Pundits all the way down

by Henry on January 21, 2005

“Mark Dery”:http://www.markdery.com/archives/media_burn/000032.html on the political blogosphere:

bq. But bloggers who want to remedy what ails the corporate McMedia monopoly should grab a clue from Chris Allbritton and haul their larval, jack-studded flesh up out of their Matrix-like pods and do some goddamn reporting instead of just getting all meta about Instapundit’s post about The Daily Kos’s post about Little Green Footballs’s post about the vast left-wing media conspiracy’s latest act of high treason. It’s the Yertle the Turtle syndrome: Pundits stacked on top of pundits on top of pundits, all the way down, and, at the very bottom of the heap, the lowly hack who kicked off the whole frenzy of intertextuality: the reporter who dared venture out of the media airlock to collect some samples of Actual, Reported Fact.



conehead 01.21.05 at 9:52 pm

Ha! Sounds right to me.


ogged 01.21.05 at 9:56 pm

I don’t know what this “fact” thing is that he’s on about, but it sounds scary and I’ll have nothing to do with it. Damn hippies.


Brad DeLong 01.21.05 at 11:14 pm

If there’s something more removed from reality than webloggers engaged in a self-referential discussion, it’s webloggers engaged in a self-referential discussion about how webloggers engage in a self-referential discussion. And now, of course, I’m discussing (self-referentially) how webloggers are engaged in a self-referential discussion about how webloggers engage in a self-referential discussion.


Tim Lambert 01.21.05 at 11:25 pm

It’s self-referential all the way up (including this comment, of course).


joel turnipseed 01.21.05 at 11:27 pm

My head hurts–must be Russell’s Paradox and ZF burrowing up from my subconsciousness after yer post, Brad.

I think Mark Dery has it right: why aren’t more bloggers out there schlepping it old-school like George Orwell or Rimbaud (or, more recently, Bruce Chatwin or Ted Conover)? If small socialist presses could float Orwell’s rambles, why couldn’t a blog to which the loafers all directed micropayments?

Also: Wunderkammer/Cornell — is this original w/Mark? It’s a good Idea (or better: eidolon).


Hal 01.22.05 at 12:06 am

Well, I do wonder why anyone would think that the blogosphere would be any different from, oh, any other aspect of human behavior. For example, the primary use the telephone – even before cell phones – is to spread gossip and yack about inane, inconsequential matters regarding your immediate social sphere and daily life. The main use of email is to spread spam. Heck, I think the bulk of the actual bits that are shoveled around the Internet is actually just spam email. The rest is porn.

But I guess it is part of a cycle. People start using a new communication tool. People start using it for serious stuff, and sooner or later a new class of critics pop up to tell everyone how horribly they’re doing it. And then the organization geeks start demanding everyone sign codes, pledges, requiring membership cards and holding conferences on how people can improve their ethical use of gossip, hearsay and innuendo.

Not that there’s anything wrong with all this. But it should be predictable cycle by now…


koreyel 01.22.05 at 12:18 am

Nice writing.

But too little too late.

Like Billmon reentering the fray after playing coward during the heat of the election battle.

The media wars are over.

In other words:
Meet your Master liberal…

Bw dwn nd lck Krl Rvs ft gl ss
Tsts gd dsnt t?
Ymm ym ym nj tht cnsrvtv trtl sht
… ll th w dwn

Ya’all didn’t want to join the battle…
Oh well…
I just put $20,000 clams down on a Walmart bond…

My only question is…
What’s the second best way to make a buck
n th typcl stpd mrcn Chrstn fck…


Jim Henley 01.22.05 at 12:20 am

At one point in Spring 2004, Tacitus started an abortive fundraising drive for a trip to Iraq. I think work responsibilities got in the way.


John Emerson 01.22.05 at 12:41 am

My theory of the internet, which is mine, which I however share with A. Elk (that is to say, Miss Ann Elk), who is not an elk, is as follows:

Blogs aren’t primarily content originators, especially not in reporting. They do fact-checking, and they re-edit the legit media by digging up stories that the legit media puts on page 16 with a misleading headline and with the lede buried in the seventh paragraph — i.e., the I.F. Stone function.

When blogs are content originators, it’s as opinion writers. And in fact, at least 5% of the American population can write opinion as well as David Broder.

(That has to be what people mean when they call Broder “the dean of American pundits”. That seems like sort of an odd use of the term, but what else could they be trying to say?)


Jason 01.22.05 at 12:56 am

:) Very appropriate

I sometimes feel that way about academic literature in general. In my good moods, I think this is a good way of refining ideas until they work, in my bad moods …

Boy, do I need to get my thesis off my back.


KcinDC 01.22.05 at 1:08 am

Hal, I haven’t noticed a lot of phoners phoning each other to say how phoning is going to replace journalism.


y81 01.22.05 at 1:26 am

Interesting, because I would have said that what reporters do is almost the opposite of what most of us would consider (i) research or (ii) a reliable path to the truth. How often do reporters go to a library and look something up? Most reporters wouldn’t consider that to be reporting at all. Getting an interview with a named or, frequently, anonymous, source, and “getting the quote” is the only thing that reporters consider “real reporting.” For example, during the “Memogate” episode, surely most of us considered the analysis of typefaces, spacing etc. on various internet sources to be dispositive. Yet the traditional media gave very little weight to this analysis, and a lot of attention to the views of the official’s secretary about the memos’ authenticity.

Because reporting is based on quotes rather than research and analysis, it is almost useless for academic purposes. Osborne Elliott (a noted journalist) once claimed that journalism was dedicated to producing “the first rough draft of history,” but the documents and analysis of the same that are the foundation of history have no place in journalism.


Jason Kuznicki 01.22.05 at 1:27 am

Hal’s still right about the new media, and Sturgeon’s law still applies: 90% of everything is crap. (Yeah, yeah, my stuff too. Chill out.)

But here’s a question: Why aren’t bloggers going to city council meetings, communicating with their representatives, and at least doing research on local issues? This is stuff they could do at a very small cost–nothing, certainly, like traveling to Iraq.

How about it, bloggers: Can we start writing about the local issues, which we at least have a decent shot at covering?


ed hall 01.22.05 at 2:02 am

Back during the party conventions, when bloggers were invited to actually come and witness an actual (if somewhat contrived) media event, there was scant evidence of any reportorial competence. I’d have thought that more of them would have gotten the idea of stashing the laptop and actually going out and talking with people for a while, or even if laptop-bound doing man-on-the-street-style reporting with a confederate on a cell phone.


Josh Zeidner 01.22.05 at 2:26 am

“This just in… Blogs all over the internet say that TV media is worthless… citing facts that illustrate medias complete inability to actually report on anything… were going to the Instapundit blog right now… Im dan rather and Im currently typing in a comment on Instapundit. It appears as though after I have entered my comment it appears on the screen as I have typed it. were going live washington:

“Dan, our experts have confirmed that it is in fact possible to comment on blogs. We have Harvard Doctorates here who have confirmed this fact.

“An interesting development ladies and gentlemen… we will return to Instapundit later after a report on the westminster dog show. good night….


John Quiggin 01.22.05 at 3:42 am

It’s true that the average blogger isn’t a war reporter, but the proportion of news that comes from reporters actually going out and finding things isn’t that great. In a lot of cases, the starting point is press releases, statistical announcements, sporting matches, academic articles and conferences and so on. Bloggers can and do go to these sources directly.


Katherine 01.22.05 at 4:06 am

Some of us are trying. It IS possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Some advice:
1) Mooch off the foreign english-speaking press, they’re better than ours. England, Canada, Australia, and Israel.

2) If you notice a story based on public documents or some statistical studies–go to the documents themselves. Chances are a daily newspaper reporter has skimmed a bit, and sometimes they’ve missed something really, really important.

I may have uncovered, for the first time, a real story this way, and an important story. I haven’t actually blogged about it, I’ve been nagging reporters who have the resources to follow up instead. But I wouldn’t have found it if I’d never blogged, so it sort of counts.

3) Pick a subject or a story that really interests you, and make it your own. You can make yourself an expert, and by reading all the different reporters’ work you’ll get a sense of the bigger picture that daily reporters don’t see, or you can draw conclusion they’re not allowed to publish because that would be biased. Google News makes this easy to do.

4) It is frustrating, that the most substantive things you do will almost inevitably not get the most attention, and the Powerlines of the world will inevitably get more attention than Iraq the Model (my favorite of the Iraqi blogs–he’d be a hell of a foreign correspondent.)


jam 01.22.05 at 4:11 am

But the value of blogs is that they’re an amplification device. The “Actual Reported Fact” would, in their absence, have been buried on p. 40 of some provincial newspaper that few read. Consider the example of the Cosgrove miscarriage reporting bill. The blogs (not just the political blogs, either; there’s a bunch of reproduction-centered blogs which picked it up, too) publicised it, each picking it up from another, and caused Cosgrove to withdraw it.

An amplification device with no inputs just generates feedback, of course: the high-pitched whine of the echo chamber. That’s what Dery’s complaining about. But that’s a consequence of pundits all the way down, anchored on no Actual Reported Fact.


Katherine 01.22.05 at 4:13 am

Someone mentioned the “I.F. Stone function above”….my parents bought me his collected columns from the weekly as a college graduation present, back when I was trying to be a journalist. This strikes me as a wonderful mission statement for a weblog:

“I tried to give information which could be documented so the reader could check it for himself. I tried to dig the truth out of hearings, official transcripts and government documents, and to be as accurate as possible. I also sought to give the Weekly a personal flavor, to add humor, wit and good writing to the Weekly report. I felt if one were able enough and had sufficient vision one could distill meaning, truth and even beauty from the swiftly flowing debris of the week’s news….

The reporter assigned to specific beats lie the State Department or the Pentagon for a wire service or a big daily newspaper soon finds himself a captive. State and Pentagon have large press relations forces whose job it is to herd the press and shape the news. There are many ways to punish a reporter who gets out of line; if a big story breaks at 3 A.M., the press office may neglect to notify him while his rivals get the story. There are as many ways to flatter and take a reporter into camp–private off-the-record dinners with high officials, entertainment at the service clubs. Reporters tend to be absorbed by the bureaucracies they cover; they take on the habits, attitudes and even accents of the military or the diplomatic corps. Should a reporter resist the pressure, there are many ways to get rid of him….

But a reporter covering the whole capital on his own–particularly if he is his own employer–is immune from these pressures. Washington is full of news–if one story is denied him he can always get another. The bureaucracies put out so much that they cannot help letting the truth slip from time to time. The town is open.”

–I.F. Stone, Introduction to The Haunted Fifties.


Katherine 01.22.05 at 4:20 am

“Powerlines of the world will inevitably get more attention than Iraq the Model (my favorite of the Iraqi blogs—he’d be a hell of a foreign correspondent.)”

D’oh. Brain freeze. Healing Iraq, I meant. (Nothing against Iraq the Model, but I don’t even read it.)


Ampersand 01.22.05 at 5:48 am

Jason wrote: But here’s a question: Why aren’t bloggers going to city council meetings, communicating with their representatives, and at least doing research on local issues?

There are at least a couple of local bloggers here in Portland who will at least talk to local city government folk (or even have them leave comments). The best of them is The One True b!X, who does an extraordinary amount of high-quality original reporting about local Portland politics, and is constantly struggling for the funding to keep himself and his blog going.

I’m not sure if any other cities have a b!X-like blogger, though…


The One True b!X 01.22.05 at 6:33 am

Ears… burning…

Anyway, there’s a rather abnormal amount of local blogging activity taking place in Greensboro, NC, including elected officials and, yes, people reporting from things like official city and county sessions.


bad Jim 01.22.05 at 6:41 am

Blogging city council meetings? Please! I already have a mother (a member back in the 70’s and still a force in various groups), local papers, council meetings broadcast live on Tuesdays … even our local alternative weekly figures our city doesn’t need more coverage.

Come to think of it, though, this highly politicized community might not be the worst place to start a blog, whether or not we need one:

Our newest beach front resort hotel wants to expand its recently acquired 9-hole golf course onto the adjoining wilderness park. The developers are presenting their case to the County Supervisors, whose elections they funded.


I’d like to take exception to y81’s comment above that reporters don’t actually contribute to history. They do collect eyewitness accounts soon after the event, which is valuable, perishable material, no matter how undependable.


James C. Hess 01.22.05 at 1:50 pm

It sounds like sour grapes to me. For the first time in a very long time the mainstream news media is being held accountable and responsible for what it reports. That is the basic intent of many a blog. As to the political aspect of blogging, just because, at the moment, the right of center bloggers are more organized and better scribes than those to the left of center means nothing. In the end it is the reader who will make the difference.


Scaramouche 01.24.05 at 5:35 am

Hell, yeah! Most bloggers live to mock the media. And most of posting I’ve seen is derivative.

Though their significance as a primary sources may be lost through the volume of voices.

First hand reporting is an noble idea but how do we filter out the original from all the background noise?


Doug 01.24.05 at 10:00 pm


Seth Finkelstein 01.25.05 at 2:03 am

Moreover, if someone does go out and dig up an Actual, Reported Fact, it’s often quite difficult to figure out how to get it further publicized. If it’s part of a national scandal, sure, there can be plenty of echoing. But who will ever hear a random blogger’s account of a city council meeting, if it doesn’t feed into some sort of bigger media? (whether paper or net). At that point, one is simply a volunteer “stringer”.

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