Epistemic Closure And JournoList
In the same piece where he talks about Andrew Breitbart and the Shirley Sharrod affair, Rick Moran also points out the real lesson that should be drawn from the JournoList “scandal” that I wrote about earlier:
The Journolist was a self-reinforcing feeback loop of consensus driven opinions, totally rejecting any criticism coming from conservatives (and most of the contrary liberals in the group), while creating a reality based not on objectivity but on a constantly evolving notion of what could be realized for political gain. Hence, the eagerness to pick a conservative name out of a hat and toss the “racism” charge, or the open coordination of a media strategy to manipulate or kill the Reverend Wright controversy.
Chait and other Journolist defenders can talk until they are blue in the face about the innocence of the group regarding their intentions, but the objective facts speak for themselves. It doesn’t matter how many list members participated in a discussion. The talking points were disseminated to all. And while Chait has a point that we should not assume that everyone read every email, or that everyone adopted the consensus strategy and opinions that emerged from these discussions, we can safely assume that every one of them wanted Barack Obama to win and were not bashful about using the list to promote that end.
Call it the closing of the journalistic mind. While I’m not sure how widespread this list was — it certainly doesn’t seem to have extended very far into the newsrooms of the major networks or papers like the Times and the Post — it is a perfect example of what happens inside the beltway itself.
When people spend all their time talking only to people who agree with them, and when they expose themselves only to sources of information that come from a similar political bias, it creates its own reality, as Julian Sanchez explained when he coined the term epistemic closure:
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile.
One could make the same argument about JournoList, of course, and while it’s fairly clear that there was no conspiracy and that most of what was discussed on the list was not newsworthy, it does represent the creation of the sane kind of group think that we’re seeing on the right. It’s not good, and perhaps the best thing Ezra Klein did was to delete the list.
The larger irony, of course, is that Moran correctly points out the fact that there are many more similarities between the world of JournoList and the Brietbart/blogosphere universe than either party would care to admit.