The perennial issue of mainstream media bias and the superiority of blogs is undergoing a minor revival in the right wing blogosphere at the moment, much of it centered on a column by Nick Coleman of the Star-Tribune, which has the temerity to take on PowerLine. Coleman’s effort to “fact-check” the factcheckers is rather weak, but his main point is hard to refute – it’s a bit rich for slavering right wing hacks to accuse the mainstream media of ideological bias and expect to get taken seriously. On which, see further Matt Welch’s entertaining takedown of Hugh Hewitt. There’s a curious sort of doublethink going on here, which culminates in a sort of dodge-the-responsibility two-step. On the one hand, bloggers like Glenn Reynolds respond to their critics by saying that they can’t cover everything, and that they’re not providing a news service, only opinions. On the other hand, they seem to believe that blogs should radically change or replace the mainstream media. Either of these statements is reasonable enough on its own, but taken in conjunction, they’re pretty jarring. If you think that blogs should replace the mainstream media, then you should be prepared yourself to live up to some minimal standards of scrupulosity, intellectual honesty, and willingness to deal fairly with facts that are uncomfortable for your own ideological position. You should be prepared to live up yourself to the standards that you demand of others. Exercising the “shucks, I’m just a little old blogger” get-out clause is rank hypocrisy when you want the blogosphere to devour the New York Times whole. Funny that Reynolds et al. don’t see it that way.
Update: Glenn Reynolds responds to my post in a characteristically evasive fashion. He weirdly mischaracterizes my argument by saying that I conflate “InstaPundit with the blogosphere as a whole, by suggesting that my statement that InstaPundit is not a news service somehow means that the blogosphere isn’t up to news-gathering.” I don’t know where he gets that, but it allows him to duck the main point – whether bloggers like Reynolds are being hypocritical in criticizing other media for bias. Let me explain it again in plain, simple, English. Glenn Reynolds complains regularly about liberal bias in the media. He says that he doesn’t believe that blogs should replace big media, but that they should pressure big media to do a better job; I’ll accept his characterization of his own views, although he’s certainly given a different impression in the past. But even on this more limited definition, bloggers like Reynolds are being hypocritical – they don’t and won’t practice what they preach. If I understand his argument correctly (it’s somewhat unclear to me exactly what he’s saying), he seems to think that this is OK because the blogosphere is a big place, and that stories are going to come out no matter what (no blogger can block them). This is an abdication of responsibility, pure and simple, and it’s also factually incorrect. Blogs like Instapundit on the right and Atrios on the left, serve an important function as filters of news, both for other bloggers (who read the big bloggers disproportionately) and for outside readers (who tend to gravitate towards the big blogs that everyone has heard about). In a very important way, these blogs shape both the political blogosphere’s perception of itself, and outsiders’ perceptions of it (the blogs on the ‘long tail’ usually only come to prominence when one of the bigger blogs picks up on their story). Saying (if that’s what he’s saying) that he doesn’t have any responsibility for what he does or doesn’t post on, because others are going to pick up on important stories anyway, simply doesn’t cut it as an excuse.
Update 2: I come back from my New Years vacation to discover that Glenn Reynolds has responded again, in a further update which is not only evasive but dishonest. He attacks my credibility as a scholar, saying that “it really is going to make it hard for me to take Henry seriously as a scholar of the blogosphere, now that he’s written off half of it so unpleasantly.” That’s a very serious accusation to make – especially when it’s based on the entirely false claim that I’ve written off half (presumably the right half) of the blogosphere. If Reynolds had bothered to check, he’d have found that I’ve been similarly harsh when left wingers have engaged in hackishness. My objection is not to right wing views, or to right wing criticism of the media; it’s to criticism of the media from people like Reynolds who are partisan hacks, whether they come from the right or the left. Mark Kleiman has documented over time Reynolds’ resort to bizarre conspiracy theories, vicious slurs without evidence and unwarranted attacks on the patriotism of those who disagree with him (on this last I’m reminded of Dr. Johnson’s dictum that patriotism is the “last refuge of a scoundrel”). Kleiman concludes with regard to the Kerik scandal, that Reynolds “has no standing whatever to complain about anyone else’s journalistic ethics in this regard”: – I’d broaden that to say that he doesn’t have standing to complain about anyone else’s journalistic standards, period. Or, as Kleiman remarks even more pungently.
Glenn thinks the “liberal media” are employing a “double standard.” Would someone send him a mirror for his birthday, please?
Again, Reynolds ducks the question of whether bloggers should have standards by repeating his hackneyed claim that the media don’t live up to theirs. All this criticism aside, Mr. Reynolds can rest assured that I will continue to take him very seriously as a sociological phenomenon.
In other news, Hugh Hewitt, blogger and author of “If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It ,” suggests that I should have admitted that I’d overwritten when I described certain partisan blogs as “slavering rightwing hacks.”
Finally, Jay Rosen makes some criticisms that I take a lot more seriously – I’m willing to accept that there’s a difference that I’ve elided between believing that blogs are ‘winning’ and the mainstream media are ‘losing,’ and the claim that blogs are going to take over the mainstream media (although I still contend that much of the rhetoric suggests the latter rather than the former).
fn1. Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with the first of these statements – but then I neither want nor expect blogs to replace mainstream news outlets; bloggers would make for lousy reporters.