Bloggers and journalists

by Henry on January 29, 2006

I was at the bloggers-meet-journalists lunch a few days ago which Matt Stoller and others have been talking about, and even tried to say something, but was shut down by the moderator, who thought that I was going to say something else altogether. What struck me (and what I was going to say) was that the journalists there didn’t seem to understand how the blogosphere worked at all. My half-assed explanation of why is as follows …

I can understand how the people at the Post would get upset at hundreds of commenters from Atrios’ or Kos’s comments sections showing up to make their objections heard – while they’re nothing on, say, the denizens of the slimepit at LGF, their manner of criticism can be … robust. I’m willing to believe that there were some commenters who didn’t make it through the moderation system, and who got hateful (Howell suggested that there were some pretty nasty sexual epithets in there, and I believed her). But even so, the incomprehension with which journalists responded to bloggers seemed to me to point to something more fundamental. Journalism and blogging have different internal systems of authority. Newspaper articles aspire to presenting a comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement regarding the facts at hand in a particular matter. Of course, they don’t always succeed in doing this at all – hence the need for ombudsmen, correction columns etc. But even if this standard is often more honoured in the breach than the observance, it still is the basis for the journalistic claim to authority, and status. Blogposts are quite different – they’re arguments in an ongoing debate. They don’t aspire to any sort of finality or authoritativeness (and indeed they’re often updated in response to new arguments or facts). They comment on, and respond to, what others are saying.

The point is that they have very different – and clashing – notions of where authority and responsibility come from. Each newspaper article has the form of a discrete statement, which is supposed to be as authoritative as possible on its own ground. Each blogpost has the form of an intervention in an ongoing conversation – the blogger’s authority rests in part on her willingness to respond to others and engage in argument with them. A blogger who doesn’t respond to good counter-arguments is being irresponsible (of course many bloggers are irresponsible in this way; there isn’t much in the way of formal policing of this norm). These forms of authority are difficult to reconcile with each other, because the latter in large part undermines the former. If journalists start systematically responding to their critics, and getting drawn into conversations about whether or not they were right when they made a particular claim, then they’re effectively admitting that the articles they have written aren’t all that authoritative in the first place. They’re subject to debate and to revision. Thus, in part, the tendency for journalists like Jack Shafer to dismiss criticism from bloggers and their commenters as “organized riots” and lynch mobs. It’s a fundamental threat to their notions of where journalistic authority comes from. Thus also, I suspect, Howell’s reluctance to respond directly to critics like Brad DeLong, when it would obviously (to a blogger) be in her best interests to do so.

Comments are welcome – as I say, these are thoughts in the process of being formed (an intervention in an ongoing conversation if you like).

{ 5 trackbacks }

Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant » Bloggers vs. Journalists
01.31.06 at 5:22 pm
Alter Cogitare » Other points of view
02.04.06 at 4:47 pm
Σπιτάκι » Blog Archive » Από τη σκοπιά του άλλου και τα κόμικ του Μωάμεθ
02.06.06 at 2:18 pm
Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant » Side By Side On My QWERTY Keyboard
02.07.06 at 1:20 pm
Σπιτάκι » Blog Archive » Η Ευρωπαϊκή αντίδραση στα σκίτσα του Μωάμεθ
02.09.06 at 5:23 pm

{ 81 comments }

1

coturnix 01.29.06 at 1:50 pm

It sure looks like they’ve never ever visited a blog. Even little political blogs get nasty comments, not to mention big ones. You shrug, smile, and move on.

They are just like Internet newbies, taking everything so seriously and personally, not yet used to the reality that many people, when online, lose all inhibitions and treat every statment as a personal threat.

And you are right, the whole way blogs work makes them deeply uncomfortable as they are too used to be the unchallenged voices of authority. They do not understand that blogging is not journalism but a conversation.

2

Brendan 01.29.06 at 2:05 pm

Christ! I just had a look at the original article. What’s the matter with these simpering idiots in the Democratic party? Do they not realise that they have lost two elections in a row, and that their party is a disaster? They still seem to think that ‘moving to the centre’ is a meaningful political strategy, when it’s been tried constantly since ’75, with uniformly disastrous results (Slick Willy excepted). And as for this catastrophe about the Alito nomination….why don’t the Democratic ‘party’ just pack up and go home? Or rename the party….something like…I don’t know… the Republican party or something?

At the moment the Daily Kos/Michael Moore centrist position is the only possible position to counter Republican extremism, and if the Democrats don’t understand that they should really just piss off back to whichever cocktail party is au courant, where they can hang out with their new drunk rich stupid friends.

3

Brad DeLong 01.29.06 at 2:09 pm

Re: “Journalism and blogging have different internal systems of authority. Newspaper articles aspire to presenting a comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement regarding the facts at hand in a particular matter…”

But that’s not how they describe what they are doing: Jeff Leen calls David Rosenbaum’s article on Jack Abramoff “a puff piece.” Post reporter A snorts and guffaws when I say I though Jim VandeHei did a good job this morning at fact-checking. “I think the story as a whole was accurate. But in that paragraph I had to let [John Lott] have his say,” says _New York Times_ reporter Eduardo Porter. “You slammed me pretty good for somebody who got the longest quote” (I’m paraphrasing from memory) says the Washington Post’s Jonathan Weisman. “Puff pieces,” “hatchet jobs,” buttering up sources,” “constraints of a beat reporter”–these are all words journalists use to describe their own activities. And they don’t fit with the formal ideology of comprehensive, neutral, objective, do they?

4

Henry 01.29.06 at 2:22 pm

Brad – No, absolutely not – you’re quite right. But I don’t think that this undermines the point I’m trying to make – as I noted above, these norms are honoured more in the breach than in the observance. That journalists often don’t even try to live up to these standards is pretty self-evident to anyone who has ever been interviewed and then quoted by a journalist (my current batting average for accurate quotes that reflect what I was actually saying is about one in three). But persistent hypocrisy about a set of underlying norms doesn’t demonstrate that these norms aren’t an important part of what gives journalists their purported authority. Repeated demonstration that they don’t live up to these norms, and that their pieces aren’t nearly as authoritative as they claim, is clearly threatening to the journalistic mystique, especially if (as in this case), the demonstrations are compelling and accurate.

5

bob mcmanus 01.29.06 at 3:05 pm

More a matter of different standards and communities of peer review. Inaccuracies are acceptable in journalism if they are the right kind of inaccuracies and not open to criticism by the right people. Howell is not writing for the ages, but for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

The is what bloggers find so offensive. Henry may be misquoted to a certain extent, in certain ways according to unwritten guidelines in a consensus of a very small community with open and hidden agendas and a contempt for external criticism.

Journalists are not doing science or academic research with strict peer review to enforce accuracy. They are not authoritative, and if they write on global warming and are corrected by scientists dismiss the criticism as being from people outside the club who don’t know the rules. They are really a very small closed blogging community.

6

John Quiggin 01.29.06 at 3:14 pm

As an example of a third approach, Wikipedia aspires to be comprehensive and neutral, but not to authoritative finality.

Interestingly, quite a lot of Wikipedians don’t like bloggers or journalists much, and I’ve been seeing this sentiment reciprocated in some places.

7

Jack Shafer 01.29.06 at 3:20 pm

To reiterate something I posted on MyDD, I didn’t call what bloggers wrote a “riot.” I called the wild postings that appeared in the comment section of the post.blog after the lefty blogs directed their readers to go to there as the riot.

And once more, I don’t think Howell was a victim in any sense, and I don’t think Brady deleted the offensive posts to “protect” her. The Post site has its own standards of conduct, which it believes benefit its readers, and it has every right to enforce them.

Thanks.

–Jack Shafer

8

roger 01.29.06 at 3:21 pm

Henry, I think you are looking at the question of legitimation (ie authority) in the wrong direction. Instead of using the usual newspaper ideology (Newspaper articles aspire to presenting a comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement regarding the facts at hand in a particular matter) as being the master plan implemented in newspaper production, I would look at this in terms of the constitutencies and their interests that influence newspaper production at every level. In fact, it is hard to see how something that cast events in terms of “the new” could be anything but attitudinally partisan — it is an intensional category, not an extensional one.

To give you one for instance that comes to mind: look at the reporting on Colombia and Venezuela in the Washington Post in the last year. In both countries, extensive re-writes of the rules for governance have occured. In Venezuela, a referendum, plus Chavez’s very vocal actions, have created a new legislature and new laws. In Colombia, the supreme court struck down the law preventing the current president from running again. Uribe has been as vocal as Chavez, and has negotiated a peace deal with the rightwing paramilitaries that guarantees them something they fought for all through the eighties and nineties – non-extradition. Something needed if your wealth is based on selling cocaine, naturally.

If you go to Factiva and put in Washington Post and Uribe, you will find 390 entries. For “Chavez” (and “Venezuela”, to filter out other entries), you will find 587. Moreover, if you start searching for memes having to do with democracy, you will soon find a much higher concentration of “worrying” articles and commentary about Chavez and Venezuelan democracy than about Colombia. Now, from the standpoint of the average reader, I would imagine the desire to read about Venezuela or about Colombia is the same. And the dangers posed by both executives to traditional forms of governance in both countries are about the same. So why is one “newsier” than the other?

I would say that this is a question that can’t be answered by comprehensiveness, neutrality, etc. It can be answered by filling in the role of the audience – for whom does the WAPO produce news? And this is where I think the differences in class and power become striking. There is every reason for legacy Cold War groups in D.C. to pump stories about Venezuela. And as they do, Venezuela becomes news. On the contrary, if Colombia, being a U.S. “ally” in the fight against drugs and for “free trade,” is put in the crosshairs by WAPO, it would be the kind of news that the first tier of readers aren’t necessarily happy about.

I don’t think you ever can have a real neutrality with regard to reporting the news — but what news organizations can do is diversify the tier of
readers that influence the production of the news. It is at this point that your points about the bloggers comes in.

9

Henry 01.29.06 at 3:37 pm

Jack – my memory is that (a) you described the flood of commenters several times as an “organized riot” (I do note that Matt Stoller seems to recall you using a different phrase), and (b) drew a specific analogy with an incident in the 1980s where a local radio host organized a series of protests against the _Washington Post_. In my eyes, this pretty clearly implies that you were not only criticizing the commenters, but the “organizers” – i.e. the bloggers who had encouraged them to post comments at the WP. As I (and I believe, others at the lunch) understood you, you were linking together blogs and their commenters into one entity. Thus my reference to “bloggers and commenters.” Or is this interpretation in some way wrong? Certainly, the analogy of a “riot” is misleading, and, I think, pretty tendentious. As you say, the _Washington Post_ has a right to moderate its own discussions – but the impression that your intervention left was of bloggers and their commenters as a hysterical and not-very-coherent lynch mob. Perhaps that’s not what you intended – but it surely was one source of the frustration that Stoller and others expressed at the lunch.

10

Dan Kervick 01.29.06 at 3:40 pm

Before, journalists were like drama critics in an audience at a theater. They sat in the shadows, scribbling their notes. They were mainly voyeurs, not performers – although voyeurs who were occasionally seduced into a certain amount of audience participation. They watched, noted, reported, commented and retreated back into privacy.

Gradually, particularly since the rise of television, the journalists in the top professional echelons became celebrities themselves. The rituals of political drama and journalistic reportage and commentary became part of a more inclusive drama which the rest of us watched. When the press corps sit in their theater seats in the White House press room, the rest of us sit at home and watch the total show. The politics and the elite journalistic observation of it have become increasing fused, with the journalists now thoroughly embedded in the performance.

But the fact remained that the millions who were observing the journalists were largely unobserved by the journalists themselves. They were unseen and unheard, grumbling in their living rooms or at their kitchen tables, making their presence felt very indirectly and impersonally, through an occasional letter to the editor or subscription cancellation, or as an indecipherable number in a Nielson rating. This allowed journalists to preserve their accustomed power – the power of the last word in most controversies, and the illusion of distance and control over their own situation.

Now the elite journalists have turned around, and discovered to their horror what others have known for a long time, that what they thought was a small private uptown theater is itself just a stage in a massive public theater in the burbs. Behind their slim, tidy rows of well-appointed seats, there is a vast gallery of cheap seats, rows upon rows upon rows of people who are loud, unmannerly and dirty. The seats were always there in a sense, but they were invisible. Now the reporters can see them, and have learned that the people there are watching them, and laughing at them, and mocking them, and criticizing them, and insulting them and treating reporters quite roughly indeed. This has made the journalists intensely self-conscious. Voyeurs don’t like being watched. And they especially hate being laughed at and criticized. “How dare they criticize me – I’m the critic!”

11

Brad DeLong 01.29.06 at 3:50 pm

Henry wrote: “That journalists often don’t even try to live up to these standards is pretty self-evident to anyone who has ever been interviewed and then quoted…. But persistent hypocrisy about a set of underlying norms doesn’t demonstrate that these norms aren’t an important part of what gives journalists their purported authority.”

But what is odd is that many journalists don’t take steps to gain the substantive expertise needed to make sense of what they are hearing, and then don’t take the care to quote accurately. I can count on reporters to get it right almost all of the time if I’m being interviewed by a wire service like Reuters, Bloomberg, or Knight-Ridder, by the _Financial Times_ or the economic-financial staff of the _Economist_, or by the news staff of the _Wall Street Journal_. I’m not a source for but I know I can trust the coverage of the political and lobbying worlds that emerges from the _National Journal_.

Elsewhere… usually the journalists are doing as good a job as they can, given their background and experience… not always… and often their background and experience leave them unqualified to cover the story…

I recommend Jay Hamilton’s _All the News That’s Fit to Sell_ http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0691116806/braddelong00

12

Brad DeLong 01.29.06 at 4:00 pm

Here and now Jack Shafer writes: ” I didn’t call what bloggers wrote a ‘riot.’ I called the wild postings that appeared in the comment section of the post.blog after the lefty blogs directed their readers to go to there as the riot…. I don’t think Howell was a victim in any sense…. The Post site has its own standards of conduct, which it believes benefit its readers, and it has every right to enforce them.”

There and then Jack Shafer wrote… well, let’s roll the videotape:

“Washingtonpost.com temporarily shuttered its Post.blog message board last week after hundreds of personal attacks and profane, sexist, and generally hateful comments were placed there by readers—and others—to protest the work of Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell…. Howell’s sin was erroneously stating that the Post reported that Jack Abramoff “had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties” and then stepping in it all over again by stating that he “directed” money to both…. Various lefty blogs and activist groups appear to have urged readers to criticize the ombudsman…. The mass mau-mauing of Howell…. One of the great mysteries—and disappointments—of my own career is that despite my best efforts I’ve never been the target of a protest by an angry minority organization, a special interest group, or a political caucus. No chief dittohead has ever directed his troops to lock up my publication’s switchboard with harassing calls, stage a denial of service attack on my Web site, or visit my home at 3 a.m. with air horns…”

Is there any definition of “mau-mauing” for which the recipient of one is not a “victim”? Is there any way to read the last part of what I quoted from Shafer other than as a blanket dismissal of Howell’s critics? And “hundreds of personal attacks and profane, sexist, and generally hateful comments”–isn’t that “hundreds” subject to dispute?

13

jim 01.29.06 at 4:03 pm

Henry’s right about the journalists’ notion of authority. It isn’t widely understood, though. There was a longish (for TAPped) piece by Garance Franke-Ruta in TAPped a couple of months ago.

I wanted to take a moment to respond because Beyerstein’s criticism of my story’s “primary evidence” reflects a common misunderstanding that some bloggers have about what reported stories, including reported argument or opinion pieces, represent about a reporter’s knowledge.

The thing about reporting is that stories are summaries of the most interesting bits of information that a reporter has gathered (a judgement that is usually made collaboratively with an editor), but they’re rather like little icebergs. The published parts are the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” just a small visible part of what the reporter has found.

[numerous examples of conversations Garance had had]

None of this, with the exception of my conversation with Wind, ultimately made it into the story in the form of quotes, but it all informed my thinking and my confidence in making certain assertions.

[. . .]

While the instinct that there is more behind any given set of words in a story than is readily apparent is a sound one, reading journalism using the textual skills of academia, as many bloggers do, is a mistake. What often (though not always) lies behind the words is not just the assumptions, allusions, or motivations textual critics are trained to find, but a dense network of unreported conversations and facts.

Academic writing derives its authority from the dense web of sources cited in its footnotes. Blogs derive their authority from the dense web of sources cited in hyperlinks. Journalism derives its authority from trust that there really is a dense network of unreported conversations and facts behind the story, known to the reporter, known to her editor, but kept out of the published story for multiple reasons.

To undermine that trust, even if it is undeserved on any particular story, is to undermine journalism.

14

John Quiggin 01.29.06 at 4:29 pm

“Journalism derives its authority from trust that there really is a dense network of unreported conversations and facts behind the story, known to the reporter, known to her editor, but kept out of the published story for multiple reasons.”

Of course, that’s pretty much what gave us the WMD story.

15

jim 01.29.06 at 4:44 pm

“Of course, that’s pretty much what gave us the WMD story.”

And many others.

I don’t think bloggers per se are the cause of journalism’s authority problems. Journalism’s own excesses are the ultimate cause. Bloggers, though, point them out. Which is why the opprobrium.

16

Barry 01.29.06 at 4:48 pm

In addition to the Abramoff afair, there’s also the attack on Dan Froomkin’s column, during which one of the Post’s higher-ups (Howell) expressed a concern that the White House would blame Froomkin’s writings on the Post itself. This is certainly not an attitude of telling the truth, and letting the chips fall where they may. It provides good grounds for assuming that the Washington Post’s editors will leave things unprinted, or make up ‘balance’, lest they are perceived as hostile by the White House. As indeed, they did, in the Abramoff affair.

And this worry about the White House’s feelings was certainly not in evidence during the Clinton administration.

17

John Emerson 01.29.06 at 5:04 pm

I have speculated that there were two simultaneous developments. On the one hand, journalism professionalized, journalists started putting on airs, competition between newspapers diminished (with very few to-paper towns), journalists began to claim to be objective and neutral, and journalists began to claim to have authority. (In a town with several newspapers, some of them ideological and some of them scurrilous, few or none of these things would be true.)

And at the very same time, journalism started to decline. Journalists became complacent and arrogant, they became inside players (or continued to be, while claiming objectivity), and in the name of objectivity they started reporting less critically and analytically.

In past months I’ve seen several spokesmen assert that it would be biased and unobjective to evaluate the truth-claims of official statements. From the way they spoke, it seemed clear that they thought they were patiently explaining one of the deep principles of their profession — but one which laymen and outsiders would be unlikely to understand. (The way a defense attorney patiently explains that even child-rapists caught in the act deserve a defense attorney).

I’ve said this many times before, but blogging has changed two things about journalism. (What it has not changed is news-gathering; blogs are about 95% dependent on print media for news.)

First, the authority of the columnists is gone. They’ve become just single voices, and increasingly, the respect they get is entirely dependent on the quality of their work, and not on their position. Te good ones are respected as much as ever and the weak ones have no reason to exist at all any more.

Probably more important, the newspapers don’t decide what’s a Page One story the way they did. IF Stone spent his whole career digging up things from paragraph twenty on page sixteen, and moving them to his front page. But nowadays hundreds of people do that, and they do it hourley and not weekly. (In futurological lingo, the two-dimensional layout of the hard-copy newspaper has been exploded into multidimensional hyperspace.)

18

Dan Kervick 01.29.06 at 5:19 pm

In addition to the Abramoff afair, there’s also the attack on Dan Froomkin’s column, during which one of the Post’s higher-ups (Howell) expressed a concern that the White House would blame Froomkin’s writings on the Post itself. This is certainly not an attitude of telling the truth, and letting the chips fall where they may.

The editorial strategy followed by many major papers such as the Washington Post appears to be an unrelieved pattern of deliberate and cynical difference-splitting, a strategy which involves the least amount of risk as the paper navigates the partisan waters of American politics, and struggles to stay afloat and succeed. Where any controversy involving the two major parties is concerned, it is assumed at the outset that the statements of the two sides possess equal measures of truth and equal measures of falsity; that the policy prescriptions of the two sides contain equal measures of wisdom and stupidity; and that the behavior of the two sides evinces equal measures of propriety and perfidy. This approach is both intellectually lazy and intellectual dishonest. But it is how these papers maintain their positions. Perhaps one shouldn’t even say that the equality of the two parties is assumed – which would suggest it is an authentic, though misguided cognitive stance. Rather this rigid rule is adopted as a practical strategy for commercial success.

Just like political figures, media often seek to build the largest possible constituency by running to the center. It has nothing to do with objectivity. It could be described as a matter of “balance” – but balance not in the sense of an intellectually balanced portrayal of the facts. Rather it is balance in the sense that friends and enemies of the paper are kept equally balanced on both sides of the balance beam.

In a free market system, media organizations thrive economically by producing news that customers want to buy. Given the fact that customers are indifferently motivated by a desire to learn uncomfortable truths, and instead tend to prefer stories that validate their existing prejudices, how does a large and successful news organization continue to find the number of buyers to which it is accustomed? The Howell strategy is one approach.

19

Barry 01.29.06 at 5:54 pm

Dan, that’s a good theory, except that the Washington Post has been caught doing the opposite – serving one side. And as I said above, the Post’s editors certainly didn’t worry about pissing off the Clinton administration.

20

asg 01.29.06 at 8:19 pm

While I think the distinction Henry draws between the point of a newspaper article and that of a blog post is a valid & interesting one, it’s awfully hard to take him seriously when he says the Kos commenters have “nothing” on the LGF ones.

21

Matt Austern 01.29.06 at 8:22 pm

No, it’s actually evidence in favor of Dan’s model. As he said, “friends and enemies of the paper are kept equally balanced on both sides of the balance beam.” That is, the news is written in such a way that they get an equally amount of enmity from both directions.

In practice that could be expected to cause a right-wing slant because they’re the ones with the power to retaliate and (at least until a few months ago, and probably still) they’re the ones who have and established noise machine dedicated to attaching coverage they don’t like.

It’s a shame that some parts of the left is beginning to start using these tactics, but, unfortunately, there is some evidence that that’s the kind of pressure the press responds to. Unless the press learns a more sophisticated notion of what balance means, that’s what we’ll get.

22

Matt Weiner 01.29.06 at 8:47 pm

asg, you are familiar with the quiz that challenged you to distinguish between comments made by LGF commenters about Arabs and Palestinians and comments made by Nazis about Jews? If you can construct something similar for Kos’s commenters, it will be easier to take seriously the claim that Kos’s commenters are comparable to LGF’s.

23

anon 01.29.06 at 8:52 pm

“Washingtonpost.com temporarily shuttered its Post.blog message board last week after hundreds of personal attacks and profane, sexist, and generally hateful comments were placed there by readers—and others—to protest the work of Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell….”

I didn’t post on that occasion but I did read the posts that were there. They were not “generally hateful” as been demonstrated by a Kos diarist, and the comments removed and not restored don’t represent vicious attacks but rather embarassing recitations of error by Ms. Howell.

24

roger 01.29.06 at 8:54 pm

One of the unintended consequences of Henry’s Journalistic “canon of objectivity” is the drive to authorize a statement in a story by referring it to some other authority than the journalist. This is so common that we have gotten use to collective identities — “officials” or “people close to,” etc., etc. — saying things in articles, when of course collectivities don’t speak, and unnamed people’s speech acts are anything but objective.

Here’s Jim Vandehei and Susan Schmidt’s ending to a recent article about Abramoff:
(Photos of Bush With Abramoff Are Withheld; White House Calls Pictures Irrelevant to Ethics Inquiry, January 24, 2006)

In May 2001, several of Abramoff’s tribal clients joined state legislators at a White House event arranged by Grover Norquist, an anti-tax lobbyist and friend of Abramoff. In an interview, Norquist said he does not recall Abramoff being at the White House session.

“Several former Abramoff associates said the lobbyist boasted and apparently overstated his access to powerful politicians, including Bush. When Susan Ralston, Abramoff’s former secretary, was hired by Rove, the lobbyist told associates he got her the job. Other officials said it was Ralph Reed, a former lobbyist who is running for governor in Georgia and has been tainted by the scandal, who helped her make the move.”

So, what are the objective facts, here? We have several former associates — their relationship and capacity to comment never specified. We have something they collectively said. We have a boast by Abramoff to these associates — but no explanation of why he would be boasting. Did they not know? Are they close associates that he was trying to sell something to, or was he working with them, or what was the context of this apparent, and never provable, boast? And then we have other officials suddenly entering the scene — officals of what? Are Abramoff’s associates officials? And then we have a claim about something Ralph Reed did, and no validation that the claim is true. Did Reed say it was true?

This kind of thing is standard. The standards of objectivity have led to a pudding of speculation and denial, of fictional cutouts, of lazy ways of proving something, of a journalism that is objective only in the sense that it reports somebody said something. In fact, what this looks like is your standard court chronicle. Vandehei and Schmidt could be (minus the literary graces) Saint-Simon gossiping about Louis XIV.

Day after day, newspaper stories accumulate that refer not to some end user neutral reader, who could evaluate it, but to some in person who will put this together with other information to see who is down and who is up in the various salons in D.C.

25

Barry 01.29.06 at 8:54 pm

Matt, as I pointed out, this concern with White House perceptions certainly wasn’t there under the Clinton administration.

26

John Emerson 01.29.06 at 9:15 pm

27

Ellen1910 01.29.06 at 9:36 pm

Howell suggested that there were some pretty nasty sexual epithets in there, and I believed her (emphasis added) Henry

On what basis? Or did you mean to say “I have no evidence to the contrary”?

28

Matthew Yglesias 01.29.06 at 9:46 pm

The LGF quiz makes its point effectively enough, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to tell the two apart; I scored 92 percent! The Nazis weren’t really all that concerned with whether or not there should be a Palestinian state….

29

Ellen1910 01.29.06 at 9:48 pm

“Should Howell be Given the Benefit of the Doubt?”

It appears to be the view of those who’ve followed Ms. Howell’s past activities for Newhouse at the St. Paul Pioneer Press that her function is to expand a paper’s suburbanite Republican readership. There, she altered the paper’s political sensibility and emphasized a conservative tilt adding columnists who appeal to those who are most comfortable with the RNC’s views.

She seems to be embarking on much the same program at the Post.

30

JayAckroyd 01.29.06 at 10:35 pm

This is a really useful insight, and it explains to some degree the mutual incomprehension of these two groups of people. It doesn’t explain the Howell case, but it does explain Shafer’s hostility.

I think you’re missing one subtlety, though. The way bloggers acquire authority is that when they quote a source, they cite the material in full, in a link, they are quoting from. You’re not required to trust them to accurately represent a source or the inferences they’re drawing from it. A blogger who doesn’t link, or misrepresents the contents of the link, soon loses authority.

It’s not merely the conversation that matters. Glenn Greenwald has become a very authorative commentator on the NSA case because he has not only made arguments. He’s provided clear evidence to support them. IOW, bloggers show their work. Journalists, otoh, hoard their work, and assert their authority to distill the central narrative from their multiple sources.

Note, btw, that “multiple sources” business. Good reporters piece together stories from fragments. (there’s a great piece on nuclear prolif in this months Atlantic that explores how one such reporter works in a highly classified realm.) Bloggers can’t do what they do. Someone (Delong?) pointed out during the Froomkin flap that these are synergistic rather than competive models.

The argument’s not relevant to the Howell case because this was a simple instance of the newspaper failing to operate properly within its own paradigm. Bloggers understand that papers can’t integrate new information as it becomes available. But, in this case, the firestorm didn’t erupt over communication problems caused by differences in paradigm. The firestorm erupted because Howell failed to follow the newspaper’s way of dealing with error–issuing a correction.

In this case, these were not irate bloggers. These were readers who saw that she had clearly made an egregious error and refused to correct it. Still hasn’t, for that matter.

31

John Emerson 01.29.06 at 10:53 pm

Matt solved the quiz. LGF talks about whether X people deserves a state a lot, and one LGF poster uses the post-Nazi word “genocide”, suggesting a small genocide.

The point of the exercise, for those who have not taken the quiz, is that you can’t differentiate the two sides in terms of brutality, exterminationism, etc.

32

Ellen1910 01.29.06 at 11:46 pm

Yah, yah. I beat Matt. I got 100%! Yeah, I know; drmenlo stacked the odds in our favor.

33

Seth Finkelstein 01.30.06 at 12:25 am

Henry, how can the statement Blogposts are quite different – they’re arguments in an ongoing debate. be true, when so many A-list right-wing blogs don’t have comments? One can easily say it’s just as true of newspaper columns that They comment on, and respond to, what others are saying. – where, per bob mcmanus/#5, the others are top pundits or official spokespeople. That is, a few blogposts (like this one) are invitations for feedback – but the vast majority of political posts, are op-eds and columns.

I can see what you’re trying to construct, but it basically comes across as a gussied-up version of the hackneyed idea that blogs are “conversation”, as opposed to Old-Media which “lectures” and doesn’t get the New-Media of “interactivity”.

But have you considered the idea that the Washington Post knows all about angry reader reaction? That their complaint really doesn’t have any deep grounding in the topic of Bloggers Versus Journalists, but rather is more the old tactic of shifting a topic’s discussion from factual errors, to the alleged insanity of the critics?

“Ombudsman writes column which supports partisan spin, gets angry reaction from other side” – really, this should not cause us to go into deep navel-gazing about (pick one) the decline of Western Civilization, the absence of manners these days, the incivility of politics, or Those Darn *Bloggers*. To do so strikes me as taking bait.

34

Tom T. 01.30.06 at 12:46 am

Henry, one kink in your analysis is that Howell wasn’t writing as a journalist, but as an ombudsman. As such, her very function is supposed to be to question the authority with which the Post’s journalists are writing.

I think the salient difference between newspapers and blogs exposed by this incident is that newspapers have generally hewed to a family-friendly model, whereby children could pick up any section of the paper and not encounter “bad words,” whereas most bloggers write for adults and don’t much care about cursing. According to the WaPo.com editor responsible for pulling the plug on comments (he did a live chat on the Post site a few days later), they tried to maintain real-time moderation, but the number of comments along the lines of calling Howell a f**king b**ch overwhelmed their staffing.

Which points out another difference: Newspapers have to pay their staffers, and thus have to make decisions about publishing vs. moderating vs. shutting down that are partly driven by cost. For most bloggers, it’s a labor of love (or hate, in some cases, I suppose).

35

s9 01.30.06 at 1:31 am

I see Jack Shafer persists in describing what happened in the comments forum of Post.blog as a “riot” when in point of fact it was merely a tactical syntax op.

Mr. Shafer, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that your remarks are quite offensive to those of us who have experienced actual riots from the interior of the zone of unlawful assembly. Maybe you think this sort of hyperbole is cute, but it leaves me cold. I didn’t know your name until these remarks of yours were brought to my attention. Now, I will never forget you.

36

Janus Daniels 01.30.06 at 2:04 am

Tom, I have to endorse what Seth wrote, immediately preceding your comment. By contrast you wrote, “According to the WaPo.com editor responsible for pulling the plug on comments… they tried to maintain real-time moderation, but the number of comments along the lines of calling Howell a f**king b**ch overwhelmed their staffing.” I didn’t see those comments; did you? did anyone? The most detailed record indicates the impressively polite incivility rate of 1.7% WaPo has chosen to hide the evidence which (let’s be fair) might support their accusation. All the available evidence suggests that WaPo has continued to lie.

37

JayAckroyd 01.30.06 at 2:18 am

According to the WaPo.com editor responsible for pulling the plug on comments (he did a live chat on the Post site a few days later), they tried to maintain real-time moderation, but the number of comments along the lines of calling Howell a f**king b**ch overwhelmed their staffing.

Yes, but do you believe him? Channelling Jane Hamsher, do you believe that a web site of that obvious quality and careful design really never heard of trolls? Really didn’t expect that there would sometimes be large volumes of reader response, and some of it would have to be blocked?

This has been an issue in on-line discussion since the UseNet over 300 bpi modems. There’s no way they didn’t have plans for handling a large volume of abusive posts. The remedy that deleting, oh, 400 heated but not abusive posts indicates that it really wasn’t the abusive posts that were causing the problem. WaPo.com folks have referred to a dozen or so, 50 or so, and a hundred or so. None of those are volumes that cannot be dealt with in real time. But the fact that the number kept changing is indicative. It wasn’t abusive comments that caused them to perform wholesale deletions. It had to be substantive comments that embarrassed Howell.

Moreover, if Howell did not think that occasionally receiving abusive mail from angry, uncivilized, or even unhinged, readers was not part of the job description, she should resign now. But she knew. It’s funny trying to walk the line during her eventual defense. In the beginning, she is hurt and offended by the personal attacks, but at the end, she’s tough, and she’s not going anywhere.

38

MQ 01.30.06 at 2:18 am

I would really urge Henry to listen to Brad Delong and others above, and trash his budding theory about the media entirely and start anew. Or at least resign himself to a much more complex and less “neat” theory, that is more sociologically aware and less deferential to traditional media claims of “objectivity”. It is just not plausible to suppose that reporters main goal is to create an authoritative statement of the truth about a single topic within the constraints of a single article. This may be their *claim* about what they are doing, a claim they use to maintain their legitimacy. But is anyone so naive as to believe that it’s really is what they’re about? Do you see reporters doing the research and seeking out the facts necessary to come up with an accurate statement of the facts on contentious issues? Or do you instead see them shopping around for a perspective that will be congenial to whatever powerful group they think they need to appear “credible” to? I mean, come on. Have you been following the news over the last decade or so?

39

Kevin Rooney 01.30.06 at 3:04 am

It is useful to distinguish between two kinds of “balance”. One would be for newspapers to try to balance their friends and enemies on both sides. The other would be to balance the newspaper’s own image for its potential readers.
It would be good business for them to seem about the in the middle of the spectrum of their readers (or to be more precise of those readers whom advertisers are interested in).
Note that neither of these forms of balance has any inherent connection whatsoever with intellectual integrity.

40

Dan K 01.30.06 at 5:31 am

I think that Jim in #13 nails the distinction between blogging and reporting, and that John Q in #14 points to the inherent weakness in ‘dense’ network of conversations. A White House with message discipline doesn’t allow for dense conversations. Rather, it allows for orchestrated media campaigns where sources completely decides the agenda of news reporting. Frankly, objectivity in media is a very useful concept for propagandists.

41

Matt Stoller 01.30.06 at 7:36 am

It’s not just the altered nature of authority, though that is the biggest difference between the two media systems. One smaller aspect to consider is the financial incentives in blogging versus top down media outlets.

Good post.

42

Barry 01.30.06 at 7:37 am

#33, #34 and #39 sum up quite well the fact that it’s not a blogs vs media issue; it’s deliberate misbehavior of a newspaper – starting with lying about Abramoff, then lying about comments, then trying to change the subject when they couldn’t get away with lying.

As I’ve pointed out before, when combined with their previous attitude in the Froomkin affair (where they expressed concern that the White House would blame the Post for Froomkin’s reporting), and the real issu is clear. The management of the Post doesn’t see their mission as speaking truth to power, but in speaking lies and spin for power.

43

abb1 01.30.06 at 7:49 am

Their mission is neither speaking truth to power nor speaking lies and spin for power. Their mission is maximizing shareholder value.

44

jim 01.30.06 at 8:20 am

It’s not just one paper, though, however egregious the Post has been. On the other hand, it’s not the whole of journalism. Monthly magazines don’t exhibit the behaviour complained of.

I think Brad Delong had it right above when he said “often their background and experience leave them unqualified to cover the story.” This is a daily newspaper characteristic: the in-house beat reporter, rotated from beat to beat, totally dependent on his/her sources. Daily newspapers print almost no freelance work. Their reporters identify with the newsroom: an attack on one is an attack on all.

I don’t know if this is fixable. But soon it may not matter. Who knows how long the daily newspaper will last?

45

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 8:54 am

The problem with the “two different sources of authority” argument – and I say this as a professional journalist who acknowledges that this dichotomy reflects newsroom reality – is that in this day and age it’s just not good enough. If unpaid bloggers can (and to gain credibility must) back up their assertions with evidence, then surely massively profitable and heavily staffed newspapers can. Obviously stories based on anonymous sources have to rely on a reader’s trust, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why most statements of fact, and all controversial ones, should not provide a link to primary evidence where it exists and to secondary souces where it doesn’t. Given how scandals like Jayson Blair, the WMD, and Plamegate have given readers extremely good reason not to trust anything a paper says without explicit evidence, I’m amazed that the press doesn’t realise how bad they look berating the accuracy or civility of bloggers.

Newspapers (particularly American ones) are running around like headless chickens wondering what to do about the internet, and they’re ignoring an enormous opportunity to add value and recover from their self-inflicted quandary by being as transparent as possible. Thanks to modern technology newspapers don’t need to be authorities any more – and luckily so, because in the eyes of the public they’re not – they can let their sources be the authorities, as they should be.

46

Tom T. 01.30.06 at 9:04 am

Some subset of moderated comments has been put back onto the Howell Post.blog item, and few in there are supportive of Howell. Perhaps there was something more sinister in the Post’s behavior, but given that they left critical comments open for more than three days and then put them back on the site, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the site got battered at one point with a large volume of messages containing profanity, someone there said, “what about the children — won’t somebody think of the children” and they freaked out and shut down the blog.

47

Barry 01.30.06 at 9:07 am

jim: “I think Brad Delong had it right above when he said “often their background and experience leave them unqualified to cover the story.” This is a daily newspaper characteristic: the in-house beat reporter, rotated from beat to beat, totally dependent on his/her sources. “

The biggest difference between the mass media and almost all bloggers is that the reporters are professionals. There is no excuse for them not knowing their subject matter. This might be a technical subject, such as economics. It might be a procedural subject, such as the federal budget mechanism. It might be a deep knowledge of how the federal gov’t works, e.g., knowing that Abramoff was a starting force behind the ‘K Street Project’, what the ‘K Street Project’ was, and what the partisan implications were, a subject which Howell flunks.

And in those cases where there is a need for a broader base of knowledge, a newspaper/magazine has the ability to bring together a team of experts, who can cover things with a knowledge unavailable to any blogger.

In this case, and others, the mass media has either failed in their area of competitive advantage, or they’ve revealed that the truth isn’t something that they really want.

48

Kathy 01.30.06 at 9:16 am

This is the best explication of what a blogger does that I’ve seen, Henry. One of my regular readers periodically criticizes me for expressing opinions on news reports and other bloggers without “finding out what the facts are.” Well, not to say that bloggers should not be honest commentators; but commenting on what and how the media and other bloggers write about issues and events is what bloggers do. It’s informed news analysis, not “objective” journalism. (Not that journalists are truly objective, either.)

49

John Emerson 01.30.06 at 9:34 am

Going back somewhat to what I said above, successful media used to have an advantage of position, so that Nick Kristoff would be New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff and be regarded as authoritative for that reason. And promotion to that kind of position was the bait that made the whole system work, and it would be a reward for people who had paid their dues and outperformed the competition within the biz.

But now he’s just Nick Kristoff, and Atrios or Digby or, as far as that goes, Instacracker or Michelle Malkin can trump him, and those guys are all amateurs.

50

C. L. Ball 01.30.06 at 9:49 am

They don’t aspire to any sort of finality or authoritativeness (and indeed they’re often updated in response to new arguments or facts). They comment on, and respond to, what others are saying.

I think this vision of bloggers is honored more in the breach, as this thread shows at times. Delong points out that the practice and excuses that journalists offer don’t mesh with the ideology of providing a “comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement.” Henry sticks to his position even though Delong’s point seems to be that journalists themselves don’t claim to be acting comprehensively or authoritatively when they explain why they reported as they did (as his quote illustrates).

Shafer clarifies (or re-states) his position, and Henry and Delong argue their prior interpretation had to be right.*

In part, Henry is wrong: daily print journalism does not appeal to finality or comprehensiveness. It constructs an on-going narrative, a story that readers are expected to follow, and it seeks “balance,” not comprehensive understanding. That balance often leads to distortion as marginal views are presented as if they were equally valid as others.

* Consider these two examples of “to mau-mau” that OED gives:

1970 T. WOLFE Radical Chic & Mau-mauing Flak Catchers (1971) 97 Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco. 1971 Harper’s Mag. June 9 His [sc. Norman Mailer's] demonstration of the inadequacies and distortions of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics is convincing and indicates that the English Department of Columbia University had been mau-maued by that termagant of Women’s Lib.

Should we consider the bureaucrats or the faculty to be ‘victims’? If not, then Shafer’s claim that he does not view Howell as a victim stands .

51

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 10:06 am

Going back somewhat to what I said above, successful media used to have an advantage of position, so that Nick Kristoff would be New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff and be regarded as authoritative for that reason. And promotion to that kind of position was the bait that made the whole system work, and it would be a reward for people who had paid their dues and outperformed the competition within the biz.

But now he’s just Nick Kristoff, and Atrios or Digby or, as far as that goes, Instacracker or Michelle Malkin can trump him, and those guys are all amateurs.

Old media themselves have surely hastened that process, though, by allowing the likes of Jonah Goldberg into the elite columnist circle. Had they hired someone with half a brain, like Digby, then maybe the position of columnist wouldn’t be so devalued.

NB: Digby has considerably more than half a brain. But you know what I mean.

52

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 10:11 am

I think this vision of bloggers is honored more in the breach, as this thread shows at times.

Aaargh! This phrase – I do not think it means what you think it means.

53

anon 01.30.06 at 11:57 am

TomT says: “it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the site got battered at one point with a large volume of messages containing profanity, someone there said, “what about the children—won’t somebody think of the children” and they freaked out and shut down the blog.” It wouldn’t be unreasonable if there were not facts on the table. Go read this dkos blog which does a careful analysis of the actual posts that were deleted, together with various statements by editor Brady on numbers probably blocked automatically by a bad language filter. Then I think you will draw a different conclusion.

In addition, the notion that “the children” are reading the WaPo blog is really pretty laughable.

54

joejoejoe 01.30.06 at 12:43 pm

Many bloggers see themselves as newspaper customers demanding a better product. Newspapers see bloggers as partisans and challengers first and foremost while almost entirely ignoring the fact that bloggers are still customers. That point is often missed in these media panels. Many of the complaints are from newspapers’ most loyal customers demanding improvement from a beloved product. Dismissing your customers concerns out of hand tends to aggravate those customers.

Nothing justifies anonymous personal attacks on Deborah Howell but the facts aren’t partisan. Complaining to an ombudsman on a factual matter and getting ‘it was inartfully worded’ is like complaining to the delivery department after finding your morning paper in the bushes and hearing ‘it was inartfully delivered’. The paperboy shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than the editors.

Finally, I would say that Crooked Timber, Body and Soul, and TalkLeft all have considerably higher standards of discourse than the Washington Post. There is far more meanness in the average Charles Krauthammer column than you will find in a years worth of Crooked Timber. Where is the media ethics panel on that phenomenon?

55

neil 01.30.06 at 12:55 pm

Two related thoughts:

One: It seems that profane and insulting blog comments are sort of like terrorists: any comment caught in the vicinity of a profane and insulting comment may safely be assumed to be profane and insulting itself.

Two: Most people have assumed that the Post has used the profane and insulting comments as justification for dismissing the well-thought, good, courteous comments. But this is backwards. They would always have dismissed or ignored them, as anyone who has independently mailed a correction to a journalist knows. No, think about it: The Post journos obviously spent a lot _more_ time thinking about the profane comments than the good ones — even reading the comments that were ‘automatically filtered’ out. I think it’s quite likely that if it wasn’t for the rude comments, the Post would not have deigned to even acknowledge the controversy. With the rude comments, their attention was captured.

56

abb1 01.30.06 at 1:04 pm

Many bloggers see themselves as newspaper customers demanding a better product. Newspapers see bloggers as partisans and challengers first and foremost while almost entirely ignoring the fact that bloggers are still customers.

Newspaper’s customers are, of course, the advertisers. Bloggers and other readers are newspaper’s product. The newspaper delivers its readers to its advertisers in almost exactly the same manner fisherman delivers fish to restaurant owners. I haven’t yet seen fish stupid enough to fancy itself fisherman’s customer…

57

Barry 01.30.06 at 1:16 pm

“Finally, I would say that Crooked Timber, Body and Soul, and TalkLeft all have considerably higher standards of discourse than the Washington Post. There is far more meanness in the average Charles Krauthammer column than you will find in a years worth of Crooked Timber. Where is the media ethics panel on that phenomenon?”

Posted by joejoejoe

Hear, hear. If one wishes for a combination of insults, lies, vacuity and sucking up to power, the daily columns of the NYT and Wash Post will provide a hearty meal (once the Krugmans and Herberts are safely removed). The WSJ, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, can provide a week’s worth of all of the above every single day, without fail. There’s a famous quiz, to differentiate between the comments of LGF commenters and Nazis; Krauthammer’s choicer bits really should be put in, as well.

58

Jasper Milvain 01.30.06 at 1:34 pm

Your analysis is acute. So are many of the others here. But the assumption of authority does not exist wholly in the mind of journalists. It’s not something put on every morning by silly, frightened, hidebound, venal or power-crazed hacks; and it’s going to be difficult for even good ones who understand the problem to be rid of. It affects the relationship between a journalist who doesn’t want it and bloggers who don’t believe in it.

Any prominent enough journalist who opens comments in an official capacity can expect to be debated as an individual, probably by other people smarter than them. This is good. It’s stupid of them not to respond more. They can also, however, expect to be lobbied as an institution, without getting a congressman’s staff to handle the letters, and with each scrap of the campaign either appearing in public or becoming a scandal because it doesn’t. They can be worth visiting and attacking even if you don’t believe in their good faith, don’t rate their intelligence, can’t see how anybody would be convinced by their stuff, and don’t feel the need to read them, because they are in an official position. This strikes me as somewhat different from even a hostile comment flood (not that everyone deals well with those). I can see how it would make someone jumpy. And yes, I do know that they’re getting paid. That should make them more attentive, but it will make them jumpier still.

In time, newspapers ought to lose a couple of coats of varnish, if they’re to survive – not sure how easy it would be yet to make all on-the-record interview material transparent, Ginger Yellow, but they can certainly do better than they do now. Blogs are already starting to gain a few coats. Until things level out, however, reporters who “don’t get it” are not a full explanation.

59

Kieran Healy 01.30.06 at 1:47 pm

I’ve read a few blogs and find them interesting and the open discussion you suggest they are intended to be.

Despite being a newspaper editor (and publisher) for over 30 years, I find newspapers lacking in today’s society. I’ll spare you a long-winded tirade regards why.

I have come to believe what I learned in graduate school semanticts class: “There is no reality, only each person’s selective perception.”

I see that on a deep level. Since we all preceive events, words, actions, reactions, history, etc. differently — we all create our own reality. Thus there can never be a true objective substantial truth other than the Univeral One. And that is that everyone is entitled to or conditioned to believe what he or she believes.

Of course, that’s not the final word either.

It can be debated.

Journalists are becoming more irrelevant all the time. They’ve bought into the corporate/governmental/big money point of view on almost all things.

Independent thinking and publications are rare.

Best wishes to all of you in whatever your efforts are.

60

Kieran Healy 01.30.06 at 1:48 pm

NB the previous comment (#59) is from “Lee Gray”, who posted it to the next thread by mistake. I’ve reposted it here.

61

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 2:09 pm

In time, newspapers ought to lose a couple of coats of varnish, if they’re to survive – not sure how easy it would be yet to make all on-the-record interview material transparent, Ginger Yellow, but they can certainly do better than they do now.

I don’t necessarily expect that, although to be honest it’s perfectly possible. I record my interviews on an iPod for accuracy and my own convenience. If it was my employer’s policy and I could get permission from my sources (in practice impossible for 90% of interviews) I could turn them into linked mp3s in less than a minute.

What I do expect is that when you cite a public speech, you should link to a transcript or video footage. When you give a statistic, you link to the source(s) of that statistic. When you say Al Gore claimed he invented the internet, you link to him saying that (Oops! You can’t). When you say crime has gone up, you link to crime figures in the past and crime figures in the present. When you say “some critics say” something, you link to critics saying it. This is basic practice on blogs, and yet hardly any newspapers do it to any significant degree, and no American ones I know of. The American press has to break out of its bogus self-image of an objective filter for news. Get over yourselves – you’re not objective, so either embrace your ideology or don’t filter in the first place.

62

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 2:13 pm

Grammar edit: “If it were my employer’s policy…”

63

Jasper Milvain 01.30.06 at 2:34 pm

What I do expect…

You’re right on all of that, although I’m not sure all bloggers behave so on the first go round – the chance to demand evidence, and get it, is another advantage of running these things as an ongoing conversation. As for interviews, the difference may be that I’m in Britain, where you need 100wpm shorthand to get the standard qualification for a trainee reporter’s job. You’d either have to type out a full transcript every time or scan your notes and train your readers in Teeline. Or just switch to recording, of course.

You’re also right about bogus objectivity, although I sometimes think it would be nice if you could ship some of it over here.

64

Seth Finkelstein 01.30.06 at 2:38 pm

” When you say Al Gore claimed he invented the internet, you link to him saying that (Oops! You can’t).”

Sadly, this has never bothered the journalist, err, Libertarian-type proselytizer, who invented the story. His “defense” has been that he noted the transcript, and:

“McCullagh, who is outspoken in his libertarian views, argues that though he didn’t use the word “invent,” it is “a not entirely unreasonable paraphrase of the vice president’s remarks,” and suggests that the pro-Gore comments from Cerf may have a partisan basis: …”

http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/col/rose/2000/10/05/gore_internet/index.xml?pn=2

So that doesn’t work :-(

65

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 3:23 pm

” As for interviews, the difference may be that I’m in Britain, where you need 100wpm shorthand to get the standard qualification for a trainee reporter’s job.”

I’m in Britain too. I have Teeline, but it’s nowhere near 100wpm. As you well know there are plenty of UK journalists who don’t have an NCTJ diploma, myself included. But like I say, I’m not really talking about interviews. There will always be a relationship of trust to some degree. I would like to think it can reliably extend as far as someone being quoted on the record saying what they’re reported to have said (albeit not always in context). Obviously with The Sun and other tabloids this isn’t true, but then their problems with accuracy aren’t going to be solved by a few links.

66

BigMacAttack 01.30.06 at 3:44 pm

I liked what Henry said.

Whatever newspapers aspire to, the appearance of being neutral and authoritative sources is certainly useful. And any challenges to that notion is certainly a threat. And since I don’t see us as just or completely a bunch of glib self rationalizations on top an of eating machine, I am sure newspapers do aspire to neutrality and authority.

Atrios, Jesus General, Kos, Firedoglake are a floating riot in regards to political discourse. They point, scream sick, and the pack attacks. The goal is too shout down opposition. Shouting scatological invective is the preferred method.

It certainly seems that in this case the mob had some or all of the facts on it’s side. It might be in this instance that the mob was unusually polite but anyone who has even skimmed a few thread at Atrios, would immediately be sympathetic to the accusation that a number of poster’s were rude. I mean come on give me a freakin break you wankers and fucktards.

But the facts are largely irrelevant. It’s the shouting that matters. I have no idea if Kate O Brien’s new book is a piece of crap, wonderfully insightful, or a bit of both, because I haven’t read it. And it is pretty obvious that neither did the General or anyone else who spammed Amazon and slammed the book. I am not sure it qualifies as discourse let alone civil discourse. The goal is to shout down opposition.

And the conceit that some how this is all just a measured and/or necessary response to the perfidies of the right is nonsense. It is just people being people and democrats are every bit as human as republicans.

From a site I obviously like, CrookedTimber –

‘It’s become more and more clear over the last few months that Goldsmith played a very honourable role behind the scenes – while he’s certainly a conservative, he appears to be one who’s prepared to stick to his principles when it’s politically difficult.’

Substitute another group for conservative and see if you can understand the offense. Well he is certainly an Irishman but he appears to be sober.

Or

‘Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento, Cato with Bandow and Milloy, TCS from top to bottom[1]) it’s going to become increasingly obvious that these guys have done little more than some unauthorised moonlighting. The organisations are engaged in the same kind of shilling, but on a larger scale.’

Shorter John Quiggin – The Milloy example nicely demonstrates that almost all conservative commentators are cynical corrupt shills. The only reason anyone believes in conservative ideas is bribery. Nice generalization John.

This is our nature. Hence my usage of the term pack. We divide up into sides, throw the notion of fairness and justice out the window at the first opportunity, and go at it.

Some more so than others. And yea in this case I am talking about nasty comments and not sticks and stones. It makes a big difference. But make no mistake about it, within it’s context, it was a rioting mob.

67

Jasper Milvain 01.30.06 at 3:57 pm

Oops. Apologies for false assumption. As it happens I also have sub-100wpm Teeline and no NCTJ diploma, so, yes, well aware. And I, too, think newspapers need to get over themselves – but I don’t think the way they’re defined is wholly in their power; they also have to convince their new, active readers to get over them, without actually dumping them, which will be an interesting balance to strike.

68

Jasper Milvain 01.30.06 at 3:59 pm

Lack of clarity correction: 67 refers up to 65.

69

Ginger Yellow 01.30.06 at 4:55 pm

‘It’s become more and more clear over the last few months that Goldsmith played a very honourable role behind the scenes – while he’s certainly a conservative, he appears to be one who’s prepared to stick to his principles when it’s politically difficult.’

Substitute another group for conservative and see if you can understand the offense. Well he is certainly an Irishman but he appears to be sober.

Surely the point is that such conservatives are in vanishingly short supply in this deeply unconservative administration.

‘Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento, Cato with Bandow and Milloy, TCS from top to bottom[1]) it’s going to become increasingly obvious that these guys have done little more than some unauthorised moonlighting. The organisations are engaged in the same kind of shilling, but on a larger scale.’

Shorter John Quiggin – The Milloy example nicely demonstrates that almost all conservative commentators are cynical corrupt shills. The only reason anyone believes in conservative ideas is bribery. Nice generalization John.

Come off it. There’s a world of difference between “almost all conservative commentators” and “members of conservative thinktanks”. Would anyone claim that Perri 6 of Demos is representative of British left wing commentators? And you can’t deny that certainly Heritage, the AEI and most of all TCS have been particularly hackish under the Bush administration – Cato at least has chided him for fiscal irresponsibility, although it still pimped a social security “plan” that would have made the budget situation even worse. Given that these people are paid to promote the party line, what’s your beef?

70

BigMacAttack 01.30.06 at 5:52 pm

Gee. So you are ok with generalizing from Milloy to everyone who works (worked) for a conservative think tank? But not ok with generalizing from Milloy to almost all conservative commentators? One is outrageous and one is ok? One is just a gross generalization and so is ok and one is a really gross generalization and so would not be ok?

If I can find a progressive/liberal who worked for a progressive think tank that did shoddy research, would it be ok, if I claimed all progressives/liberals who have worked for a progressive/liberal think tank do shoddy research?

What about a university and a professor?

But whatever, you win, I retract my statements regarding Henry and John.

But you do agree with my assessment of Atrios and company? Correct?

71

s9 01.30.06 at 7:53 pm

bigmacattack writes: And yea in this case I am talking about nasty comments and not sticks and stones. It makes a big difference. But make no mistake about it, within it’s context, it was a rioting mob.

If you persist in pushing this “rioting mob” calumny, then it will only go to prove that the conservative commentariat are a bunch of panty-wetting babies who go completely to pieces when subjected to the same treatment they regularly deal out to their adversaries.

72

John Quiggin 01.30.06 at 8:06 pm

If you reread the post, bma, you’ll see that the generalization is from the activities of the individuals to those of the organisations, considered as corporate entities. The point is that the individuals are doing on the side what the thinktanks do as core business.

Certainly, though it must be increasingly difficult for an honest person working at, say, AEI to maintain their self-respect given that the organisation happily promotes someone like John Lott.

73

J Thomas 01.30.06 at 8:11 pm

BMAttack, you’re talking about generalising from one example.

But I’ve seen a large handful of honest conservatives who believe what they say and attempt to think it out. They of course are as disgusted with the Bush administration as any liberal. There might be a lot of conservatives like that who don’t travel in the same crowds I do. It would be wrong to say there are very few people like that.

But how many honest conservative think tank employees have we experienced? I’m at zero at this point but I haven’t watched all of them. If you’d like to suggest a candidate for an honest conservative think-tanker, I’ll be glad to pay some attention to him. It isn’t a gross generalisation. It’s an observation of grossness.

Anyway, I repeat, give us an example and you can show that it isn’t universal. That would be a good start for you to make a substantive point, as opposed to just more bloviating.

74

Henry 01.30.06 at 9:19 pm

Too many comments for me to respond to more than a small fraction who addressed me on specific issues. In turn …

ellen1910 – I believed Howell because she was quite frank about having made a mistake, and seemed convincing. That’s all. I may be wrong – I didn’t say that she was right – I said that I believed her. That’s all.

Matt – I got 100% the first time I did the quiz

Seth – you’re right that I’m appealing to the blogs as conversation vs non-interactive media idea. Perhaps a bit too much. But I think there is something there – and the specific additional claim I’m trying to make here is that there are different kinds of authority structures in conversations and in conventional journalism. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the relationship between blogging and academic peer reviewed publishing – where there are perhaps even more glaring disparities.

mq – read the dialogue with Brad above in the early comments – the two of us are pretty well in agreement as best as I can tell.

bigmacattack – what I meant to say in that post was not that Goldsmith was honest despite being a conservative, but rather that while I recognize that he’s a conservative and don’t agree with his ideas, I believe he deserves kudos for doing the right thing. I think that some of Goldsmith’s arguments are interesting, but lead in some pretty unfortunate objections. But I didn’t want to get into a discussion of Goldsmith’s academic work which would have been a distraction. I can see how you very easily would have interpreted what I was saying as you did – but that wasn’t what I was trying to say, for what it’s worth. As for John Q. – he has specifically noted in an “earlier post”:http://crookedtimber.org/2004/02/15/milloy-again/ that.

bq. As with John Lott and the American Enterprise Institute, the link between Cato and Milloy raises the question of how an institution that has some pretensions to respectability and employs some decent people can justify supporting such unethical and intellectually bankrupt charlatans.

I don’t think that he can fairly be accused of saying that all Cato people, or all AEI people, are cynical corrupt shills.

75

Brad DeLong 01.30.06 at 9:29 pm

And where Henry disagrees with me, he’s probably right. He’s thought about this more deeply than I have, I think…

76

sfb 01.30.06 at 9:45 pm

“Atrios, Jesus General, Kos, Firedoglake are a floating riot in regards to political discourse. They point, scream sick, [sic] and the pack attacks. The goal is to shout down opposition. Shouting scatological invective is the preferred method.”

So says BigMacAttack. And, after spending a half hour or so wading through the bile at Daily Kos et al, I’d have to say he has a point. Look, to claim that you are a moderate, and then refer to the other party as evil, demonic, etc. just isn’t exactly reasoned, thoughtful comment. Some of the posters at Kos seem to be willing to be thoughtful. One noted that an irate call to poison political opponents was unacceptable, even as a joke, given the heated rhetoric. But most posts at Kos are much more in line with the not-so-smart remarks. Look, if it was poor form for the folks on the right to name-call, then it seems particularly wrong for the left to do so. Especially when one might argue, after a few minutes at both Kos and LGF that neither is particularly long on thoughtful comment, but Kos is certainly ahead on insults.

Do you really think that “fucktard” and “fascist” , or talk of going out with pointed sticks to settle scores with Democratic senators who voted in a way that displeased the poster add much to the intellectual content?

Questions for all those who think this is just the normal heated exchange – How would you feel if the subject of some of the heated rhetoric at Kos were members of minorities, or women? It is still just political give and take, or is it hate speech?

sfb

77

Dan Kervick 01.30.06 at 10:50 pm

In the discussion about whether some blog comments section has or has not degenerated into a “mob” or a “riot”, it is easy to lose track of a crucial fact: the personal interaction on a blog is involves people who are generally physically remote fromn one another, and consists only of words.

In social gatherings with live human beings interacting in close physical proximity, it matters whether or not the participants have turned into a mob. Where there is a mob there is a threat of physical violence. And it is also impossible to conduct a civilized debate in the presence of a loud and unruly mob, because the mob’s behavior interferes with the aims of the other participants. So if the point of the gathering was discussion or debate, the gathering is ruined by the mob.

But in a blog comments section it barely matters at all whether most of the participants are conducting themselves decorously, or in a mob-like way. There rarely any real likelihood of physical violence, and the ravings of the incensed lunatics need not have any significant impact on the discussions of the more sensible participants – unless the sensible ones decide to respond, and thereby allow the lunatics to have that impact. If commentator A and commentator B are having an interesting and civilized discussion among themselves, and some commentator C attempts to leap into the action armed with invective and hostility and stupidity, A and B can just ignore C, and go right on talking as if C isn’t there. They can do the same thing if there are a hundred C’s and only one A and one B. It is true that the chaff takes up space, and can slow somewhat the process of scrolling to the stuff you want to read. But this is really only a minor inconvenience.

Let’s remember, then, that in the context of a blog comments section, calling something a “riot” can only be a metaphorical description. So of course whatever happened that day on the Washington Post site wasn’t a real riot. Even if it consisted of 99% hateful, vulgar and personally insulting diatribes it wouldn’t have been a riot. Riots involve human beings in close physical contact who are shouting, pushing, hitting, throwing things and trampling each other. A “riot” of comments involves a bunch of individuals, scattered around the country or even the world, sitting quietly in chairs and typing.

I understand that bloggers have very different attitudes toward their comments sections. That attitude is driven by what they want that comments section to be. I had a blog once, for about four months, and had a completely non-interventionist attitude toward my own comments section. The only things I deleted were (a) spam and (b) attempts to interfere physically with the performance of the blog, such as by posting a long repeated string of the same word just to take up space in the comments section. Other than that, I let anything go. People were free to be as hateful, ignorant, illiterate, ugly, genocidal or vulgar as they wished to be. “Trolls?” Fine. I would keep my eye on them to make sure there were no comments of the “I know where you live and I’m coming to get you!” variety. But other than that, whatever floated their boat was OK.

But I know that on other sites, like this one, the blog’s authors strive to maintain the comments section as a serious discussion group, where people can come and find interesting comments quickly without having to wade through a bunch of garbage. That’s a perfectly understandable practice.

It may be that a journalist’s natural inclination is to treat the comments in a blog as something they themselves have published, just like letters to the editor. They may thus think that the only things allowed should be “fit to print”. Personally, I think it would be healthier for them if they did not think of the comments in that way, and instead thought of them as a public space where other people publish whatever they want. But it’s their call. It should be noted, though, that the desire to keep comments pure is not entirely a difference between “old” conventional journalistic standards and “new” blog standards. Some bloggers are very controlling with regard to their comments.

On travels around the blogosphere, one encounters from time to time instances of the blogger deciding to shut down a comments section because it passes some line they wish to enforce. It’s their blog, so it’s their prerogative. But certainly it is clear that on at least some of these occasions that what prompted to shut-down is their dislike of the content of what is said, not its tome or absence of civility. I say this is clear, because on some such occasions the tone is no lower that it has been on other comments sections on the same blog that have been allowed to proceed without censorship.

Many of us have probably also experienced instances in which a comments section that has evolved into a rather stable and self-contained discussion group among a regular group of contributors is suddenly invaded by a group of interlopers who have been directed there from another site. I recall being part of a discussion in which a bunch or readers from one of the right-wing blogs, perhaps it was PowerLine, suddenly appeared to indulge their wonted behavior, and call us all a bunch of un-American traitors, and issue vague threats about how following some great right-wing judgment day, we would all be rounded up and hustled off to a terrorist-torturing gulag. These tactics sometimes seem to disturb the mental equilibrium of the other commentators. But the longer one visits blogs, the easier it is just to ignore this stuff, and proceed as usual. One knows that the wignuts are out there, thinking their vengeful thoughts and masturbating to their sadistic fantasies. It doesn’t much matter whether they are posting things where you can read them, or hiding in their own little corners.

I tend to agree with the negative comments about the Daily Kos. In my opinion, most of what one finds in the comments there is an lowbrow and illogical political foodfight. But what of it? I don’t go there. I prefer to read the things I prefer to read. Why are so many people seeminly threatened by the very existence of such sites?

78

Ginger Yellow 01.31.06 at 5:32 am

I agree with most of what Dan just said, and would add that DailyKos is primarily an activism site rather than a punditry site, so it’s hardly surprising or even inappropriate that the language should be bitterly partisan. As for incivility and mobs, the sort of comments that Howell received don’t begin to compare to the posts that actual Neo-Nazis and violent misogynists frequently leave on blogs like Sadly, No! and Pandagon.

79

Seth Finkelstein 01.31.06 at 5:44 am

Henry, it’s certainly true that there’s “different kinds of authority structures in conversations and in conventional journalism”, in the sense that conventional journalistic political punditry is about a he-said/she-said summarizing of the statements of powerful people, while blog partisan political punditry is about playing to crowds and telling the audience what they want to hear. But I’m saying that difference is being used to trivialize the content of the criticisms of the Washington Post and Deborah Howell, in a kind of real and wrong ad hominem, by making the predominant issue not her incorrect article, but the fact that some partisans were nasty to her. My framework is that her article was in fact objectively incorrect, even though many of the people criticizing her were left-wing partisans, and a few undoubtedly made personal attacks. However, Howell, the Post, and the right-wing partisans have basically been successful in making the ensuing discussion be about the psychology of trolling, rather than what a shameful example this is of the journalist psychology of saying truth’s in the middle between accurate and inaccurate. Which is regrettable all around.

80

abb1 01.31.06 at 8:48 am

Incidentally, on this particular blog you can engage in a flame war – no problem, but merely mentioning parallels between Likud and the Nazis will kill a comment thread. How silly is that? Certainly much sillier than closing a thread where your colleague is repeatedly called ‘fucking bitch’.

81

the cubist 02.01.06 at 3:36 am

Henry,
Many thanks for opening the door to this, a great exchange.
I wish those who see things differntly could emulate your civilzed manner of discourse, without thinking one can’t express a view if one has to keep the voice low enough to be able tp hear the rebuttal..
Some don’t even pretend to try to persuade. To persuade, to try to touch heart, is what attracted me to discourse in the first place. Oddly, Kierkegaard among others says the strongest desire of a mature mind is inexplicably to seek out and engage those very thoughts that in their diminished but diametrically opposed position prime our adrenal pumps with fear of anger and the acknowledgement of its power, and of the crippling consequences of error. The offense, and the Knight of Ultimate Resignation.
The most terrific claims of civilizations are based on the premise that in engaging each other and defending what we think, we may make each other straighter.

Comments on this entry are closed.