Skip to comments.Don't Fear the Blogger: Will somebody please help the Los Angeles Times' David Shaw get a grip?
Posted on 03/29/2005 5:50:37 PM PST by OESY
In yesterday's (March 27) Los Angeles Times, media reporter and critic David Shaw demonstrates Oscar Wilde's maxim that modern journalism is importantif only because it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.
Giving every indication that he's read a lot of stories about bloggers but not that many actual blogs, Shaw disparages the form as the error-filled rants of amateurs in his piece, "Do Bloggers Deserve Basic Journalistic Protections?" It's a "solipsistic, self-aggrandizing journalist-wannabe genre," Shaw writes.
Without naming a specific offenderexcept Matt Drudge, who he acknowledges really isn't a bloggerShaw generalizes about bloggers for 1,300 gassy words. He writes:
Many bloggersnot all, perhaps not even mostdon't seem to worry much about being accurate. Or fair. They just want to get their opinionsand their "scoops"out there as fast as they pop into their brains. One of the great advantages of the Internet, many Web lovers have told me, is that it's easy to correct an error there. You can do it instantly, as soon as the error is called to your attention, instead of having to wait until the next day's paper.
These nameless bloggers don't deserve the "same constitutional protections as traditional print and broadcast journalists," Shaw writes. Specifically, he opposes their right to use state shield laws to protect their confidential sources when subpoenaed, as are three bloggers who are facing down Apple Computer in a trade secret case.
What gave Shaw the impression that the law accords print and broadcast journalists the same rights? The "Equal Time Rule" for political candidates requires broadcasters to treat legally qualified candidates the same whenever it sells air time or gives it away (unless a waiver is granted, as in the presidential debates). It must also sell advertising at discount rates to political candidates. No such rules apply to print, which can't be forced to sell ads at all.
Also, until it was repealed 1987, the "Fairness Doctrine" forced all TV and radio broadcasters to present balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues. Again, no such requirement has ever been imposed on print journalists. Whatever First Amendment parity Shaw thinks broadcast journalists enjoy with print journalists, they've had to fight for every step of the way, and many of those "rights" could be legislated away tomorrow.
What compels Shaw to write such slapdash copy? Is he trying to get his opinions out there as fast they pop into his brain?
Further developing his thesis, Shaw finds bloggers inferior to the working press because bloggers "require no journalistic experience. All they need is computer access and the desire to blog." This is an odd stance for Shaw to take: No aspiring journalist has any journalistic experience before he reports and writes his first story. All he needs to gain entry to the profession is access to a keyboard, a desire to be published, and an editor willing to publish his work. Upon that day he becomes a journalistmaybe not a good journalist, but a journalist just the same.
Shaw puts great stock in the fact that mainstream journalism, unlike blog entries, goes "through several filters before a reader sees it." He boasts of how his columns benefit from the vetting of at "least four experienced Times editors," who check it for "accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel." Presumably, his experienced editors aren't hip to the fact that print and broadcast journalism don't have the same First Amendment rights.
According to Shaw, regular journalists strive harder than bloggers for accuracy because of their greater legal exposure. He writes: "If I'm carelessif I am guilty of what the courts call a 'reckless disregard for the truth'The Times could be sued for libel and could lose a lot of money." Doesn't Shaw appreciate that Joe Blogger can be sued, too, and that if he loses his case could be forced to forfeit his house, his bank account, his car, and his Fiestaware collection? On the face of it, Joe Blogger would seem to have a greater incentive to avoid libel than Shaw, whose employer will cover his legal bills and take the financial hit in case of a legal judgment.
Shaw defends the mistakes made by mainstream journalists because most publications faithfully correct those errors in subsequent editions. Why is he not similarly forgiving of bloggers, who in my experience are just as likely to do the same? For all the energy he spends on damning error-filled blogs, the only significant gaffe he actually cites is the online assertion that President Bush wore a device under his suit coat through which advisers fed him answers during a presidential debate. And even this is more an unsolved mystery than it is an out-and-out error.
Shaw fails to confront the uncomfortable fact that mainstream journalists make routine errors, even on important stories. In his book Nixon's Shadow, Slate contributor David Greenberg lists a number of press errors made during Watergatesupposedly a high-water mark for the fourth estatethat weren't corrected:
In May 1973, Walter Cronkite opened the CBS Evening News with an item erroneously implicating a Bethesda bank run by Pat Buchanan's brother in Watergate money-laundering. The AP falsely reported that Ehrlichman was present at a key cover-up meeting among Nixon, Haldeman, and Dean. ABC's Sam Donaldson wrongly asserted that James McCord had implicated departed aide Harry Dent in the White House sabotage efforts; Donaldson apologized.
Marvin Kalb's 2001 book, One Scandalous Story, catalogs the errors in the reporting of Monicagate: Both the Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News retracted big stories during the scandal. ABC News' Jackie Judd reported that Lewinsky's had saved a dress with "the president's semen stain on it," then later reported that the FBI had found no forensic evidence on it because it had been dry-cleaned, and then finally reported that, indeed, the president had deposited his love mark on the dress (which was the case).
In the two weeks following Sept. 11, the press made these goofs: CNN relied on unnamed law-enforcement sources to name Adnan Bukhari a hijacker. He wasn't. The Boston Globe identified one Abdulrahman Alomari as another. Wrong Alomari. CBS aired a report of a van filled with explosives on the George Washington Bridge. Didn't happen. As the towers collapsed, CNN aired the raw report of a car bomb exploding at the State Department. "We are working to confirm," said the talking head. Whoops. And so on.
The point here isn't that the established press was reckless, but that the practice of journalism is an imperfect affair. Any journalist who throws rocks at bloggers should pick his targets carefully and expect a volley in return.
By piece's end, Shaw concludes that the protections afforded by the state shield laws to the established press are too precious to waste on bloggers. He writes:
If the courts allow every Tom, Dick and Matt who wants to call himself a journalist to invoke the privilege to protect confidential sources, the public will become even less trusting than it already is of all journalists.
That would ultimately damage society as much as it would the media.
Shaw seems to believe that the First Amendment and its subsidiary protections belong to the credentialed employees of the established corporate press and not to the great unwashed. I suggest that heor one of the four experienced editors who touched his copyresearch the history of the First Amendment. They'll learn that the Founders wrote it precisely to protect Tom, Dick, and Matt and the wide-eyed pamphleteers and the partisan press of the time. The professional press, which Shaw believes so essential in protecting society, didn't even exist until the late 19th century.
If blogs err, Shaw has my permission to shame them. If they libel him, he has my blessing to sue. I suspect that the more he treats blogs like the press the more he will come to realize that they are the press, and that the petty attempt he's made with his column to commandeer the First Amendment for the corporate media will only wreak the damage to society and the press that he so fears.
If I were in the business of licensing journalists, which I'm not, I'd give Shaw a two-week suspension without pay and force him to blog his way back into his readers' good graces. Send your alternative sentence for Shaw to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)
I can't believe someone would even ask that question out loud. As if the freedom of the press only applies to a certain class of people, and not to the people generally!
I guess I can credit him with being honest, and saying out loud what a lot of modern journalists think privately, but still, that takes quite a bit of chutzpah.
Blogosphere Politics (Update 28/3/05)
(An Update to 'John Kerry and Foreign Policy')
2/21/05 US News World Report. Michael Barone writes a piece comparing the leftist and rightist blogs. On the left there is one large dominating blog, which is operated by a Democratic consultant who received money (which he disclosed) from the Dean campaign. The Democratic Internet constituency was and is motivated by one thing more than anything else: hatred of George W. Bush. <..> But the right blogosphere was different from the left. There was no one dominant website and no one orthodoxy. <..> The focus of hatred in the right blogosphere is not Kerry or the Democrats but what these bloggers call Mainstream Media, or MSM. They argue, correctly in my view, that the New York Times, CBS News, and others distorted the news in an attempt to defeat Bush in 2004. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the blog structure seems to match ideology (top down versus bottom up)...
These blogs are playing an increasingly influential roll in elections. According to a recent poll: Reliance on the Internet for political news during presidential campaigns grew from 3 percent in 1996 to 18 percent in 2004. Although only 24% of those using the Internet for political news used blogs, this number is rapidly growing. James Miller from Tech Station writes in The coming War on Blogs that elements of the political elite and the media are likely to make attempts to use government to squash their competition and further their political agendas. There is already talk of applying the totally failed and unconstitutional Campaign Finance reform laws to the Internet.
It is easy to determine which side is being hurt by an increase in freedom of choice and the disintegration of the Mainstream Media monopoly. Here is Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry:
"We learned," Kerry said to the gathering, "that the mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning. But there's a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profound impact and undermines what we call the mainstream media of the country. And so the decision-making ability of the American electorate has been profoundly impacted as a consequence of that. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"
So the stupid American public need to be protected from influences outside the liberal mainstream press. What are you going to do about it Senator?
Maybe Kerry is upset because people like me will continue to call him out on his continuing contradictory and revisionist statements:
(9/30/04) (First Presidential Debate)
There's only 25 percent of the people in there. They can't have an election right now. The president's not getting the job done.
(10/8/04) (Second Presidential Debate)
There's chaos in Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan said just yesterday or the day before you can't hold elections in Iraq with the chaos that's going on today.
"It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote," <..> "No one in the United States should try to overhype this election."
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the situation in Iraq better now than what you had predicted during the campaign, given on the recent elections there and moves toward democracy?
KERRY: No, I think it's what I said it would be. In fact, when I came back from Iraq about a month and a half ago before the elections, I said that that we ought to have the elections that the Iraqi people want a vote and they're going to turn out in significant numbers.
Or perhaps Kerry doesn't appreciate attention being brought to his Senate activities, such as his recent sponsorship of a statement honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, a former socialist presidential candidate who renounced his American citizenship and joined the communist party. Human Events reports: After the outbreak of the Korean War (in which 54,000 US troops died to liberate South Korea), Du Bois contended in 1950 that "the North Koreans are fighting exactly the things for which Americans fought in 1776." (in the past decade an estimated 12% of their population has died of starvation as the dictatorship built nuclear weapons) Three years later, he eulogized Stalin (the greatest mass murder and enslaver in the history of the world) as a "great" and "courageous" man, "attacked and slandered as few men of power have been." Not surprisingly, The Soviet Union awarded W.E.B. Du Bois the Lenin Peace Prize. Maoist China staged a national holiday in his honor in 1959. Du Bois was also (twice) kicked out of the NAACP (which he helped found) for advocating racial segregation and was critical of Martin Luther King's nonviolent approach to civil rights. The Maoist International Movement still celebrates Du Bois's birthday stating:
Shortly before death, Du Bois said, "Today my resentment at the doctrine of race superiority, as preached and practiced by the white world for the last 250 years, has been pointed to with sharp criticism and contrasted with the charity of Gandhi and of the colored minister [Dr. Martin Luther King] who led the recent boycott in Alabama. I am quite frank: I do not pretend to 'love' white people. I think that as a race they are the most selfish of any on earth. . . . I refer to the white world as a whole. We are come to a time when the sins and mistakes of the whole group must be considered and judged, not simply small localities or single individuals.
Or maybe Senator Kerry believes the Mainstream Media is right not to point our that what he constantly claimed was a "a dream based on illusion, but one which could have real and terrible consequences" (14), is no longer a 'dream' or an 'illusion' and could now have the 'terrible' consequence of protecting us from a North Korean nuclear missile attack. Kerry spent his career attacking missile defense on the absurd grounds that it would never work and/or fuel an arms race. He was wrong on both counts, and it is now operational:
3/16/05 World Net Daily: If nuclear missiles were suddenly fired at the United States from North Korea, the U.S. is ready to shoot them down. That's the opinion of Major Gen. John Holly, head of the missile-shield program for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency. "If directed, we could provide a limited defense against an attack out of Northeast Asia," Holly told Alaska lawmakers, according to the Associated Press.
I guess the last thing Senator Kerry would want is to have any of these bothersome facts impacting the "decision-making ability of the American electorate"...
my 2 cents and an example of others on the left attacking the blogs. the Tech Station article might be very prophetic...
"These nameless bloggers don't deserve the "same constitutional protections as traditional print and broadcast journalists," Shaw writes"
Well, it seems to me that the Internet is the purest form of free speech there is and that the Founding Fathers would have more than heartily approved.
Whether today's Congress or even Supreme Court will agree is an open question.
That's why any restrictions on blogs, internet writing, etc., must be fought tooth and nail.
The amazing thing is, though, even if they declare some restrictions on Internet communication, a way will quickly be found around it. One way or another, people will talk, worldwide, without filter.
And that is the beauty of the age we're living in.
The liberal rags really vet their scribblers well and hold them to high standards of journalism... (trying to keep from laughing as I recall the Jayson Blair affair and reading the ravings of Mo Dowd and Frank Rich).
The LA Times must have been emboldened to lurch even further to the left now that all those "pesky" SoCal conservatives have cancelled their subscriptions, allowing the Times to "lean-up" (i.e., layoff most of their workers) and write what they really feel.
Somehow, our so-called journalists always seem to miss that salient point. They prefer to crow about their "credentials" and "fairness."
I wonder why.
That horrible gurgling sound is the Swan Song of the formerly entrenched journalism world.
Its oddly horrible tonality is a special blend of Denial, Self-delusion and Fantasy.
They have relinquished their dominance by simply ignoring an obvious omission: TRUTH.
translation: Talking and keeping things going for entertainment purposes! How dare they! They are to absorb what's fed to them without question. The talking of the sub-culture has counter-acted the brain-washing that was carefully crafted to advance me to my rightful place. These jerks must be silenced, sued, taxed and flogged as soon as possible!
Chutzpah...coupled with an abject ignorance so common to the breed.
Upon my return from the 1st Major Battles of the Vietnam War nearly 40 years ago I personally told then Long Beach Indedpendent/Press Telegram Reporter DAVID SHAW that both WALTER CRONKITE and DAN RATHER were deliberately mis-reporting that war. To the detriment of our war effort on behalf of the Freedom of others.
DAVID SHAW: RATHER's work 'Shoddy, Slipshod' not LIBERAL..?