For decades the right has used the term "media bias" as shorthand for the way journalists tend to slant to the left -- but in recent years many on the left have taken up the term to account for what is, to them, the inexplicable durability of conservative ideas.
The latest revelation from the database of private e-mails circulated among the left-liberals of JournoList should end once and for all the preposterous fantasy that right-wing forces have great sway over the way the mainstream media do business. They show how these writers, thinkers and activists managed to help prevent the potential 2008 media inferno over Barack Obama's history with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Until disbanding last month, JournoList was an Internet ingathering of several hundred left-of-center intellectuals. The Web site Daily Caller yesterday published a series of JournoList e-mails dating back to the 2008 campaign and Obama's relationship with Wright, his spiritual leader for two decades.
The exposure during the primary season of Wright's disgusting words -- blaming the United States for 9/11; accusing the US government of creating the AIDS virus; declaring "God damn America" -- raised questions about the silent acceptance of Wright's opinions by his most famous congregant.
It was always easy to imagine how the Wright matter could have brought down the Obama candidacy. Candidates have been stymied by far less when the media pressure became relentless -- lead stories day after day on the evening newscasts; dozens of investigative reporters assigned to expose every word and action of the questionable associate; the pounding and hammering of press secretaries and endorsers and others not by political rivals but by prestigious news outlets.
That didn't happen, not really, in this case -- because the media covering Obama were uncomfortable playing that adversary role with him. And in part that was surely due to the efforts made by the JournoListers.
After both George Stephanopoulos (hardly a conservative icon) and Charles Gibson of ABC asked Obama about Wright in an April 16, 2008 debate, JournoListers collaborated on an open letter attacking them -- their crime apparently being in part that Stephanopoulos dared ask Obama whether Wright "loves America as much as you do." (Stephanopolous was, said one charming JournoLister, "a disgusting little rat snake.")
The letter -- whose genesis is well covered in the Daily Caller story -- declared that two ABC men had engaged in "a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world."
The accusation that asking Obama about his association with Wright was nothing more than "tabloid journalism" was intended to strike directly at the deep desire of newspaper and TV reporters and editors to be high-minded and elevated.
The issue wasn't Obama's chances against Hillary Clinton; by this point he had all but won the Democratic race. It was whether Wright was going to bedevil Obama's bid against the Republicans in November. As the columnist Michael Tomasky e-mailed: "We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time. Otherwise the questions in October will be exactly like this."
Although there's no way to prove it directly, it worked. The uneasiness with which the mainstream media approached the Wright story -- given the sensitivities of the racial politics that Obama claimed to be rising above during his bid for the presidency -- increased manifold after the letter.
Challenging Obama on these matters -- not to mention others, like his relationship with his close friend Rashid Khalidi, a one-time spokesman for PLO terrorists in Beirut, and his nonprofit foundation colleague, the domestic terrorist Bill Ayers -- became very nearly the sole province of conservative media outlets.
Indeed, as Election Day approached, The Los Angeles Times sat on a 2003 videotape of Obama praising Khalidi -- with Ayers in attendance -- on the bizarre grounds that the tape was "off the record."
This was nothing more than an electioneering decision. And it was within the Times's right -- just as the JournoListers can say and do whatever they please to get the people they want elected and stand in the way of politicians and thinkers they don't like.
But the game of pretending that the ideologues of the left and the mainstream media aren't on the same team should really be called on account of it just ain't true.