A tale of two -- actually, many more than two -- list serves
What if I told you I ran a secret e-mail list that connected progressive writers with staffers for Democratic politicians so that those staffers could tell the progressives what, exactly, their bosses wanted them writing about that day?
Sadly, I don't run such a list. Never have, either. The rule for Journolist was that no one who worked for the government in any capacity could join or, if they took a job with the government, remain. But it turns out that there is exactly such a list on the right. Dan Riehl, a prominent conservative blogger, revealed its existence today when he quit in a huff because John Boehner's director of new media hurt his feelings.
It was, he said, "a private RNC-related Listserv," and in publishing comments from it, he was "violating the presumed TOS [terms of service] for the private list." Andrew Breitbart, who has now offered $100,000 to get his hands on e-mails in which a bunch of journalists argue among themselves, has not, as of press time, put out a bounty for the transcripts of this latest threat to our delicate republic.
I could end this post with an oh-so-profound "chortle chortle chortle." But the broader point here is that there are a lot of list serves around this town and most of therm are private and most of them haven't been revealed. Journolist's existence drew notice because it grew to a large size: about 400 people, by the end of it. Paradoxically, that made it both a better target for conspiracy theories ("It has 400 people!") and a completely impossible forum in which to mount a conspiracy ("It has 400 people!"). By the list's end, leaks were understood to be constant, though I didn't anticipate anything resembling the dedicated character assassination conducted against Dave Weigel.
But though there's something wrong with people using e-mail lists to destroy someone else's career, there's nothing wrong with e-mail lists. People like to communicate with others in their profession and others who think in a broadly similar fashion to the way they do. And of course they like the opposite, as well: I'm a member of a bipartisan dinner series and offered to start a bipartisan Listserv with Tucker Carlson. And then there are Listservs, like the Republican one, where coordination actually happens.
And there always will be. People's demand for communication is pretty consistent. It's their ability to communicate that changes. The RNC used to call and fax conservative writers. Now they have an e-mail list with them. Journalists used to write letters to one another and call each other on the phone. Now they're on e-mail lists. There's been an unfortunate conflation between the idea that something with 400 people can't be impenetrably private -- which is quite true -- and that such things shouldn't be private. That's silly, and if the idea gets codified, it just means we're going to go through endless versions of this story. I hope Breitbart's got a lot of big bills lying around.