The Manchurian Listserv
“Rev. Wright is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
There's an amusing moment in the classic Frank Sinatra/John Frankenheimer original version of The Manchurian Candidate, which you can watch about a minute into this clip:
James Gregory's Joe McCarthy-inspired character asks his wife, the Red Queen, played by that paragon of eeeeeevil, Angela Lansbury(!), if there a was an easy way to keep track of how many communists he was supposed to claim were working in the Defense Department. The camera then zooms into the Heinz 57 logo on his ketchup bottle, followed by a cut to Gregory in the Senate bellowing, "There are exactly 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Department of Defense at this time!"
And yes, McCarthy himself famously claimed, "I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy." (Van Jones and Anita Dunn could not be reached for comment.)
In perhaps the best-known pull quote from yesterday's Daily Caller story on the JournoList, Spencer Ackerman, then with the Washington Independent, now with Condé Nast-owned Wired magazine, said:
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 [sic] 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.
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.
Jim Geraghty notes the bruising tone of the above passage:
Considering Weigel’s talk of setting Matt Drudge on fire, Ezra Klein’s off-color recommendation for Tim Russert, and now Ackerman fantasizing about putting conservatives through plate-glass windows, there is a bizarre addiction to lurid, violent, threatening language — not just among the commenters of liberal blogs, but among the folks who we are told represent their best and brightest. It’s disturbing, and the fact that it doesn’t bother more people is disturbing.
As Jim puts it, hey, "Just Another High-Minded Chat About Throwing People Through Windows."
And Glenn Reynolds wonders what Ackerman's current employers must think about hiring a journalist now on the record as making such remarks:
QUESTIONS FOR THE CLASS: ‘Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, Who Cares? . . . Call Them Racists’. Is this quote from Spencer Ackerman evidence of actual malice? Could it be invoked in a future libel case against Ackerman or his employer to show a habit of recklessness? Would you hire someone who had made statements like that as a journalist? If you did so, would that be evidence of reckless disregard?
At the Weekly Standard, Mary Katharine writes, "Liberals do it because it works:"
In a standard that works rather conveniently for liberals, and has been embraced by much of the media during the post-Obama Tea Party era, white conservatives and their allies are considered racists for merely being white conservatives. No video evidence is necessary to condemn, and no number of repuditations is sufficient to clear conservatives of this taint. On the other hand, when black leaders and liberal allies are caught on tape being racist or hateful, as in the case of Wright, Jones, the New Black Panthers, or NAACP leaders, it is also racist to point out that racism. A bit of a Catch-22 for someone like, say, Fred Barnes or Karl Rove, who will be accused of racism regardless of the evidence, and who may raise no evidence against accusers.
Jules Crittenden calls it "race-baitism." It's a very powerful political weapon with very little downside (Unless you're Glenn Beck, in which case the potential price for crying "racist" without reason turns out to be rather high.), and it's often those who profess to be most concerned about racial discord who deploy it without consideration:Because while racism is something no responsible party or people wants to be associated with, race-baiting is a free throw...The president whose historic election was supposed to help us get past this hasn’t shown a lot of interest in disputing any of it, though I think he did get in an offhand dismissal of the idea in a TV interview a while back. He seems to have settled for just being the first black president as his niche in history, rather than being someone who tried to actually do anything about racial tensions.
Too bad. I don’t know about you, but I wish we could all just get along, and stick to arguing about things we actually disgree about.
I think we're finally getting to a point where the overuse of the "racism" charge since Barack Obama became president has weakened its sting. This story should weaken it further, as it reveals how comfortable some of our most passionate racism watchdogs are with sowing racial discord for partisan advantage.
I think this is healthy—for those falsely accused, for the political process, for race relations, and for those who suffer real racism of the sort that's not immediately politically useful to a listserv of mostly white journalists in Washington, D.C.
A month ago, when Dave Weigel was fired by the Washington Post, the story that brought the JournoList back into the news, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic wrote that many of the Washington Post's old guard aren't very happy with comparative youngsters such as JournoList founder Ezra Klein, and the aforementioned racialist vitriol:
Man, soon after I posted that item on The Washington Post, the phone started ringing off the hook. This means that superannuated reporters were calling me, because younger ones would have just texted, or carrier-pigeoned. In any case, here is some of what was told to me from inside The Post:
“This is not just sour grapes about the sudden rise of these untrained kids, though I have to think that some people in the building resent them for bypassing the usual way people rise here. This is really about the serial stupidity of allowing these bloggers to trade on the name of the Washington Post.”
“It makes me crazy when I see these guys referred to as reporters. They’re anything but. And they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters.”
“Ezra Klein is a talented guy, but he’s just an absolute partisan. If this is where journalism has to go, so be it, but I don’t want to go there.”
But then, just as the JournoList is McCarthyism through a fun-house mirror, it's also an inversion of the story that almost single-handedly (albeit with a lot of help from Hollywood) created the 1970s-1980s-era incarnation of the crusading, muckraking political journalist. But back then, the Washington Post circled the wagons to ferret out the corruption and excesses of "All the President's Men." (Though of course, the excesses of all of FDRs, JFKs, and LBJs men were conveniently ignored, just as the FDR-era "Brown Scare" of the 1940s was almost entirely forgotten once McCarthy made himself into such an inviting target.) But the JournoList now makes its members, and arguably the Post itself, All the President's Men -- not that there was much doubt before the existence of the JournoList was widely known. And they've already demonstrated that they're willing to squelch any story, or terminate with extreme prejudice (sorry to mix movie metaphors) any competing narrative to advance the president's career.
A few years ago, Jonah Goldberg wrote:
Liberals are geniuses at unleashing social panics because A) it never occurs to them that their motives are anything but pure and B) because they are almost exclusively focused on short term tactics. And yet they are invariably shocked when these moral frenzies come back to bite them.
History doesn't repeat -- but it sure does get run through the Play-Doh Fun Factory on occasion.
Update: Thanks to commenter "Apostic" for suggesting the parody of the Manchurian Candidate's classic riff, now added to the top of the post. Unofficial -- at least to the best of our knowledge -- JournoList emblem via Steve Green, who says, "Steal This Logo!" (But watch the latest edition of PJTV's Trifecta, first.)