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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.

  Topics: This Just In , David Kravitz , Internet , Science and Technology ,  More more >
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The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Being in the Sun isn't much of an honor. And point of fact, I was in the Sun long before I had a blog... Personally, if blogging didn't come with any trad media attention of any sort, I'd be happier. I deliberately followed my heart in my English BA and avoided the Journalism concentration like the plague. I liked poetry. That sort of writing you do in a little dark room at the back of the house where no one can see you, and since no one reads poetry anymore no one knows about you even if you publish. See, the core issue is that bloggers build up reputations over time, by writing and being held accountable. By not doing due dilligence on their story and subsequent (very hostile) commentary, they were attacking the one thing that Jerome and others have when blogging that keeps readers trusting you. I honestly was fooled by the story myself, and it would have colored my view of Jerome had I not the reading habits that lead me to the truth. You could say the same thing about the runup to the Iraq war, come to think of it...if it weren't for my blogging habits, I might have been fooled like the rest of America. But I knew from the start that we were being lied to - because of people like Jerome, who connected the dots of SOME mainstream media reports and other experts out there who weren't being covered. Without them, I'd have been a sheep too. The mainstream press thinks it doesn't have to keep earning our trust. Well, John Carroll showed us it should be forced to. Why this keeps getting portrayed as an ego trip for said bloggers entirely misses the point, but it's a typical MSM tactic to pick a story and make everything fit the narrative, so I guess in that respect yeah, we're not going to take it anymore.
By Lynne on 12/14/2006 at 11:48:02
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Dude, your comments should allow for page, that comment becomes hard to read. Just a bit of feedback.
By Lynne on 12/14/2006 at 11:48:57
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
I meant line breaks. My brain is totally fried right now.
By Lynne on 12/14/2006 at 12:24:18
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
So, these bloggers criticize journalists when they do poorly, and praise journalists when they do well. What exactly is hard to reconcile about that? <br><br> And regardless, the examples you cite are merely bloggers are congratulating their peers for making it to the "big time" of MSM exposure, which is only an affirmation of the MSM's prominence, not its virtue. <br><br> No contradiction there whatsoever. An awareness that MSM represents the "big time" doesn't contradict an awareness of its flaws.. it just makes that critical focus more acute, by necessity.
By jsmooth995 on 12/14/2006 at 12:27:57
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Carroll got his facts wrong, so his pre-supposed conclusion was false. One must have facts to support a thesis, and his facts were thin air. And the problem here is the reaction of commenters in the blogosphere? You don't cite any pro-MSM posts from bloggers, just comments from readers. As a reader of your piece, I happen to think that your conclusion is false. The blogosphere, quite reasonably, only jumps on the corporate media when they're wrong. And everyone is happy when their favorite blogger gets wider exposure, because that makes it more likely that a non-corporate view gets out. So, now having written this comment, can it be used to support the proposition that you, sir, are responsible for my views? Because that is what you just did. Snap.
By truth on 12/14/2006 at 1:05:24
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
You miss the point. No one in the liberal blogosphere is saying that the MSM isn't needed, we just want them to do their job. We are saying that they don't do things like simple fact-checking or announcing conflicts of interest, then try to impose the very standards they don't follow on to blogs. This whole dust up transpired because someone wrote a story in the NYT about conflicts of interest with bloggers, like they were on the take. This story was debunked soon after its' release: for example, Jerome Armstrong was advising candidates PRIOR to starting a blog, announced it when he did so during his blogging tenure, and never tried to hide the fact. The fact he wasn't decieving his readers destroyed the key tenet of the story. On the other hand, how many times do MSM journalists, interviewees, and editorial writers disclose who are paying them? Armstrong Williams ring a bell? How many times did Katie O'Beirne go on TV and disclose that her husband was responsible for hiring for the CPA in Iraq (and doing a poor job at that), so take what she said about the state of Iraq with a grain of salt? Never. The only bloggers who have been positively identified as on the take and hiding their financial backers were conservatives, like the guy who blogged for Republican John Thune in SD and the ones who were paid to write positive stories about Wal-Mart. Of course this brings up another point where Liberal bloggers have a problem with the media not doing their job: their penchant for using 'false equivalence' as a poor excuse for 'balance' and/or 'objectivity'.
By flounder on 12/14/2006 at 1:15:59
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
<i>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.</i> This is just so bizarre. It's like this is some kind of playground game of who the kewl kids are. What's hard to undertand about this? It's called the mainstream media because it is, um, in the mainstream. When bloggers are misquoted or the blogosphere misrepresented, as with any other news source, they demand corrections. When they get published or broadcast in the mainstream media, that makes them happy, naturally, because the MSM audience is larger than the blogger audience. This means, first, that they get to be on TeeVee or in the paper, which appeals to most people and it means their message makes its way into more people's homes. The reason political bloggers are blogging, by and large, is because they don't think the POV they represent shows up in the MSM. So when they have an opportunity to present their views in such a forum, they're pleased. The pervasiveness of this weird "bloggers are icky" attitude astounds me. From the editorial page of the WSJ to an alternative weekly in Boston, the attitude is the same. The only conclusion I can come to is that you guys feel threatened. No reason for that, dude. We all want the same things--accurate, objective journalism. On dead trees or online. That IS what you want, isn't it?
By JayAckroyd on 12/14/2006 at 1:17:19
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Could the author please explain his last point about "diparate attitudes" in further detail. For example, would it be "hard to reconcile" if a political journalist who had praised a politician in the past, subsequently turned around and criticized that politician? Would the critical comments of that journalist be hard to take "all that seriously?"
By Gamble34 on 12/14/2006 at 1:36:46
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
<i>But the blogosphere (terrible term, but unavoidable here) wasn’t satisfied.</i> Shorter version: "The Blogosphere is a hypocrite, because I found Anonymous Comment A that contradicts Anonymous Comment B. Bad Blogosphere! Bad!" Is there something that forces authors to completely turn-off all critical faculties when writing about The Blogs? In the union contract? Look! Over there! I think I saw an anti-semitic anonymous comment! Shame on Kos!
By Just a Guy on 12/14/2006 at 3:00:22
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
<blockquote>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.</blockquote> In the world of adults there is no inconsistency in praising someone when they do something good and criticizing them when they do something bad. The unconditional love or hate I guess you think we're supposed to feel is the domain of children and sports fans.
By tb on 12/14/2006 at 3:08:03
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
What the vast majority of Left Blogostan habituees want the MSM to do is DO THEIR JOB - which would be to LEARN ABOUT STUFF before you write about it or go on the air to talk about it. And that is going to involve doing some basic research, getting different perspectives on the issue, and so forth. We'd like to see this whether the discussion's about the blogosphere or the war in Iraq. (New paragraph) This was what was most offensive about John Carroll's bit - sure, he apologized for one particular screwup, but the screwup was symptomatic of his having learned nothing about the subject he was reporting on, and his panelists, who were Seriously Discussing Blogger Ethics, knew just as little as he did. But it didn't stop them from pontificating about the unaccountability of people saying whatever they want online, which is what a blog is. (And it's also what the First Amendment is.) (New paragraph) Finally, none of the panelists did the obvious compare-and-contrast: how about the MSM? When op-ed columnists or persons giving televised or radio commentary on the issues of the day have affiliations that might call their objectivity into question, are they expected to spell out those affiliations every time they appear on air or in print? I'm all for standards, so long as they're standards for all of us, and not standards 'for thee, but not for me.'
By RT on 12/14/2006 at 3:33:15
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Good point 'Just A guy,' about the blogosphere not being satisfied with the 'accountability'. I mean the tone of the NYT article and the 'Beat the Press' segment was that the blogs weren't accountable for their actions, unlike the press. Now comes time for the press to be held accountable for what basically could be called slander toward Jerome Armstrong. And they say a terse 'sorry' and pretend they are acting accountable. If a blogger makes things up he loses his credibility he loses his audience, and thus any meager advertising income. In a word the market is self-policing. Now if a mainstream journalist doesn't fact-check and gets called on it, they retract and go on to next piece with absolutely no repercussions. Look at Ann Kornblutt, she has to write a retraction for probably 10 to 30 percent of her stories. Why is she still employed? Where is the accountability? Her punishment is she gets to go on the Sunday Morning talk shows every week and give her opinion on the important topics of the day.
By flounder on 12/14/2006 at 3:40:22
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Santa gives toys to nice children, coal to naughty children. These disparate attitudes are awfully hard to reconcile. And they make it hard to take the outrage over naugtiness all that seriously.
By Fides on 12/14/2006 at 3:47:37
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Adam Reilly - It's minor in the grand scheme of things, but both of your quotations come from commentators, not bloggers (no surprise) and both are cherry-picked (also no surprise). However, you also take “bloggers” to task for not being satisfied with Greater Boston’s correction and apology – but your first quotation comes from a comment made *before* the correction was made! (If you had read the Greater Boston thread further, you'd know that Greater Boston edited the post to issue the correction, so that earlier comments refer to a post that no longer exists.) It's a little hard to acknowledge a correction that hasn't occurred yet. But regardless, your quotations are not even representative of their threads. I have more detail here, assuming one can post links (but not allowing page breaks will likely make this a mash): // So to re-cap, John Carroll slammed a blogger because he misread a blog entry, didn’t bother to read the comments, and didn’t research. You've now entered the fray, slamming bloggers in part because you didn’t bother to read all the comments, and didn’t research. Apart from these issues, both you and Carroll seem to have started with your conclusions predetermined. Greater Boston and Carroll, to their credit, have apologized and made a correction at this point. We'll see how tonight's installment of the show deals with it. Contrary to your claims, and as others here have noted, the liberal blogosphere is overwhelmingly concerned with *accuracy* in the media, not in receiving praise. The reason the Carroll report attracted attention is because it fits a pattern of undue disparagement toward bloggers, and frankly, PBS typically upholds higher standards. It’s also simply good to be accurate, especially if you’re making a negative claim. We all make mistakes. However, your dismissive tone coupled with a central error doesn’t really help your credibility or your appeal. Let’s see if you can follow Carroll’s example a second time, admit your mistake and apologize.
By Batocchio on 12/15/2006 at 12:47:43
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
By the way, you and your paper deserve credit for allowing comments. However, I have to agree with Lynne's comment that you really should allow line breaks in comments, because they make comments much more readable. Also, a preview feature would help. Thanks for taking our feedback.
By Batocchio on 12/15/2006 at 12:51:40
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Batocchio, I'm afraid you may be right about the quoted response to Mills's correction. I still haven't been able to establish exactly when the correction was posted--there's no time given on Greater Boston's blog--but it looks like that particular response probably preceded it, despite being listed as a response. Thanks for catching this. However, the second comment I quote in arguing that the b-sphere wasn't satisfied DID follow Mills' mea culpa. A
By Adam on 12/15/2006 at 2:07:52
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Let me propose this comment as a substitute, Batocchio--I'm fairly sure it followed the correction: "There’s a reason poll after poll shows that people distrust the media. There’s a reason ratings are declining for TV news. There’s a reason The Daily Show is popular - and it’s not due to a liberal bias. There’s a reason Stephen Colbert’s speech roasting the media (and Bush) was and is so popular . That reason will keep piling up evidence until you folks are all unemployed and begging on the streets. Or until you address the issue - but I’m afraid your past history makes me doubt that outcome." Again, thanks for setting me straight.
By Adam on 12/15/2006 at 2:10:58
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
After reading the comments I went back and re-read the column. What I think you missed entirely is that the program impugned the integrity of the bloggers using false information and basically no research or understanding of blogs whatsoever. All that tsk tsking from the panel members was infuriating for that reason. This dustup wasn't about the MSM v bloggers, it was about the dishonesty of that show. Believe me if had been a blogger that had displayed such ignorance and hubris the reaction of the readers would be immediate and loud, that is the nature of the blogsphere. Thanks for letting me contribute my two cents.
By Kewalo on 12/15/2006 at 5:43:47
The strange dust-up over ‘Beat the Press’
Adam, kudos for acknowledging the mistake. I went into more detail in my blog post, but the url is hard to see. Based on my research at least, the correction was posted close to 1:50pm EST (I wrote WGBH to confirm this but haven’t received a reply yet). The second quotation, as you note, did occur afterwards. I found it ironic that in a sense you repeated Carroll’s error by basing a large part of your critique (essentially, bloggers are churlish) on false information (although I do understand how it happened). As an occasional blogger, let me weigh in. I believe your larger point is that bloggers and the mainstream media can have an uneasy relationship. That’s certainly fair and accurate. There are also certainly bloggers and commentators, who are immature, abusive, can pile on, or read conspiracies into everything. But that’s free speech, and other bloggers and commentators are free to call them on anything they think goes over the line. However, blog communities do develop standards and the coin of the realm for most political and news blogs is the same as it is for traditional media – credibility. As others have noted, if a major site gets something factually wrong, readers write in pretty quickly, and the good blogs always issue a correction. In my experience, most prominent liberal bloggers want accuracy and laud good journalism (although you can find bloggers of every political stripe who want advocacy versus “straight” reporting). If I may make a few respectful requests: Please distinguish between blog posts and thread comments. Commentators tend to be much more extreme, and popular sites tend to attract “trolls.” Please consider whether a comment is representative of the thread before you use it. The range of opinion between blogs, or even in a single post’s thread, can be very diverse, and anyone can cherry-pick them. Most prominent bloggers, even when criticizing each other, tend only to quote someone else’s *post* versus a comment in a thread. (It’s my view that your quotations were not very representative. While some of the Greater Boston thread comments express the distrust you highlight in the first quotation and your new, third one, I found that overwhelmingly, the comments plead for accuracy and transparency. For the second, sarcastic quotation, the actual post it comments on is a pretty serious inspection of Carroll’s accuracy and the issue of disclosure, and most of the other comments are in the same vein.) Personally, I consider Carroll’s gaffe a dead issue now that he and Greater Boston issued a correction and apologized. As I mentioned before, however, Carroll’s disdain and his error fit a pattern of such incidents from traditional journalists, which is why he received the reaction he did. (Frankly, I feel you fell into some of the same pattern, but I also have to credit your correction.) Finally, I know the Phoenix is a physical paper, and adding hyperlinks for the web version could be a pain if you’re understaffed. However, it’s a wonderful feature to link any blogs you quote, because then readers can check out things for themselves. Sorry, this has gotten long. I’d end by saying I’m a fan of good reporting, whether it appears in traditional media or on blogs. Best of luck in your future work.
By Batocchio on 12/16/2006 at 3:48:29

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