If you're not up to date on your scandals and media memes, the recent kerfluffle over Journolist, a message board set up to enable communications between left leaning media types, might have missed you. The list first came into national prominence when Dave Weigel, the man on the beat for the Wapo's coverage of the conservative movement, was outed as having said some relatively liberal things on this list. He shortly resigned from his position at the Washington Post, forced out presumably because of the oft-understood and regularly repeated mantra that we expect those people who produce our news to be objective.
Since Weigel's departure, conservatives have taken to this Journolist controversy more and more, pointing to it as evidence of how the media persists in perpetuating forms of liberal bias. At The Corner for example, Daniel Foster points to some leaks from Journolist taken from November 3rd and 4th, 2008, when Obama won the presidency. You can look at them here. (It should also be noted that Weigel's reporting on the Tea Party movement was top notch stuff).
Foster's comment sounds an interesting echo back to a previous topic taken up on this blog: the dispute over who are the true Jacobins on the contemporary American political scene, the progressive liberals who support Barack Obama or the Tea Partiers who want a limited state and lower taxes. Foster says that the revelations from the Journolist "make him feel sad" for the people, because they naively believe that what is occurring is something truly momentous rather than just another banal changing of the guard.
Of course, Foster's own sense of pity (how charitable of him!) only makes sense to an audience capable of refusing to identify with the comments from Journolist. What strikes me in Foster's comments (and indeed, much of the conservative reaction to the Journolist controversy) is that their sense of what journalists ought to be like approximates something like a demand that people in the media ought to function a robots, with a set of opinions and sense of judgments that are completely separate from whatever own personal viewpoints they have.
Imagine engaging in an imaginative reversal: what would the react have been on the right to a McCain victory? Do we imagine they would have shrugged their shoulders and gone "well, we've got another Republican president, but I am not very excited about the victory because it's just another president". I have a feeling that most would admit to, if not a euphoria, a sense of satisfaction and happiness that individuals whom they genuinely believe would make America worse off did not control the Presidency.
I contend that the most important rhetorical marker of the difference in the Right and Left responses is that the left responses reek of a kind of individualism that conservative responses to victory annhilate by couching the legitimacy of a conservative victory with recourse to the rhetoric of "the people". For example, in a 2004 NRO column Victor Davis Hansn celebrates the victory of George W. Bush because it represents the victory of the will of "real Americans" over a media and academic elite who tried to load the dice in the election. Conservative celebration of the win is allowed but only if it does so by suboordinating the importance of the victory to the role of "the people" in producing it, as in this passage, where he argues:
"The East and West Coasts and the big cities may reflect the sway of the universities, the media, Hollywood, and the arts, but the folks in between somehow ignore what the professors preach to their children, what they read in the major newspapers, and what they are told on TV. The Internet, right-wing radio, and cable news do not so much move Middle America as reflect its preexisting deep skepticism of our aristocracy and its engineered morality imposed from on high."
Hanson's comments track appropriately with the old right wing populist meme that "the people" should be championed because they know better than an elite and technocratic will which emerges from some higher power. This is the theory that drives Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism and has animated conservative political activism since Daniel Bell and Richard Hofstader were writing in the 50's. What is curious is that this positions that desire of "the people" to continue as they always have been as the sort of conservative break on the overreaches of progressivism (Goldberg's "Democracy of the Dead", reference in a previous post makes sense here). The central tension that informs the conservative desire to turn the comments found in the leaks from Journolist into comments that come from a liberal media elite rather than a series of thoughts that represent something "American" is that an implicit criteria for what are and are not acceptable political viewpoints must operate. So what really troubles me about Foster's comments are not that he opposes the presidency of Barack Obama (which is fine, democracies are full of disagreement) but the pity that he feels for those who believe in Barack Obama, especially given the content of some of these leaks.
"HENRY FARRELL, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I had to close my office door yesterday because I was watching YouTube videos of elderly African Americans saying what this meant to them and tearing up."