September 20, 2004
Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?
My initial statement on the CBS surrender: A clerk who understood the Net, read the blogs and followed the press could have seen the danger signs accumulating day-by-day. But CBS made statements and took actions that showed a reading comprehension score near zero. The outside reviewers should pick up the plot from there. But who gets appointed: only insiders?
“Today’s announcement is just one part of a massive institutional failure at CBS, much of it still to be uncovered….”
One person close to the situation said the critical question would be, “Where was everybody’s judgment on that last day?” — New York Times account, Sep. 20.
CBS News, having now admitted that documents it relied on were inauthentic, will have troubles graver than a retraction of Dan Rather’s account and an official apology to President Bush, to CBS viewers and to the American public. For starters:
- Restive affiliates, and political pressure on those affiliates to be restive. The significance of this lies in the possibility of two fronts in a war to de-legitimate CBS News, which is quite likely to happen now, I regret to say. Like in a political campaign, you will have local chapters in a national effort. Direct pressure on the network in New York, pressure on the affiliates, which may be felt in New York.
- Beyond that, we will see other Internet campaigns to more or less officially discredit CBS, taking unknown course because we are in unknown territory. First target: getting Bob Schieffer kicked out of the presidential debates. (See this too, and see BoycottCBS.com.)
- We’ll have an independent panel that will come back with a devastating report quickly made public, although such a report will also by its nature work to contain the devastation. Look for a quick announcement on who the examiners from without are to be— without much time for reflection and debate on that very matter. Who should we get to review these events?
- CBS, if it continues on its course so far, will suggest establishment figures who see each other at awards dinners. No one from outside the club, in other words. If someone who is from outside the club gets on the CBS Truth Commission, that may signal they’re starting to get it. (See details on the review committee here.)
- Today’s press release said: “CBS News and CBS management are commissioning an independent review of the process by which the report was prepared and broadcast to help determine what actions need to be taken. The names of the people conducting the review will be announced shortly, and their findings will be made public.” I hereby nominate as one of the reviewers Jeff Jarvis on this basis of this bio, this blog, and this berating of CBS.
- There will definitely be calls for Congressional hearings given boost by today’s events. Rationale: interference in the election. If the ultimate source of the forged memos is unknown or remains anonymous, this will be more dangerous for CBS.
- How far will any of it get? I don’t know yet. Some of it may be successfully contained to the margins. But it would be foolish to deny the political and cultural passions out there, which in a sense have been building since November 13, 1969 when Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, told an audience of Republicans in Des Monies, Iowa that he had come to focus their attention “on this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every Presidential address, but more importantly, wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues of our nation.” In that speech, which mentions CBS, Agnew said, “The views of this fraternity do not represent the views of America.” The story of today’s events begins there.
- It all adds up to a full-fledged credibility crisis—and corporate agony—that is complicated not only by the roaring campaign for president, but by the political campaign that will be undertaken, by the Right, against CBS itself now that the surrender has come. Many feel that this is what the charge of bias in the liberal media has been leading up to— a chance to damage beyond recognition one of the big players. (I’m sure some of them are saying: let’s wait until after the election.)
In my initial view and there is more to come….
Today’s announcement is just one part of a massive institutional failure at CBS, much of it still to be uncovered. When the case is complete, the thread that will seem extraordinary, and most inexplicable, is the ignorant, reflexive and high-handed reaction to the doubts that began to accumulate on the Internet shortly after the broadcast aired. From there they jumped to the news media, which began to find disturbing weaknesses in the memos that CBS claimed were real. (See the Washington Post’s recap here and this timeline of events, perhaps the best resource we have so far.)
The strangest part to me and many others who were watching it happen is that the coming apart of CBS’s case progressed publicly, step by step on the Internet, and in the national press, but without the leadership of CBS seemingly able to read this development, and react intelligently to it. There was a default in basic awareness exhibited, in a form that is extreme for a “communications” company. Some will say this is easy to explain, but I think not.
Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times was right: “Watching Dan Rather unravel over the past week has been something like watching a train wreck unfold: You know it’s all going to end badly, but you just can’t look away until you’ve seen how many cars ultimately go off the rails.” There must have been people within the company who were watching right along with Rutten.
Why no one in charge for CBS was able to see what these people saw is a big mystery at the moment.
It’s one thing to explain how a team of dedicated people misjudge a story they have tracked for years. I think we all sense how that happens. It requires another leap of imagination to grasp that the network bosses in New York, including the news division led by CBS News President Andrew Heyward, were unable to examine critically their claim to have already authenticated the key documents in the story.
The people who reacted publicly on behalf of CBS—Rather, Heyward, Josh Howard, and a few other spokespeople—were actively hostile to voices on the Internet who were trying to point out what the network admitted today. This group was permitted to shore up the case for a failing thesis on CBS News programs that followed the original broadcast, thus compounding the error and extending it over more air time.
On September 20th, CBS News said it “cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report.”
Intelligent, inquisitive people (granted, some were enemies of the network) were saying just that—“you guys cannot prove the documents are for real”—within hours of the broadcast on September 8th. And they began making a case that journalists from other news organizations were able to pick up on within 24 hours.
Thus, for twelve days the posture of CBS News and network management did not reflect what was actually happening to their cause— in the press, which began to pick off the experts CBS said it had used, and the blog sphere, where a far more elaborate and detailed examination was underway.
This successful act of scrutiny included the kind of distributed fact-checking made possible by the Internet, a new development in journalism but one that savvy people at CBS should have understood.
Any bright CBS intern who understood the Net, read the blogs and followed the press could have read the danger signs accumulating day-by-day. But CBS made statements and took actions that showed a reading comprehension score of almost zero. Did the President of CBS News have anyone in charge of reading the Internet and sending him alerts? I think the commission might begin right there in its effort to unravel this.
There was a crisis of verification at CBS, it involved the memos, and part of it was that the crisis had gone undetected at the top. Therefore for twelve days there was a leadership default getting worse and worse, adding to the failures in quality control and professional judgment.
I should make it clear: I am not in favor of any hearings, and I think they would be dangerous to a free press. (And a political carnival.) I am against attempts to discredit an entire news organization, including this one with all its glaring faults. I regret that a dangerously politicized war on the mainstream media has come to this point. And I find it impossible to defend what CBS did in this episode, especially the corporate response to growing criticism of its reporting.
From August 9th until today the network has been digging itself a deeper hole with this story. Today, at least, CBS stopped digging and looked at where it was.
Earlier Rather coverage at PressThink:
Rather’s Satisfaction: Mystifying Troubles at CBS. (Sep. 18) “Dan Rather and CBS took the risky course, impunging the motives of critics, rather than a more confident and honorable one: Let’s look at our sources and methods. What can explain such a blind reaction? Here is my attempt…”
Stark Message for the Legacy Media. (Sep. 14) “Journalists find before them, with 50 days left, a campaign overtaken by Vietnam, by character issues, attacks, and fights about the basic legitimacy of various actors— including the press itself, including Dan Rather. It’s been a dark week. And the big arrow is pointing backwards….”
Weekend Notes with Forgery Swrling in the Air. (Sep. 11) “By Monday morning, we should know a great deal more about whether CBS News peddled forged documents as the real thing in its recent investigation of President Bush’s National Guard Service. Here are some quick thoughts— not about the charges, which seem serious to me, but about the general atmosphere and what’s at stake if this turns into a political scandal…”
This certainly adds another dimension, and begins to explain, perhaps, some of the CBS bluster: CBS arranged for meeting with Lockhart from USA Today. And here’s the AP account: “Joe Lockhart denied any connection between the presidential campaign and the papers. Lockhart, the second Kerry ally to confirm contact with retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, said he made the call at the suggestion of CBS producer Mary Mapes.”
“The time has come…” Jeff Jarvis, who appeared on MSNBC’s Deborah Norville tonight, writes at Buzzmachine when he gets back:
Tonight on Deborah Norville’s show, there was too much talk for my taste about CBS as the Tiffany network and the gold-standard of TV journalism. That’s not only a terribly outdated perception of CBS — which is just another news company — but the attempt to harken back to those alleged golden days also continues to separate journalism from the people. It tries to keep journalism behind stone walls, cathedral or palace, priesthood or monarchy.
As the Rather affair shows, journalists are nothing if not human, and nothing if not fallible.
The time has come for journalists to admit that. The time has come for them to take Dan Gillmor’s words to heart and realize that the audience knows more than they do.
“A sort of generic, fossilized authority…” Salon’s Scott Rosenberg has it right (warning: he plugs this post at the end):
What really hurts, for CBS and the rest of the networks’ news operations, is that, at this late date in media history, trust is the only advantage the broadcast networks can claim. They no longer deliver the news faster than rivals, they certainly don’t deliver it in more depth or from more viewpoints or with more style. Their only remaining edge has been a sort of generic, fossilized authority. More people get their news from us than through any other channel, the broadcasters’ unspoken claim went. That makes us the arbiters of the news. And we take that responsibility seriously — you can count on us to get things right.
Betsy Newmark: “Incredibly, the CBS people seem to be sticking by the ‘fake but accurate’ defense. Don’t these people read the blogs. They should assign someone to be reading all the blogs and checking out that info. But, that would be too much acknowledgement of the pajama brigade.”
“Error made in good faith…” From Dan Rather’s statement today:
… if I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.
But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.
Please know that nothing is more important to us than people’s trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.
“Because of faith…” At Dead Parrot Society, journalist Ryan Pitts on the Rather mea culpa:
No one believes this error was made in good faith. People believe that the error was made because of faith — you believed in the documents because they fit the narrative — but that’s quite a different thing. Nothing that’s come to light about CBS’ pursuit of this story suggests that good faith and lack of favoritism were part of the process at all. In fact, everything suggests that the real principles of journalism were pretty far down the list of priorities.
Stonewalling, spinning, whitewashing… Rhetorician and blogger Cori Dauber on Rather’s apology.
This would have been adequate a few days in, as an apology for making the initial mistake of going with bad documents. We can all understand making a mistake of that sort.
But this completely ignores the way CBS handled what happened once the story went south. Attacking critics as partisans. Reporting the attacks in a partial way and only selectively interviewing experts supporting their point of view. Stonewalling, spinning, whitewashing.
They don’t seem to understand that their credibility has been hurt, not nearly as badly by the initial mistake, as by everything that’s happened afterwards.
Emboldened by criticism… Says Slate’s Jack Shafer (Sep. 20):
Investigative reporters also expect their scoops to be attacked, especially if the story’s subject is powerful or shady, so they’re emboldened rather than discouraged by the first round of criticism. We must be getting close to the marrow if they’re screaming this loud! they think. If the criticism comes from the competition, they’re particularly nasty, as Dan Rather was, when he fended off questions about the documents’ authenticity by saying that the rest of the media should go after Bush’s military record instead of ripping CBS News.
…TV journalists usually act as though they’re infallible. When was the last time you heard Rather or any other network anchor issue a correction or a retraction? It’s as rare as rain on the moon. Compare CBS’s imperious behavior to that of the Times, which issued 2,867 corrections in 2002. With no systematic way to address errors, the network has no built-in safety valve that allows it to correct the record. It has only two choices: Stand by its story completely, or fold completely.
“I’ve got to presume they were real…” Wall Street Journal reporters Joe Flint and Greg Hitt: (Sep. 21)
Mr. Bush’s communications director, Dan Bartlett, said the White House requested copies of the disputed documents from CBS the night before Mr. Bartlett was to be interviewed about them, but was told no. Officials said a CBS representative did read the documents to the White House that night. But the actual documents were delivered the morning of the interview, and Bush aides were given three hours to review them.
“The presumption was they were real,” Mr. Bartlett said yesterday, adding it was “not the obligation” of the White House to verify the material. “How in the heck could you expect a person in three hours to question the validity of a dead man’s documents? I’ve got to presume they were real, and respond.”
Robots and bullies… According to Jessie Walker in Reason magazine back on Sep. 15:
Cyberspace offers many rewards, but it’s also filled with partisan robots and knuckle-dragging bullies, with would-be reporters who don’t understand the concept of evidence and would-be analysts who can’t be bothered to comprehend the views they’re critiquing, with would-be stylists who rely on clichés and would-be satirists without a trace of wit. Worse yet, it’s filled with disinformation and fog, especially during a presidential campaign and a war. It’s tempting to recoil from all the contradictory claims and to despair of ever learning the truth.
Dan Rather’s career:
Born: Oct. 31, 1931, in Wharton, Texas
1950: Reporter for United Press International
1952-59: Reporter for several radio and television stations in Houston
1962: Joins CBS News as chief of its Southwest Bureau in Dallas
1963: Gains national attention covering Kennedy assassination, also covers civil rights movement
1968: Clashes with security personnel at turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago
1968-72: Serves as CBS bureau chief in Saigon and London, and as White House correspondent in the Johnson and Nixon administrations
1974: Famous confrontation with Richard Nixon: “Are you running for something, Mr. Rather? No, Mr. President, are you?”
1981: Named anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News
1985: Senator Jessie Helms (Rep., NC) urges conservatives to buy CBS stock and become Dan Rather’s boss.
1987: Rather walks off the set of CBS Evening News, believing his program had been pre-empted. Network goes black for six minutes.
1988: On-air confrontation with Vice President George H.W. Bush: “You made us hypocrites in the eyes of the world!”
1990: First American journalist to interview Saddam Hussein after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait
1995: Reports from front lines in the Bosnian war
Sept. 11, 2001: Serves as live anchor of CBS coverage of terrorist attacks
2003: Exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein on brink of the Iraq war
Posted by Jay Rosen at September 20, 2004 2:39 PM
Dan Rather got jobbed. Why is this more significant than the Niger-Iraq forgeries, particularly as even the White House appears not to contest the content of the CBS documents, but only (and rightly) their provenance? Imagine what would have happened with the former documents if they'd hit the web after, say, the 2003 State of the Union address.
Dan Rather, fearless reporter, speaking in 2002 on press self-censorship: "It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it.'"
The Guard documents aren't a case of political bias; they're a case of Dan Rather trying to recover his justifiably damaged self-respect. Oops.
Why is this story more debilitating to CBS's credibility, or any other outlet that might have carried it, than the failure to adequately cover the runup to and aftermath of the Iraq invasion, or missing the Abu Ghraib story until a network, CBS, provided documentary evidence of it?
"A U.S. war against Iraq is now a given. United Nations proceedings are a charade that gives the United States time to get its strategic assets in place throughout the region. This should be done by Dec. 15 and the war is expected to begin early in the New Year." That's Arnaud de Borchgrave writing in the Washington Frickin Times on October 21 of 2002. Media bias?
I'm not disagreeing with your prognosis, Jay. I think it's clear, though, that this is an honest but painfully stupid case of bad reporting as opposed to bias. And while I don't know whether CBS has anyone assigned to monitor the web, it's also clear that a number of CBS reporters and producers were ringing alarm bells at least by the morning after the broadcast, and they were ignored if not actively squelched. I would expect the same to have happened to the Vice President of Blogistan Coverage if there was one.
Should Dan fall on his sword? Yes, not because his producer screwed up and he bought it, but because of what he said two years ago. He should have resigned then and taken the editors of most major newspapers and the news division chiefs of the cable and broadcast news outlets with him. He still should.
CBS should figure out how they got so badly jobbed. CBS should also continue to pursue the Guard story; if it was newsworthy before they screwed up, it's newsworthy now too. These are grownups. They're supposed to do good reporting. If they have to rely on Republican attorneys named Buckbeak to teach them how to do their jobs, they're already useless.
Should the press in general pay more attention to web commentary? Absolutely, but the value of it isn't, or shouldn't be, to find out when they've been had. It's to find out what stories they've missed and to do better, more forceful reporting. And, although I don't know why anyone with an unlimited Nexis/Lexis account should need this, blogs also offer a really good historical perspective on reporting of specific issues over a long time.
I keep thinking back to that AJR piece on Abu Ghraib reporting, and the Washington bureau chief of the LA Times finding out that his own paper had done a 15-inch piece on the story that he had somehow missed. Numerous other examples, too. The press are missing stories, which I think is extremely important to realize and internalize, and they're not doing particularly well on the ones they don't miss.
So I don't really see this as a blogging issue other than that bloggers were used, I think, as a cutout, in much the same fashion as Drudge is. It's still a matter of bungled reporting; if it hadn't been Buckbeak to the rescue, if there were no web, it would have been a RNC blast fax the next day.
sbw (and anyone else),
OK, I have to ask. I understand this may read as a tweak, but I'm sincerely curious.
Isn't a panel just a "High bench. Robes. Powdered wigs. Parsing nuances. Pontificating. Telling us what "is" is... or ought to be." (here)
Is the difference between a National News Council/Minnesota News Council and a CBS selected "independent" panel analogous to the difference between an International Criminal Court and a UNSC War Crimes Tribunal - not in severity of the charges brought, of course, but in the permanence, independence and scope of purview?
And what do we expect this panel to do and who should be on it? Can we learn from previous attempts to correct the course of CBS and these News Councils?
Jeff Jarvis recommends:
That commission could include not just news priests but also bloggers and news sources and news subjects (including those who've been wronged) and competitors ... just plain viewers aka consumers aka citizens (the people who should matter most).
[Yes, what went wrong,] But how much better if they started imagining a new view of news that involves the wisdom of the people. They should examine not just what CBS did wrong but what CBS could have done right.
Some perhaps relevant highpoints (or lowpoints?) in history:
CBS Shareholder Resolutions, February 1975
- The committee should consist of 9 members, three to represent management, three the affiliated stations and three the public.
- The committee should be appointed by the Board of Directors.
- The committee should be asked to investigate thoroughly the charges of bias and distortion made bv Dr. Ernest W. Lefever in his book, TV and National Defense.
- The committee should be asked to investigate other charges of bias and distortion in the presentation of news and public affairs by CBS, and it should consider what steps might be taken to improve performance and remove the impression indicated by the Phillips-Sindlinger poll that CBS News is the most biased of the three networks.
- Among other things, the committee should consider recommending the adoption of a code of ethics similar to the one recommended by the Society of Professional Journalists and the appointment of an ombudsman to provide inhouse criticism, as suggested recently by: Sig Mickelson, former president of CBS News.
- The committee should prepare a report to the shareholders for submission prior to the 1976 annual meeting.
- The ombudsman would be assigned the responsibility of receiving and investigating complaints from the public about unfair or inaccurate programs.
- The ombudsman would be allotted time on radio and television to report to the viewing and listening public on action taken about valid complaints.
- The ombudsman would have direct access to top management of RCA as well as NBC.
- The ombudsman would be given responsibility for devising a workable code of ethics for NBC New"s, similar to the code adopted and recommended by the Society of Professional Journalists.
- The ombudsman would prepare a report for distribution to shareholders on his activities and accomplishments annually.
CBS Head Lauds Blast at Rather, June 1988
CBS Reports: The Wall Within, June 1988
Previous 60 Minutes fakeries, actual and supposed
60 MinutesRudy Camacho Fraud, 1997
Anna asks: Does CBS have an ombudsman? Assuming the answer is "no", would it have made a difference if they had?
CBS does not have an ombudsman that I can find, and I don't think it would have made a difference in whether or not this story was aired. I do think it may have made a difference in CBS' handling of criticism in that a decent ombudsman might have at least been a better PR man to spin the underlying attitude stupidly expressed by Rather and Heywood. And I think that's a big learning point in the current relationship between Old media and New media right now. The blogs are not just "involuntarily outsourced fact-checkers". They are the ombudsmen (and women) doing post-mortem fact-checking and critiques. They are being emailed with complaints about news articles instead of the news organization or its ombudsman. These truly public ombudsmen then write about it, publish it, and may contact the news organization's PR person, uhhh, ombudsman, to bring attention to it - "Here's MY analysis Mr. Ombudsman, and the many complaints I'VE received, and look at my comment section." (Do TV News Channels Need An Ombudsman?)
I see these roles (News Council/Ombudsman) tied into the disconnect between today's information providers and their readers, AND mysteries of the developing link between Old and New media.
Where do readers go to complain? Ombudsmen are not independent. They are employees of the offending organization and often perceived as advocates of that organization not the public/readers.
How should Old media be responsive to the public discussion/debate, some of which is being published in blogs?
And why are recommendations from 30 years ago addressing this problem still, if not more, applicable today?
On a different angle. Much speculation has been offered as to CBS' and Rather's ideological bias motivating airing this story despite its obvious weaknesses. Giving greater credence to Democratic and Bush-hating partisans than their independent experts, Killian's family or other Guard officers.
OK, that may all be true. But is there a structural bias also? Did Rather and CBS News "rush" the story? Why? "Seconds Count"? Competition? (When did USA Today get the memos and did CBS think they might get scooped?)
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...