Fat Steve's Blatherings

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Real Reason Blogs Scare the Mainstream Media

      There's a pretty good story up in The Australian, about blogs and their influence.  In turn, Glenn Reynolds, who was quoted in the article, has a long post reflecting on the story, and Easongate.

      Which brings up a thought I've had before, but haven't blogged.  Reynolds said:
I just listened to the WSJ's Bret Stephens on Hugh Hewitt's show, and his basic line seemed to be that everybody screws up, so nobody should be criticized too harshly.

Well, everybody does screw up, and there's nothing unforgivable about screwing up. What's unforgivable is either deliberately misleading, as with the Rather bogus-document story, or following a screwup with denials and stonewalls as with Rather or Jordan. The defensiveness with which a lot of Big Media folks are responding to this topic suggest to me that either they're unable to imagine a swift and open correction, or that their work is even worse than we think . . . . At any rate, as I said on Charlie Rose, they could easily incorporate bloggers as unpaid fact-checkers and assistant editors, improving their product and making friends. All they need to do is get off those high horses for a while.

      Yup, that's the root of it: "highhorses."  I've long believed that the main problem with the mainsteam media is that they aren't nearly as smart as they think they are.

      Most reporters seem to have an automatic assumption that they know 'what the story is' before they research it.  So if someone sets up an 'Independent Center For Consumer Good Safety,' the reporter assumes the group is made up of people that really care only, or at least primarily, about preventing harm with consumer goods, and assumes that the group is competent.  'Consumer safety' is a good thing, so the group must be good as well.

      In fact, the 'Independent Center For Consumer Good Safety' may be a front for lawyers looking for someone to sue, anti-capitalists trying to make a political point, or some other bunch with a hidden agenda.  And regardless of their motives, their analyses of what is and isn't 'safe' may be dishonest or incompetent.  The only way to find out is to investigate them, as well as whomever they've currently targeted.

      This should not be such a big deal.  'If your mother tells you she loves you, confirm it,' is supposed to be a journalistic axiom.  But in recent years, it has apparently been forgotten.  Professional journalists acquire a swelled head somewhere in their training, leading to a conviction that they're all Mr. Science ("He knows more than you do.")

      In truth, most journalists are fairly ignorant, and entirely too cocksure.  Look at Rathergate.  Nobody at CBS knew what an Air National Guard memo was supposed to look like, none of them knew and remembered what typewritten documents looked like, none of them knew enough about National Guard procedures in the immediate aftermath of Viet Nam to figure out whether or not the lack of pay records from the Alabama ANG meant Bush hadn't been showing up.  None of that would have mattered it they'd realized their limitations, and researched the subjects.  But instead they went into the story certain they knew what had really happened ('Bush used political pull to get into the Guard.  Then he used political pull to avoid doing his duty.')  A high school paper reporter would probably have done a better job, by being aware of her own limitations.

      Overestimating their own competence also leads to errors in judgment about what is and isn't news.  For instance, I believe John Kerry was supposed to serve two years reserve duty after he came home from Viet Nam.  There's no record I know of that he did so.  The MSM hasn't followed up on that 'dereliction of duty' story, though.  They've decided that what's important is the fact Kerry served in Viet Nam, and agrees with them politically.  Everything else is trivia.

      Of course on some level, the MSM have always known that they are fallible.  They do run corrections, after all.  But they tend to limit corrections to mistakes in names and dates.  When they make a major error, their first instinct is to say 'We stand behind our story.'

      Once, that worked.  Now, they get fact checked by a hoard that collectively knows more than they do.  In my arrogant opinion, it distresses them to get called on their errors.  That's why Bret Stephens ended up defending Eason Jordan, and why the WSJ keeps defending its poor news judgment in initially almost ignoring the story.  They just can't bear to admit they were wrong.

      Well, they'd better get used to it, because they're going to make mistakes, and they're going to get called on them.



  • No. The MSM is woried about its market. It/they have been steadly losing market since talk radion came on the sceen 27 years ago. This trend picked up speed in Oct after Rathergate. They could care less about what anyone thinks as long as the money comes in. That is the reason they tried to bury the CNN smear of America. If they were concerned with your opinion would the give the outspoken America basher a big sendoff next month?! No.
    Rod Stanton

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 AM  

  •       Rod, I don't disagree that they're concerned about losing their market, but why have they been losing it, and why has it accelerated?

          As you say, it started with talk radio, an alternative channel they couldn't dominate (I remember my father telling me of some left-winger talk radio show, whose host couldn't deal with those who disagreed with him in any manner except by insulting them.  Low ratings drove him off the air).  Talk radio hosts gave the public information the left wanted surpressed.

          It accelerated with the 'Net, another channel they couldn't control, and took another leap with blogs.  They may not "care less about what anyone thinks of them as long as the money comes in," but we're showing them up as incompetent, biased, fools.  That lowers their audience, and in turn the smaller audience decreases the money.

          They're stuck.  If they acknowledge that Rather isn't very smart, and doesn't do his job well, they humiliate themselves.  If they pretend otherwise, they alienate more people with their smug hypocrisy.  They're frantically hoping the old game of reporting what they want you to know, and ignoring the rest, can be made to work again.  They're wrong, it won't work.

          Gee, they're in such a tough spot, maybe I should feel sorry for them
    [Steve Martin]


    [/Steve Martin].


    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 5:59 PM  

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