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May 09, 2005

The MSM Wants Bloggers To Hold Themselves to the Exacting Standards of the MSM

Har, har.

Everyone's linking this gaseous MSM-endorsed attack on the purported lack of ethics of bloggers, so I will too.

First point: This guy's an idiot.

Second point: It is true that bloggers do not engage in some of the fact-checking other media sources do before they run a story. If another media outlet runs a story, the MSM will usually try to confirm that story before running with it themselves.

However: when they want to get breaking news out there fast, they will go with the unconfirmed report from the other media outlet, noting, quickly, that they themselves have as of yet been unable to independently corroborate the story themselves.

How is that different than bloggers, I wonder? Yes, we do this all the time, as opposed to just some of the time, as the MSM does.

But this seems to be difference in degree, not kind. If CNN can run a breaking AP report without confirming it independently first, why can't I?

True, CNN does throw in that weaselly "we have not yet confirmed this independently" disclaimer, and bloggers don't; but it has thusfar been assumed that bloggers don't engage in such confirmation processes before running with a story already supposedly vetted by the "multiple layers of editorial fact-checking" of a major media source.

If you need a disclaimer, here it is: When the MSM runs with a story, I assume -- provisionally -- it's true in most, or, rather, some details.

Cohen's piece is idiotic because he's saying that bloggers are worse than the MSM as regards ethics because we don't verify independently. Well, no, we don't: we trust-- provisionally -- the MSM's own independent-verification process to get the story "90% right 90% of the time," as the MSM is fond of bragging. (I think their percentages are much lower than that, but whatever.)

In essence, he's calling for bloggers to emulate the MSM's very-ethical and very-intensive fact-checking process, while simultaneously claiming it's unethical to rely on the MSM's very-ethical and very-intensive fact-checking process.

Well-- Mr. Cohen, if the MSM cannot be relied upon in this fashion, then why the hell should bloggers emulate a dysfunctional system?

The last point is practical. Very few of us are being paid anything at all to do this. Those few of us actually making some money aren't making enough to make this a full-time job.

It is simply not possible for a blogger -- any blogger -- who is not doing this full-time to run down and verify every fact (previously reported by the MSM) independently.

For crying out loud, most MSM reporters don't do that sort of grunt-work either, even on their own stories. Their are interns and low-level employees who spend hours and hours verifying facts.

Bloggers don't have that sort of support system. Nor the time. Nor, in fact, the juice to get a high-profile figure on the phone to confirm or deny a story or a quote.

So what Mr. Cohen proposes, under the guise of increasing the ethics of blogging, is in fact a de facto end to almost all blogging.

And jeepers, his disguised manifesto on An End to All Blogs just happens to run on the editorial page of the most mainstream of all diehard liberal rags in the country.

Fancy f'n' that.

The National Journal's Hotline digests some other common-sense blog-responses:

PoliBlog: "If a major blogger had circulated false documents to damage either the Kerry or Bush campaigns in a manner similar to Rather, there is no doubt that they would have suffered the same kind of scrutiny and criticism."

Little Green Footballs: "The blogosphere is merciless in such cases, and any well-known blogger who tried such a stunt would be discredited, probably within minutes, and never trusted again."

Ed Cone: "Beyond the legal penalties for libel that apply to all publishers, the ethics of blogging have to be self-enforced. There is no mechanism for enforcement, other than shunning by the tribe, and there are many tribes online."

The media has its vertical, heirarchical verification procedures-- and they frequently don't work.

Bloggers just don't have the time or the extensive support system of low-level employees to engage in such a process. Our verification process is horizontal and somewhat anarchic -- I realized that the Dan Rather documents were forgeries, for example, when two bloggers I trusted, LGF and Powerline, both said, flat-out, they were forgeries. Until that moment I had thought the email tips in my in-box were wishful-thinking conspiracy-theorizing; when those two blogs put their asses and credibility on the line and said "These are hoaxes, period, full-stop," I knew, or rather was as sure as an MSM fact-checking editor would be, that they were fabrications.

It's a different model of verification. Will there be errors that slip through under this model? Of course there will be; but then, the MSM keeps showing us again and again that their model isn't foolproof, either.

And it's the only model open to us. There simply is no other possibility. Mr. Cohen can whine about the need for bloggers to spend 18 hours a day verifying all the details of a single story they might post from the MSM, but that simply cannot happen. No one has that kind of time.

If the media wants us to begin that sort of tedious and time-consuming process for verification: put us on the payrolls.

Or at least pay a stipend to an intern you then assign to us. I'm tired of picking up my dry-cleaning anyhow.

PS: I'll stop offering my opinions on news of the day the moment that reporters stop similarly offering off-the-cuff opinions regarding stories they haven't verified on cable talk-shows.

If Norah O'Donnell is allowed to speculate and opine on stories she hasn't herself verified -- but merely read in the newspaper -- on Chris Matthews' show, how the hell can the MSM say with a straight face I'm not permitted to do so?

And yes, I know she's hot, so she gets some latitude. Okay-- forget Norah O'Donnell. How about Joe Klein or David Gregory?

Perhaps the MSM would stop fretting about "the wild west that is the blogosphere" if they stopped thinking of us as legitimate professional news-gathering organizations -- look, we're not that, though once in a while we do break news -- and more of a cybernetic Sunday morning talk show that runs 24/7.


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posted by Ace at 12:56 PM

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