Media

Day Two of JournoListMageddon: Not Very Convincing

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If you thought that the Daily Caller's Day One haul was an inartfully cobbled together and raw material-averse series of listserv conversations–including a long, see-no-evil-enabling tangent about compiling an open letter–that obscured the headline-making point about a respected-in-some-quarters journalistic hothead trying to convince his bretheren to tar Karl Rove or Fred Barnes or any of an apparently bottomless list of Republicans with the super-toxic label of "racist" (that is, when not smashing their faces into plate-glass windows)…then you'll be even less impressed by Day Two.

The headline is pure conservative link bait–"Liberal journalists suggest government shut down Fox News"!–but what follows directly is:

A) National Public Radio producer Sarah Spitz saying she'd "Laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out" if Rush Limbaugh had a heart attack in front of her.

B) Various people in the summer of 2009 referencing fascists and Beer Hall putschers when discussing townhall protesters (in much weaker terms than you could see all over the public discourse back then).

C) A complaint that "blogger Ed Kilgore didn't even bother to grapple with [Victor Davis] Hanson's arguments" about immigration. And then finally,

D) A closing seven-paragraph section that at last brings up the subject of the headline. And not very convincingly, either.

The Daily Caller asserts that "members of Journolist discussed whether the federal government should shut the channel down," but the only quote that rises close to that suggestion is Guardian (UK) columnist Daniel Davies saying "In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework." Time's Michael Scherer says "I agree," but it's not clear with what. UCLA law prof Jonathan Zasloff, the DC claims, "suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air," but his initial quote actually suggest the opposite–"Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?"–and his smoking-gun quote ("I'll take that risk") is untethered from any shutting-down-Fox context. From all I can tell in the last three paragraphs, Zasloff, Scherer, and The New Republic's John Judis are talking not about closing Fox News, but whether or not the White House should tactically choose which news organizations are allowed in its press briefings.

That's it.

At least this time the Daily Caller has produced some raw material (including one unlovely piece by Reason alum Dave Weigel), though there's no reason to suspect we're seeing the entirety of the relevant conversation, let alone the discussion in any kind of sensible order. And it's only there, in an e-mail from the all-influential Zasloff, do we see anything to corroborate the scare-headline. It is this:

I hate to open this can of worms, but is there any reason why the FCC couldn't simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?

None of the other discussion seems to be referencing this can of worms directly.

Right-of-center investigative journalism is going to have to tie up its loose ends a helluva lot tighter than this (and that) if it aims to persuade anyone from outside its camp. The real spade-work on the JournoList trove is not just fishing for a single chunk of Drudge-bait, but tying an off-the-record listserv conversation with a coordinated flurry of on-the-record commentary. Locker-room trash-talk can be fun to spy in on (in a train-wreck kind of way), but if there's a real opinion-journalism scandal underneath any of this it will lie in attempts, concscious or unconscious, to foist political message discipline on disparate and unsuspecting audiences. This ain't that.

UPDATE: Daniel Davies makes an appearance in the comments!

UPDATE II: Dave Weigel points to some apparent discrepancies in the way his contributions were portrayed.