Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Blogging, Media — Rick Moran @ 10:17 am

I will take a back seat to no one in my efforts to expose what I see as bias on the part of the mainstream press when they report on a host of issues. A simple search of this site will show that I have devoted hundreds of posts to this subject and given much time and attention to destroying faulty logic, knocking down strawmen, and generally giving our MSM brethren a hard time.

But the way so many bloggers jumped on the Jill Carroll story this past weekend - both right and left - has compelled me to examine many of my own assumptions about how we in the blogosphere treat the press and how unless things change there is the real possibility that in bringing down the media, we may be destroying ourselves as well.

First of all, I am not a journalist. I do not want to be considered a journalist. I do not want to become a journalist. With two brothers who are making a living as journalists, I have a great deal of respect for the craft as it is practiced by those who take journalism seriously and who live by its codes and precepts. But for me, I am a scribbler, a polemicist, a rabble rouser, a 52 year old grossly opinionated fat man with a loud mouth and sharp pen. Sam Adams is my hero. Tom Paine is my role model.

Clearly, you will not find a journalist anywhere in that description. A journalist - even one who publishes their opinions on a regular basis - takes extraordinary care to make sure all the facts contained in a story are accurate and true, employs a writing style that is as clear and concise as possible with little hyperbole and less emotion, and crafts a finished product that adheres to the standards of the publication he is writing for.

That lets me and most bloggers out. By and large, most bloggers write for themselves or at least, write about what interests them. With few exceptions, most bloggers are verbose, rambling hither and thithter, sometimes hitting their intended target and sometimes trailing off into the ether with no salient points made and little meaning or context in their post. Any MSM editor looking at the average blog post - mine included - would shudder. For this reason (among others) reporters and columnists with a few notable exceptions, look down their noses at blogs and bloggers while decrying the attacks of these anklebiters who have the temerity to brag about how they will someday replace them.

This is becoming less and less likely as blogs mature. Not because there aren’t bloggers who are conscientious about getting their facts right or because there is a dearth of talented people in the blogosphere but rather because the nature of journalism and the nature of blogging are diverging. Both are changing at a rapid pace. And while there will always be a symbiotic relationship between the two, rather than merging as many prophets of the New Media have been promising, they are both evolving to reflect the realities of commerce - something perhaps unforeseen as recently as a year ago.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for people like Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis who have been proselytizing how “citizen journalists” of the New Media will crash the gates where content is disseminated in dribs and drabs and open the floodgates of information that will revolutionize the way news is received and digested. Their thesis - that content will no longer be king but rather sharing information in a linked community of like minded individuals will be where the center of gravity settles when the dust of the new media revolution clears - is based on good analysis and solid logic. It may even come to pass.

But that revolution will have to be seen separately from the issue of what is to become of what we now call blogging. I mentioned in a previous post that the national pastime of blogs had become “scalp hunting.” This relentless pursuit of people in politically motivated witch hunts is only a symptom of what has gone terribly wrong in the blogosphere: At bottom, it is no longer a question of blogs being crusaders for truth, justice, and the American way but rather a race to see whose ox can be gored next. The importance of finishing first in that race is that the rewards can be very enticing; readership and links. In some cases - and the Carroll case is illustrative - the wilder the charges and more radical the language used, the more attention one is afforded by the amorphous mass of bloggers and readers of blogs who will soon be the determining factor in what promises to be vast amounts of money flowing into Blogland.

I can hear my detractors now. “But I don’t blog for the money, I blog because it gives me personal satisfaction.” I believe you and wish you well. Now please get out of the way while the other 80% of us who harbor delusions of grandeur about making a living blogging continue to run the race to the bottom over your prostrate hides.

As a practical matter, what this means is that the kind of character assassination we’ve seen recently is only going to get worse. That’s because the amount of money pouring into the blogosphere is only going to go up for the foreseeable future. It should be interesting to see to what lengths people will go to get a piece of that action.

Face it. Even if “only” 9-10 million people ever read blogs on a regular basis, that is 9-10 million people gathering basically in one place. Advertisers are not stupid. Those kinds of numbers attract people trying to sell something as bees to butter. And despite the improbability of more than a couple of dozen bloggers ever striking paydirt with their on-line efforts, many thousands will enter the fray and try their luck at reaching for the brass ring just the same.

Consider if you will the desire to become a professional athlete. The chances of any one high school player making it to the pros is extraordinarily low. Only 1 in 736 high school players today (0.14%) will eventually make it to the professional level in sports. And yet, 80% of American high school athletes think they can make it to that level. Ask many of those young people and they will say they play for “love of the game” first. But dollar signs are always in the back of their minds.

Which brings us back to journalists. Journalists are paid to write stories about the day’s events or offer analysis and opinion which will attract readership thus attracting those who wish to sell something to the already gathered eyeballs. In short, journalists are not paid to necessarily attract readers as much as they are supposed to contribute to the overall accuracy of what is being reported and the honesty of opinion offered thus upholding the integrity (or “brand”) of the publication.

The key word is integrity. And sadly, as I see it, many bloggers simply don’t have it, don’t want it, and refuse to consider it. The Blogospheric Model says that these people will lose in the long run because people will stop reading them. Oh really? Since I refuse to link to her, you will have to guess who I mean when I say one particular blogger’s stats skyrocketed after she not only refused to apologize for smearing Jill Carroll but had the gall to ask everyone else to apologize to her. This blogger suffers no consequences. And since this is not the first time this particular person has transgressed against decency and integrity in this fashion, and the fact that her blog continues to grow, it would seem to give the lie to the Blogospheric Model that everyone confidently predicted would be the “self correcting” mechanism that would make the blogosphere superior to the mainstream media.

I don’t buy it anymore. The blogger mentioned above is not the only individual with integrity issues in Blogland. The question is if the self-correcting model was worth anything, why are they still writing and attracting readers and links?

One might also consider that a mainstream press reporter making a similar error in judgement would have been fired and would have a hard time getting similar employment in the future. Does this mean that the mainstream press is still superior to blogs in this regard? Until I see some evidence to the contrary, I would have to say yes.

Of course the press has their own problems with bias and opinion masquerading as analysis and fact. How much of this is driven by a desire to adhere to a particular agenda and how much is sheer laziness is debatable. I would say that there is ample evidence that bias at the New York Times is driven by an anti-Republican, anti-Bush agenda to the detriment of news gathering and reporting. Is it a conscious manifestation of bias or an indication that the corporate culture at the Times is corrupt? It doesn’t matter because the effect is the same.

The taking down of Ben Domenech would not have occurred a decade ago. The way blogs jumped down the throat of Jill Carroll would probably not have occurred two years ago.

Anyone want to place any bets on what Blogland will look like this time next year?


  1. Nope. No bets to be placed here!

    Comment by Ogre — 4/3/2006 @ 11:00 am

  2. Rick,

    Well said. I have enjoyed the contracting perspective found on Blogs. Unfortunately the lack of training and accountability leaves many statements or arguments suspect. The very fact that KOS and the like are around is evidence enough. With that though, the conservative groups are not without stain. Nevertheless, the benefit of a contrasting voice to the MSM is without measure.

    Comment by David — 4/3/2006 @ 11:04 am

  3. Perhaps a superblog, devoted to listing errors and foundationless assertions, could post falsehood rates (x falsehoods per thousand words), in blogs and MSM outlets. Most people only ever read things agreeing with their exisiting notions, of course, but for those (of any political stripe) who are interested in facts, this might be a service. It would quite an undertaking.

    Comment by tyk — 4/3/2006 @ 12:17 pm

  4. You make a number of interesting and important posts. I’m glad to see a blogger who has a realistic view of the blogosphere. The overly enthusiastic assessment of the importance of the blogosphere and its threat to the msm which some bloggers make reminds me of the way Linux fans make wild claims about its superiority to Windows. It’s just not grounded in reality.

    Comment by Dave — 4/3/2006 @ 1:08 pm

  5. See my comment above on the Carroll thing. I retract nothing. I evaluated Carroll from her actions rather than from her words. Words can be edited to suit the requirement of the moment, acts are engraved in time. No apologies from me. Throw Carroll back.

    Comment by Walter E. Wallis — 4/3/2006 @ 1:36 pm

  6. Rick,

    I largely agree with all this, but I think you wrote a great deal here to make a very simple and not original point. That we humans are flawed creations has been known for a long time and neither MSM reporters and editors, nor bloggers are an exception.

    The difference between the MSM and the blogosphere that matters isn’t that the people are better (obviously not), but the openness of blogs. Yes, that allows fools and cranks to have their say, but it also avoids the groupthink that pervades the MSM.

    Nothing is free or without drawbacks. The blogosphere enables the whole village to have their say, not just the privileged few. The cost of that, the downside, is that the village idiot also gets a turn.

    Comment by Hawkeye — 4/3/2006 @ 2:27 pm

  7. I have learned, for the most part LOL, to withold judgement on most news events for a few days. I was guilty of joining the bandwagon and then being proven wrong a few days after. Not anymore. It pays to really think, consider, get different views, before writing about things. (Actually Rick, you were a role model for me. )

    Comment by Raven — 4/3/2006 @ 3:49 pm

  8. One point you and most others miss is that the MSM and blogs are driven by those who read and watch them. We live in an age where people crave controversy, conspiracy, and views that reflect their own. Unfortunately, America is more polarized than ever and most bloggers and the MSM are giving them what they want. That is why blogs are not self-correcting and probably won’t ever be. The mass of people reading blogs aren’t interested in the truth or accuracy of what they read. They aren’t interested in debate unless it’s like Crossfire or Hannity and Colmes. Notice that H&C and similar shows very rarely have so-called moderate guests. They find the most controversial guests they can find. What are the highest-rated shows on Fox? None are anchored by journalists.

    I almost hate to say it, but the only real journalists left are on the News Hour on PBS, and a few in print and radio here and there. It’s really sad, because today Americans need accurate news more than ever, but they’re too busy getting the latest from Aruba on Fox “News” or watching Larry King interview some has-been celebrity on the Cable “News” Network. I bet most Americans think the O’reilly factor and Hannity and Colmes are news shows. That would be an interesting and revealing poll I think.

    Comment by Andrew — 4/3/2006 @ 9:54 pm

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