- Journalist for the New York Observer and Salon.com
- Author or co-author of several books
Joe Conason is a journalist for the New York Observer and Salon.com. He is the author of the 2003 book Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth, a New York Times bestseller. He is co-author (with Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons) of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton (2000). He also co-produced and co-starred in the 2004 film The Hunting of the President (directed by Clinton propagandist Harry Thomason, and narrated by actor Morgan Freeman), based on the book of the same title.
Conason was born in 1954 in New York City. His father, Emanuel, had participated in the Michigan-based Sunrise Colony (SC) -- a communal experiment in collective living -- during the 1930s; Emanuel's wife, Eleanor, had taught in a school there. Emanuel's father, Joseph Cohen, was the founder of SC. Cohen was one of the editors of Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor), the main Yiddish-Anarchist newspaper in the United States from 1890 until its demise in 1977. Leading anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Rudolf Rocker wrote for it. A young Noam Chomsky, later to become a leftwing intellectual cult figure, when in New York City repeatedly visited the publication's offices at 45 West 17th Street. Between 1970 and 1980 Joe Conason produced filmed interviews to document stories about the newspaper and his anarchist grandfather.
Joe Conason grew up in White Plains, New York. In 1971 as a senior at White Plains High School, he edited a county-wide underground newspaper called the Paper Workshop that in raw language preached antiwar politics and student rights. After high school he attended a community college for one year and then transferred to Brandeis University, where he earned a degree in history in 1975.
Conason’s first jobs in journalism were as a reporter for the leftwing East Boston Community News and then as a staff writer for its Cambridge competitor Real Paper. In 1978 he went to work for the counter-cultural Village Voice in New York City, and by the time he left in 1990 Conason had become its columnist, political editor and national correspondent.
For the Village Voice his investigative reporting in 1985 exposed Philippines leader Ferdinand (and wife Imelda) Marcos’ hidden holdings of Manhattan real estate, thereby helping topple their pro-American government. This in turn led to the loss of U.S. Air Force and Naval bases in the Philippines.
During 1986 and 1987 Conason traveled repeatedly to the Philippines to write about politics there. In 1989 he arrived in Beijing the night after the Tianamen Square massacre and covered its aftermath. After leaving the Village Voice, he worked from 1990 until 1992 as editor-at-large for the Conde Naste magazine Details.
In 1992 Conason was hired by the New York Observer, a weekly whose founder Arthur Carter came from the The Nation. He is still with the Observer, having been promoted from columnist to political editor, executive editor and national correspondent. After the founding of the counter-cultural leftwing San Francisco-based webzine Salon.com in 1995, Conason also became and continues as author of its daily web log “Joe Conason’s Journal.”
During the Clinton Administration scandals of the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s White House nurtured a stable of pundits who took daily turns appearing on cable television programs to defend Mr. Clinton and to discredit his critics. Joe Conason’s face became familiar to millions of viewers as one of Mr. Clinton’s most ardent supporters on these programs.
“It would be good if we got to a point in America where it was possible to disagree and debate very vigorously without hatred,” said Conason in 2003. “We’re not there yet, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better....I think it won’t get better until liberals stand up and respond with greater toughness and sharpness.” (Or as he wrote in Big Lies, “until liberals learn to hit back hard.”)
Conason advocates by his example a style of journalism based on personal attack and a willingness to use any tactic or lie to emerge victorious. He eagerly exploited sexual allegations against Republican Members of Congress who helped impeach President Clinton, the kind of information for which fellow Clinton allies -- most notably pornographer Larry Flynt and Conason’s Salon.com employer David Talbot -- offered money.
Conason’s articles have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, the New Republic, The Guardian (London), the New Yorker and other left-of-center periodicals.
Between 2007 and 2010, Conason was a member of JournoList, an online listserve of media professionals that functioned essentially as a secret society of bloggers and reporters who coordinated the way they presented certain stories so as to advance leftist political candidates and agendas.