Liberal Bloggers Doing Obama’s Bidding, Charges Confused Journalist

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2013 Getty Images

The Obama administration, like previous administrations, holds frequent briefing sessions with straight news reporters and opinion journalists, both conservative and liberal. (I don’t recall the Bush administration ever inviting liberal opinion journalists to briefings, but I may be mistaken.) There are some liberal opinion journalists, most of whom generally agree with Obama’s policies.

It’s interesting to try to disentangle the competing strands of liberal ideology (which is a perfectly valid function of opinion journalism) and Democratic partisanship (which, at the very least, is not the same thing), and whether White House access can corrupt or influence their incentives. A National Journal story by James Oliphant, headlined “Progressive Bloggers Are Doing the White House’s Job,” horribly botches the topic by blurring everything together. Hence, Dave Weigel is cited as a prime example of the administration using liberal bloggers as a partisan message vehicle despite the fact that Weigel has not attended such briefings and frequently takes unfriendly stances toward Obama. Likewise, Ezra Klein is cited as both an example of a partisan water-carrier and an independent, truth-to-power-speaker in the same story. It’s a total, incoherent mess.

The way to make any sense of it, I think, is an expression of a certain kind of centrist worldview currently embodied in its most flamboyant form by Oliphant’s colleague, Ron Fournier. The foundation of the Fournier epistemology is the premise that the truth lies somewhere between the positions of the two major American political parties at any given moment. Deviations from that truth can be explained by partisanship or ideology, which Fournier regards as more or less the same thing. In Fournier’s mind, since any expression of non-partisanship is by definition true, any attack on such a claim is by definition partisan, and therefore false. You could see the gears turning in Fournier’s brain as he fiercely defended the story on Twitter, processing every argument against the story as “moderation is bad, partisanship is good”:

And that’s the thing — Fournier isn’t engaging in a straw-man tactic here. He is providing an honest rendering of his own interpretation. “Dude is a stupid mean moderate” is genuinely the only idea he is able to take away from the criticism.