Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The tyranny of the scoop

A message from "nickpicker":

Actually, I did not intend to accuse you of liberal bias. If my points seemed to indicate that I apologize sincerely. However, I do believe that there is a liberal narrative out there, namely that critical investigation were something liberals invented, and that they just happen to extend that methodology to blogs in the meaning of "picking it up where major players left the cause", i.e. liberal blogs write on stuff that liberal news papers can't write about or won't, hence I saw your fixture on the deLay case as a typical falling for that fallacy. In other words, it struck me as somewhat odd (if not suspicious) that you pondered on deLay whereas the Rathergate scandal was so much bigger and far-reaching.

But of course the whole meat of the piece (really just paraphrasing the Time piece) was about Rathergate and the deLay business was a scant paragraph. I see Rathergate as a royal fuckup on the part of CBS, bad journalism. The PowerLine folks see the root cause of this failure of journalism as "lack of conservatives." But that just can't be right. Huge media organizations can't possibly make reporting mistakes based on individuals' desires to believe a thing to be true. Every organization of this level has an obligation to check things out seriously. Why didn't this happen? I haven't read CBS' report yet but my guess is that this is the tyranny of the scoop. Imagine a world without scoops, where when a reporter got some documents like this, he scanned and put them onliine and the blogosphere pushed back. Some of those comments would have been rants but there would have been the very specific criticism about the font widths and that (maybe) would have been taken into account.

If they had panned out, they could be considered blog-proof, which is to say spin-proof. So I'm imagining an open source journalism, in which reporters (think programmers) put source materials (code) out on the net for other people to bang on and that feedback (tweaks) is incorporated into the final story (release). Oops, back to OS metaphors, sorry.

As for Bucketheads initial comment - I hope we agree that Dan Rather and his team had an obligation to determine whether the memos were accurate (as in accurate), or fakes, prior to airing the hit-piece on Bush.


So what did they do in actual fact? Rather asked his producer, Mapes, who vouched for their authenticity via some unnamed sources who told her they are real. One might imagine that, for instance, they'd try to get some background information on the terms used in the memos, or the typesetting, and other paraphernalia. But they did not.


Now let's imagine for a moment 60 Minutes were to run a story on a memo the Bushites around Karl Rove produced shortly before the elections, and that this memo were to be ... the formerly undisclosed Navy files of John F Kerry, making the case that Mr Kerry used some contacts at home to get out of Nam quicker. Let's further imagine Dan Rather waived the fake memos in the air, and that he were citing numerous typographical experts (which Mrs Mapes invited to the show after screening and coaching) who without doubt confirmed that those memos were fake. The show further revealed how several stakeholders in Bush's reelection were party to the forgery, giving names and positions, and facts and figures about their past. Let's imagine they filled 60 minutes of 60 Minutes with ... what? - reporting and investigation on how enemies of John F Kerry tried to damage his reputation by putting out fake memos.

This is exactly what the right-leaning blogsphere accomplished during Rathergate, while the leftists around DailyKos' Markos "Screw Them" ZĂșniga and the very source you cited, TalkingPointsMemo, disputed the investigation, claiming they had enough evidence that the memos were real. So blogs around PowerLine and LGF found out names, they determinded it was a former Army officer from Texas who photocopied the stuff, they revealed the web of connections in a manner reminiscent of the Gray Lady.

In the end it does not matter to what extent Buckethead did "reporting" or "investigation" himself, because this was distributed intelligence at work (look, I can do open source metaphors, too). If the termite worker isn't an intelligent beast does that mean they can't build hives?

I think that's my point? That the blogosphere did the real reporting, did it in a massive, distributed way. I said it was the new journalism. But interestingly the new journalism is based on partisan fervor, not scoops. Easy now ... To acknowledge this takes nothing away from the fact finding and the sleuthing. But it comes from a quite different place than traditional journalism. One wouldn't expect the rightish blogs to apply the same fervor to exposing some anti-Kerry docs as fakes. Indeed they would do what you accuse Josh Marshall et al of doing below: they would be extremely suspicious of these claims of fakery, they would apply partisan fervor to their beliefs, and only in the face of overwhelming evidence would they change their minds. This is a big part of the shift -- from the presumption of objectivity to balls-out advocacy.

My point about TPM was that enemies of the blogosphere find their fuel exactly in those places where blogs like TPM hapen to mimick the Gray Lady and other news outlets. While TPM at times might be helpful for Mr Rather he still despises them because they eat away his cake. TPM's coverage closely resembles the drift and gist on any story CBS and NYTimes covered the other day. (Incidentally, CBS initially invited the NYTimes to participate in the witch hunt.) It's neither originaly nor witty. But if you're Joshua Micah Marshall and talked yourself into a paranoid parallel universe where a vast right-wing conspiracy mind-controls Jesuslanders by way of Fox News then you'd just ignore the NYTimes' reporting, and believe that you were an underground militia in the literary sense who just must write about those sinister things happening around deLay and friends. Geez.

A bit lost here. Except that to my mind, there's a difference between spreading the word about a political action in the case of TPM and actively investigating a media claim on the other. Different but both very valuable.

As for the Fairness Doctrine - you must be joking.

Hardly. Fox exists purely because the Fairness Doctrine does not. They are mutually exclusive. Look at the networks' coverage of Clinton and tell me that they are liberal bias and Fox is just starting to tip the balance towards neutral. It's nonsense.

As for the question where the real political action is happening - I'm just infering from the last elections. The point is that leftist blogs don't seem to have any impact on public opinion in a sense that they're simply reinforcing held opinions in a block that's already safe for the Democrats.

I'm not really interested in this right-left discussion. To me its a power-grassroots discussion. Disenfranchisement comes in many forms. To me blogs represent a nonpartisan method of the grassroots being able to hold those in power to speak the truth and to be deeply transparent. That is a fundamental shift.

The blogsphere is evenly split between party lines in terms of daily visitors. However, when it comes to moving the electorate I don't see that DailyKos, TPM, Wonkette, Atrios and friends did any service to the Democrats, whereas LGF, Instapundit, HughHewitt, PowerLine and NRO's The Corner did contribute their share on converting undecideds, and even more so registered Democrats for the Republican camp. Therefore I happily infer that the left blogs' "angry base who longs for critical arles on Republican criminals" is just as fictitious as the so-called "youth vote", whereas with every election year passing by the right-leaning blogs will reveal where the real mainstream (as in main-stream) is.

The latter blogs are not here because they want to MoveOn people. People are already moving, as you had already mentioned, by way of talk radio and cable news, and blogs do the reporting.

It's not that I want to turn this into a good-blogosphere vs. bad-blogosphere thing. But I do notice that liberals and Democrats are losing bigtime in this country, and conservatives and Republicans are gaining ground. I have a hard time believing that the blogosphere is not following this trend.

As a liberal I worry very much that Democrats don't get it, and that conservatives will be able to use blogs like talk radio to achieve a level of messaging and mind-share (to use marketing speak) that will move Republican support from 52 to 75 percent. I think you are right about that (so far) and its a huge problem (IMO, not yours I'm sure).

Well thanks for a fascinating conversation. Thinking is evolving ...