Welcome to East Germany on the Potomac
Liberal journalist Walter Shapiro, a former Carter speechwriter, self-professed JournoList member, and possessor of one of these most portentous author mug shots I've seen in recent memory has an article at AOL's Politics Daily moaning about the leaker of the now infamous JournoList:
Every entry on Google Groups, where JournoList resided, ended with the cautionary line, "And remember: All postings are off-the-record." But someone -- whose motivations were mysterious and whose lack of integrity was obvious -- collected all of Weigel's back e-mails and apparently sent the most intemperate comments (ripped out of context) to FishbowlDC, a media gossip website, and the Dally Caller, a new conservative online newspaper. Weigel, who had recently been hired by The Washington Post to write about the conservative movement, resigned from his new job Friday because of the furor.
I do not know Weigel (and actually do not remember most of his postings on JournoList), but I am outraged over what happened to him. It is one thing to castigate a reporter for the accuracy of his journalism or to deride a blogger for the rigor of his arguments. But it is morally repugnant to heist someone's e-mail comments -- and to leak them in a way designed to embarrass him with the people whom he is covering. The obvious and odious parallel would be to secretly place a tape recorder on a table at a dinner party and then to turn the most inflammatory sound bites into a podcast.
Which the average New York Times journalist would do in a second if he thought he could get a story out of it that bashed anyone to the right of Pinch Sulzberger or Frank Rich.
(Update: as a reader notes in the comments below, "Isn’t that exactly what was done to Gen. McChrystal by Rolling Stone….?")
More from Shapiro:
In another era, Secretary of State Henry Stimson closed the State Department's code-breaking office in 1929 because, as he quaintly explained, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." Translating that sentiment in modern and gender-neutral language: "Honorable people do not read each other people's e-mails without permission."
How laudable, how naive, how early 20th century. The zone of privacy these days stops at the edge of your thoughts. It is impossible for any group (and this means liberals, conservatives and middle-of-the-road vegans) to share off-the-record ideas online without running the risk that someone will breach the bonds of trust to score cheap political points. Every time someone like Weigel is humiliated because of quickly typed off-the-cuff comments, it moves us closer to a world where we all communicate in predictable homogenized phrases because who knows where they might end up.
Yes, it will be a sad day when a writer can't use the word "ratf*cker" to describe his subjects while he's assigned to a column titled "Inside the conservative movement and the Republican party," as Weigel's masthead at the Post advertised:
Shapiro's article is titled "The Death of JournoList: Does Privacy End at the Edge of Your Thoughts?" Which seems like a rather disingenuous question for a man of the left to ask, as this is where the terrain invariably ends up, the further and further one moves left.
Which is exactly what the nation has done since January of 2009. Newsweek, owned by the Washington Post, famously screamed on a cover story early last year that "We Are All Socialists Now." And blogger "Doctor Zero" recently noted at Hot Air the correlation between the leviathan socialist state virtually all Beltway journalists begged for when they endorsed Obama in 2008, and the state of journalism itself.
You wanted East Germany on the Potomac? Might as well have all of the trappings, boys.
So does privacy end at the edge of your thoughts? George Orwell's characters in 1984 could easily answer that question. As could Robert Ley, Head of the National Socialist German Labour Front from 1933-1945, who was famously quoted by Hannah Arendt as saying that "The only person who is still a private individual in Germany is somebody who is asleep."
Update: "Why is no one calling for the outing of the 400 JournoList members and an investigation of whether there were any other attempts to collude and to coordinate the media narrative?"