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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 
Requiem For Jeff Gerth

I thought it was rather strange that Michael Tomasky wrote a column justifiably skewering Ed Klein for his shoddy journalism and then threw in this bit toward the end:

The problem runs deeper even than Klein. Today, with the explosion of Web sites, all sorts of propagandists and provocateurs who aren't journalists can hide behind the label when it comes to First Amendment protection. Can they write anything they please about public figures, knowing that they can print lies as long as Sullivan is in force?


He explains himself today:

I didn’t mean to impugn the established liberal blogs, which I explained to Duncan Black when I ran into him just a few hours after seeing Markos. My list of bloggers to whom I was definitely not referring includes but is by no means limited to: Josh Marshall, Mark Schmitt, Matt (and all his cohorts, at Tapped of course and at TPMCafe), Markos, Duncan, Kevin Drum (and guests), Jerome Armstrong, Arianna Huffington et alia, Ezra Klein, &c &c &c.

My point, which I think remains valid, was that the blogosphere in general is a milieu that is somewhat more likely than the milieu of traditional journalism to produce reckless error.


I don't think that's possible. I've read a lot of garbage on-line, but none that had the kind of corporate backing and public relations push that Klein's book has gotten from a mainstream publisher --- and Klein's book, as Tomasky points out, is just filled with lies. And mainstream news organizations are giving him a national platform with which to spread them.

The only time that I'm aware of outright reckless error is from the rightwing blogosphere during the Rather scandal --- and mainstream journalism was just as bad and rewarded them for it.

The truth is that after watching the three ring circus known as the Whitewater scandals remain uncorrected even after all this time --- and reading pathetic explanations like this from top Washington reporter John Harris --- it's clear that mainstream news constantly commits reckless errors, on both the micro and macro level, and then rationalizes them with all the aplomb of a second grader caught with his hand in the cookie jar:

People tend to forget, for understandable reasons because the Lewinsky scandal was such a sensational affair, that 1997 was in its own way a very sullen, snippy, disagreeable year in the relationship between the White House and the press. Most news organizations -- the Washington Post included -- were devoting lots of resources, lots of coverage, to the campaign fund-raising scandal which grew out of the '96 campaign, and there were a lot of very tantalizing leads in those initial controversies. In the end they didn't seem to lead anyplace all that great. But there were tons of questions raised that certainly, to my mind, merited aggressive coverage.

The White House was unbelievably resentful -- they thought it was much ado about nothing, they thought that this was a scandal-obsessed press corps. Mike McCreary -- and he's a really great guy -- even before Lewinsky he was in a really pissy mood and I don't blame him for him for it, and I don't doubt that it was unpleasant and that his feelings of resentment were genuine, but he was snapping back at us, angry phone calls and whatnot. From the White House's vantage point the whole thing was not on the level, they thought this was standard political fund-raising that was undeniably a little sloppy but wasn't that big a deal, and we were trying to turn it into the next Watergate.


It was much ado about nothing. The fund-raising scandals didn't rise from the 96 campaign. They rose from the right wing noise machine like all the rest. And what he fails to mention is that this was after four long years of one David Bossie/American Spectator bullshit spoonfed psuedo-scandal after another.

In a cluttered office tucked away in one of the many red-brick office condominiums that ring Washington, D.C., David Bossie, source par excellence to journalists dredging the Whitewater swamp, handles one of the eighteen calls he says he gets each hour. This one is from Bruce Ingersoll, a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal. The discussion centers on bonds. "I have a whole file on bond transactions," Bossie tells Ingersoll. "I will get a report on what I find. I know you are trying to move quickly on this. You want to come out before they come out." A few minutes later Bossie says, "I don't know what I have to give you," but promises to spend the next couple of hours going through materials. "You're on deadline, I understand that." He then points Ingersoll in another direction. "Have you done anything on Beverly? [Presumably that is Beverly Bassett Schaffer, former Arkansas Securities Commissioner.] You guys ought to look into that. There will be lawsuits against the Rose law firm," he adds.


All that has been known since the above article was written for Columbia Journalism Review in 1994 and was fully explored by 1996, when Gene Lyons published the articles that became "Fools For Scandal" in Harper's magazine.

The press performed abominably throughout that period and all the way through the 2000 election, using the same methods of accepting Republican gossip and smears as the basis for their stories:

In the film we see RNC glee as AP accepts their oppo research on a Gore misstatement during the first debate . During their months of filming BBC producers also observed producers for NBC's Tim Russert among others calling to enquire if the team had any new material. This was apparently normal trading on both sides.

RNC researcher Griffin comments in the film: "It's an amazing thing when you have topline producers and reporters calling you and saying 'we trust you.... we need your stuff.'"


And it's not like it's exactly covered itself with glory since then. (Got WMD?)

Really, the blogopshere is the least of journalism's credibility problems. And while I'm sure that it's quite frightening to think of rogue character assassins running around the internet smearing people, it's very hard to see how they could be any worse than the mainstream press already is.



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