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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 1, 2004

No Longer Do the Newsies Decide: Daniel Weintraub on the De-centering of the Press

Daniel Weintraub, political columnist and blogger for the Sacramento Bee: "If our world is changing, we simply have to change with it. We have to engage more with our readers, become more a part of the conversation and less of a lecturer. We have to reconsider the way we think about scoops and competition, and think more about "open-source" journalism..."

I just got this mini-essay from Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee, who was one of the first mainstream journalists to discover the power of blogging. (See PressThink on Weintraub: Editors Rock Who Let Weblogs Roll.) He was reacting to my last few posts about the confusing predicament of mainstream journalism, and in particular to the “campaign to de-certify and discredit the press,” which came to such a head in the final weeks of the campaign.

“Too much to say— too many changes and disruptions,” I wrote in reflecting on the situation the press was in this year. Weintraub said he agreed with “the ambiguity you leave, your sense that this story is still unfolding and none of us can quite put our finger on it.” Tim Rutten, on the media beat for the Los Angeles Times, shared that sense in his column this week. “Whatever the electoral result of the current presidential campaign,” wrote Rutten, “there’s a growing sense that this race may involve tectonic shifts in the landscape of political journalism. It’s still much too early to recognize clearly, let alone chart, what the new lay of the land may be.”

I agree with that. Early or not, Ed Wasserman of the Miami Herald has some ideas. “I think it’s already apparent that the campaign will be considered a milestone in the history of the U.S. media,” he wrote today.

Weintraub, who is one of the sharpest political journalists I know, is relatively optimistic about the new surroundings journalists find themselves in as camapaign 2004 roars to a close. In an essential essay published at PressThink, Doug McGill says journalists today “are at sea because our Grand Old Professional Code is falling to pieces.” I have called it “the coming apart of an ordered world.” Weintraub agrees with Rosen, McGill, Rutten and Wasserman that things are changing big time for the political press. Here’s his sense of it.

Special to PressThink

No Longer Do the Newsies Decide

by Daniel Weintraub
Sacramento Bee

I don’t really deal with the Bush Administration on a day to day basis, so I can’t speak for how the White House press corps feels about it, but I do cover Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I hear some of the same complaints from my colleagues here.

I think what both groups are feeling, not necessarily for the same reasons, are the loss of control, the loss of influence, the loss of feeling as if they are at the center of the political world. At the national level the blogs and cable news have undercut the gatekeeper function. No longer do the newsies get to decide by themselves what is news and what is not, what to put in a story and what to leave out.

They can decide, but it’s so easy for readers and activists to compare and contrast that no journalist feels as if he or she can file a story without a thousand editors looking over their shoulder. I know how unnerving it can be to have one aggresive editor. Multiply that many, many times and you have the ability to drive people mad.

With Schwarzenegger, you don’t really have the blogosphere playing a role yet, but his unique celebrity gives him the opportunity to go over our heads, to shape public opinion for the most part without having to deal with the traditional press. He does, when he feels like it, but when he doesn’t feel like it he doesn’t really have to. That, too, can be unnerving.

I don’t necessarily see all of this as inevitably negative. I think some good could come of it. I don’t think the traditional media—traditional meaning the past 100 years—have any monopoly on the public trust. We have freedom of the press: the right to print our stories without fear of reprisal from the government. And by reprisal I mean physical, emotional or economic coercion or intimidation, not dirty looks and unreturned phone calls.

If our world is changing, we simply have to change with it. We have to write stories that are more compelling, more stories about what the politicians and the government are doing and fewer, perhaps, about what they are saying, or why they are saying it. We have to engage more with our readers, become more a part of the conversation and less of a lecturer at the front of a great hall. We have to reconsider the way we think about scoops and competition, and think more about “open-source” journalism that truly seeks answers through cooperative information gathering, and not just gotchas that we can spring on the politician in a kind of gameboard journalism.

When my colleagues complain about a lack of access to Schwarzenegger at his media events, I ask, is that kind of access really critical to our doing our jobs? Is it our job to get close enough to describe the color of his tie, or his interaction with a voter, or is it our job to deconstruct the governor’s (or president’s) policies and proposals, their effect or potential effect on the public, their cost and consequences?

Sure it’s great to have an interview with the man, or fire away questions at a press conference, but I think good journalists are capable of informing the public without the benefit of these tools. Think of some of the great investigative pieces of our times, and most of them were written by journalists who had almost no contact with the politician or government official who was the subject of their reportage.

As for the new feedback loop from readers and activists, as Bush and Kerry would say, bring it on. How can it possibly hurt us to hear more from the people who read what we write, or care about it? In their current incarnation, the blogs still feed off the mainstream media, doing almost no reporting on their own. If they move beyond that, and start moving to original sources, so much the better. Let the flowers bloom. I think having more people rather than fewer engaged in information gathering and interpretation is a good thing.

There will always be a heirarchy of information, some source or sources who will help people make sense of it all. As these original sources multiply, this job will become even more important. Some current beat reporters or columnists or editors may wish to take up that new role. Others may want to strike out on their own and become independent journalists like Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall.

All I am saying is that there is plenty of room for everyone in this pool.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

Very much on point. Matt Welch in Reason magazine, A Swift Boat Kick in the Teeth: How the mainstream media grapple with partisans. “Large newsrooms have the explicit mission and requisite staffing to arbitrate competing claims — or better (from their point of view), to set off the debate with their own groundbreaking investigations. Yet when faced with a dispute as passionate as the one over John Kerry’s Vietnam service, many responsible editors throw up their hands and wish poxes on both houses.”

Doug, “Our Code is Falling to Pieces” McGill:

Most of the journalists I know, including me, are always in a state of near panic that they have somehow failed in the task of explaining or describing the material, often the very complex technical material that their sources have given them. They worry that they can be called on this at any time, with possibly catastrophic results. The advent of the blogosphere certainly has exacerbated this fear many-fold.

As a result of feeling this vulnerable all the time, reporters naturally look around for a shield. And the most handy protective shield of all is objectivity.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 1, 2004 10:22 PM   Print


I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that journalism needs to focus MUCH more on what politicians and the government are DOING, not what they are saying. As it stands, we hear rumors about what the government is actually doing months after it is too late, while we get headlines on what the government is saying that are surreal to put it diplomatically.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 1, 2004 11:14 PM | Permalink

Orcinus: Reality-based Killer Whales.
A post that goes even farther than PIPA in explaining the alternate realities inhabited by Bush and Kerry supporters.

In 2000, 40% of the electorate believed Bush was not elected president and therefore was not in the White House legitimately. As of yesterday, that figure had risen to 45%. Strange that this fundamental fact about the political landscape of the US has repeatedly been addressed by the media only in passing, often within a single clause of a sentence with a different subject. Why was Greg Palast's reporting on voter list purging disappeared from mainstream US media for years after the election that half the country still disputes? How out of touch is that?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 2, 2004 2:09 AM | Permalink

Don't worry, Jay. It isn't all on the Swifies.

In an otherwise interesting piece, Matt Welch (who has a fine blog) blows the Swift Boat story again.

This seems to be standard. The media is convinced that it is all nonsense. In his case, he totally blows the example, since he identifies Van O'Dell as a doctor, when in fact he was a gunner and was present at the event. He also talks about ties to the Bush Campaign of the Swifties, when in reality any meaningful ties would constitute felonies.

I'm not going to belabor it other than to say that even Matt Welch manages to get that story wrong, and do so in a way that, of course, helps Kerry. Is it possible that journalists so hated the Swift Boat charges that they disposed of them as quickly as possible just to reduce their anxiety? Is it some inborne cynicism that leads to distrusting 60 combat veterans? Something is very wrong with this whole affair, as the press ignores eyewitness testimony of combat veterans (in the bronze star case, from 11 witnesses).

Welch is right that the blogs were humming on this. Perhaps that's because the same evidence the press was using was available for analysis by people better qualified to evaluate it: combat veterans. And that ties into the overall topic here. Anyone could access the Swifty information on the internet. Anyone could compare their analyses to that of the press.

My best guess is that the press (and Jay) viewed the swifties as a typical arm of a campaign, to be treated with enormous suspicion. The loose connection to the white house (which did not include any two way message flow, but rather history) may have convinced them. That 60 of those veterans were witnesses and had signed sworn affidavits, and who otherwise had no political history seems to have been ignored, perhaps by that tie.

Jay, I noticed you rejected the Swifties from the outset. Perhaps you can explain which factors caused you to do so, since the MSM may have had the same reaction.

I believe that press people honestly believe that they debunked all swifty charges, and yet I have substantiated several of the charges to my satisfaction, as have many veterans. The easiest one to substantiate is the fraudulent acquisition of the first purple heart (or 3rd, depending on whether you are looking at the event date or the award date).

In this sense, the new age is here. The same information available to the press was available to the internet public. And many came to a different conclusion than the press, perhaps because we trust combat veterans more than we do the pro-Kerry press. And when the press came up with a different result, they got angry.

It is exactly this sort of situation that brings angry phone calls or letters to reporters or editors. When we can get the same raw information as the press, we can evaluate it in our own way, and if we see a consistent bias in a number of these events, we will complain.

Bloggers Are Subject Matter Experts

Perhaps the following is important: in blogspace are people who are familiar with almost any subject - more familiar than reporters in almost every case. Those people can make their judgment known on a set of facts - the same ones the reporters are working from. As people learn which people are trustworthy and knowledgeable in given fields, they can get far more informed information that the press is capable of.

An example of one of these people is Roger Simon's "Afghanistan Correspondent" - a guy (John Kelly) who has spent much time there over the last 20 years or so, speaks the languages, knows Bin Laden personally (used to call him the Gucci Mujahedin back in the Soviet occupation days), and hangs out with chiefs and warlords instead of staying in hotels in Kabul. This guy is a real subject matter expert, up to date on the area, and provides Roger with an information and analytical resources that most or all MSM outfits don't have.

On military affairs, almost any veteran knows more than almost any reporter - depending on the specific subject. Plus there are currently serving soldiers, in mufti, available. I got an answer about whether using .50 caliber machine guns against people is a war crime from a JAG officer in Tikrit!

To summarize, interested citizens will indeed be looking over the shoulder of MSM reporters and editors, and they will be doing it from a position of equal information and far superior domain knowledge. An example is gun control debates. Almost every gun owner knows that the weapons once banned by the assault weapons law were not machine guns - they had one trigger pull per bullet. But many reporters clearly did not know this (unless they were being intentionally dishonest).

The area where the press really holds the edge in expertise is in how big government bureaucracies work, and how to extract information from them. But even there the blogosphere has some angles. Roger Simon has a commenter who is an active member of the intelligence community. Within the limits of security, he can talk about related issues.

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 3:07 AM | Permalink

Sorry, John, but the Swifties are going to enter history next to Willie Horton and Lee Atwater in the entry under dirty politics and attempted political smears.

Twenty years from now, you will be as mystified by those "liberal historians," as you are today by those liberal reporters. Year after year when the incident is mentioned, the verdict will not have changed, and you will continue to find that ostensibly reasonable, non-reflexive observers like Matt Welch "get it wrong," ignore the evidence right in front of their faces, misstate the facts, overlook this, fail to mention that, and on and on. John Moore will continue to find it all very mystifying 5, 10, 20 years from now.

I do agree with your statement, John: "Something is very wrong with this whole affair." The Swifties were used, shamelessly, by those who pretended to care about their anger. You ought to be investigating exactly how that happened, instead of marveling at how otherwise intelligent people go mad and lose all reason when they evaluate the Swifties claims.

Here is what I think the "something" is. Veterans who for more than 30 years have wanted to argue with Kerry about his anti-war stance--a legitmate quest, and part of politics--were persuaded or decided to go after his medals to discredit him. They believed with righteous fury that their cause (disputing Kerry's anti-war stance) was just. That fury and righteous feeling were then transferred to the medals campaign-- and so then it just had to be just.

You yourself--in a passage at PressThink you like to forget writing--said you were mystified as to why they went after the medals first. But it's not a mystery. Without the spectacular claim that Kerry didn't deserve his medals, the Swifties would have had only a political argument with Kerry-- no scandal, no wow factor, no immediate impact on the race. That wasn't good enough for some. Their rage justified more than that, they felt. The smear tempted them, and they bit.

Check out Lee Atwater's death bed regrets. I think they're a good guide to the future of the Swifties claims:

"In 1988, fighting Dukakis, I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.' I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not. Mostly I am sorry for the way I thought of other people. Like a good general, I had treated everyone who wasn't with me as against me."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 2, 2004 9:29 AM | Permalink


Please include in your list of political smears James Byrd, which was one of the most loathsome instances of race-baiting in recent memory (far, far worse than Atwater's use of Willie Horton).

Posted by: Brian at November 2, 2004 10:59 AM | Permalink

I think Weintraub gets it. But I don't know whether I like his essay, or hate it.

I like that he sees that change is coming to traditional journalism. But the old saw "We have to engage more with our readers," oh, woof. Editors have been saying that since I was a novice reporter, lo those many years ago. What does it mean anyway?

Here's an idea, what if nobody covered Schwarzenegger? What if the AP sent a guy to record the governor's doings and sayings, but all the other news outlets did other things, like figured out how to balance the state budget, or tried to save social security, or tried to really understand why health care costs so much? Stuff that actually matters to people.

Posted by: dr. cookie at November 2, 2004 11:20 AM | Permalink

"otherwise intelligent people go mad and lose all reason when they evaluate the Swifties claims."

The abandonment of reason itself.

Posted by: Noam Chomsky at November 2, 2004 11:34 AM | Permalink

Jay, you're still lost on the Swifties.
Kerry FAILED FAILED FAILED to file a Form 180.

That's the real evidence. If Kerry's unwilling to enter the evidence, those who DO swear by their own eyewitness reports seem more credible.

You are right that the medal attack got people's attention -- but you fail to note how many days Kerry spent in the hospital.
Days in the hospital is a "fact". What it means, or not, is judgment about the fact.

Zero days in the hospital means, to me, a lot of bragging hot air, perhaps with about as much blood as bloody nose.

And your own double standard against the Swifties is going to make you look bad, in the future -- especially if Kerry wins!

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 2, 2004 1:17 PM | Permalink

Jay, I certainly remember that post. And perhaps you are right about why they went after the medals first. It doesn't change the message, and it was directly applicable to the core of Kerry's campaign at the time.

Of course I disagree with you on the rest, and would love to explore it in more detail to understand how you came so quickly to the firm conclusion that these people were lying (because "someone was using them"). But I also know you don't want to dwell on it here, so I won't. I will, as you say, put it in the "media bias" category. Tom Grey mentions one of the most crucial errors of the press just above here, which can only be a matter of bias.

If there's one thing this year has taught us, it is that the press is arrogant and often wrong. Blogs have proven a significant source of information. You are wrong in this case, and you have less information than I or many fellow vets have (such as knowing some of these people), and less knowledge about how veterans are likely to behave. You adopted the Willie Horton stance (not in those words) instantly as far as I can tell. Instinctively? If you think the veterans were being used by someone else (which is one dodge that is often used to explain behavior that otherwise conflicts with a hypothesis), then why haven't some of them come forward to say "I was tricked - I didn't know they were going to do this with what I said?" There has not been even one of those, of the 60 eyewitnesses supporting the Swiftie side.

So pardon me if I put my trust in these 60 combat veterans, and in John O'Neil whose reputation in the Houston law high circles is outstanding for honesty, rather than an admitted left wing expert on and explorer of journalism.

You are right. Liberal historians will of course accept the liberal interpretation. Academic historians are so liberal that conservatives are often advised not to pursue graduate work in that field, because they will never get tenure or good jobs.

Also in my posting was information unrelated to the Swifties, about the expertise available in blogspace that may not be available to the reporter (the reporter may not have personal knowledge in the area, the reporter may not have time to gather knowledge, given deadlins that bloggers do not have, and in too many cases, the reporter doesn't realize that domain knowledge is actually needed. A reporter can become a weaver of narratives while knowing nothing, but as they come up against blogs where people actually do have domain knowledge, they are going to lose credibility. You can imagine what gun owners think of the press, from the 1994 "assault weapon" reporting and a lesser level of it in 2004. Why should they believe anyting after that (which included CBS faking video by shooting a pumpkin with an "assault rifle", and when it didn't explode, shooting it with a pistol, and then cutting the two tapes together).

Hence I think expert bloggers are going to be correcting (oftern not gently) knowledge-challenged reporters - more and more frequently.

I am curious if people think that domain-knowledge free reporters are competent to report on every subject. I don't think so (for example, weighing conflicting claims in science is not as much a matter of personalities and personal interests as it is in politics).

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 2:15 PM | Permalink

Adams, I am trying NOT to clog this thread with swifties. But yes, the 60 ARE eye-witnesses. There are 280 members of the organization, but only 60 are eyewitnesses to the events. Try getting your facts straight. As far as I can tell, there is a conspiracy theory in the media that takes the funding, and the indirect history of a White House connection for the PR firm, and jumping to the conclusion that these people are therefore liars.

I fully expect the media, using that sort of flawed approach, to breathlessly report UFO's in Roswell any minute now.

Low credibility might be true for a group that was part of a campaign, but this one is not. The group was created when the Admiral read Kerry's hagiography and realized that it didn't match with what he knew had happened, and also that some claims in their invalidated the claims for which awards were rewarded. He called O'Neill and others and they started checking with others.

It is also interesting that Matt Welch, who is arrogant enough to trash the Swifties without even knowing that the Swiftboat campaign started with a press conference in early may, held with the intent on knocking Kerry off the Democratic ticket. Furthermore, their second attack was the release of the book, written to get information around the iron curtain of the MSM.

So the press has accused 60 Vietnam Combat veterans of lying, with little contradictory evidence. I watch the so-called contradictory evidence at it was pathetic. Case A - documents (based on Kerry's reports) contradict 11 eyewitnesses. Winner: the documents. Case B, one eyewitness contradicts, and happens to be a journalist. Winner: the lone journalist. In other words the analysis was done in a way clearly designed to discredit the Swift Boat Veterans.

When 60 combat veterans in one unit are accused of lying, the burden of proof should be on the accusers. Many do not understand how Navy Officers think about this stuff, but most have a strong sense of honor. The same is true of the enlisted men. Somehow, by this theory, some svengali convinced all of these guys to lie. I'm sorry, but that is simply not credible.

I guess, John Adams, that you imagine the 60 were mess cooks swearing to what breakfast was back then. Or you are adopting the press standard of only listening to those who were on Kerry's boats, rather than those operating within yards of Kerry, and of course ignoring the guy who spent the most time on a boat with Kerry, his gunner Steve Gardner, who is one of the 60.

Did you know that the 2 of Kerry's band of brothers who stood up for him at the convention had between them a total of 8 days service with Kerry? Somehow, the media didn't seem interested in exposing THAT fact.

If you wish to make a further point, you need to be more specific. If this turns into a debate, I have another site it can continue on.

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 3:13 PM | Permalink

Rather than cause Jay to grind his teeth off, I have replied at here.

This fact could have been discovered by an even handed press corps applying equial scrutiny to Bush and Kerry (the bias narrative isn't going to go away).

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 4:26 PM | Permalink

A quick comment. I consider character to be one of the most important characteristic of a nominee. The Swifty's exposed serious defects in Kerry's character, both in 'Nam and afterwords. Hence it is not a red herring at all.

Furthermore, if the Democrats had nominated anyone else, this wouldn't be going on.

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 4:35 PM | Permalink

This seems to be a companion, the inky side side of the coin, to Rosentiel's Broadcast Networks: "End Of An Era?", which you linked/discussed here.

Also, I thought this was spot on:

Sure it's great to have an interview with the man, or fire away questions at a press conference, but I think good journalists are capable of informing the public without the benefit of these tools. Think of some of the great investigative pieces of our times, and most of them were written by journalists who had almost no contact with the politician or government official who was the subject of their reportage.
It's an old adage that what the government giveth the government can take away - and - there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2004 5:01 PM | Permalink

"no such thing as a free lunch..."

As Brad put it - "White House journalists go native, lose all sense of context, and pull their punches on administrations regularly...It's a structural problem, it's a serious problem, and it makes a substantial part of the morning print news useless."

Thanks Tim for returning us to topic of original discussion. Someone in comments a post or two back showcased(?) the lack of addressing factual/political disagreements - in this very weblog - as one of the causes of our polarization - but as the set of comments above show, there really isn't room (in a social-dynamics sense) for both addressing factual disagreements and discussing "lay of the land (including tectonic shifts)" topics. Jay, I wish Moveable Type would let you put an addition on your house, because both functions are important. (Important theoretically, at least, I'm not so sure about practically: is there a blog, anywhere, on this planet, where the commenters _do_ come to a resolution on Swiftboat-style issues?)

Posted by: Anna at November 2, 2004 5:48 PM | Permalink


As long as people are operating from different unstated assumptions, or in this case assign weights differently to the different, conflicting information, the answer is going to be no.

If you find a lefty blog with no righty commenters, then it will come to a conclusion on this. Same vice versa.

Veterans will for the most part agree with the Swifties, so you could find one there also.

Bringing this back to the press, it looks to me like the press used different criteria for judging this issue than vets did. Note that everyone had access to the same information. If anyone wants to discuss in detail, go to the link above please, so we don't clog this up any more with irrelevant (to the current topic) swifty stuff.

As we look to the future, expect the press to find itself in this situation frequently. Expect a much stricter standard to be applied to the press than they are normally subject to - an insistence that the press reporting not contradict the knowledge of domain experts spread around the web - the way the Swifty issue did.

Years ago, Rather could have gotten away with his fraudulent attempt to smear Bush. That will be much harder, when people in the know have a way of making their views known, and those views are picked up by influential blogs.

As to the lack of addressing factual/political disagreements in this blog, I tried to avoid that because I know Jay doesn't want the arguments to take place here. I have a special interest in the Swifties because I am a Vietnam veteran, and a member of an anti-Kerry 527 (Vietnam Vets for the Truth). For the cynical, we really were and are for the truth. I run the web site and a lot of the stuff flying around vet mailing lists does not make it onto our site. There is also a site devoted to information about Kerry's Vietnam related years. In one case, I wrote an article for it contradicting another that accused Kerry of something or other, because the accusations were unfounded.

I have tried to make the second room you ask for, but it gets few visitors. I agree that it would be interested to have the journalism world actually defending their analyses against people who have different opinions (and access to good information).

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 6:37 PM | Permalink

Sorry, John, but the Swifties are going to enter history next to Willie Horton and Lee Atwater in the entry under dirty politics and attempted political smears.

Or maybe Gennifer Flowers!

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2004 6:49 PM | Permalink

Tim, do you really think Gennifer Flowers will be in any history book? :-)

Posted by: John Moore at November 2, 2004 6:54 PM | Permalink

Interesting that Matt Welch doesn't address how the press handled the SBVT in May. I wonder if the answers were much different to "Who’s making the accusation/allegation? Why now? To whom are they connected? Where does the accuser’s funding come from?"

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2004 6:57 PM | Permalink

More so than not pulling punches, reporters are relying on the "he said/she said" model without checking on the veracity of the claims. Like has been said before, reporters need to check up on actions more these days.
An attempt to switch topics.

Posted by: Steve at November 2, 2004 7:17 PM | Permalink

I've got a question: Why is it considered so revolutionary -- indeed, not even considered a serious proposal -- that capital reporters stop covering Schwarzenegger in person?

Why is it so hard to focus on policies rather than personalities?

This. Is. Not. Rocket. Science.

:: beats head against desk; wishes it were several hours later so that he could have a beer ::

Posted by: Lex at November 2, 2004 7:39 PM | Permalink

Steve: More so than not pulling punches, reporters are relying on the "he said/she said" model without checking on the veracity of the claims. Like has been said before, reporters need to check up on actions more these days.

I think "he said/she said" will be experimented with more. Part of that will be "fact checking" in the column and weighting sides quantitatively and qualitatively. If not, politics and their partisans will continue using the mass media as a megaphone:


MILBANK: I think there is a bias in favor of fact versus fiction. And I think that the Halperin memo, if you read what he's actually saying at the time it was written, he is saying there has been a larger number of misstatements, of dishonesty on the Bush side. Now, I happen to think that since the debates started, John Kerry caught on here. He said, wait a second, there's no penalty for just making stuff up, and all those things you mentioned, absolutely. I think at this point, they're both full of you know what.
THOMAS: Look, I think at this stage, they are consciously twisting the truth. It's not just little accidents. And I think as Dana says, they've caught on. The big lie or maybe the little lie works.
MILBANK: We catch up to it a few days after the fact, and everybody has forgotten.
THOMAS: But not very successfully and not very well. We do not do a good job.
MILBANK: We should be doing a lot more.
Perhaps where the campaigns have "war rooms" to get their "side", their counter-fact, immediately to the reporter for the "he said/she said" model, can the newsroom adjust their own cycle - where "seconds count" - to have their own "war room" to evaluate claims?

The truth seldom travels faster than the lie, and newsmen may find themselves philosophers before they're through. But perhaps we can get back to the days where politcians lied well.

For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinions without the discomfort of thought. - JOHN F. KENNEDY

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2004 7:59 PM | Permalink

On "He said she said" - sometimes, when the truth isn't easy to determine and time is short, that's all you're going to get. And it does provide some utility to the reader.

Maybe part of the reason we get so much H.S.S.S. reporting has to do with classification. From an aside here: "[In addition to straightforward news reporting, newspaper] has an editorial page, on which it records its editorial judgments. It also has an op-ed page, in which various people present points of view. It also publishes, on its news pages, articles that are labeled 'analysis' - articles in which the paper's reporters are invited to present their views of the unfolding news."

Currently, both HSSS and reality-based reporting fall under the "Straightforward news reporting" rubric (right?). If there were different (non-derogatory) terms for each, papers might be more willing to categorize their articles according to methodology; and if this were the norm, the reporter would have an incentive to take the extra step, and check out the assertions.

"weighting sides quantitatively and qualitatively"

Yes. The trick to doing it impartially is coming up with the weighting criteria a priori, but not so far a priori that the factions involved can manage to game your system.

(re Gennifer Flowers: I predict a long and distinguished career on a Trivial Pursuit card, if she's not there already.)

Posted by: Anna at November 2, 2004 8:53 PM | Permalink

"Why is it considered so revolutionary -- indeed, not even considered a serious proposal -- that capital reporters stop covering Schwarzenegger in person? Why is it so hard to focus on policies rather than personalities? This. Is. Not. Rocket. Science."

No, but Readers.Are.Not.Rocket.Scientists either, for the most part. They have the hots, intellectually speaking, for celebrities. From this article on fMRI: "Male monkeys have a distinct dominance hierarchy...will give up a considerable quantity of fruit juice for the chance just to look at a picture of a higher-ranking individual. ...field observations...have found that social primates spend a lot of time just keeping track of the highest-ranking troop member."

So somehow the reporter would need to make the policy info more juicy than our movie star governor.

Posted by: Anna at November 2, 2004 9:11 PM | Permalink

Anna: Yes. The trick to doing it impartially is coming up with the weighting criteria a priori, but not so far a priori that the factions involved can manage to game your system.

I second enthusiastically the a priori, but I'm not sure how much it matters how far a priori since the system will be learned and at some point gamed.

But you made a great point previously that I hope you won't mind if I recall and link to it here:

The paper should make clear - online, at least, where space is cheap - what its structural biases are, by what standards it measures its reporting, and what its management & reporters believe are the most important things to inform their readers about. (if we don't agree with their approach, we can go read or make something else; if we do agree, we have standards to hold them to. But at least we'll know.)
I would like to see this a priori weighting system discussed and described in the same context. It would also make sense to describe how partisans try to game the system as they figure out their wiley ways.

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2004 11:15 PM | Permalink

Shifting fields of discourse... (Cline)

Posted by: Tim at November 3, 2004 2:13 AM | Permalink

For historians or media critics that may read this comment decades in the future and think it important to record how the SBVT contributed, or not, to Kerry's 2004 Presidential campaign loss:

The press treatment of the SBVT did not help Kerry, it hurt him. The liberal populated press may have thought they were helping Kerry, they may have been trying to help Kerry, they may have been doing what they thought was objective - whether it helped Kerry or not. Doesn't matter.

It hurt Kerry. Both pretending the SBVT didn't exist until August and then sensationalizing the SBVT with their "smear campaign" narrative.

The axiom on the Right, the article of faith that the liberal populated press is bad for America by coddling liberals (mostly Democrats) and being antagonistic toward conservatives (some Republicans) has been found intact. The fact that this actually helps conservatives and Republicans despite the MSM's golden path of good intentions toward liberals/Democrats continues to baffle the "reality-based" community.

Stick that in your history books.

Posted by: Tim at November 3, 2004 12:04 PM | Permalink


I'm not sure I agree with you, but it is an interesting hypothesis.

Overall, I think the bias hurt Bush considerably. For example, the lie-fest about his National Guard service convinced many people that he got in by privilege, was in no danger, and didn't meet his obligations. Whether those people would have voted for Kerry anyway I don't know.

The overindulgence in the Abu Ghraib issue was the same way. To the real reality-based community, it was an example of a few people in a poorly run unit misbehaving badly. But to those who don't understand the military, are somewhat innumerate, or who wanted to get Bush (the press among others), it was emblematic of a general tendency to abuse prisoners. The irresponsibility of publishing the pictures created recruiting posters for anyone who hates America. This scandal no doubt hurt Bush.

The lack of major WMD finds and the way it was treated clearly turned a number of people against Bush. And yet there is no way any intelligence organization could have penetrated UBL's bluff - his own generals didn't know there were not WMDs. This also obscured the truly important intelligence failure, which was the lack of detection of preparations for an insurgency by Saddam's M14.

The Swifties got once again insulted. All of us who served in that war were slandered by Kerry (in spite of attempts by revisionists to tell us Kerry wasn't slandering us in 1971).

I realized last night that the 60 Swifties got slandered again. As seen on this blog, the press either considers them all liars, or considers them blind dupes convinced by someone to lie. That is terribly disrespectful to a group of patriots who showed it by fighting in 'Nam and staying there a full year. For that, I hold the press responsible - they added insult to an existing injury. In some cases it was to protect Kerry. In some (Jay, Welch), it appears to be some sort of journalistic reflex that replaces critical thinking.

Welch is especially offensive, favorably comparing Michael Moore over the Swifties.

Posted by: John Moore at November 3, 2004 1:11 PM | Permalink

John Moore,

What's the difference between the press distributing unfavorable information about Bush and Hollywood doing it?

What's the difference between Dan Rather and Michael Moore as far as the viewing public is concerned?

Michael Moore has more credibility since he'll tell you he hates Bush. Neither is believed.

Want to know why the press is more harmful to liberals/Democrats than conservatives/Republicans because the press is friendlier to liberals/Democrats? Nobody listens (much) or really pays attention when someone criticizes an enemy or praises a friend, but when someone gossips about or criticizes a friend - then our ears perk up.

The problem with Jay's thesis about the Right's religion (and it's author, Eric Alterman) is that it is exactly because the liberal media is not harshly critical of liberals that any criticism is so harsh.

Posted by: Tim at November 4, 2004 2:06 PM | Permalink

From the Intro