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February 23, 2005

On Reporters, Bloggers, and "Scalps"

There's been a lot of navel-gazing among some bloggers -- responsible-sounding, adult-sounding navel-gazing to be sure -- that we bloggers ought not to be in the business of looking for scalps to hang on our doors.

Or coonskins to nail on the wall, as LBJ would have it.

I posted something similar, chiefly because it sounded like the "right" thing to say.

But I don't know. Let's think about this.

Most stories alleging malfeasance ultimately go nowhere. Either there's not enough evidence collected by reporters (or bloggers) to prove the case, or else there is an awful lot of evidence, but the public is never sufficiently aroused about it to demand action. (Think Kofi Annan.)

A "scalp" -- the filing of criminal charges, the resignation under a cloud of suspicion, the tearful confession a la Robert "the Torch" Toricelli or Jim McGreevey -- is generally the only way a news-provider knows that his story has actually come to fruition. That he, and his fellow news-providers, have actually proved the case. Have actually moved the story far enough along to force a genuine conclusion, in both meanings of the word. An ending, and a more-or-less definitive resolution on the story's merits.

So for all of those counselling against going hunting for scalps, I would ask: in what other manner do you imagine you can actually successfully conclude a story and vindicate the charges you've brought forward?

I would also ask if bloggers are any different in this sense than reporters. When a reporter smells corruption, what is his ultimate goal? Sure-- to expose the truth. Of course. But what does that mean, actually? How does a reporter know when he's actually exposed the truth?

I think he generally knows he's exposed the truth, and nailed the story, when the accused malefactor admits guilt in an interview with Diane Sawyer.

Or resigns. Or is asked to resign.

Is anyone claiming that the reportage of Woodward and Bernstein would have been fully vindicated had Richard Nixon not resigned from office? If he hadn't resigned, their claims would have been essentially unproved, and the case against Richard Nixon would still be considered an open question to be debated among partisans even today.

Dotty Lynch of CBSNews sure seems to be on a scalp-hunt in this piece on the "Rove-Gannon" connection:

The architect of the Bush victories in 2000 and 2004 came through the ranks of college Republicans with the late Lee Atwater, and their admitted and alleged dirty tricks are the legends many young political operatives dream of pulling off. So when Jeff Gannon, White House "reporter" for Talon "News," was unmasked last week, the leap to a possible Rove connection was unavoidable. Gannon says that he met Rove only once, at a White House Christmas party, and Gannon is kind of small potatoes for Rove at this point in his career.

But Rove's dominance of White House and Republican politics, Gannon's aggressively partisan work and the ease with which he got day passes for the White House press room the past two years make it hard to believe that he wasn't at least implicitly sanctioned by the "boy genius." Rove, who rarely gave on-the-record interviews to the MSM (mainstream media), had time to talk to GOPUSA, which owns Talon.

GOPUSA and Talon are both owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Bruce Eberle who says that Bobby is from the "Texas branch of the Eberle clan." Bobby Eberle told The New York Times that he created Talon to build a news service with a conservative slant and "if someone were to see 'GOPUSA,' there's an instant built-in bias there." No kidding.


Daschle aides told Roll Call, "This guy (Gannon) became the dumping ground for opposition research." The connections are so strong that there is an FEC challenge which could be a test case on the limits of the use of the Internet in federal campaigns.

There's a lot of blather in her piece -- a lot of defensiveness for her fellow MSM reporters -- but I find this last claim laughable.

I think it's fairly well-known that the majority of stories "written" by the Washington press corps aren't so much written by them as merely typed by them. They're fed to them-- sure, reporters make phone calls and do some digging, but an awful lot of their stories are simply handed to them by political operatives (and, let's face it, generally from the left side of the aisle). Reporters commonly publish dirt fed to them by opposition researchers for the parties; they frequently re-type press releases from liberal think-tanks and advocacy groups and call it "reporting."

So: how is Jeff Gannon's receipt of disparaging info from the RNC any different than any other reporter (including, of course, Dotty Lynch herself, unless she's the only reporter in DC who's never been fed a story by an interested party)?

It seems to me that the MSM is pretty interested in scalps-- but only so long as those scalps belong to Republican politicians or, in a pinch, to obscure right-leaning reporters for virtually-unknown online news outlets.

There's a terrific irony in this reporette's piece, by the way.

This woman works for CBSNews. An organization fed proveably, and transparetly forged documents intended to swing a Presidential campaign by a long-time partisan Democratic activist named Bill Burkett.

CBSNews seems to want to ferret out the Gannon-Rove "connection"... but it's not so interested in investigating, say, the Burkett-DNC connection.

I would think that the latter story should be just as interesting to Ms. Dotty Lynch as the former. Unless she has some particular bias preventing her from having interest in the former-- a liberal political bias, say, or maybe just a bias to protect her fellow media-types from the same sort of harsh-light scrutiny they cast upon everyone else.

We're all looking for scalps, ultimately. And as long as the MSM is hunting the rest of us, I don't see any dishonor in hunting them back. The rest of America -- the non-legacy-media America -- are not merely sheep for their poaching. And the legacy media cannot be the only institution in America to be off-limits from the hunt.

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posted by Ace at 03:02 PM

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