| At the end of the day, the "Journolist" non-scandal involving a few hundred liberal-leaning reporters and academics informally communicating with one another is less about the hypocrisy of a right wing media that traffics in blatant double standards (we knew that already) than it is further evidence of the bifurcated American political culture that has sprung up in recent decades in which liberals and conservatives really do play by different rules and so are held accountable to entirely different standards.
"Collusion" is a word that immediately triggers the instinctive paranoia that resides within conservative audiences attracted to right wing media and the conspiracy theories they peddle. And so, the ultimate fallout of the Journolist story will likely be to solidify the right wing in its preferred rationalization that the existance of a "biased liberal press" justifies the creation of an equally partisan conservative media to compete with it.
Joe Conasan in today's Salon documents the double standards that underlie the cynical and hypocritical reaction by the right wing to the Journolist story.
Conasan cites the feigned outrage by Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard (and Fox News) and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, "both of whom could barely contain their indignation" at the sympathy voiced by journalists to liberal and progressive causes.
Yet, a simple Google search using the terms "featured speaker" and "Republican" instantly turns up numerous examples of speaking engagements by Fred Barnes at GOP fundraising events across the country, from Palm Beach to Eugene, Ore., Conasan writes.
"As a Fox News star, Barnes commands fat speaking fees from trade associations and lobbying groups -- and presumably from Republicans as well. Is he on the payroll, or just cheerleading for free? That is for him to answer, but either way he is clearly on the GOP "team." Yet he flatters himself as an independent loner, while chastising the Journolisters," says Conasan.
Like Barnes, Fund "poses as an ethical purist," says Conasan, while "grossly exaggerating the meaning of the leaked Journolist posts in order to highlight a pose of injured innocence. And he, too -- along with many other right-wing journalists and media figures -- is a featured speaker at Republican gatherings across the country, from Hoboken to Oberlin to the San Francisco Bay. He covers the Tea Party movement while accepting speaking gigs sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, the corporate-backed nonprofit that is behind much Tea Party propaganda. But of course Fund is deeply shocked to learn that liberal writers would compromise their commitment to 'covering legitimate news stories' by joining Journolist."
More substantively, Conasan details the many ways that conservative "journalists" coordinate their political coverage with the messages being crafted by Republican Party officials and other conservative movement leaders to advance the right wing's agenda.
"Specific, orderly, disciplined, ideological coordination -- and not the freewheeling blather to be found on Journolist -- has been proceeding every week for nearly two decades at the 'Wednesday meetings' convened by lobbyist Grover Norquist in the Washington offices of Americans for Tax Reform," writes Conasan.
Conasan quote's at length from David Brock's Republican Noise Machine:
Every Wednesday morning in Norquist's Washington offices, the leaders of more than eighty conservative organizations -- including major right-wing media outlets and top Bush White House aides -- convene to set movement priorities, plan strategy, and adopt talking points. Norquist seems a cross between a Communist Party boss and a Mafia don as he presides over these strategy sessions ...
Conservative media turned out in full force for the weekly strategy meetings convened by right-wing activist Grover Norquist -- Peggy Noonan and John Fund of the Journal, representatives from National Review and the Washington Times, and a researcher for Bob Novak all checked in. The right-wing writers considered themselves part of the conservative movement "team," as Norquist put it ...
The Monday Meeting offers a clue to understanding the conservative movement's success and its continued vitality. Liberals talk endlessly of building coalitions -- Senator Hillary Clinton has suggested that the left needs a meeting on this model -- but infighting, inertia and a lack of discipline have kept them from pulling off this union of ideas, money and power. The right, meanwhile, often acts like the embattled minority that it was in the days of Barry Goldwater, protecting its own and keeping disputes in the family.
Despite the compelling case Conasan makes, what's most discouraging about these obvious examples of right wing duplicity and double standards is that they are entirely beside the point. Audiences of right wing media don't care. And the push back from liberals and the rest of the mainstream press is half-hearted and uncoordinated at best.
Moreover, what the persistence of these double standards suggests is that right wing conservatives have largely succeeded - at least in part - in their 60 to 40 years effort (however you measure it) to create a conservative culture to supplant America's existing liberal society.
That would help to explain why conservatives seem so unconcerned when caught in such obvious double standards. It's because they judge themselves and their movement by an entirely different set of standards, one that includes the standards applied to journalism and America's free press.
Matt Labash, of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard stated the right wing view on journalism accurately a few years ago: "We come with a strong point of view, and people like point-of-view journalism. While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it, too: Criticize other people for not being objective but be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it, actually."
In the broadest sense, of course the American free press is "liberal." The whole point of a free press in a democracy, after all, is to empower the masses by giving them access to information that enables them to both exercise political power and to hold a society's business, professional, educational and cultural elites accountable. At the same time, a free press reflects the Enlightenment faith in human reason and the belief that truth is a journey and not a destination.
But what if you are wealthy far right reactionary, or a right wing movement, that doesn't believe in these basic principles of a free and liberal democratic society? What if you do not believe in the Enlightenment "search" for truth since your "Truth" has already been found and has been codified in the orthodoxy of some religion or in the tenets of some political or economic ideology?
What if you do not believe in giving the masses political power but believe instead in the traditional castes and hierarchies that conservatives have always believed in throughout history, with effective power confined within the hands of safe and reliable conservative elites?
And what if you are a rich reactionary willing to invest billions of dollars, and devote a generation or more, to carefully planting and nurturing these reactionary ideas. And all the time disguising the genuine anti-popular nature of these ideas behind a populist fog that exploits the masses' natural instinct against power by keeping the focus entirely on the power of the democratic state, that exploits their fear of strangers by provoking racial animosities, and that redirects the masses' natural hatred of "elites" who hold them in contempt by redirecting populist animosities to the liberal bi-coastal elites who might be the masses' natural allies.
If you believed all these things, your definition of journalism would be entirely different from one based on fairness, accuracy and objectivity. Your standard would not be how well your journalism kept the public informed about their world in a general sense. It would be how well your "journalism" advanced the right wing conservative agenda.
And since your journalism had this very specific objective in mind, you would not be concerned in the least about whether it was "fair" or "balanced" or if someone called you a hypocrite for attacking progressive writers and thinkers for informally communicating with one another while you sat down every Wednesday at noon with right wing political and business leaders to plan and coordinate the right wing takeover of the American Democracy. With standards for journalism like these the idea of a "double" standard is entirely without meaning.
I say that the conservative movement has only succeeded in part in accomplishing its objective because, despite the impressive time and financial resources poured into the effort, the conservative movement has been unable to defeat or replace America's natural liberalism and the institutions of our democracy that reflect and are sustained by that liberalism.
All that conservatives have to show for their efforts over the past half century is the creation of an alternative conservative culture, with institutions and a conservative counter-establishment all its own, that represents an entirely different way of looking at America, its institutions and traditions.
But the ever-worsening partisanship and polarization that afflicts American politics today is a reflection of the fact that conservatives are pleased with their progress so far and have every intention of finishing the job.