My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Fisking the Roberts

Today's Rocky ran a column by Steve and Cokie Roberts about CBS' current difficulties titled "Emergence of advocacy journalism is troubling."

I like Cokie, generally. She always struck me on ABC's Sunday Morning as a voice of reason, if a little to the left of center. She and her husband also represent the old media--both are (if memory serves) children of Congressmen, and both have worked for various old media outlets for decades. So, I suppose, it shouldn't surprise me that they came to Rathers' defense.

They start: We don't know yet if the documents uncovered by CBS about President Bush's National Guard service are real or fake. Not an auspicious start--the docs have been fairly thoroughly discredited, with even the tacit admission by Dan Rather last night and today that they deserve "looking in to."

Later: No matter how shaky CBS looks right now, its report on Bush's guard service was subject to intense vetting by squads of producers, fact-checkers and lawyers. Bloggers operate on a far lower standard of accuracy and authenticity. And yet, all those lawyers, producers, fact-checkers and King's horses failed to catch the fraud which was discovered by bloggers in a matter of hours.

They conclude: America's free press is rooted in the tradition that professional jounalists here don't identify with a faction or an ideology. In the current rush to celebrate the glories of the "blogosphere," the virtues of independence and fairness should not be forgotten. They are still essential to a well-informed democracy. Exactly. The problem is that without the blogosphere, the mainstream media would be free to identify with an ideology--AND HIDE THAT FACT.

The blogosphere is generally peopled by writers quick to identify their biases; readers of those sites know what the bias is going in, and can adjust their intake of information accordingly. The mainstream media is quick to lay claim to "ideological neutrality;" thus, an uninformed or unskeptical consumer has no idea to filter the information reported, and the bias becomes part of the "news."

What Dan Rather and CBS did is either an example of a political hit piece, or an example of shoddy journalism. In either case, the root cause must be organizational bias--CBS either participated in the perpetration of a fraud, or overlooked obvious problems because those problems were inconvenient to the story they wanted to tell.

At any rate, "advocacy journalism" is nothing new--it's just that, for some reason, those of us with "lower standards" admit to our bias, while those "on high" refuse to acknowledge theirs.

Aside: good line from the column: Even if many bloggers do have partisan agendas, they can't be dismissed with an imperious wave of The Anchorman's hand.

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