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A Vast Right-Wing Digg Conspiracy Expose Shows JournoList Scandal to Be a Lot of Conservative Hot Air

Take note, right-wing scandalmongers, this is what a politically motivated media conspiracy looks like.
 
 
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Finally, a real media conspiracy! After weeks of right-wing bloviating about the JournoList non-scandal, we finally have evidence of a secretive plot to hijack the media in pursuit of an ideological agenda. But the scandal has nothing to do with JournoList-- a superhyped non-event about liberal journalists emailing each other. Instead, an investigative report written by oleoleolson published on AlterNet Thursday exposed that a cadre of conservatives, including multiple journalists, has been abusing Digg's social media platform to bury stories with a progressive bent.

The Digg conspiracy is as devious as it is simple. Digg is a program that allows people to rate stories on the Internet. If you like a story, you click a button marked "digg." If you don't like it, you click "bury." Stories that get the most diggs and the fewest buries are featured prominently on the Digg.com Web site, scoring millions of clicks from Digg's vast audience. As AlterNet reported yesterday, a group of conservatives calling themselves the "Digg Patriots" have been aggressively voting down progressive stories, gaming the system by creating multiple accounts to cast multiple votes on stories, and adopting a secretive, coordinated effort to silence progressive ideas.

If the facts are as plain as yesterday's report, these Digg shenanigans are a clear-cut right-wing online media conspiracy. Members of the Digg Patriots operated anonymously and did not publicly disclose their coordinated effort to crush progressive stories as part of a broad, conservative ideological agenda.

The conspiracy is not contained to the Digg platform. Several members of the Digg Patriots write for a conservative newspaper called the Examiner that's distributed in many American cities. The group includes blogger Kurt Hoffmann, who embarked on a campaign to ban progressive Digg readers from the site by instigating petty online disputes with them. The reaction across the Internet has been huge-- the investigation has been highlighted on the Huffington Post, Gawker, masher, theAtlantic Monthly, dozens of blogs, the CEO of Twitter Rose, and been the topic of discussion among dozens of Twitter celebrities, including legendary film critic Roger Ebert. (Read more here about how the story went viral)

It's worth contrasting the Digg Patriots' actions to the trumped-up hubbub surrounding Ezra Klein's progressive email group JournoList. If you're not a conservative media enthusiast or a progressive writer, you might have missed the JournoList pseudo-furor. It hasn't picked up much traction in the mainstream media, because it isn't really a scandal, but it has generated a massive amount of scaremongering in the right-wing blogosphere.

Here's what happened: Klein, a Washington Post blogger who previously worked at the progressive magazine the American Prospect, used to run an email list called JournoList. Only journalists with varying degrees of progressive views were allowed to participate—moderates and radicals alike were welcome, but it was a club for progressives, not right-wingers. The Young Republicans at my high school didn't let in liberals, and JournoList didn't let in conservatives.

To reasonable people, this kind of arrangement is called a club, not a scandal. But a few weeks ago, the Daily Caller began publishing emails sent by members of JournoList, attempting (and failing) to show evidence of a vast left-wing plot to pervert the mainstream media. The Daily Caller is a right-wing Web site founded by CNN Crossfire alum Tucker Carlson (the "dick" with the bowtie). Carlson himself has accused JournoList members of being "partisan," but the charge seems a bit bizarre, given that members of the list, like Chris Hayes of the Nation, have been some of President Barack Obama's most cogent critics.

A look at the emails the Daily Caller finds so offensive reveals them to be profoundly innocuous. Former Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel reveals in a set of private emails to his friends that he is not a doctrinaire conservative. Privately expressing his opinions proved to be a sin grave enough to prompt Dave Weigel's firing from the Post.

But the fact that liberals talk to each other is not evidence of a conspiracy. Nor is it evidence of media corruption when writers from the Nation, Mother Jones and the American Prospect, turn out to be—gasp!—liberals.

In conservative circles, however, there's a concerted effort to brand anybody associated with JournoList as some kind of wild radical hellbent on banning all conservative discourse. There's even been a (thus far unsuccessful) effort to expand the phony conspiracy theme beyond JournoList, funded by right-wing con artist Andrew Breitbart. Liberals have hijacked the media! They're crushing rational discourse with secretive left-wing plots! A grand progressive conspiracy threatens democracy itself! Obama's socialist propagandists are rewriting the Chicago Tribune!

They may be a bunch of losers with nothing better to do than sit around voting against articles from The Nation, but the Digg Patriots are still a bona fide group of conspirators. The JournoList camp, by contrast, are not. But the truth isn't stopping some crazy (or simply disingenuous) right-wingers from drumming up smear campaigns against responsible progressive journalists who had the audacity to talk to each other. And in the case of Weigel -- an excellent reporter (and probably one of the least progressive members of JournoList) -- they succeeded in forcing him to find a new job.

To sum up. Digg Patriots: Get a life. Tucker Carlson: Stop being a dick.

Zach Carter is AlterNet's economics editor. He is a fellow at Campaign for America's Future, writes a weekly blog on the economy for the Media Consortium and is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine.