Release the Journolist Archives!

My take on the Dave Weigel controversy and the Journolist listserve, written a few days ago for The American Conservative’s blog:

Andrew Breitbart is offering $100,000 for Journolist’s full archive, which he wants to make public. A furious Andrew Sullivan decries Breitbart’s efforts as attempted character assassination. But while this may perplex Sully, interest in the listserv isn’t centered around the private lives of Beltway journalists.

Few care when typical journalists hurl sophomoric insults at the right. (I doubt Sullivan will be criticized for calling them “moronic hounds.”) The case of Dave Weigel was interesting because many readers, as well as some management at The Washington Post, had assumed the “Right Now” blogger was a conservative. Weigel calls himself a libertarian. He has every right to do that, just as people who eat extra-crispy KFC drumsticks can call themselves vegetarians. But the leaked Weigel emails, replete with scathing criticism of conservatives and support for Obamacare, reveal clear and relevant liberal biases.

Sullivan argues that Breitbart would release the gossipy Journolist archives to “ransack private lives.” I’m skeptical as to how highly people who regularly aired their dirty laundry to 400 competing journalists value their privacy. And while it’s not important to know if a 20-something liberal journalist has a secret crush on Maureen Dowd (he wouldn’t have had a chance anyway), it is important to know if he has strong opinions about the issues and people he reports on.

Even the most honest journalist’s reporting will occasionally be colored by ideology. Still, many highly opinionated journalists make great reporters. Weigel, who covered the conservative movement for the Post, is one of them. Nevertheless, by obtaining and publishing Journolist’s archive, Andrew Breitbart would expose liberal media bias and cast a healthy skepticism upon supposedly objective reporting. If the biases of a journalist are public knowledge, she’ll be more conscious about not letting them affect her reporting.

Most importantly, exposing Journolist would bring the unfettered truth to the public. Super-exclusive listservs aside, isn’t that the point of journalism?

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