I started blogging in 2002 out of frustration with the shallowness, sloppiness, and bias coming out of what’s loosely called “news media” in this country. Although professional standards had been slipping for some time, coverage of the 2000 election made me fully realize the clowns were running the circus, as it were. By 2002 I had figured out how to use technology to publish a web page, and I decided it was time to stop mumbling to myself and start communicating.*
Now, the clowns are having to reckon with us bloggers.
If you haven’t been following the recent snarking between theWashington Post ombudsperson, Deborah Howell, and the liberal blogosphere — in a nutshell, Howell wrote in one of her columns that Jack Abramoff had given tainted money to Democrats as well as Republicans, which is not true. When that bit of sloppiness raised a firestorm of irate mail, she “corrected” herself — “I should have said he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.”
What can one say, but — aaaargh.
No. What you should have said was that although Abramoff’s victims, the Indian tribes, gave money to Democrats it was much less than they did before Abramoff appeared on the scene and there is no indication that there was anything quid-pro-quo about it. Unlike the Republicans, who are up to their eyeballs in shit over this. To say anything else provides improper context and implies that legitimate contributions and illegal influence peddling are one, which they most certainly are not.
See also “Abramoff Clients Shifted Money to GOP” by Scott Shields at MyDD.
Anyway, discussion on the WaPo blog became so heated that comments were shut off because, said executive editor Jim Brady, too many comments contained profanity and other hate speech. (This started some crowing on the Right Blogosphere because, you know, righties never engage in profanity and hate speech. Cough.) Further, the nasty comments were being posted too quickly for WaPo staffers to read and delete them. So comments had to be turned off.**
Jukeboxgrad of Daily Kos posted analysis that shows this claim was bullshit. Among other things, Jukeboxgrad retrieved deleted messages that contained no profanity or personal attacks. He also explains why it wouldn’t have been difficult, much less impossible, for a WaPo staffer to “keep up” with messages as they were posted.
Thursday (I believe) there was an actual close encounter between Howell and bloggers at a National Press Club luncheon, which you can read about here on the Blogometer. “To summarize both sides’ point of view,” writes William Beutler, “the bloggers in attendance implored the press to ‘do your job’ while the establishment journalists argued that their mistakes did not warrant the harsh response.”
Except that their “mistakes” are hurting America, as Jon Stewart said. And it’s not just one mistake. It’s all the “mistakes,” the sloppiness, the pulling back from plain truth about the Right because of some skewed idea of “balance”; reporters obviously writing from GOP handouts (you can tell by the “framing”); reporters who plainly take dictation from White House officials; covering election campaigns like a horse race in lieu of providing meaningful information about the candidates; and giving George W. Bush’s serial bleep-ups one pass after another (except for Katrina; I guess even the blow-dried brigades can’t ignore dead bodies).
I’ve worked in print media for many years, and it’s a fact that everybody gets something wrong now and then, and mistakes will be made even by the careful. But we’re talking about a pattern here. And we’re sick of it.
You can take any political story that’s more complicated than man-bites-dog, and you’ll find that completely accurate, objective reporting is the exception rather than the rule. I don’t believe any single cable news reporter has ever gotten the Plamegate saga right, for example, and the print reporters aren’t much better. Some of them are, in fact, worse.
When I was in Wales and England last summer, I met a few natives who were baffled why Americans had chosen (as if) George W. Bush to be our leader. “You do know he’s an idiot?” one lady, gently, asked. There was anxiety in her voice, as if she thought mention of Bush’s name might cause us Yanks to transform from rational beings into beasts with claws and snouts that would dig up her garden.
Well, yes, we said. Lots of Americans realize that. But it’s … complicated. But it isn’t, really. The biggest reason we’ve got a pack of hard right extremists in charge of our government is that the American people aren’t being told the truth about them. And the Right has gotten wonderfully good at using media to scare the stuffing out of enough people to keep them in line.
In the words of the soc-psych study I cited here, Americans are being exposed “to a wide-ranging multidimensional mortality salience induction.” And the “MSM” is complicit.
But let’s go back to Deborah Howell. Jane Hamsher writes,
Matt Stoller and John Aravosis had a Deborah Howell encounter yesterday at the Washington Press Club. The Hotline Blogometer recounts the affair where after an hour and a half of listening to Howell and others describe her experience like she was the sole survivor of the Bismark, Matt Stoller grabbed the microphone and said “The antagonism here is coming from you guys….Nothing happened to you!” Aravosis says Stoller went on for a bit more — “You’re fine…it’s not like you were hit by a car…you’re sitting here, eating a nice meal” or words to that effect.
Atrios points out that the pros aren’t accustomed to anything like the instant feedback of the Blogosophere. “Boo hoo. People were mean. Welcome to my world.”
In other MSM v. bloggers news, NBC smeared Arianna Huffington because of Huffington’s criticisms of Tim Russert (like this). I say Russert is one of the most overrated hacks on television. (There are worse hacks, but Russert has a “rep” for being a real journalist and tough interviewer, which he is not.) “Personality” journalists in particular have been able to operate in their own protective bubble for far too long; they desperately need the kind of critical razzing the Blogosphere can provide. It would do them good; force them to work harder to get their facts right and to think about what they are presenting to news consumers. If the lords and ladies of the press stop getting the vapors for being criticized, maybe we can learn to work together to everyone’s benefit.
But, bottom line — this is why I blog. To get the facts straight and to get the truth out. If the “MSM” ever straightens itself up and does its job properly, I will retire.
(Click “more” for footnotes.)
*Unfortunately, the first 13 months of The Mahablog were destroyed by the original host, Lycos Tripod, without notification to me, because someone had complained about the content. Archives beginning in August 2003 can be found here. Some earlier content is preserved on separate pages in the “oldsite” archive.
**Full disclosure: Long-time Mahabog readers may remember that I turned off comments once, when I was being subjected to a hateswarm directed here from little green footballs. At that time I didn’t have a way to filter comments before they were published, and I honestly couldn’t keep up with the vile, disgusting posts the sweet little lgf’ers were leaving. More recently I’ve had to turn on a “moderate before posting” function during times of unusually high traffic from rightie sites, and now I use keyword filters to catch at least some rightie posts before they are made public.
I thought it over and decided to exercise editorial control over comments and delete those that are purely hateful (which takes in 90 percent of the comments righties leave) as well as those that contain falsehoods I don’t have the time or energy to correct (I don’t want to enable negative karma by misinforming people) and comments from people who demand I explain something that I’ve already written about at length. This irritates the hell out of me; I’m not a performing seal. If you want to know what I think, use the search function.