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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.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    You know Doug how I’ve repeatedly pooh poohed the materiality of the Sharrod hoopla which will be off the radar by the weekend. Burgers or Hot Dogs anyone? Jornolist is even lower on the foodchain. This blog is called OTB but it reveals a very beltway preoccupation with things that 95% of the country has never heard of.

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  2. Tano says:

    What percentage of the members of Journolist ever really claimed to be “objective” journalists?

    Seems to me that most of the members I have heard about have been rather explicitly liberal bloggers and/or pundits.

    :”When people spend all their time talking only to people who agree with them,”

    Is there any evidence that these people were not talking to anyone else?

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  3. Steve Plunk says:

    It is a conspiracy since they planned action not just shared opinions. When people speak of slandering competing opinion makers with completely untrue statements it crosses that line.

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  4. wr says:

    Steve Plunk — What you say might be true, except that I suspect that those who proposed calling Sean Hannity or some other luminary a racist did not believe that would be a “completely untrue statement. ”

    You might not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t honestly hold those opinions.

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  5. ponce says:

    Journolist was a private club, the Andrew Breitbart fringe-Right sewer system is a profit(ha!)-seeking enterprise.

    How are they even remotely similar?

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  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I think most of the Nazis honestly held their opinions, WT. That does not make them right. The problem is not they believed it but they used the term to discredit those who held political opinions differing from there own. If you are going to use Alinskys tactics, you really need to limit access to his writings as it gives us a heads up as to what you are going to do next. Beck speaks truth, that is why you hate him. He just did a complete run down on the time line for the Sharrod incident. Mataconis is full of it again.

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  7. john personna says:

    I think the key difference is talkin’ smack in a private forum, versus publishing news for the nation.

    Just curious Doug, were you on Journolist ? What can you tell us of the vibe?

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  8. john personna says:

    BTW, the argument “he talks smack in a private forum, therefore his news is suspect”is a much more indirect argument than “look at this bad news.”

    You might even talk smack Doug, when I’m not there.

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  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    john personna says:
    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 17:53
    “I think the key difference is talkin’ smack in a private forum, versus publishing news for the nation.”

    It’s somewhat akin to musing on your mother in law, not something you want your wife and kids to see. It has no equivalence with what Breitbart has done but any port in a storm I guess. The knee jerk from the hard right attempting to justify Breitbart is a measure of what we have in our bosom. I remember reading Hofstadter nearly fifty years ago and nothing really has changed in terms of how the hard right thinks. It’s basically Stalinist. Berlin, Arendt, Koestler et al weren’t wrong about there not being a sliver of difference between the far right and far left.

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  10. Janis Gore says:

    I preface this comment with the admission that I have a journalism degree even if I’m not a practicing journalist, so the whole dustup has been fascinating. I can understand why Joe is bored silly.

    I have to say that Breitbart has been positively masterful during the past few days. And I think he and Tucker Carlson have acted in collusion.

    To parallel run the stories of the edited NAACP tape and the selected J-List archives was media brilliance. In the corner of Bloggerville that memerandum follows, the two have sucked the air out for two days now. And Breitbart is now at the top with the headline “I am public enemy No. 1.” You know he’s pacing and listening to his balls clang. J-listers are running stories to cover their butts and a President is apologizing to an employee for jumping the gun.

    The man has worked with Drudge and Huffington. He knows media and what makes it tick. I don’t think he thought the administration would be so craven, but that’s icing on the cake for him.

    What a coup. So call him a despicable sumbitch, but he has no reason to care. He accounts to no one.

    As far as acting in collusion, who can complain? Spencer Ackerman?

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  11. Janis Gore says:

    That was off topic, but a big self-acclaimed secret list of journalists and thinkers of a slant set a trap.

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  12. john personna says:

    Janis, Breitbart was a nobody to me a week ago. Now I know he’s a guy without redeeming moral or ethical impulse. I’ll carry that with me.

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  13. Roberta says:

    Dang, people. Epistemic closure requires more than a group of people who agree with one another in one specific forum. Everybody has at least one such forum in his/her/their life. Epistemic closure requires a network of blogs, newspapers, TV shows, TV channels, and compatriots all saying exactly the same thing. Unless you can show that the Journolist people talked only among themselves and rejected any input from any other source, your accusation falls very flat.

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  14. Janis Gore says:

    But he’s a hero to the people who respond to his message.

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  15. Mithras says:

    What Roberta said. Where does Moran get off implying that because “[t]he talking points were disseminated to all” then all followed in lockstep? Taking orders from the top is more of a rightwing thing. Liberals usually can’t agree on what to get for lunch; this is our strength and our weakness.

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  16. john personna says:

    But he’s a hero to the people who respond to his message.

    He might have a business model. It’s true.

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  17. Janis Gore says:

    James Fallows was a member of J-list. He writes about it here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/07/on-todays-hot-media-stories-sherrod-journolist/60210/.

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  18. Janis Gore says:

    A business model? He don’t need a business model. He won’t risk so much that he’ll starve.

    He’s been very clear. He’s here to shake up the media. All his sites are called “Big.” That takes half a dozen domain names and a set of keyboards.

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  19. wr says:

    Janis — Breitbart’s a sociopath. The fact that he has drooling morons following him doesn’t make him any more than what he is. Jim Jones had followers, too.

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  20. wr says:

    Zels — I have no idea if Nazis were sincere or not. They were before my time, and any relatives I might have had in their general vicinity were gassed to death, and therefore not privy to their innermost thoughts. But that, of course, has nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Plunk was happily accusing some leftie opinion writers of conspiracy for conjecturing about calling Shawn Hannity a racist, and said it was clearly criminal since they knew they were lying. I merely pointed out that they probably sincerely believed that about Hannity, so there was no need to warm up the cells. I didn’t mention they believed this with good reason; we can save that for another fun conversation.

    You may feel free, by the way, to interpret my complete lack of interest in Beck as hatred, and attribute it to his glorious truth-telling rather than his skill at shaking the shekels out of the rubes. Frankly, I think he’s doing the world a service. Every dollar he takes off one of his loser minions means fewer bullets for shooting up the synagogue or the Federal building or the old folks home when said listener finally cracks, as happened in Oakland yesterday.

    But I simply don’t understand why you keep calling me WT. My final initial is the same as yours — at least the same as in your online name. We clearly don’t share a lot. For instance, I pay taxes, and you suck off the government teat. But as Americans, can’t we share that R?

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  21. Janis Gore says:

    Call him what you want to. That won’t change his behavior. So what do you do? How do you prosecute someone who has published an “unknowingly” edited tape? That’s a real question.

    Do you think that your scorn or shame is going to make a difference? Good luck.

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  22. mpw280 says:

    If journolist were manipulating markets would you all be as ignorant of its outcome? If a group of right of center journolisters controlled as much print space as these supposed journalists did would the lefties shrug it off or call for censorship, oh wait, they already did call for censorship of Fox. Journalist used to mean reporting the FACTS, that is all now horse shit, anything you read should be considered skewed and mainly to the left as those that write for a living in papers and for tv seem to be of the way left bend. The fact that Fox refuses to follow the rest of the blinded herd and therefore draws its criticism just further reinforces the point that those in the mainstream are lost in their leftward current and don’t see the falls ahead of them.

    As to Breitbart, did he or did he not show that racism is alive and well at NAACP meetings? Laughing when an honoree gets up and says she willingly used her post to disadvantage a person due to his race is about as good as lighting up a cross. The people in the crowd didn’t know what was coming next but they sure as hell agreed with what she just said. That the screwups in the White House and USDA jumped off a cliff because they didn’t bother to get the facts or read the article was just better for Breitbart. Dems are falling all over themselves to project racism onto anyone of the right but hate it when they are shown their own racism, be it southern democrats and the kkk or reverse racism with blacks in power putting down whites.
    mpw

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  23. sookie says:

    >> 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 <<

    How do we know how far it extended? I haven't seen a list of the 400 participants. Have you? How far is very far?

    Maybe it didn't include their top tier talent. Maybe their producers or aides were there to pass on the word.

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  24. sookie says:

    >> 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 <<

    How do we know how far it extended? I haven't seen a list of the 400 participants. Have you? How far is very far?

    Maybe it didn't include their top tier talent. Maybe their producers or aides were there to pass on the word.

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  25. André Kenji says:

    In fact, the closure was geographical. All these guys have friends on the other side of the ideological aisle – even Chris Hayes, aparently a hack for most people, showed Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner as his friend in MSNBC some weeks ago. Megan McArddle is a friend of all those liberals on Ezra Klein´s circle.

    They only happens to live in Washington DC. The point is that all those guys- liberals, libertarians and conservatives – sees the world with an Beltway eye.

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  26. Mithras says:

    How do you prosecute someone who has published an “unknowingly” edited tape? That’s a real question.

    First, proving defamation doesn’t require knowledge that you knew what you said was false, only that you either knew or were reckless with regard to the truth, so even if you take the assertion that he didn’t know at true, he’s not necessarily off the hook.. Secondly, what Breitbart knew or should have known is a question of fact that can be answered through litigation. It’s called “discovery”. Witnesses are deposed. Correspondence is turned over. A judge determines if the evidence meets the basic threshold for proceeding to trial. If so, then a jury determines what evidence is credible and whether it meets the burden of proof.

    Short answer: Mere opinion, like “I think she’s a racist”, is not actionable. False or misleading statements of fact, like “she admits she discriminates against white people”, is.

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  27. mannning says:

    So Klein terminated the list? Does anyone believe that his action is sufficient to disturb the group or put them off? Don’t you believe that most of the members have a working list of their own to go by? Perhaps a copy of Klein’s, plus additions each one thinks simpatico? It appears to me that this action has driven the cabel further underground, but hasn’t really affected anything else. What has done something is the publication of names and pictures of the so-far identified members over at American Thinker by Lifson. That just might help a bit.

    We hate cabels and conspiracy theories so much that when one surfaces everyone races to publish an apologia and denial. This is one crowd that needs continual watching and reporting upon, because they are some of the running dogs of a leftist ideology that must be stopped. Their works must be digested with their allegience in mind wherever they appear. This would tend to devalue them in the eyes of their runners, which would be a good thing.

    So it is good that we have their names, pictures and afiliations readily available to look up when we encounter a signed piece from them. I hope someone will keep the list up to date.

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  28. Mithras says:

    This is one crowd that needs continual watching and reporting upon, because they are some of the running dogs of a leftist ideology that must be stopped.

    Ezra Klein will be the first against the wall when the next American Revolution comes! Death to the capitalism-with-a-human-face lackeys!

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