The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’

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By ADAM REILLY  |  December 13, 2006

In case you missed it — and you probably did — a very small segment of the Massachusetts media was aflame with controversy this week. Aflame!

Here’s a quick synopsis: on December 9, the panelists on the “Beat the Press” edition of WGBH-TV’s Greater Boston spent some time talking critically about political blogs. The news hook for the segment was a New York Times op-ed detailing the financial links some eminent bloggers have with political campaigns; a brief story by John Carroll (an occasional Phoenix contributor) kicked things off. Among other things, Carroll stated that several of the bloggers mentioned in the Times piece — all affiliated with lefty site — were actually pseudonyms for one individual, blogger Jerome Armstrong, a claim Carroll discovered in a MyDD post. Carroll also featured an interview with David Kravitz of the liberal Massachusetts blog Blue Mass Group, in which Kravitz seemed to pan Armstrong — even though Kravitz was actually talking about something else.

Got it? Well, here’s the twist: Armstrong’s confession of pseudonymous authorship turned out to be bogus. In fact,it came in a joke post that was authored by MyDD contributor Jonathan Singer, and clearly flagged as such. On Monday morning, Greater Boston’s blog (!) ran a correction written by executive producer Mark Mills, which identified Carroll’s error and stated: “We should have checked those facts, and we regret not doing so.”

But the blogosphere (terrible term, but unavoidable here) wasn’t satisfied. Consider this response to Mills’s correction: “The ethics of those working at Greater Boston are now in question.” Or, from a comment on Blue Mass Group: “[H]ow can you blame John Carroll for not knowing that. [H]e is a journalist, and he merely repeated the innuendos and rumors he heard as The Wisdom Received. [H]ow could you expect him to do any better?” All told, the mix-up generated well over 100 comments on Boston-area blogs.

Obviously, Carroll screwed up — and the snarky discussion that followed his story certainly didn’t help matters. But what’s really fascinating about this whole episode is that it reveals the blogosphere’s profound ambivalence about traditional journalists.

There’s a common theme in the comments hammering Greater Boston: the mainstream media, a/k/a theMSM,is incompetent, unethical, irresponsible, lazy, etc. Compare this to the collective reaction when the MSM shines a favorable light on blogs, bloggers, the blogosphere, etc. On July 24, for example, Kravitz told Blue Mass Group readers he would be a guest on Jim Braude’s NewsNight program, on NECN. One reader’s response: “You’re a star!” Another’s: “Oooh! Count me watching! :) ” Or consider this comment, made on Blue Mass Group when the author of the Left in Lowell blog was written up in the Lowell Sun. “Lynne is really becoming a prominent pundit in the MSM (Watch out David, Charlie and Bob!)” — i.e., Blue Mass Group’s three founders, who were much discussed in the MSM during the past election cycle.

There’s a pattern here. When the MSM offends or errs, it’s time to pile on — but when the MSM celebrates a darling of the blogosphere, it’s cause for celebration. These disparate attitudes are awfully hard to reconcile. And they make it hard to take the outrage over Carroll’s gaffe all that seriously.

Related: Schoolyard bully, Debating pointers, Putting the ‘e’ in campaigns, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , David Kravitz, Internet, Science and Technology,  More more >
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