The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Rathergate relativism from the CJR

The counterfactual post-campaign triumphalism of elements of the blogosphere I looked at on January 2.

Now, we get the other side of the coin: one Corey Pein has taken the boastful bloggers at their word in order to hold them pretty much equally responsible with CBS for the Killian memo fiasco.

The heartsink lede begins:
Bloggers have claimed the attack on CBS News as their Boston Tea Party, a triumph of the democratic rabble over the lazy elites of the MSM (that’s mainstream media to you). But on close examination the scene looks less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule.

The old order crumbleth: where, in the good old days of objective journalism - whilst Kennedy and Johnson were escalating in Vietnam on the QT, for instance - a lede might have trumpeted a pronouncement of the President, or Secretary of Defense, or other panjandrum, now it's
who get the limelight of being first word, and subject of the first sentence.

(And let's not go on without noting the evil use of the unqualified noun there: how many bloggers? Which ones? How representative? How credible?

Would Pein have started a lede
Jews have claimed
in any circumstances conceivable in this universe?

And - a lesser sin - the (ironically?) patronising
(that’s mainstream media to you).
The joke - I think - is that bloggers are a secret society of weirdoes with strange and ideologically freighted in-phrases for Mom-and-apple-pie American institutions.)

Leaving aside the Catskills routine, Pein's point is that, whilst those at CBS involved in the 60 Minutes piece on the 'Killian memos' were culpable, so, and in equal degree, were the blogs who challenged the piece (for this piece I'm assuming, as in a ruling on summary judgement, the facts proved against both sides).

The equivalence is, of course, a complete crock. (Perhaps that's why we get the dressing of monkey-shines - to take the taste away...)

We await the Dick Thornburgh/Louis Boccardi report on the matter - still. But I think it would be fair to say that, unless we get a finding that grave errors were made by senior CBS people, many will conclude that a Lord Hutton-style whitewash has been done.

Let us compare and constrast: The network is held accountable as a professional, for-profit newsgathering organisation which occupies public frequencies gratis, invites the trust of its viewers - and receives trust from many of them.

On the other side, we have a motley bunch of bloggers, Freepers, political operatives and chancers who receive no public benefits-in-kind, who may invite people's trust but rightly receive very little.

No equivalence between the two at all, either in terms of accountability or level of influence. The second group [1] can get traction - what the hyperbolic Pein calls
mob rule
- only through the medium of a third: the rest of the media.

Whose errors he rather downplays.

For instance, he refers to
a self-proclaimed typography expert, Joseph Newcomer
who claimed the memos were faked on the basis of an application of his expertise.

And continues:
Two days later, Newcomer — who was “100 percent” certain that the memos were forged — figured high in a Washington Post report. The Post’s mention of Newcomer came up that night on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN, and on September 15, he was a guest on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes.

August company for the Post to be keeping!

However, though
Newcomer gave the press what it wanted: a definite answer[, t]he problem is, his proof turns out to be far less than that.

Pein goes on to fault Newcomer's analysis - but not the Post for having so facilely adopted it!

The Post (and other 'MSM') supposedly did with Newcomer's stuff pretty much was CBS were accused of doing with the Killian memos: they failed to exercise due diligence for fear that the results of due diligence would spoil their story.

Pein says [2] that
there was a double standard at work. Liberals and their fellow travelers were outed like witches in Salem, while Bush’s defenders forged ahead, their affinities and possible motives largely unexamined.

But, rather than blaming the MSM, he hammers away at the partisan hacks and their electronic Ikettes essentially for doing their job. What does he expect from a crowd like that? Fair and balanced?

A double standard of sorts was certainly at work: Bush supporters working to support Bush, and organs like the Post working to goose their gently flagging circulation.

Pein does complain down the page that outlets failed to identify the antecedents of those weighing in against CBS. His credibility is rather diminished by the fact that the objects of his reproofs are the likes of Hannity & Colmes and Joe Scarborough, on whose show he offers this other-worldly criticism:
On cable, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC held forth with hasty overstatements: “I’m supposed to say ‘allegedly forged.’ I think everybody in America knows these documents were forged.” His guests threw in anything that sounded good: “You know, Dan Rather’s being called on the Internet, ‘Queen of the Space Unicorns,’” said Bob Kohn, author of a book on why The New York Times “can no longer be trusted.”

Does he think Scarborough is usually like Walter Cronkite? And you have to love the put-down for Bob Kohn (Who he?) - cashing in on distrusting the Times is what Swiss cheese on the cheesesteak was to poor old John Kerry!

(Although I suspect the amount of Times-love on the left has been severely diminished of late by the Iraqi WMD farrago and the antics of the Nagourney-Bumiller-Wilgoren axis.)

On the Rathergate details, I stayed well away at the time and was heartily glad to have done so [3].

But Pein's bizarre analysis seemed to call for comment.

(It occurs to me to wonder why the CJR should put a piece [4] out on the subject now, rather than waiting for the report: perhaps, to suggest to its media readers that, when the report comes, the Big Bad Blogosphere was equally to blame would be the way to frame the story so as to minimise the damage to the industry as a whole?

Problem is, so few people know what a blog is [5].)

  1. The word begs the question of what organisation there was amongst the members of the group. My suspicion is that most of the activity was autonomous; but if the most important actions were taken by operatives connected with the Bush campaign, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

  2. Have they run out of blue pencils at the CJR?
    outed like witches in Salem
    from a freshman J-school student would be bad enough...

  3. For those interested in the substance, both RatherBiased and Rathergate anatomise the CJR piece.

  4. Any piece, even one more rooted in reality than Pein's.

  5. According to the latest Pew numbers (PDF), only 38% of US internet users had a good idea what a blog was.

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