The Pajama Game
It's hard to know who to root against in the bloggers vs. CNN controversy that led to the resignation of CNN's Eason Jordan, a twenty-three-year veteran of the network. Right-wing bloggers speak of themselves as having replaced the mainstream media. And while it is impossible to generalize about the global blog phenomenon (indeed, in May 2002 I started an edited MSNBC weblog, www.altercation.msnbc.com), one thing you can say about bloggers is that they are not professional journalists--unless, of course, they also happen to be professional journalists.
This is both a good and a bad thing. The MSM operate with countless blinders, and plenty of people with specialized knowledge enjoy the capacity to invigorate the MSM's frequently brain-dead discourse. The analysis of US Middle East policy one finds on Juan Cole's blog is consistently superior to what usually appears in the MSM; ditto Brad DeLong on economic policy. The blog Left2Right offers a host of intelligent contributions from the world of academic philosophers. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes a fresh eye and a willingness to hammer away at the same topic from different angles can also be salutary. Dozens of journalists heard then-Senate majority leader Trent Lott celebrate legalized segregation, but it took journalist Joshua Micah Marshall and economist Duncan Black, a k a Atrios, to force them to recognize the racism of his remarks.
Moreover, while the MSM machers have traditionally played the role of gatekeeper, keeping malevolent nuts out of the public square, they have undeniably fallen down on the job of late. It was on CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer that the satanic spawn Ann Coulter was invited to giggle about how nice it would be if the US military really were deliberately murdering journalists.
Part of the problem was the cowardice of Jordan and CNN in failing to stand up to the baying hounds. Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, observed at an off-the-record meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in late January that he believed the US military had aimed at journalists and killed twelve of them. He backpedaled immediately and later explained that he "never meant to imply US forces acted with ill intent." (We can't know for sure what he said, because neither Jordan nor the assembled Masters of the Universe will release the videotape, but David Gergen, who moderated the event, explained, "He was trying to say there is no official policy from the United States government to allow the killing of journalists and that his concern was whether troops on both sides especially American troops here in this particular case we're talking about were careful enough....")
Jordan sent a note to colleagues saying he quit to "prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy." This is silly. There's nothing wrong with a global news organization weathering "controversy." In fact, it's good for ratings. What CNN really feared was something it will not acknowledge: a know-nothing right-wing political tsunami--fueled by blogs--that drowns whatever it finds objectionable in a sea of self-righteous bullshit. (Dan Rather sacrificed himself to these forces like a virgin jumping feet first into a volcano.) Together with the likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, etc., the right-wing blogs are making it impossible for anyone in public life to speak about any issue without risk to his or her reputation should he or she deviate ever so slightly from the "Bush/America good, liberals/rest of world bad" dichotomy.
Neither the sketchy quality of the available evidence nor Jordan's immediate clarification made a significant impression on right-wing bloggers, who initially demanded his scalp and then danced on his professional grave. A wing nut named Douglas MacKinnon writing in the Washington Times actually used the word "treasonous" and termed the Jordan episode the "death knell" of "the liberal segment of the mainstream press," although no one has offered any evidence of Jordan's political beliefs. Never mind that. As David McLemore observed on Jim Romenesko's journalists' website, "Bloggers, relying heavily on their own opinions, told us exactly what Jordan meant. There was no doubt, no lack of certainty. We were also told how it would play in the major media outlets and how wrong that would be."
In the conservative blog world, the very act of weighing evidence, or even presenting any, is suspect. The modus operandi is accuse, accuse, accuse and see what sticks. BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis, who has become a self-styled evangelist for right-wing bloggers (and who has gone after yours truly more than once), declares, "We're all journalists.... The only thing that made journalists journalists before was access to the guy who owned the press." That, of course, is nonsense. Journalists aspire to standards of fairness, accuracy and research that are not generally observed by Jarvis's pajama-clad army. What's more, good journalism takes time and often money. At a recent meeting of bloggers and journalists at Harvard, Jarvis reportedly became so incensed when New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson asked him if he knew how much it cost to operate a bureau in Iraq, the moderator had to ask everybody to behave.
Of course, MSM journalists often fall short of their own standards, and many have junked them entirely. But both the example and aspirationmake an important difference throughout theprofession. Their absence in so much of the blogosphere is evidenced clearly in Jarvis's own blog. In a post devoted to dissecting the New York Times coverage of the CNN affair, Jarvis attacked the paper because its reporter noted that Edward Morrissey, whose blog Captain's Quarters focused on Jordan, was "a call center manager who lives near Minneapolis." Jarvis wrote, "Read: 'He's not one of us. He's not a real journalist.'"
Um, then again, that's who he is. But you see, when the Times reports on a blogger in exactly the same fashion it reports on everybody else, it's part of a conspiracy--a conspiracy so immense that it proves whatever the bloggers point was in the first place. Get it?