Bettering Ezra's List

As Peter notes, Ezra Klein’s strangely controversial JournoList is “actually pretty normal, and probably raises the quality of blogging and writing for all involved.” I’d hasten to add, however, that were I assembling an e-mail list, I’d want to include some fair-minded people who don’t share my ideology, so that I could benefit from their perspective too — the criticism of JournoList stems in part from the intuition that were it a purely journalistic project, it wouldn’t be liberals only.

I don’t think objectivity is necessarily compromised when a writer for an ideologically unaligned publication associates with activists or ideologically aligned journalists (so long as those aren’t their only associations). Were I to get a job at the New York Times tomorrow, I’d certainly continue to attend panel discussions at America’s Future Foundation, read the work done by folks at The Claremont Institute and the Manhattan Institute, get together for drinks with my former colleagues Peter Suderman, James Poulos, and Jillian Bandes, and otherwise benefit from the company and ideas of people on the right.

The best way to assess the objectivity of my work would remain the single factor that is always relevant when rendering such judgments: the substance of the work itself. That is how I intend to judge work by liberal journalists who purport to produce objective journalism, whether or not they participate in Ezra’s organization.

Still, look at Reihan’s post:

The idea of a safe space in which you can be confident that your words won’t be manipulated by “the other side” for partisan advantage is straightforwardly attractive. And yet that raises the question of how to set the boundaries. As a minor-league policy wonk, I find the idea of taking part in off-the-record conversations with eminent historians, economists, and reporters very attractive — yet I was told early on that I wasn’t eligible, for the excellent and obvious reason that my sympathies aren’t generally on the left. Though I could agree to the off-the-recordness of the JList, I’d inevitably discuss its contents with conservative friends and collaborators, like The Atlantic’s own Ross Douthat.

Reihan is a exceptionally smart, intellectually generous, and someone who can be trusted to keep his word. Were he admitted to JournoList, I am certain he’d contribute insights and smart critiques that benefited those trying to think through ideas. And were Reihan to co-write a piece with Ross Douthat weeks later, informed by ideas he encountered on JournoList, I fail to see what harm it would do to anyone save the kind of partisan who wants “the other side” to be represented by its worst rather than its best ideas. That doesn’t describe Ezra and the few others who I know to be JournoList members, though I am ignorant as to the bulk of its membership. I’ll nevertheless offer them a word of advice: if Reihan Salam is ever willing to give an off-the-record critique of your ideas before you publish them, you’d do well to take him up on the offer.