Why Are We Ruled by These Morons? (Under Secretary of State Bob Joseph Edition)
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (National Review Edition)

Henry Farrell and His Commentors Say Smart Things

I was going to point everybody to Henry Farrell saying smart things about the Washington NPC journalists-and-webloggers lunch:

Crooked Timber : I was at the bloggers-meet-journalists lunch a few days ago which Matt Stoller and others have been talking about, and even tried to say something, but was shut down by the moderator, who thought that I was going to say something else altogether. What struck me (and what I was going to say) was that the journalists there didn't seem to understand.... I can understand how the people at the Post would get upset at hundreds of commenters from Atrios's or Kos's comments sections showing up... while they're nothing on, say, the denizens of the slimepit at LGF, their manner of criticism can be... robust....

But even so, the incomprehension... seemed to me to point to something more fundamental. Journalism and blogging have different internal systems of authority. Newspaper articles aspire to presenting a comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement.... Blogposts are quite different -- they're arguments in an ongoing debate.... They comment on, and respond to, what others are saying. The point is that they have very different -- and clashing -- notions of where authority and responsibility come from. Each newspaper article has the form of a discrete statement, which is supposed to be as authoritative as possible on its own ground. Each blogpost has the form of an intervention in an ongoing conversation -- the blogger's authority rests in part on her willingness to respond to others and engage in argument with them.... These forms of authority are difficult to reconcile with each other, because the latter in large part undermines the former. If journalists start systematically responding to their critics, and getting drawn into conversations about whether or not they were right when they made a particular claim, then they're effectively admitting that the articles they have written aren't all that authoritative in the first place.... Thus... the tendency for journalists like Jack Shafer to dismiss criticism from bloggers and their commenters as "organized riots" and lynch mobs. It's a fundamental threat to their notions of where journalistic authority comes from....

But the gerbil that powers Crooked Timber appears to have worn himself out, so there's no point in going there now.

However, here are three comments I added to Henry's thread. Looking at it again, I am once again reminded of why people interested in learning about stuff should visit Crooked Timber at least once a week.


Henry Farrell: Journalism and blogging have different internal systems of authority. Newspaper articles aspire to presenting a comprehensive, neutral and authoritative judgement regarding the facts at hand in a particular matter...

But that’s not how journalists describe what they are doing: Jeff Leen calls David Rosenbaum’s article on Jack Abramoff “a puff piece.” Post reporter A snorts and guffaws when I say I though Jim VandeHei did a good job this morning at fact-checking. “I think the story as a whole was accurate. But in that paragraph I had to let [John Lott] have his say,” says New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter. “You slammed me pretty good for somebody who got the longest quote” (I’m paraphrasing from memory) says the Washington Post’s Jonathan Weisman. “Puff pieces,” “hatchet jobs,” buttering up sources,” “constraints of a beat reporter”-—these are all words journalists use to describe their own activities. And they don’t fit with the formal ideology of comprehensive, neutral, objective, do they?

Henry wrote:

That journalists often don’t even try to live up to these standards is pretty self-evident to anyone who has ever been interviewed and then quoted…. But persistent hypocrisy about a set of underlying norms doesn’t demonstrate that these norms aren’t an important part of what gives journalists their purported authority.

But what is odd is that many journalists don’t take steps to gain the substantive expertise needed to make sense of what they are hearing, and then don’t take the care to quote accurately. I can count on reporters to get it right almost all of the time if I’m being interviewed by a wire service like Reuters, Bloomberg, or Knight-Ridder, by the Financial Times or the economic-financial staff of the Economist, or by the news staff of the Wall Street Journal. I’m not a source for but I know I can trust the coverage of the political and lobbying worlds that emerges from the National Journal.

Elsewhere... usually the journalists are doing as good a job as they can, given their background and experience... not always... and often their background and experience leave them unqualified to cover the story...

I recommend Jay Hamilton’s All the News That’s Fit to Sell http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0691116806/braddelong00...

Here and now Jack Shafer writes:

I didn’t call what bloggers wrote a ‘riot.’ I called the wild postings that appeared in the comment section of the post.blog after the lefty blogs directed their readers to go to there as the riot…. I don’t think Howell was a victim in any sense…. The Post site has its own standards of conduct, which it believes benefit its readers, and it has every right to enforce them.

There and then Jack Shafer wrote... well, let’s roll the videotape:

Washingtonpost.com temporarily shuttered its Post.blog message board last week after hundreds of personal attacks and profane, sexist, and generally hateful comments were placed there by readers—and others—to protest the work of Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell.... Howell’s sin was erroneously stating that the Post reported that Jack Abramoff “had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties” and then stepping in it all over again by stating that he “directed” money to both…. Various lefty blogs and activist groups appear to have urged readers to criticize the ombudsman.... The mass mau-mauing of Howell.... One of the great mysteries—and disappointments—of my own career is that despite my best efforts I’ve never been the target of a protest by an angry minority organization, a special interest group, or a political caucus. No chief dittohead has ever directed his troops to lock up my publication’s switchboard with harassing calls, stage a denial of service attack on my Web site, or visit my home at 3 a.m. with air horns...

Is there any definition of “mau-mauing” for which the recipient of one is not a “victim”? Is there any way to read the last part of what I quoted from Shafer other than as a blanket dismissal of Howell’s critics? And “hundreds of personal attacks and profane, sexist, and generally hateful comments”—-isn’t that “hundreds” subject to dispute?