Finding the Journolist archive

By Felix Salmon
June 29, 2010
Andrew Breitbart up on his offer to buy the Journolist archives for $100,000. Juli Weiner writes:

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There are non-trivial technical problems which would need to be overcome were anybody tempted to take Andrew Breitbart up on his offer to buy the Journolist archives for $100,000. Juli Weiner writes:

The one kink in Breitbart’s plan is that we now live in a post-6/25 world, and JournoList is no longer a functioning entity. To access the archive, members would had to have chosen a Google Groups setting that forwards discussions to their inboxes. JournoListees would also have to now be willing to relinquish control of their e-mail accounts to Andrew Breitbart, which, ew.

In fact, it’s harder than that. I think that most Journolist members had discussions forwarded to their inboxes — it was the only practicable way of keeping on top of conversations. But the only conversations they would have received were the ones which took place after they joined. Journolist didn’t spring fully formed out of Ezra Klein’s contact list with 400 members: it grew organically over time. And once you were a member, you had access to the complete archives. But those archives have now been taken down, as Weiner notes.

So in order to give the full archive to Breitbart, one of two things I think would have to be the case. Either you would have to be in the small group of founding members, who have received all of the emails since inception. Or else, while Journolist was still up, you would have to have somehow mirrored or copied the entire archives onto your own hard drive.

I don’t know how easy or difficult that would have been, but I’m quite sure that it’s beyond the technical ability of most of Journolist’s membership. It does however look as though Ezra Klein killed Journolist just in time: if it was still up today, I’m sure Breitbart would be publishing detailed instructions on how to generate a full archive from a Google Group. For the time being, though, I hold out hope that Breitbart’s fishing expedition will come up empty. Although it seems that one of Journolist’s members was malevolent enough to leak Dave Weigel’s emails, there’s also a very good chance that wasn’t smart enough to store a full local archive of the group’s history.

Update: Dsquared adds in the comments that Breitbart can’t credibly promise to keep the leaker’s identity secret:

Offering to pay $100k for someone else’s private email is not protected journalism even in the USA, as far as I’m aware, and there was at least one EU citizen on that list who might be tempted to assert his Article 8 right to privacy (cf: the News of the World phone-hacking scam). This would be the stupidest thing Breitbart or anyone else could do, given that a) $100k doesn’t necessarily go all that far in the English courts and b) the identity of the person who leaked it (and the person who leaked Weigel’s original email) would certainly come out during discovery. Breitbart really needs to get a new lawyer if he thinks he’s able to make that guarantee of “protection” to someone selling an archive of other peoples’ mail for a hundred grand.

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11 comments so far

I don’t think mirroring an archive is a very difficult task on google groups. Almost any member could have pulled a fairly complete list of emails and saved it. A technically similar leak occurred on a private mailing list of wikipedia editors. The editors had been using the list to coordinate “edit warring” on Eastern European articles and a member leaked the full contents of the list to Wikipedia’s “Arbitration Committee” (which, despite the name is basically the high court of wikipedia). A long case ensued (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia: EEML) , using the contents of the mailing list (which was uploaded to Wikileaks here: http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Wikipediametri c_mailinglist:_alleged_cabal_tactics_and _stalking_of_editors,_2009).

It doesn’t actually have to be telling that Brietbart didn’t want the contents of the list until it was shown that media organizations were spineless enough to fire “liberals” over its content–even the most casual observer could surmise that Brietbart is up to no good. “This is why we can’t have nice things” updated for the 21st century.

Posted by Adam_Hyland | Report as abusive

“nice things” = the ability to privately coordinate spin on news stories in order to help Democrats. The privacy lets us continue to try to maintain the illusion of impartiality.

LOL!

Posted by anita123 | Report as abusive

Come on, anita. Until such time as the stoolpigeon(s) behind it be unmasked, your suggestion that Democrats benefit from spin on this story has the (surely) unintended effect of maintaining an illusion all of its own, namely that there really is a two-party system worth arguing about.

The fact of right-wing radicals being garish circus clowns in no way exonerates pwogwessive mimes of the mens rea involved in trying to out-clown them and still hog the middle of the road. That’s a losing battle of the first order, also a major distraction from other things.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

Sounds like an easy way for Ezra to make $100 k though….

Posted by TimWorstall | Report as abusive

Sounds like an easy way for someone to get themselves in a hell of a lot of legal trouble. Offering to pay $100k for someone else’s private email is not protected journalism even in the USA, as far as I’m aware, and there was at least one EU citizen on that list who might be tempted to assert his Article 8 right to privacy (cf: the News of the World phone-hacking scam). This would be the stupidest thing Breitbart or anyone else could do, given that a) $100k doesn’t necessarily go all that far in the English courts and b) the identity of the person who leaked it (and the person who leaked Weigel’s original email) would certainly come out during discovery. Breitbart really needs to get a new lawyer if he thinks he’s able to make that guarantee of “protection” to someone selling an archive of other peoples’ mail for a hundred grand.

Posted by dsquared | Report as abusive

I don’t think Breitbart is going to get the full archive – I’d be awfully surprised if any member of JournoList was interested in cooperating with him, whatever the promised rewards.

But neither do I think that we’ve heard the last of JournoList. It’s not clear who had it in for Weigel, or why, but it’s not hard to imagine other members of the mailing list finding themselves in similar trouble. I strongly suspect the underlying motivation was a sense of hypocrisy – most likely a leftist annoyed that Weigel appeared friendly to conservatives in print while bad-mouthing leading figures in private, or a right-leaning member (and there were a few) ticked that Weigel was covering the conservative beat while writing such e-mails. And I’d be willing to wager that, sooner or later, some other member of the JournoList will incur the suspicion or professional jealousies of one of his peers. Someone will dig up an old e-mail appearing to reveal hypocrisy, and deliberately leak it. I can’t believe that Dave Weigel was the only intemperate member of the list, and so fireworks will again ensue. Indeed, it may well be worse next time. At least Weigel, as a reporter-blogger, was expected to have some personal views. Imagine the firestorm if a straight-up reporter is revealed to have expressed personal contempt for or animosity toward his sources, or to persons that he has covered.

So no, we’re not going to see all 400 members embarrassed. But the list will hang over the heads of a more limited number, a veritable Damocles’ Sword. And even if none of its messages are ever again leaked – and I find that improbable – it will nevertheless have a corrosive effect. Members know what they wrote. They know what can one day be used against them. And that knowledge is likely to constrain their future writing, perhaps push them to preemptively make recompense or to demonstrate their actual objectivity by flattering those whom they insulted, and otherwise warp their journalistic judgment.

Ezra Klein was naive to think such a discussion could ever remain private, and those participants who were unwise enough to voice opinions over the list that they would not have otherwise expressed in public were similarly unwise. The damage they did to the public trust and to their own careers is only now starting to become clear.

Posted by Cynic | Report as abusive

If I were a member, I would ask for $250,000 and stipulate that the money had to be donated, publicly, to Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

Posted by bigdaddyva | Report as abusive

Presuming there were implied consent to have ones email address bought or sold by any old flabby popinjay may not be the most lurid aspect of Breitbart’s prostitute mentality, corporatist sycophancy and outright scorn for the First Amendment.

But until outdone by axe-murdering cannibals making internet offers to acquire the fat boy’s whereabouts with a view to deep-frying his sweaty cadaver, as an illustration of his venality it may have to suffice.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

“I don’t know how easy or difficult that would have been, but I’m quite sure that it’s beyond the technical ability of most of Journolist’s membership.”

If that is really the case, it’s better evidence than ever before that we need a better press corps, including a press corps that has even the most basic of technology skills.

As evidence that it’s not the case, I give you

http://elenasinbox.com/

which is a reconstruction of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s inbox, pieced together from archival records. Compared to that, downloading your own email is as easy as it gets.

Posted by edwardvielmetti | Report as abusive

“I hold out hope that Breitbart’s fishing expedition will come up empty” why?

do you have something to hide?

was journolist really ever about anyOTHER then coordinating the democrats narrative?

Posted by wjamyers | Report as abusive

“If I were a member, I would ask for $250,000 and stipulate that the money had to be donated, publicly, to Planned Parenthood and NARAL.” – Do you really think that it could be better to ask for this big amount of money?
pdf viewer

Posted by hazelgranger | Report as abusive
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