Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Brad DeLong objects to the hed--"Inside the echo chamber"--on Michael Calderone's piece discussing the underknown leftish email cabal organized by Ezra Klein:
It's not an echo chamber. I have never seen a less echo chamber-like space in my life. The headline is simply wrong.
Fair enough. But I think the headline-writers' worry was that an "echo chamber" is what the outside world tends to get from members of JournoList once they've vigorously hashed out their disagreements in secret. "Inside the Echo Factory" would be a headline more accurately reflecting that concern. It's noisy in a factory but the product is often standardized.
Is the fear of groupthink justified? I can think of one example that could be checked out (though it's hard to do that without knowing who is in the secretive group and who isn't) -- namely, the the treatment of the New Republic 's "Baghdad Diarist" controversy . I'm told that at least one TNR editor defended the magazine to others on the list--'don't worry, it will turn out OK, only a couple of mistakes,' etc. Did this have the effect of preventing some members of the list from criticizing the magazine until much later--when TNR editors themselves finally gave up and cut the "Diarist" loose ? I wouldn't be surprised if it did. The same might well go for John Edwards and his cheating scandal. A back-channel, under-radar group--especially one in which you can argue off the record--is good for keeping troops in line.
There's a second, less uncertain, concern (aside from my primary beef, which is that they didn't invite me). Blogger Doxophilic writes :
You are supposed to brainstorm, deliberate, revise and improve. This goes for anyone who writes with the purpose of persuasion or education, including journalists.
That's true. But I always thought one of the big ideas of the Web was that, to the maximum extent possible, these deliberations and revisions and improvements could now take place in public, where everyone could follow along and maybe contribute. Doxophiliac argues that people should be able to "backtrack if someone makes a good argument in response"--but you can "backtrack" in public too. It's been done. Even by Joe Klein!
We non-elite writers learn something just from watching the sausage get made. One thing we learn is it's just sausage. Ezra Klein has taken a lot of what could be highly informative back and forth on the World Wide Web and privatized it, much as rich people in gated communities reclaim green space from the public sphere and wall it off behind guards and fences. It's not an egalitarian or democratic impulse.
P.S.: Here's DeLong's preferred description of JournoList:
[I]t is the people whom Ezra thinks are smart enough, committed enough to discussion and learning and education, and good-hearted enough to be worth emailing regularly --and the rest of us free-ride on the virtual space that is Ezra's network. [E.A.]
False modesty? Check. Suck up to the organizer? Check. Underlying, self-satisfied exclusionary impulse? Check. ... 6:39 P.M.