Ledeen, and people like him, as the enemy. Which is tragic.

#page#I myself will write about the depravity of Hamas, Hezbollah, or al-Qaeda; of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or the Assads’ Syria, or the mullahs’ Iran. And the Left blogosphere will denounce me and say how wicked George W. Bush was. Then readers of the Left blogosphere will e-mail me and say how wicked Bush and I are. I wrote a column on this general subject here.

Some people thought that the Left would calm down, with the election of Barack Obama as president. They are now in charge. It should be okay to fight, or at least appreciate, the War on Terror (as we used to call it). (Obama and his people prefer “overseas contingency operations.”) But the Left seems as hepped up as ever.

#ad#Let me give you a vignette from Zev Chafets’s new biography of Rush Limbaugh. During the (first) Clinton inauguration, the actor Ron Silver saw fighter jets flying over the Lincoln Memorial. Silver was on the left then; after 9/11, he became a convert. He spoke at the 2004 Republican convention in favor of President Bush. At any rate, back to the Clinton inauguration:

Silver thought a show of military force was terribly inappropriate. But then it occurred to him, “Those are our planes now.” He said so, in public. Rush Limbaugh rebuked him: “Those are American planes, Ron.”

(I’m sure you know this LBJ anecdote: The president was at an airfield, I think, and there were many planes about. A military officer pointed to one and said, “That’s your plane, Mr. President.” Johnson said, “They’re all my planes, son.” Incredible SOB — I hope Caro doesn’t go soft on him as he continues his bio . . .)

‐Behold the mind of a Journolister, who writes for The Nation:

Our country disappears people. It tortures people. It has the blood of as many as one million Iraqi civilians — men, women, children, the infirmed [the infirmed?] — on its hands. You’ll forgive me if I just can’t quite dredge up the requisite amount of outrage over Barack Obama’s pastor.

You’ll forgive me if I think this view of America is bizarre, warped, and wrong. When it comes to hurting the Iraqi people — gassing them, raping them, starving them, torturing them, cutting out their tongues for dissent, feeding them into industrial shredders, feet first, the better to hear their screams — no one could outdo Saddam Hussein, whom the U.S. and its allies, mercifully — and in the American interest — overthrew.

I have seen with my own eyes how American soldiers are helping the Iraqi people, even now: and Americans ought to feel pride in this undertaking, rather than the shame that others would induce in them.

‐Forgot to tell you something, an item or two back. You remember how I said that readers of the Left blogosphere will write me to say how much they hate me? Well, Left bloggers themselves will often do it. They’ll e-mail and say, “Hey! Didn’t you see how I said how much I hate you? Why aren’t you responding to how much I hate you?” They simply beg for attention. Weird, the new media.

‐Here is another Journolister from The Nation:

I am really tired of defending the indefensible. The people who attacked Clinton on Monica were prissy and ridiculous, but let me tell you it was no fun, as a feminist and a woman, waving aside as politically irrelevant and part of the vast rightwing conspiracy Paula, Monica, Kathleen, Juanita.

It may have been “no fun,” but she did it, didn’t she? They all did. They donned their “presidential kneepads,” in the immortal words of Nina Burleigh (a Time magazine writer). Burleigh wrote, “I would be happy to give [Bill Clinton] [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”

Yup — and line up they did.

‐Another Journolister slammed conservatives as “Fucking NASCAR retards.” I had the following thought: If you were a conservative, writing a satire about how liberals think and talk about conservatives, you might write, “F***ing NASCAR retards” — but you would be criticized for going way over the top. I mean, that phrase is just too trite and absurd and extreme for satire. But not for real Journolist life.

And I imagine there is more political and policy wisdom at a typical NASCAR event than in the whole of Journolist. Much more civility and refinement, too.

‐Always, always — always, always — there is race. Always, always, there is the need to call conservatives racist. Do they disagree with you? Do they, for example, favor a colorblind society, or at least colorblind policy? Call them racists.

A Journolister:

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. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.

From the beginning, it has been nearly impossible to oppose Barack Obama — from the right, that is — without being called a racist. I have done a fair amount of writing about this. Here is one piece, written right before the 2008 election: “That Old Devil Race.” Here is a piece written last year about criticism of Obama versus criticism of George W. Bush: “All Wee-Weed Up.”

You notice the sheer randomness of the Journolister’s defamation: It doesn’t matter whom you call a racist — Barnes, Rove, Smith, Jones — just “take one of them.” Because, really, “who cares”? The point isn’t the truth, it’s the defamation.

As I have written many times, race lies do harm beyond the immediate objects of the lies: They harm the entire society, keeping racial sores aflame. This is a point that Ellen Sauerbrey made, back when a Shrum-led campaign tarred her as a racist. She was running for governor of Maryland. She seemed on track to win. And then Shrum & Co. threw a white sheet over her.

I’ll forever love Kurt Schmoke, then the mayor of Baltimore, for saying that he knew the difference between a conservative and a racist: and Sauerbrey was no racist. (Schmoke is a black Democrat, I should say.)

Anyway, Sauerbrey said (something like), “It’s one thing if you lie about a person’s view of tax policy or agricultural subsidies or something. That’s not very nice, but then the election happens, and everybody goes on. If you lie about a person’s racial views, there’s a lingering effect. The lie corrodes society. It makes race relations worse. It makes it harder for society to heal, after all these years, all these decades. Everyone’s nerves are rubbed constantly raw.”

#page#Nasty as all lies are, race lies sometimes seem nastier — the nastiest of them all. Oddly enough, our Journolister exempted Ross Douthat — Ross Douthat the New York Times columnist, formerly a National Review intern, now NR’s film critic. The Journolister said, “We’ll know who doesn’t deserve this treatment — Ross Douthat, for instance — but the others need to get it.” Why is Douthat off the hook? Neither Barnes nor Rove nor Douthat is in the least racist. But why are Fred and Karl targets for the lie, but Ross not?

The sheer randomness of the thing is puzzling.

#ad#One more thing about Shrum, and the Shrum style — which is the contemporary Democratic style. He made an ad against the Civil Rights Initiative in California. That was Ward Connerly’s initiative, copying the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was meant to ban race preferences in public contracting and so on. The Shrum ad against the initiative showed the Klansman David Duke and a burning cross. (Connerly is black, as you know.) Later, Connerly asked him why he did it. Shrum replied that his side didn’t have very much money, therefore had to get “the most bang for the buck.”

‐In the wake of the Journolist revelations, a lot of people said, “Oh, we knew all this — this is nothing new. We knew the Left colluded. We knew there was this herd mentality. We knew groupthink was regnant. We knew they were nasty and thuggish in their rhetoric. We knew that they played the race card, from the bottom of the deck. We knew that the spirit of Jacobinism ran through them. What’s the big deal? Yawn, yawn.”

Recently, Peter Mandelson, the British politico, published his memoirs, The Third Man. Why are they called that? He was in the thick of the New Labour wars, pitting Blair versus Brown — Mandelson was that “third man,” between the two principals. Let me quote from Matthew Parris’s review in The Spectator:

Critics are remarking that this is all old hat, and The Third Man tells us nothing we hadn’t heard already. Absolutely right. And if it were to be discovered that one of King Herod’s court had in fact kept a daily diary whose contents, now disclosed, confirmed, blow-by-blow, all those dreadful tales about the slaughter of the first-born, and the rest, fleshed out with remarkable detail and painting a sharper, more extraordinary picture even than we had imagined, then the critics — literalist believers among them, anyway — might say the same. But the rest of the world would gasp.


‐One depressing thing about Journolist? Or one more depressing thing? The presence of journalism professors on it — or at least of one, Todd Gitlin of Columbia University. He was in on all the “line”-making, all the herding up. I have always respected him as an honest, above-board left-winger — someone you could read. I’m sure he is. But the whole Journolist thing — its ethos, its essence — is creepy. I guess you could say, if left-wingers are collectivist in their worldview, why shouldn’t they be collectivist in their journalism?

I think that a person would be better off learning journalism from the lowliest employee of the Toledo Blade than from the Columbia School of Journalism. (N.B.: Pat Buchanan went to this Columbia school. So did Miguel d’Escoto.)

‐According to reports, Journolist is now shut down. Are there other Journolists in operation? How would we know? Does it matter? Don’t people have a right to their private e-mail lists? Sure. But the Journolist experience makes a person wonder. Now and again, I am attacked in the Left media at large. I am too small-potatoes to come in for much attacking. But I have come in for some. And it seems so . . . I don’t know: coordinated, scripted, uniform. They denounce me like the Rockettes kick. Is that because they all think alike? (And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I think like Thomas Sowell, or like to think I do.) Or is there some conscious ganging up?

I’m sure there is no conscious ganging up. I don’t flatter myself. As I indicated, I am not quite worth ganging up on. But you read these Journolist e-mails and think, “Holy smokes, weren’t they embarrassed to be plotting together like that? If you’re going to call Fred Barnes a racist, or say that McCain picked Palin for a particular reason, can’t you just do it on your own? Do you have to enlist an army? Do you have to hold hands?”

Reading some of the stories about Journolist, I was reminded why I left the Left so long ago: the groupthink; the political correctness; the scorn for ordinary people (“Fucking NASCAR retards”); the dehumanizing of political opponents. Lord knows, there are jerks on the right — I think I have interacted with all of them, although there must be some I have missed. I don’t say the conservatives are angels; I know them too well for that. The idea that the Right has a claim on morality is a crock. More like on immorality, I sometimes think.

You know the slogan “Vote Right, live Left”? Many conservatives embrace this philosophy with gusto. It is virtually a credo.

But, you know? As a rule, the jerks on the right are jerk-like in their own ways — kind of like Tolstoy’s unhappy families. If you’re going to be a jerk, be an individual, for heaven’s sake. At least that’s what I think. I need to check with my brethren on what the line is . . .




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