Just leaving it there

>> Monday, November 16, 2009

Tonight, after this segment on The Rachel Maddow Show aired, my father and I got into a short conversation/argument.

A summation of our conversation/argument:
My Dad: Some Republican is going to have to figure out how to knock her off the stage so they can take the lead. Someone like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty will have to usurp her.

Me: Well, rumor has it that a right-wing blog is already scared that Mitt Romney is working to get "babygate" uncovered. That'll sink her as a national figure.

My Dad:
Blogs don't account for anything! Nothing is going to happen until an organization like Reuters publishes something.

Me:
The mainstream media (MSM) is milquetoast and doesn't do much real journalism. Many are a bunch of sycophants.
Yes, those blogs don't account for anything. It doesn't matter that Glenn Greenwald, a "blogger," was quoted by Senator Chris Dodd on the Senate floor during the FISA debate. He's just a blogger. Doesn't account for anything. It doesn't matter that Marcy Wheeler, aka Emptywheel, a "blogger," was the one who discovered that KSM was waterboarded 183 times. Yup, just another "blogger." She doesn't really matter. There's no difference between random blogs like mine and others that have a journalistic focus such as Digby's Hullabaloo and Calculated Risk, which has been cited by Paul Krugman in his NYT columns. Andrew Sullivan, a journalist and a "blogger," has consistently blogged about Palin's inconsistencies and the possibility that Trig is not Sarah Palin's biological child. But he is a "blogger" and "doesn't account for anything!"

What utter bullshit.

You've got to look at blogs on their veracity and what they offer. Just because it is a "blog" does not automatically mean that what is written on it is worthless. After all, Sarah Palin is apparently scared of Alaskan bloggers. If blogs didn't account for anything, then she wouldn't be using them as scapegoats.

As Rachel Maddow said in Bloggers on the Bus:
Being able to come up with an analysis of what's going on, toss it around, see if it works, and then pass it on, that's really important. It's the power of explanation. If you can explain what's going on in politics and in the media, you get to define what's happening in politics and in the media. Explaining is defining, and if you do it effectively it can be very powerful. And with the blogs, we've got a place to do that now.
Because one of the most ridiculous notions the MSM engages in is "balance." They don't want to be critical of one politician unless they can be critical of another one "equally." It's large-scale deference. It's one of the reasons why they stay away from the "babygate" story even if their sole purpose was to refute it. But blogs don't have to engage in such deference. For example, this quote by an editor and a blog critiquing it:

Anchorage Daily News Editor Pat Doherty in an email to Sarah Palin:
Governor, as far as the Trig matter is concerned, you have my sympathy. I have no doubt that Trig is your son. The Daily News has never done a story raising the question of whether Trig is your son and we weren't planning to start in December. I did think a story about how such a baseless, internet-fueled, sensational rumor could become so widespread and persistent would be interesting. (I now think of it as one of my no-good-deed-goes-unpunished things.)

If the story had been done, with Lisa Demer's typical thoroughness, I think you would have found it helpful in putting this nonsense to rest. I personally would have liked to be responsible for that. But that's water under the bridge. We have no further interest (unless you really want us to help out with a DNA test; that would be too sensational to pass up).

As you suggest, these are tough times for newspapers. Having a bunch of conspiracy nuts denouncing the Daily News for hiding your secret just adds to the overall happy ambience.
Ah, journalistic integrity. It is never bought and paid for. There are never any possible distortions, right?
A practising corporate attorney from Florida wrote:

“I agree that rumors are not facts. But Mr. Dougherty should also agree that his failure to pursue the answers to questions raised by hard factual evidence is mediocre journalism at best. Some might even suggest that such failure is a passive cover-up ("We don't want the answers, because they may well force us to change our preconceived viewpoint regarding Trig's parentage, which admittedly is not "evidence-based," but which is based solely upon a self-serving, unverified and an uncorroborated assertion by Sarah Palin.")

Does the Alaska Daily News publication really want to serve its customers with truthful and factual reporting, or is that merely lip-service? My prediction is the historical record will prove that is not a rhetorical question.”
As Glenn Greenwald noted last year, real journalism isn't kowtowing to the establishment.
That’s definitely one of the primary corrupting forces in journalism. The media should be an adversarial force to the political establishment, that’s basic journalism. But in the last few decades they have become dependent on the political establishment and assimilated into it, so the media is an arm of the political establishment as opposed to a watchdog over it. That dynamic has corrupted the process more than anything else, because there’s no tension between the media and political power. During recent years, the political establishment has been primarily Republican and the media gets fed mostly by Republican operatives–that’s where reporters get their access and their scoops and the feeling that they are insiders–and that’s where the loyalty of most of the establishment press therefore lies: with Republican power.
Some people believe that as long as the media references both sides, it is thereby "independent." Take this blog post from Andrew Sullivan as an example:
01 Oct 2009 11:04 pm
Did Jon Stewart Hurt America?

Drezner provokes:
We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of Jon Stewart's verbal skewering of Crossfire in particular and the whole genre of left-right cable gabfests in general. Stewart said these kind of shows were "hurting America" because of their general blather and failure to ask politicians good, sharp questions.

Stewart's appearance on Crossfire generated quite the navel-gazing among the commentariat, and played no small role in the eventual disappearance of Crossfire, The Capitol Gang, Hannity & Colmes, and shows of that ilk.

So, five years later, I have a half-assed blog question to ask -- did Jon Stewart hurt America by driving these shows off the air?

If you're expecting a lengthy defense of the Crossfire format right now, well, you're going to be disappointed. My point rather, is to question what replaced these kinds of shows on the cable newsverse. Instead of Hannity & Colmes, you now have.... Hannity. Is this really an improvement?
He's got a point, hasn't he?
No, he doesn't have a point. What Drezner is talking about is false balance or “He said, she said” journalism.
Quick definition: “He said, she said” journalism means…

* There’s a public dispute.
* The dispute makes news.
* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
It's an attempt at journalism on the cheap notes Jay Rosen, NYU Journalism professor:
The best description I’ve read of the problem to which devices like he said, she said are a solution comes from former Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor, who covered national politics. Here’s a comment about it that I left at the New York Times Opinionator blog. It was an attempt to explain a phrase I use to describe the kind of distortion that he said, she said can produce: “regression toward a phony mean.”
Journalists associate the middle with truth, when there may be no reason to.

In his 1990 book, See How They Run, former Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor (once seen as heir to David Broder) explained why regression toward a phony mean is so common in journalism. It answers to a need for what he calls “refuge.” Here is what he said:

“Sometimes I worry that my squeamishness about making sharp judgments, pro or con, makes me unfit for the slam-bang world of daily journalism. Other times I conclude that it makes me ideally suited for newspapering– certainly for the rigors and conventions of modern ‘objective’ journalism. For I can dispose of my dilemmas by writing stories straight down the middle. I can search for the halfway point between the best and the worst that might be said about someone (or some policy or idea) and write my story in that fair-minded place. By aiming for the golden mean, I probably land near the best approximation of truth more often than if I were guided by any other set of compasses– partisan, ideological, pyschological, whatever… Yes, I am seeking truth. But I’m also seeking refuge. I’m taking a pass on the toughest calls I face.”

Clearly, there can be something extreme about this squeamishness, too. Clearly, the desire for refuge can get out hand. Writing the news so that it lands somewhere near the “halfway point between the best and the worst that might be said about someone” is not a truthtelling impulse at all, but a refuge-seeking one, and it’s possible that this ritual will distort a given story.
Like the “straight down the middle” impulse that Taylor writes about, he said, she said is not so much a truth-telling strategy as refuge-seeking behavior that fits well into newsroom production demands. “Taking a pass” on the tougher calls (like who’s blowing more smoke) is economical. It’s seen as risk-reduction, as well, because the account declines to explicitly endorse or actively mistrust any claim that is made in the account. Isn’t it safer to report, “Rumsfeld said…,” letting Democrats in Congress howl at him (and report that) than it would be to report, “Rumsfeld said, erroneously…” and try to debunk the claim yourself? The first strategy doesn’t put your own authority at risk, the second does, but for a reason.

We need journalists who understand that reason. And I think many do. But a lot don’t.

He said, she said reporting appears to be risk-reducing, but this is exactly what’s changing on the press. For a given report about, say, former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke, “the halfway point between the best and the worst that might be said about someone” is no more likely to be accurate than the one-fifth mark, especially when you factor in the reality of the Overton Window and the general pattern we know as “working the refs.” The halfway point is a miserable guideline but it can still sound pretty good when you are trying to advertise to all that you have no skin in the game. This is how I think of he said, she said reporting. Besides being easy to operate, and requiring the fewest imports of knowledge, it’s a way of reporting the news that advertises the producer’s even handedness. The ad counts as much as the info. We report, you decide.
And this is why newsrooms are dying. Why should I buy a newspaper that does not engage in any analysis? That may just repeat the claims of political figures like parrots? "You carried Trig in your womb, even though there's reasonable evidence to the contrary? Well, if you say you did then you must have. After all, it's not like you could produce a birth certificate proving such." As McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief John Walcott noted in a speech last year:
That brings me to may last point: Relying on The Times, or McClatchy or any other news source, for all the truth is dumb, but it's infinitely preferable to the pernicious philosophical notions that there is no such thing as truth, that truth is relative, or that, as some journalists seem to believe, it can be found midway between the two opposing poles of any argument. . . .

Does the truth lie halfway between say, slavery and abolition, or between segregation and civil rights, or between communism and democracy? If you quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Winston Churchill, in other words, must you then give equal time and credence to Hitler and Joseph Goebbels? If you write an article that's critical of John McCain, are you then obligated to devote an identical number of words to criticism of Barack Obama, and vice versa?...

There is not one truth for Fox News and another for The Nation. Fair is not always balanced, and balanced is not always fair.
And neither is CNN with the best political team on television.
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