Founded in February 2007 by the Washington Post's liberal blogger/columnist Ezra Klein, Journolist was an online listserve consisting of some 400 self-described liberals – mostly journalists, but also some professors and political activists. Journolist functioned essentially as a secret society of email communications, where members could compare sources, share information, discuss their thoughts on current events, and coordinate the way they reported on certain stories – all off the record. Conservatives were barred from joining the group.
Journolist was shut down by Ezra Klein in late June of 2010, a few days after someone had leaked a number of offensive comments that one of its members, David Weigel (a political reporter for the Washington Post), had written on the listserve regarding conservatives. The most damaging leaks, published in The Daily Caller, were laced with obscenities and charged that conservatives were predominantly racists who sought, above all else, to protect their own “white privilege” – even as they used the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” In two of his Journolist posts, Weigel expressed his hope that conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh and newsman Matt Drudge would both die.
Weigel was not alone among Journolist members in posting such incendiary items. For instance, Sarah Spitz, a producer for the show Left, Right & Center which aired on the National Public Radio affiliate KCRW, wrote that if Rush Limbaugh were to suffer a heart attack in her presence, she would do nothing more than “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” because “he deserves it.”
In 2009, when agitated American citizens nationwide established the Tea Party movement to advocate for limited government and fiscal responsibility from their elected representatives, Journolist member Ryan Donmoyer of Bloomberg News saw “parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts” in Nazi Germany. Richard Yeselson, a writer for various liberal magazines, attributed the people's discontent to the fact that “the president is a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama.” Yeselson dismissively characterized the demonstrators as a collection of “gun nuts,” “anti tax nuts,” “religious nuts,” “homophobes,” “anti-feminists,” “anti-abortion lunatics,” “racist/confederate crackpots,” “anti-immigration whackos,” and “pathological government haters.”
Perhaps the most significant revelation about Journolist came to light in July 2010, when The Daily Caller reported that when the racist, anti-American rantings of Barack Obama's longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright had become an issue during the heart of the 2008 presidential primaries, Journolist members had actively conspired to discredit and bury the story. This occurred, for instance, after an April 2008 ABC News debate in which: (a) moderator Charlie Gibson asked Obama why it had taken him nearly a year to formally dissocate himself from Wright's remarks, and (b) co-moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Obama, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?”
Journolist members who watched the debate were outraged. Richard Kim of The Nation accused Stephanopoulos of “being a disgusting little rat snake.” The Guardian's Michael Tomasky wrote:
“Listen folks – in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have.... We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time. Otherwise the questions in October will be exactly like this. This is just a disease.”
Numerous other Journolist members – including employees of Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, Salon, and the New Republic – agreed that they should attempt to derail public dialogue about their favored candidate vis a vis his relationship with Wright. Soon afterward, a number of Journolist members began collaborating on an open letter defending their favored candidate. Contributors included Jared Bernstein, who would go on to be Vice President Joe Biden’s top economist; Salon columnist Joe Conason; Columbia School of Journalism professor Todd Gitlin; Slate contributor David Greenberg; David Roberts of the website Grist; Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas Schaller; Mother Jones reporter Jonathan Stein (who suggested conferring with “our friends at Media Matters”); and Holly Yeager, now of the Columbia Journalism Review. In its final form, the letter characterized the debate over Obama's affiliation with Wright as “a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world.” The statement was signed by Journolist members and released on April 18, 2010, garnering considerable attention from the media, including The New York Times.
Within a week, Rev. Wright was back in the news after he: (a) accused Obama of having repudiated his (Wright's) comments for “political reasons,” and (b) asserted that the U.S. government had created the AIDS virus as a tool for the commission of genocide against African Americans. Once again, Journolist members rushed to Obama's defense:
Andrew Breitbart, founder of the website BigGovernment.com, stated that Journolist's behind-the-scenes maneuverings amounted to “collusion” designed to “shape narratives” by taking stories “that should be covered on a mass scale” and stopping them “in their tracks.” Added Breitbart: “What The Daily Caller has unearthed proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that most media organizations are either complicit by participation in the treachery that is JournoList, or are guilty of sitting back and watching.”
On July 23, 2010, it was learned that at least one economic adviser to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, Jared Bernstein, had been a member of Journolist during the campaign.