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Michael Tomasky throws chairs for Obama

Michael Tomasky

Tomasky: Free chairs for Obama!

It’s not odd that the Guardian blogger, and its American editor-at-large, Michael Tomasky should have supported Barack Obama’s bid for presidency – one could hardly expected less from our leading left-wing national newspaper.

But it is odd that he seems to have actively campaigned behind the scenes for it.

According to this report, Tomasky was one of a number of US-based journalists reporting on the presidential primaries who, when the Obama boat hit a particularly snaggy rock by the name of Rev Jeremiah Wright, decided it was their duty not so much to report it as to ring-fence it with Diverted Traffic signs and steer away the voters with “Nothing to see here, move along!” commands.

This revelation is all part of the wash-out from the Journolist hoo-hah which has convulsed the Stateside media. In one of those spasms of US media morality which baffles the more openly partisan UK media, postings leaked from the Journolist listserv (a kind of members-only email list) revealed, according to your political bent, either (a) a shadowy cabal of influential lib-left journalists and academic hangers-on trying to shape the media agenda, or (b) a progressive group of influence-makers who were just trying their best to counter the pernicious arguments of those right-wing nutjobs who believe (a).

The immediate victim of the email exposure fallout was Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel, who had been employed by the WaPo specifically to cover the conservative beat but whose true feelings were revealed in his postings to Journolist.

“Listen folks – in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have.”  – Michael Tomasky

Conservatives were, he said, using the media to “violently, angrily divide America,” their motives include “racism” and protecting “white privilege,” and, for some, a nihilistic thirst for power. Of right-wing blogger Matt Drudge: “This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

(There’s more here, if you’re really that interested.)

All good knock-about stuff; robust to the edge of offensive, perhaps, but given the closed audience of a listserv, hardly sackable. After all, any journalist is surely entitled to his own views and whether they are spilled out within the confines of a members-only listserv website, the slightly less confined surroundings of the local pub, or the even less confined (but still clearly sign-posted) field of a blog, that doesn’t matter, does it, as long as they don’t poison the supposedly non-partisan, purely neutral just-the-facts-ma’am columns of his reporting. Particularly if those views and the job he’s paid for – in this case, reporting on the conservative side – happen to clash.

F Scott Fitzgerald once remarked that intelligence was the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one’s head and maintain the ability to function. For a judge, that means hearing two opposing versions of the “truth” and being able to decide impartially on how much weight to give one side or the other.

For the journalist, that means being able to report truthfully and dispassionately the views of someone whom you may, to the central core of your being, disagree with.

Unless you are one of life’s awkward squad, a natural polemicist or some sort of post-modernist freak, I don’t think there would be many MSM journalists who disagree with that. That after all is what journalists traditionally do. That is our craft.

In so far as Weigel managed to confine his own views to Journolist and out of his work for the Post, there’s no problem. From what I’ve seen, quite a few commentators on the right thought his stuff was OK, given that he was writing for a publication which has held a long-time lease on the American left-lib camping ground.

Nevertheless, Weigel resigned, and his good mate Ezra Klein, founder of Journolist, shut it down in the resulting furore, leading many right-wing commentators to say “A-ha! It was (a) all along!”

I suppose the charges of hypocrisy and cynicism could be levelled at Weigel, but there are few journalists, or indeed humans, who could successfully defend themselves against those. And last time I looked, they certainly weren’t sackable offences, or even against the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice.

Also not against the PCC’s Code is journalists actively working for a political party during an election, but not declaring that interest in their reporting. I guess the PCC considers that a matter between journalists and their editors – quite rightly, too.

Tomasky reported on the presidential election throughout the primaries and during the big Lebowski itself, but he never declared that he was actively working for any particular side. Yet clearly he was.

“We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time.” – Michael Tomasky

Did the Guardian know this was what he was up to? Maybe it did, but expects all its political reporters not only to be fully signed-up members of one side or t’other, but to actively work for them during a campaign they are reporting on. Maybe that’s what Guardian readers expect too, without being told.

Maybe the experience of Richard Gott left the Guardian thinking: well, comment is free, but let’s face it, some facts are just too sacred to be given away to the great unwashed. Just let ’em get on with it, and mum’s the word, eh?

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