Who Sets Policy?

I have stayed out of the JournoList brouhaha and I intend to continue to do so. I did want to highlight what I think is a rather perceptive observation by James DeLong:

For anyone who has been in a cave, JournoList was an invitation-only email discussion group among “progressive” journalists and academics on which they exchanged candid views on the state of the nation and discussed the themes that should be pushed or suppressed as dictated by the needs of the movement.

The conservative Daily Caller is now publishing emails exchanged on JournoList, with a focus on the more sensational of the collection. (At least, one hopes that Daily Caller is picking the most sensational; one would hate to think that what it is publishing was the run of the mill.)

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with birds of a feather flocking together. I routinely engage in discussions with various free-market types who are not always complimentary of those who disagree with us. Equally obviously, there is nothing wrong with opinion writers honing their thoughts on each other, or with people who see the world in a certain way discussing their insights.

The real problem with JournoList is that much of it consisted of exchanges among people who worked for institutions about how to best hijack their employers for the cause of Progressivism. Thus, the J-List discussion revealed yesterday in the Daily Caller was about how the group could get their media organizations to play down the Reverend Wright affair and help elect Barack Obama.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds

The emphasis is mine. That’s something I have seen at companies of all sizes: employees who aren’t in policy-making positions making company policy whether by omission or commission. I think it’s a serious problem. I have typically found it to be symptomatic of poor management.

Now it may be that those on the list were just doing what their employers wanted them to do. Or it may be that the ambitions of those on the list weren’t compatible with their roles. I have no way of knowing. But a good manager shouldn’t want his employees setting policy for him. That’s true whether we’re talking about a manufacturer or a newspaper.

3 comments… add one
  • Sam Link

    When reading Chait’s explanation of this supposed collusion, it becomes quite clear there was no collusion. One whack job puts it out there that they should suppress the Wright thing, a few other whack jobs agree, some don’t, and the vast majority don’t even comment. Klein writes about Wright the very next day. It is conservative bias to express this as “collusion” or anything other than being present at a conversation where someone brings up something stupid.

  • Rich Horton Link

    Sam that would make a hell of a lot of sense if we were talking about anonymous commentators on a LGF thread. The differences between this and a LGF thread should be obvious enough.

    I think Dave’s point does highlight a fundamental ambiguity that exists in the media today. Who does set policy? Do publishers? Editors? Are journalists free agents? It really is a muddle because, on the one hand, if publishers set the policy then you have people screaming about “systemic bias,” which is a favored bogeyman of the left and right. On the other hand, if journalists are in a sense free agents then what keeps them from organizing themselves in order to promote this or that particular viewpoint.

    Now, one could argue that the job journalists undertake would preclude this from happening, and maybe when the old NYT model still functioned a point could have been made for it. However, the old objective model was scrapped long ago in favor of an interpretive model. Journalists are no longer tasked to tell the citizenry what the political actors that be are doing/proposing and what is happening in the world (i.e. the news), they are instead supposed to tell us what the news “means.” However, meaning is not a neutral term. It requires a perspective. By defintion it has to be narrow, close-minded and partisan. Giving the news via a perspective means shutting it off from differing perspectives. What is instructive about the Jourolist affair is that a perspective of open advocacy for one candidate over another was simply viewed as an extension of such a choice, and nothing that raised an ethical flag. For anyone seemingly.

  • Drew Link

    This is one of the more interesting essays I’ve seen. Its always easy to fly by and fling kudos or shit. This one makes me scratch my chin. But kudos, Dave.

    I think some fact checking is in order. I’m very sympathetic to the charge. It has the ring of truth, and my experience and personal network of intelligence…………… I have a homework problem now.

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