Correcting the media

by Henry Farrell on September 22, 2004

I don’t usually link to items that mention me (not that it happens that often anyway), but reckon that I do want to link to this “Star Tribune”: piece, which is nice enough to quote me, but in an inadvertently misleading way. The piece says of Rathergate:

bq. “This was a story tailor-made for bloggers,” said Henry Farrell, the co-author of the research paper. “They’re not investigative reporters and don’t have the resources of the media. But there are lots of talented people out there who can work on the story for 20 minutes. It was distributed intelligence in which a story can be unpacked into thousands of little bits.”

My recollection is that what I said had a rather different emphasis – I was riffing on a recent “post”: by Steven Johnson, which argued that the role of bloggers in Rathergate was a flash in the pan, and that real journalism took dedicated resources. I’m sure that I didn’t refer to the Rathergate bloggers as talented people, because I was thinking about Johnson’s argument (which is that comparing the documents didn’t take much more talent than the ability to switch applications). So the way I’ve been quoted isn’t completely wrong (it’s close to my original words), but it does turn my actual argument (that this is a once-off because of the kind of issue involved) into what sounds like a fairly uncritical celebration of the blogosphere. Which was certainly not what I intended. I suppose it’s a lesson in how our words are received by others – what we believe we mean is very often not what people think that they’re hearing, even when they’re trying their best.



Bob McGrew 09.22.04 at 8:27 am

Just as likely, it’s a lesson on how journalists use your quotes to make their points rather than yours.


bad Jim 09.22.04 at 9:30 am

I live with my 79-year-old mother, former mayor and councilman, still a political heavyweight, active in the Unitarian church.

Year after year I explain to her the niceties of email adresses, yet she insists on typing them for herself, still puzzled by the purpose of angle brackets and the fatal effect of a stray space.

Yes, she plays Solitaire, but not, she’s not into drag and drop otherwise.


bad Jim 09.22.04 at 9:41 am

Not gonna apologize for that last sentence. Sorry.

The trivial insight: if the only thing in your toolbox is a hammer, no fastener can be used as anything but a nail. If you only have one paradigm, it probably doesn’t matter who you talk to. (It’s probably a good thing that they talked to somebody knowledgeable, even if the article was written beforehand. Useless but comforting. Maybe one person will sleep better tonight.)

(Arguably better than a lollipop.)


dnexon 09.22.04 at 3:37 pm

Henry, this is part for the course. Although my “n” is quite small, I’ve only once been quoted accurately in a newspaper, and that was because I agreeed with the point the reporter was bouncing off of me.

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