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Surprise: JournoList Reveals Left Uses Race as a Political Football

Post-racial.

1:18 PM, Jul 20, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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If you ever had any doubt that the left's incessant cries of "racism" have become largely a cynical political ploy designed to marginalize and shut up political opponents, behold the birth of a racism accusation in all its naked glory as discussed on the infamous JournoList.

In 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright had outlived his usefulness to Barack Obama as a political shepherd through the South Side of Chicago and was becoming a serious liability to his presidential aspirations, the JournoList got upset. So, the infamous listserv of 300-400 like-minded liberal activists, policy wonks, and mainstream journalists, created by the Washington Post's Ezra Klein (then at the American Prospect), took action:

The crisis reached a howling pitch in mid-April, 2008, at an ABC News debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. Gibson asked Obama why it had taken him so long – nearly a year since Wright’s remarks became public – to dissociate himself from them. Stephanopoulos asked, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?”

Watching this all at home were members of Journolist, a listserv comprised of several hundred liberal journalists, as well as like-minded professors and activists. The tough questioning from the ABC anchors left many of them outraged. “George [Stephanopoulos],” fumed Richard Kim of the Nation, is “being a disgusting little rat snake.”

Others went further. According to records obtained by The Daily Caller, at several points during the 2008 presidential campaign a group of liberal journalists took radical steps to protect their favored candidate. Employees of news organizations including Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian, Salon and the New Republic participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.

In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

A simple solution to a complex problem. The Democratic candidate for president had cynically declared a hateful but powerful preacher his spiritual leader in order to be annointed in the Chicago neighborhood where he began his political career. When he was called on the association, and its obvious conflict with his message of post-racial unity, he declared that he could "no more disown" Wright than he could the black community or his own grandmother. The speech (later leatherbound and sold like bumper stickers by Obama's campaign), with its soaring prose, sweet anecdotes, credible messenger, and big-picture pleading, led everyone to feel petty for wondering whether a 20-year spiritual relationship might offer some insight into Obama's character. But when Wright launched a media tour trashing Obama himself, the candidate could not countenance it in the same way he countenanced 20 years of America-bashing and race-baiting, so Wright was quickly disowned a month after the "I can no more disown him" speech.

What better to paper over the cynicism and contradictions of the Democrats' candidate than some good, old-fashioned, crude shouts of "racist"? To their credit, several JournoList contributors suggested Ackerman's line of attack was not wise precisely because it contradicted so clearly Obama's message of healing. It was more of a strategic disagreement than a disagreement on the merits of the racism charge, but it's something:

Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, also disagreed with Ackerman’s strategy. “I think it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama is trying (or says he’s trying) to run a campaign that avoids precisely the kind of thing Spencer is talking about, and turning this into a gutter brawl would probably hurt the Obama brand pretty strongly. After all, why vote for him if it turns out he’s not going change the way politics works?”

But it was Ackerman who had the last word. “Kevin, I’m not saying OBAMA should do this. I’m saying WE should do this.”

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