Story location: http://archive.pressthink.org/2006/03/24/bd_wapo.html


March 24, 2006

Red America, RIP... and the Great Blogger Bake Off

"Now that Ben Domenech has resigned from washingtonpost.com I hope Jim Brady will do the right thing, the creative thing, the thing that would turn this sorry episode around and allow the post.com to come out with a win for its readers and in the blogosphere..."

Now that Ben Domenech has resigned from the washingtonpost.com I hope Jim Brady will do the right thing, the creative thing, the thing that would turn this sorry episode around and allow the post.com to come out with a win for its readers and in the blogosphere.

An open competition on the Web to be the next political blogger at post.com, but instead of hiring one “red state” person and leaving it at that (a strategic error in my opinion) Brady should say that three slots will be filled over the coming year. One from column right, one from column left, and a third voice that is definitely neither of those, which could mean libertarian— or not.

When I say open I mean open: anyone can apply. But experience as a political blogger counts. You have to be an original linker and be able to think for yourself. Finalists and semi-finalists get named. There’s a week’s try-out period for the final few and a big bake off at the end— all with comments enabled. The competition would generate high interest online, and give the winning bloggers a great introduction.

It’s their site, so the editors of washingtonpost.com would pick the winners and run the contest. This would be more in keeping with the reputation the post.com should have for being the most innovative newspaper site around— and the most open to emerging voices who are challenging the press. Without something like this to announce in the wake of the Ben Domenech meltdown, Brady and his crew will take a bigger hit. Bad karma will result.

But I believe Brady, executive editor of the post.com, could turn that around.

Thinking ahead, blogger Bill Hobbs has already applied. (In the comments to the Domenech resignation post.)

Mr. Brady,

For four-plus years I wrote a weblog of center-right opinion, news analysis, media crit and original journalism, at my own eponymous blog site, www.billhobbs.com

Center-right may not quite describe me accurately. Pragmatic libertarian conservative is more like it.

I am a redstate resident (Tennessee) and a journalist by training, and more than a decade of experience, and I would love to replace Ben Domenech on the WashingtonPost.com site. I’ve never committed plagiarism. And because I’m not located “inside the Beltway” and have never worked for a Republican political campaign, I’m not likely to just repeat GOP talking points.

Bill Hobbs
Nashville, TN
www.billhobbs.com

I’m not likely to just repeat GOP talking points. Exactly. The open competition (which would include the online vetting that Domenech went through) would weed out the hacks, operatives, predictables and cheerleaders and allow for a truer picture of what you are going to get from the blogger. Since there would be three competitions going on, no one could complain about imbalance, or excessive dualism. (Has to be three.) And the event would show that the intensity of exchange in the blogosphere can produce good outcomes.

“We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations,” Brady wrote in announcing the end of Red America. “Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the the practice of journalism.” If you’re a phony, it will be found out. Now let the Internet find your next great blogger, Jim.

I wasn’t—in principle—against the Post.com hiring a Republican activist as an opinion writer. It didn’t bother me that Domenech lacks mainstream newsroom credentials, and doesn’t call himself a journalist. I found it more interesting than scandalous that he was home schooled. And to me it was an inspired thought to give a 24 year-old a blog at washingtonpost.com.

Today I might be defending Jim Brady and company for their decision— if…. If Ben Domenech were a writer with some grace, a conservative but an original, a voice, something new on the scene, a different breed of young Republican, with perspective enough on the culture war to realize that while he can’t avoid being in it, he can avoid being of it. I might even be sympathizing with Ben if he had been that kind of hire.

He wasn’t. That he wasn’t was suggested by his first post, Pachyderms in the Mist: Red America and the MSM, a strange and backward-facing thing the apparent purpose of which was once more to ridicule what Peggy Noonan called “the famous MSM.” And it is famous, as a construct that allows anyone to say anything about the news media without fear of contradiction. This was Ben:

Any red-blooded American conservative, even those who hold a dim view of Patrick Swayze’s acting “talent,” knows a Red Dawn reference. For all the talk of left wing cultural political correctness, the right has such things, too (DO shop at Wal-Mart, DON‘T buy gas from Citgo). But in the progressive halls of the mainstream media, such things prompt little or no recognition. For the MSM, Dan Rather is just another TV anchor, France is just another country and Red Dawn is just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie.

I suppose he meant that reporters, editors and producers in the nation’s newsrooms are so clueless they don’t know why Dan Rather is such a prized conservative scalp, or that the right really hates the French. Besides being untrue, this was also an extremely ungracious statement, since the washingtonpost.com was bringing Ben Domenech aboard to bring news and clues about social conservatives to more Americans. As Greg Sargent wrote at Tapped, “Domenech’s MSM-bashing, of course, is belied by his own apparent hiring.”

But in fact there is no MSM. No one answers for it. It has no address. And no real existence independent of the dreary statements in which it is bashed. Therefore it is not a term of accountability, which is one reason it’s grown so popular. No one’s accountable; therefore all rants can be right. If you’re a blogger, and you write things like, “The MSM swallowed it hook, line and sinker,” you should know that you have written gibberish. But you probably don’t, for to keep this knowledge from you is the leaden genius of MSM.

And having made it to the big time, that was the genius Ben Domenech thought to tap in his very first post. Tells me he wouldn’t have survived an online bake-off. That’s the whole point of having one. You raise the bar. His resignation today is a good outcome.



After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Julian Sanchez at Reason’s Hit and Run blog builds on my bake-off idea and adds some shrewd observations. See Distributing Due Diligence. (March 29)

Farhad Manjoo of Salon speaks to Brady, who says Domenech was thoroughly vetted.

“We looked at a lot of people,” Brady said of the selection process. “We didn’t have anybody on the site who is on a consistent basis discussing issues of conservatives, someone who’s loyal to the cause of conservatism and not the administration. We were looking for people whose opinions are not necessarily in line with the majority of people who read the site. We wanted to create a little bit of buzz and controversy as well.” And Domenech, Brady said, fit the bill. “He was provocative.”

In the end, of course, the decision created the wrong kind of controversy. “The lesson we’ve learned is that if we go back and do this again, we’ll probably look more in the traditional journalist community,” Brady said. “We still want someone who’s provocative.”

And the site still wants someone on the right. “A conservative columnist, a conservative blogger, whatever it ends up being. Certainly we’re looking, but I don’t know the timeframe,” Brady said.

Asked if the site is looking for a liberal, he said, “Potentially, potentially.”

See also Howard Kurz’s report(March 25).

John Reinan, a Star-Tribue staffer, writes at his blog:

It just happens that former Pioneer Press editor Deborah Howell, now the Posts ombudsman, was in our newsroom today for a Q&A session on journalism topics. I asked her about the Domenech affair.

Her reply: I cant defend it. Its a f****in disaster.

Ed Morrisey, Will Blogs Eat Themselves?

If anyone wanted to make an argument that the blogosphere is too immature to be considered partners in information dissemination with traditional media outlets, we’ve provided it in spades this week. We finally had an opportunity to garner a high-profile setting for bloggers at the nation’s premiere newspaper, and what did we do? We tore each other to shreds because we didn’t like the ideological perspective of the first person chosen for the experiment. We engaged in crude character assassination that greatly overshadowed the actual value of the blogosphere to find and correct real transgressions and deficiencies, as demonstrated by the discovery of Domenech’s plagiarism.

Mick Stockinger has a reply to Morrisey that is worth reading in full.

I see absolutely no problem with how the Domenech affair unwound—character assassination and everything. Its completely in character with the blogosphere and I don’t think most of us are here to impress the fellas at the Washington Post or at Rockefeller center. The blogospheric “market” should reward or punish behavior and let us develop consistent with the expectations and preferences of our readers.

More…UNCoRRELATED: Domenech concedes.

Joel Achenbach, the Post’s top blogger, says good riddance. “His blog, Red America, didn’t contain anything that would make someone think he was the second coming of William F. Buckley. Indeed, this whole affair seems like a spoof, a prank, to make all the real, authentic, rock-ribbed, hard-headed if perhaps slightly lizard-hearted conservatives look bad.” He also points out that Ben was just a contractor, a freelancer. He didn’t have a “job at the Post.”

The Blogometer has a very thorough round-up of what led up to the resignation, including all the plagiarism charges. If you want the links, they’re in there.

Ben Domenech pens a resignation note (RedState.com)

I have a great many friends who are willing to stand and defend me on this. I appreciate their support. I have enormous respect for Jim Brady and the vision he has at WPNI. But while the folks at washingtonpost.com understand my position and are convinced by my arguments on many of these issues, they also feel that the firestorm here will only serve to damage us all, and that there is no way this blog can continue without being permanently tagged to this firestorm. Therefore, I have resigned this position with washingtonpost.com.

This is a shame. As you all know, I am a conservative, but not a partisan I believe had this blog been allowed to continue, it would have been a significant addition to the Post’s site. The Post showed bravery by including a conservative voice, and I hope they continue to seek that balance.

But Ben’s not a blogger. Not a real blogger. If he were a real blogger, then in this part

But in the course of accusing me of racism, homophobia, bigotry, and even (on one extensive Atrios thread) of having a sexual relationship with my mother, the leftists shifted their accusations to ones of plagiarism.

… there would be links to these charges.

Dana Milbank in a Q and A with Post.com readers:

What I don’t understand (although I haven’t inquired) is why the website couldn’t recruit somebody with more stature to do the job. This city is crawling with good conservative journalists with lots of heft. Domenech may be a smart fellow, but he’s 24 years old and tells Kurtz “I’m not a journalist.” I think that makes him the only “blogger” on the site who’s not a journalist.

On March 21, Sean-Paul Kelley at The Agonist wrote that hiring Domench was dubious because “the whole Red State/Blue State meme is on the way out.” I agree. His first post was phoned in from ‘04.

Matt Stoller says the lesson for Brady and the Post is: “Stop appeasing the right-wing. It’s bad for you.”

Joe Gandelman has a broad assortment of reactions from across the spectrum.

Jane Hamsher asks: “How exactly did Ben wind up on the pages of the WPNI?” She thinks Hugh Hewitt suggested it, and Brady listened.

Via America blog, the email the Post ombsudman sent out to those who inquired:

From: Deborah C Howell HowellDC@washpost.com
Date: March 23, 2006 9:44:05 PM EST
To: xxxxx
Subject: Re: Domenech

The Washington Post has not hired him. The website has. The two are under totally different management. He will not be working for the newspaper. If you want to complain to the right person, try executive.editor@wpni.com.

Deborah

Which was her way of getting out of addressing the Domenech matter. Of course, it’s inconsistent with her column, The Two Washington Posts.


Posted by Jay Rosen at March 24, 2006 3:12 PM