I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Attacks on the blogosphere

I am still working on several matters in connection with the media's very encouraging reporting of the Administration's flatly inconsistent behavior and statements regarding the NSA scandal, as reflected by its reaction to Sen. DeWine's proposed FISA amendments in June, 2002. As a result, though, I am unable to blog a lot today again, which is a little irritating because there is a lot I want to post about regarding the NSA matter.

For the moment, though, I want to note this one point:

It is not unusual or extraordinary for the blogosphere to find critical facts or important connections between facts well before the establishment media finds them. For whatever reasons, in the case of the DeWine legislation, the path from the blogosphere into the establishment media was too clear and glaring for it not to be credited, but this really does happen all the time in the blogosphere.

I read blogs for a couple of years before I started this blog last October, and the reason I started blogging was precisely because the conversation and reporting that takes place among blogs is so frequently at a higher and more informed level of both analysis and thoroughness than what I was hearing from the establishment media, and for that reason, I wanted to participate in it. I can't count the times when some establishment media reported a point or fact as though it was some sort of new scoop when the blogosphere had been discussing and analyzing it days earlier or even longer.

This is all notable not to engage in some sort of pro-blogosphere celebratory dance, but rather, because there is a considered effort underway to marginalize the blogosphere and to depict it as some sort of crazed, extremist cesspool that not only does need to be listened to but ought to be actively scorned and rejected by all good and decent people.

Digby recently made the point that bloggers are clearly the next target for being depicted as nothing more than foul-mouthed, irresponsible lunatics whose opinions and statements must be disregarded simply by virtue of the fact that they emanate from the blogosphere. Scott McClellan was recently asked at a White House Press Briefing about various reports regarding rendering of suspects to Syria for interrogation-by-torture -- a question which is well-grounded in fact -- and when told that the reports were well-publicized, McClellan snidely asked, in order to cast aspersions on the credibility of those reports: "By what, bloggers"?

Efforts to marginalize the blogosphere aren't coming only from political officials but from status-threatened journalists as well. Time's Joe Klein -- who hasn't uttered a single thought outside of the listless belly of trite, conventional wisdom for many years now -- recently shared what he called his "disdain for bloggers," whom he smeared as being "all opinions and very little information." And the reason the recent controversy over The Washington Post's comments section had such resonance, especially among other establishment media outlets, is precisely because it fed the stereotypes of the blogosphere as nothing more than vulgar, substance-free personal assaults when, in reality, it was bloggers who, as is so often the case, first noticed the factual reporting errors from the Post's Ombudsman and demanded their correction (and became frustrated only when the Ombudsman ignored the requests for days and refused to correct her error).

There are all sorts of motivations which account for this effort, coming from several different circles, to attack the credibility of the blogosphere and to try to marginalize it. To cite just a few of these motives: the blogosphere threatens the prior monopoly which the establishment media maintained on both news and opinions; the White House and other political power centers can and do manipulate and control (large parts of) the establishment media in a way that they cannot control the blogosphere; and there is just a general and natural distrust of unstructured, free-wheeling and uncontrollable areans on the part of institutionalized authorities, which include establishment media figures as sadly represented by the likes of Joe Klein.

There are, of course, imperfections and flaws in the blogosphere, and bloggers are wrong about things not infrequently. But the establishment media is hardly free of errors or embarrassments of its own, and just as the Janet Cookes and Stephen Glasses and Judy Millers and Jason Blairs and Bob Woodwards do not constitute evidence that establishment journalists generally should be presumed to be corrupt or untrustworthy, nor can the occasional vulgarity or blogospheric error be fairly used as evidence of the lack of credibility of the blogosphere itself.

In story after story, bloggers (on both ideological sides) have uncovered facts or exposed errors and falsehoods from political officials and journalists which the establishment media failed to uncover. That's not to say that the blogosphere can or should replace the establishment media or that the establishment media has no use. We need the establishment media, with its vast resources and reach, to serve as an aggressive and meaningful check on government statements and actions. But in many instances, it is undeniably true that the blogosphere has supplemented the media's function in this regard, and other times has performed this function when the media failed to.

Jane Hamsher has made the point several times that bloggers can be an excellent resource for those enterprising reporters who are able to overcome the baseless perception that the blogosphere is some sort of wild, irresponsible jungle which competes with establishment journalism and therefore must be scorned. The work done in the blogosphere with great regularity is among the most reliable, well-researched, knowledgeable and analytical work being done anywhere on most stories of political significance, and the sooner the establishment media stops viewing the blogosphere as some sort of bug to be shooed away or squashed, the more effectively it can begin to work with the blogosphere to promote what is supposed to be the central function of our media -- to serve as an adversarial and aggressive check on the statements and actions of the Government.


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