Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Friday, December 31, 2004

More than Timber is Crooked

Henry Farrell, over at Crooked Timber, is attacking "right-wing blogs" in general, and Powerline, Hugh Hewitt, and Glenn Reynolds specifically. There's nothing wrong with that, if he has facts. Unfortunately, most of what he has is his own personal opinion. That, too, is fine. That's what blogs are all about - saying what you think about what's going on, sharing information, sharing experiences, and bringing up points that others are unaware of, don't want to know, or refuse to admit or accept. There's no more reason to accept Henry's views of the issue than anyone else's in the blogosphere. The one rule of blogging is that whatever you say will be checked by someone, and if they disagree, they'll let you know about it.

It doesn't take Henry very long to get to the point, and to let his prejudices show:

"The perennial issue of mainstream media bias and the superiority of blogs is undergoing a minor revival in the right wing blogosphere at the moment, much of it centered on a column by Nick Coleman of the Star-Tribune, which has the temerity to take on PowerLine. Coleman’s effort to “fact-check” the factcheckers is rather weak, but his main point is hard to refute - it’s a bit rich for slavering right wing hacks to accuse the mainstream media of ideological bias and expect to get taken seriously."

Actually, Henry, if the leftward tilt of the mainstream media were expressed as the tilt of a ship, most skippers would be screaming "abandon ship". There is no question that a bias exists. There is no question that the mainstream media slants, twists, contorts, and manipulates the information it presents as "news" in a way that supports its personal agendas. There is no question that the last presidential election saw such a distorted process that even five-year-old children could recognize it. Dan Rather was just the tip of the iceberg - the entire mainstream media, with only a few minor exceptions, leans distinctively left. The proof is there for all to see: the way the mainstream media treated the SwiftVets issue, the way the mainstream media reports the war in Iraq, the way the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge and report the specifics of the Oil-for-Food scandal and the behavior of Russia, France, China and Germany, or of Kofi Annan and a number of other high officials in the United Nations. These are just a small portion of the hundreds of issues that are reported in a way favorable to the left, and frequently devoid of truth or accuracy.

As for "slavering right-wing hacks", that statement alone screams out your own personal bias, and makes it much easier to understand the rest of the drivel you post.

Bloggers come in all shapes, sizes, political affiliations, and backgrounds - far more diverse than any group in the mainstream media. My history includes 26 years as an enlisted member of the US Air Force, service in Vietnam and Europe, mostly as a photo interpreter - you know, one of those guys responsible for keeping track of our enemies by looking at and interpreting photography of the entire scope and range of a nation's existence, from military to economic, agricultural to research and development. You don't do that with an IQ of 75 - it takes some real intelligence to do the job well, and I did the job VERY well. The PowerLine folks, Beldar, Ann Althouse and Glenn Reynolds are lawyers, and Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse teach law. Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping is both a former artillery officer and an ordained minister. I could go on here all day. These are all people that are far from being "slavering right wing hacks" - they are intelligent, well-educated people with far more experience in the real world than most "journalists".

On which, see further Matt Welch’s entertaining takedown of Hugh Hewitt. There’s a curious sort of doublethink going on here, which culminates in a sort of dodge-the-responsibility two-step. On the one hand, bloggers like Glenn Reynolds respond to their critics by saying that they can’t cover everything, and that they’re not providing a news service, only opinions. On the other hand, they seem to believe that blogs should radically change or replace the mainstream media.

Pitiful strawman. Hugh Hewitt doesn't try to claim he's impartial. Everyone knows exactly where he stands. But Hugh isn't as partisan as Daily Kos or Democratic Underground. What most bloggers attempt to do is to read and comment on what interests them. That's why I blog - to express my opinions on a number of subjects that interest me. Blogs will never fully replace the mainstream media, but they will spend considerable time and energy fact-checking what the mainstream media produces, and commenting both on the factuality of the reporting and the media bias that distorts the truth. I don't believe Glenn Reynolds sees blogs replacing newspaper and television news. I do believe there is an excellent opportunity for newspapers and television news to move away from their pitiful performance distributing news by working with bloggers, instead of trying to intimidate or silence them. The only way that can happen, however, is for the mainstream media to acknowledge its problems, and do something to solve them. The mainstream media is like an alcoholic - denying it has a problem, and refusing to accept there's a need for change. Until they wake up to the truth, they will continue to decline in influence and importance.

If you think that blogs should replace the mainstream media, then you should be prepared yourself to live up to some minimal standards of scrupulosity, intellectual honesty, and willingness to deal fairly with facts that are uncomfortable for your own ideological position. You should be prepared to live up yourself to the standards that you demand of others. Exercising the “shucks, I’m just a little old blogger” get-out clause is rank hypocrisy when you want the blogosphere to devour the New York Times whole. Funny that Reynolds et al. don’t see it that way.

Another pitiful strawman, served up with a healthy side of denial. Do you really believe that the mainstream media follows any standards of scrupulousity, intellectual honesty, and willingness to deal fairly with facts that are uncomfortable with their own ideological position? If you do, I have a bridge I'll sell you - cheap! How many newspapers have been stung recently by having reporters who simply MADE STUFF UP? How many ways do the daily news warp, twist, and contort reporting, whether its something from Congress, the White House, the war in Iraq, or dealings with the United Nations and "Old Europe"? The people in the blogosphere acknowledge their bias, and do a much better job of being "honest, truthful, and sincere" in their reporting and comments than 90% of the mainstream media.

Update: Glenn Reynolds responds to my post in a characteristically evasive fashion. He weirdly mischaracterizes my argument by saying that I conflate “InstaPundit with the blogosphere as a whole, by suggesting that my statement that InstaPundit is not a news service somehow means that the blogosphere isn’t up to news-gathering.” I don’t know where he gets that, but it allows him to duck the main point - whether bloggers like Reynolds are being hypocritical in criticizing other media for bias. Let me explain it again in plain, simple, English. Glenn Reynolds complains regularly about liberal bias in the media. He says that he doesn’t believe that blogs should replace big media, but that they should pressure big media to do a better job; I’ll accept his characterization of his own views, although he’s certainly given a different impression in the past. But even on this more limited definition, bloggers like Reynolds are being hypocritical - they don’t and won’t practice what they preach. If I understand his argument correctly (it’s somewhat unclear to me exactly what he’s saying), he seems to think that this is OK because the blogosphere is a big place, and that stories are going to come out no matter what (no blogger can block them). This is an abdication of responsibility, pure and simple, and it’s also factually incorrect. Blogs like Instapundit on the right and Atrios on the left, serve an important function as filters of news, both for other bloggers (who read the big bloggers disproportionately) and for outside readers (who tend to gravitate towards the big blogs that everyone has heard about). In a very important way, these blogs shape both the political blogosphere’s perception of itself, and outsiders’ perceptions of it (the blogs on the ‘long tail’ usually only come to prominence when one of the bigger blogs picks up on their story). Saying (if that’s what he’s saying) that he doesn’t have any responsibility for what he does or doesn’t post on, because others are going to pick up on important stories anyway, simply doesn’t cut it as an excuse.

Why pick on Glenn Reynolds? He's just one of some five MILLION blogs online. No single one of these blogs could cover everything, but in aggregate, they can cover far more than a single newspaper. However, that's not their purpose. They are not here to replace newspapers or television, but to SUPPLEMENT them with fact-checking, supplemental reporting, rebuttal, disagreement, and just plain old opinion. Some blogs are dedicated strictly to poetry, or novels, or movies, or a dozen other subjects that newspapers give passing attention to.

The second thing that makes blogs different than newspapers is that most of them allow comments - practically UNLIMITED comments. My local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, publishes about six or eight letters to the editor, six days a week. Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs may have 400 comments to a single post. Admittedly, about two-thirds of all comments add little to the discussion. Still, in aggregate, the sum add substantially to the overall debate, bring up points that the original author couldn't find or didn't know, and supplement the reporting. Even negative comments, if containing factual information, add to the overall effectiveness of the report.

Thirdly, many blogs exist simply to acquaint people with information they may not have been able to find on their own. My favorite in this category is Rantburg, which concentrates on the war on terror, and which includes articles from some 20 to 50 different sources every day. Many of these sources are online English-language editions of foreign newspapers. The editors of Rantburg save me the trouble of hunting for this information myself, allowing me to learn more in less time.

Finally, the true worth of blogs as an interactive media is being felt in the response to the Sunda Trench earthquake and resulting tsunamis. There are hundreds of articles online providing news coverage. Even more impressive, there are at least two blogs online (one being South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami page), that provide links to charitable organizations, updated relief information, a place to post specific needs, places and links for people to contact survivors, or to help track down the dead, and a dozen other outstanding efforts that are impossible for the average mainstream media outlet to duplicate.

As Glenn Reynolds said, the proper place for blogs is as a symbiotic partner to mainstream media, but that can only come about when the people at the top in the media industry acknowledge they have problems, and that blogs can help restore the people's trust in print and broadcast media once more. Crooked thinking by people like Henry Farrell doesn't help the situation.


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