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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Blog 'Til You Drop

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2005; 10:41 AM

The most buzzworthy story in the blogosphere today is . . . the blogosphere itself.

In the wake of Eason Jordan's resignation at CNN, have bloggers become a new and fearless source of fact-checking and truth-telling? Or are they, in the poke-'em-in-the-eye phrase of Steve Lovelady of Columbia Journalism Review, "salivating morons" who comprise a "lynch mob"?

_____More Media Notes_____
Another Pundit on the Payroll (washingtonpost.com, Feb 14, 2005)
Partisan Punching Bag (washingtonpost.com, Feb 11, 2005)
Deadly Analogy (washingtonpost.com, Feb 10, 2005)
Slicing and Dicing (washingtonpost.com, Feb 9, 2005)
Drawing Budgetary Blood (washingtonpost.com, Feb 8, 2005)
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I lean toward the view that the rise of blogs is a healthy development and is forcing the MSM (how did the mainstream media get stuck with a three-letter initial?) to become more accountable, rather than display their old we-stand-by-our-story arrogance. There is, to be sure, plenty of partisan noise and mean-spirited attacks out there, but also a lot of thoughtful and ground-breaking posting on stories, or angles, either missed or minimized by the MSM types.

It's true that liberal bloggers went after Jeff Gannon/Guckert, and mostly (but not exclusively) conservatives declared cyber-war on Eason Jordan. But that doesn't mean the underlying information wasn't important. After all, bloggers can form all the lynch mobs they want, but if they don't have the factual goods, or an issue that resonates, their targets will slip the noose.

While there are at least 8 million blogs out there, their readership ranges from significant to minuscule. According to an estimate from a firm called Sitemeter, InstaPundit had 1.1 million visitors this week, although it is not clear in that rough estimate how many of those were people returning to the site repeatedly. But still that readership must be larger than many small newspapers and magazines. The power of the blogosphere, I'd suggest, is not in raw numbers but in ideas that garner attention. And now, for the first time since Gutenberg, you don't need access to a printing press (or radio mike or TV tower) to reach an audience.

Jeff Jarvis, a leading blogger on the Eason business, takes a swipe at the NYT coverage:

"The New York Times media beat reporters got beaten badly on the Eason Jordan story -- by [gasp] weblogs and cable news -- and so how do they react? By catching up their readers on what they missed? Of course not. They react by lashing out at weblogs.

"Monday's story by Katharine Q. Seelye, Jacques Steinberg, and David F. Gallagher -- under the headline, 'Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters' -- is another example of the disdain in which many quarters of The Times -- not all -- hold citizens' media.

"This being The Times, many of the slaps are subtle. When they quote Edward Morrissey of Captains Quarter, who stayed on top of the Jordan story, they make a point of saying he is 'a call center manager who lives near Minneapolis' Read: 'He's not one of us. He's not a real journalist.'

"When they acknowledge that Jordan was forced out, they say:

"Some of those most familiar with Mr. Jordan's situation emphasized, in interviews over the weekend, that his resignation should not be read solely as a function of the heat that CNN had been receiving on the Internet, where thousands of messages, many of them from conservatives, had been posted.

"I think they mean that to be read: 'The bloggers didn't do this; they can't take credit for this head; that's our job to behead the powerful; we're The Times.' But I read it this way: 'There's much more to the Jordan story that The Times also missed.'"

I didn't view the Times piece the same way. After all, the first quote was as follows:

"For some bloggers - people who publish the sites known as Web logs - it was a declaration that this was just the beginning. Edward Morrissey, a call center manager who lives near Minneapolis and has written extensively about the Jordan controversy, wrote on his blog, Captain's Quarters (captainsquartersblog.com): 'The moral of the story: the media can't just cover up the truth and expect to get away with it - and journalists can't just toss around allegations without substantiation and expect people to believe them anymore.'. . . .

"At the same time, some in the traditional media are growing alarmed as they watch careers being destroyed by what they see as the growing power of rampant, unedited dialogue."

Unedited dialogue? Could some people possibly prefer that to the media's edited version?

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, perhaps surprisingly, questions whether Jordan should have quit. The resignation "has certain pundits chirping delightedly. It has been a particular satisfaction to the right wing of the so-called 'blogosphere,' the community of writers on the Web that has pushed the Eason story relentlessly and sees it as the natural sequel to the Dan Rather fiasco of last year.

"But Easongate is not Rathergate. Mr. Rather and his CBS team perpetrated a fraud during a prime-time news broadcast. . . .

"As for Mr. Jordan, he initially claimed that U.S. forces in Iraq had targeted and killed 12 journalists. Perhaps he intended to offer no further specifics in order to leave an impression of American malfeasance in the minds of his audience, but there is no way of knowing for sure. What we do know is that when fellow panelist Representative Barney Frank pressed Mr. Jordan to be specific, the CNN executive said he did not believe it was deliberate U.S. government policy to target journalists. Pressed further, Mr. Jordan could only offer that 'there are people who believe there are people in the military who have it out' for journalists, and cite two examples of non-lethal abuse of journalists by ordinary GIs.

"None of this does Mr. Jordan credit. Yet the worst that can reasonably be said about his performance is that he made an indefensible remark from which he ineptly tried to climb down at first prompting. This may have been dumb but it wasn't a journalistic felony. . . .

"It is for this reason that we were not inclined to write further about the episode after our first report [in a subscription-only newsletter by a Journal editorialist who was at Davos]. For this we have since been accused of conspiring on Mr. Jordan's behalf.

"More troubling to us is that Mr. Jordan seems to have 'resigned,' if in fact he wasn't forced out, for what hardly looks like a hanging offense. . . . It does not speak well of CNN that it apparently allowed itself to be stampeded by this Internet and talk-show crew."

Time now for the inevitable conservative/liberal debate, beginning on the left with Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum:

"At the end of a post about the recent success of the longtime conservative crusade to hound public figures (mainly media figures) out of their jobs, I said: 'It might be time for liberals to realize that even if we manage to collect a few scalps of our own along the way, conservatives gain strength from promoting this brand of warfare far more than liberals do. I hope we're not just being useful idiots by joining in this game.'

"I've gotten a lot of email and comments about this, so let me explain briefly what I meant.

"What I'm not saying is that liberals should back down from a fight. I supported Howard Dean for DNC chair -- even though I'm probably going to find myself wincing through some of his infamous miscues over the next four years -- because liberals need fighters these days. Dean's a fighter.

"But liberals and conservatives prosper in different kinds of atmospheres. Conservatives tend to thrive on a sense of besiegement, a belief that they're surrounded on all sides by enemies seen and unseen who must be destroyed. The politics of personal destruction, brought to a fever pitch during Bill Clinton's presidency, is tremendously helpful to their cause -- and always has been.

"Liberalism simply doesn't thrive in this kind of atmosphere. If we fight back using the same tactics we'll win a few battles along the way -- Hooray for our side! Jeff Gannon is a smut peddler! -- but in the long run we're just intensifying exactly the kind of warfare that helps conservatives the most.

"So sure: of course we have to fight back. But we have to fight in a way that creates an atmosphere that encourages liberalism. The politics of personal destruction isn't it, and that's why I hope the lefty blogosphere doesn't give in to it."

From the right, National Review's Jonah Goldberg ticks off some blog successes and says:

"What I find particularly interesting is that these -- and other accomplishments -- were achieved by generally conservative or non-left-wing bloggers. What makes that remarkable is that the lefty bloggers are every bit as good at this game as the right-wing ones are. I may not like some of them, but it would be silly to claim that they aren't good at what they do and even sillier to suggest that they aren't as hungry as the conservatives. The notion that the Daily Kos wouldn't chase down similar prey if given the opportunity just doesn't pass the smell test. Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum are just as tenacious about finding damning quotes, contradictions, and old gems on Nexis-Lexis as anybody on the right. There have to be other factors involved.

"The most obvious one is that the Right's hunting preserve is teeming with big game. Until Jordan quit on Friday, the lefty bloggers were dancing around the victory fire chanting in triumph over bagging this Jeff Gannon guy from Talon News. I'm extending this metaphor too far, I'm sure, but their celebration makes me wonder how so many brave warriors can eat their fill off the carcass of a chipmunk. I confess that at first I thought this sounded like a real story. But it's turned out to be more than a little sad.

"While I don't necessarily think Gannon should have been credentialed, even with a day pass, at the end of the day this is one of the ho-hummiest media 'scandals' to come down the pike in a while. If the guy hadn't changed his name and registered on gay porn sites, this would have been one of the dullest hullabaloos of all time. And besides, let he who has never registered with a gay military porn site under a different name cast the first stone. Actually, someone will have to explain to me why conservative opinion journalists can be literally outed out of the White House press room while liberal ones get lifetime achievement awards from the National Press Club.

"Of course, the lefty bloggers are determined to make Gannon into a huge story. . . . What's more interesting is what this whole episode says about the nature of the establishment media itself. We keep hearing that the blogosphere is the new 'alternative media.' This raises the question: alternative to what? For the right-wing bloggers, they are the same sort of alternative that NRO has been for near a decade now and that National Review has been for 50. Conservatives still see ourselves as the out-party when it comes to the media establishment. Sure, we appear on op-ed pages and as talking heads, but almost always in the spirit of 'the other view.' This tokenism rarely extends to the executive suites or to the editorial offices."

Boston Phoenix's Dan Kennedy says the blogpeople are important, but not as important as they think:

"Bloggers didn't force the resignation of Janet Cooke from the Washington Post. Stephen Glass did not depart from the New Republic under a hail of Little Green Footballs. Ditto for Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle at the Boston Globe, Jayson Blair at the New York Times, and Jack Kelley at USA Today.

"Yes, the departure of all these miscreants might have occurred more quickly if bloggers had been deconstructing their work in real time. In particular, the Post might have been spared from actually having to return Cooke's Pulitzer. But the notion that the MSM (and hasn't that acronym grown tiresome already?) never took care of their own until the bloggers came along is ridiculous on its face.

"The theme of the day is that the bloggers took down Eason Jordan just as they took down Dan Rather, and good God almighty, what have they wrought? Please. Jordan went down because he'd been on double secret probation since his outrageous 2003 op-ed in the New York Times, in which he admitted that CNN had played down the crimes of Saddam Hussein in part to maintain the network's access. After two members of Congress, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, went public with their anger over Jordan's suggestion at Davos that US troops had deliberately targeted journalists, Jordan's support crumbled in a matter of days.

"As for Rather, the bloggers certainly played a role in calling attention to the likely phoniness of CBS's National Guard documents. But if the MSM hadn't been able to push the story forward, Mary Mapes would still be employed at the network."

I'll skip over a couple nice words about my work and give you Kennedy's bottom line: "Blogging's become an important check on mainstream news organizations - but it's not a revolution."

Slate's Jack Shafer says he would have fired Jordan. "I suspect that his Davos comment was neither a mistake nor taken out of context. Not even an octogenarian suffering a senior moment would uncork such a provocative comment before the international elite -- as Jordan did -- if it hadn't passed his lips before."

Back in the real world, is this what Bush means by smaller government?

"The Food and Drug Administration's proposed budget for next year includes cuts to nearly all its inspection programs, from checks on imported food to reviews of overseas plants that make prescription drugs bound for the USA," reports USA Today.

The New York Post is all over the Michael Jackson witness list:

"Hoops star-turned-accused rapist Kobe Bryant is set to be hauled before a jury in Michael Jackson's upcoming kiddie-sex trial -- as a defense witness -- Jacko's lawyer revealed yesterday.

Bryant was listed on a potential-witness roster that also includes two of the singer's kids, as well as such celebs as Liz Taylor, Jay Leno and Larry King."

Umm. . . . is Kobe the guy you'd want to testify to your character?

Here's The Note's take on Chairman Dean:

"Reasons that freaking-out Democrats can take some solace from the Dean ascendancy (so far):

"1. He smartly is staying off of TV for awhile, even now that he is chair.

"2. The DNC handed out little American flags to the party members at Saturday's coronation.

"3. Judy Dean sat in the audience and was acknowledged by her husband, almost like she is/was a 'normal' political spouse. (Though we look forward to seeing the media plan for Mrs. Dean in the future.)

"4. Team Dean knows it needs to staff the party with competent and symbolically meaningful people.

"5. There's little (additional) time for pandering to state party chairs and reflecting on his presidential bid (we hope) now that there's actually business to attend to.

"6. It's possible that the gentlemen's agreement that existed between Terry McAuliffe and both Marc Racicot and Ed Gillespie will carry over to the Dean-Mehlman era -- leaving the oppo for other targets besides the chairs."

Finally, how pathetic are local newscasts at covering politics? The New York Times has the info. Fun fact: In the month before the Washington governor's race--one so close it took three recounts to sort of settle--95 percent of Seattle newscasts had nothing, zilch, nada.

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