Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rather Excessive

For amusement, read the blather collected at No More Mr. Nice Blog about the blogorific debunking of the Killian National Guard memos. This kind of thing seems to happen about twice a week -some media outlet does something stupid - a blogger discovers it - everyone piles on - and the New York Times or Washington Post or Boston Globe provide the evidence. And then, from Andrew Sullivan down, every blogger in America (who was part of the piling on) posts that they - the blogosphere - have begun the revolution that will destroy old (Liberal? or so-called liberal?) media and, blah blah blah.

And even I can draw lessons from this fiasco. Lesson #1: even a stopped clock is right twice a day! the right wing bloggers were right for once! They even have facts and truth on their side. If only they had applied their investigative talents to the Swift Boat Liars' stories, which were about as quickly and easily debunked without the assistance of all those internet revolutionaries. Lesson #2: This shouldn't require a huge leap of faith, but who thinks television is a reliable source of news? All the bad things people say about the "media" probably do apply to TV -television is almost inevitably a means of presenting an argument, a story - a conclusion. It is not a place for evaluating evidence - what you see or hear on TV should be supported by evidence from somewhere else. TV is close to useless, yes, it is. Lesson #3: As with the Swift Boat Liars story, the real work was done by the newspapers. If these two stories have shown anything significant about the media, it's the role of newspapers, and reporting, at getting at the truth. TV comes off as pathetic, in both cases - the bloggers come off, really, as down the line partisans, a bunch of people who know very little about the issues under discussion, but have strong opinions which they post with all the confidence of a Counter-Reformation Pope - and the newspapers come off as the places where you can, if you're lucky, maybe find out what's really going on. The bloggers like to claim they make great fact checkers - they don't. What they might do is make enough noise about issues that reporters stay engaged, rather than letting the story slide. Maybe. I don't know for sure. Neither of these stories had much going for them, I guess - it didn't take long to take them apart... So we may not have needed Glen Reynolds on this one....

Now, two broader points. First - it doesn't seem to me that bloggers aer all that likely to do any fact checking. Digby commented on Andrew Sllivan's self-congratulatory bit about how bloggers' advantage is their ability to quickly correct themselves. He says it so I don't have to:

Here on planet earth even if writers correct their errors, readers pick and choose which versions to believe and continue to battle the arcane details long after everyone else has lost interest, clinging to their own version of reality as if it is a life raft. The "transparency" of the blogosphere is as clear as orange juice with pulp. Nobody gets stuff "right." They just get stuff. Errors are sustained forever. The "collective mind" is schizophrenic. The blogosphere demystifies the craft of journalism all right and turns it into an endless self-referential loop of The Osbornes.

They take their credit when they are right, they don't take their lumps when they are wrong. And they make no, real effort, to get past the position they take when they start.

The second point, which may seem to contradict my general mockery of the blogoboosters, is that they might very well be right - there might indeed be a shift in media paradigms. But Sullivan and the people quoted at No More Mr. Nice Blog are claiming that blogs, and the internet, will somehow take the place of the mainstream media we have today. They will do what TV and newspapers do (or are supposed to do.) That is not likely. If they do indeed take the place of other media forms, they will do so not by reporting better than newspapers, but by making what they do - pamphleteering, essentially - replace what newspapers do. I suspect this is a difficult and tangled subject, so I will get out of it as quick as I can. But just the fact that they lump TV and newspapers together is a sign - they are thinking they do what TV and newspapers do - but TV and newspapers already are so different as to be almost impossible to link. So....

UPDATE: Heh heh, just like the real bloggers, I'll "update" this, rather than just repost it, secure in the knowledge that no one but me will ever read it. Um... okay.

There is a third point, probably the most important one. It is this: the Killian memos made no difference whatsoever. They offered the possibility of pretty clear proof that George Bush went AWOL in 1973 and got away with it because his daddy pulled strings. But this case was pretty strong before the memos appeared, and remains just as strong now. Just that, having introduced those fakes into the debate, the right will be able to attack anything that appears against Bush as fake. This is why people form Karl Rove conspiracy theories about these memos - because it inoculates Bush against other documents, and other evidence and stories. For example - and is the timing just a coincidence? - the Kitty Kelley book.

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