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.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Blogger self-righteousness

Last week, as I documented, a swarm of right-wing bloggers, including National Review’s Peter Robinson, shrieked that a CBS News poll showing a 35% Bush approval rating was fraudulent, manipulated and false – only for multiple polls released shortly thereafter, including from Pew, Newsweek, and Fox, to confirm CBS’ findings. As a result, I argued that those who viciously assaulted the integrity of CBS News and its poll should at least acknowledge their error, if not apologize for their false accusations, since they would be demanding (relentlessly, and self-righteously) that CBS do the same if it turned out that the bloggers were right and CBS was wrong.

At least one of the bloggers who was part of that mini-lynch mob has, in response to my post, apologized, sort of. He has at least acknowledged, commendably, that he was wrong to accuse the CBS Poll of reaching a deliberately skewed result in light of those subsequent polls.

I also received an e-mail in response to my post from Joe Malchow, the Dartmouth undergrad whose original post criticizing the CBS Poll became the basis for the other bloggers' attacks. The substance of his e-mail is as follows:

You should know that I am far, far more intellectually honest than you give me credit for. (And my spelling and grammar in the post your (sic) linked was also unusually poor, as I was in the throes of midterm studying and had little time.) A broader survey of my blog would reveal that. Just today, with the release of more polls, I did a post on the WH Comm. department's failings and the spate of [almost] concurring low approval ratings.
Joe's e-mail doesn’t address, at all, the false charges against CBS which he spawned, but that’s the e-mail I received from him. The other accusers, including Robinson and "Ace," have let their now disproven accusations against CBS News stand without comment.

This little brouhaha is relatively inconsequential standing alone, but it does illustrate a dynamic among blogs which is quite significant. As bloggers tirelessly declare, blogs have become an indispensable tool for compelling establishment institutions, government and media, to acknowledge and confront problems and even crises which they would, in the absence of blogging pressure, simply ignore. The list trotted out by the blog triumphalists to demonstrate their irreplaceable value in this regard is exceedingly familiar by now: Trent Lott, Rathergate, Eason Jordan, Judy Miller. Each of these controversies, to varying degrees, was catalyzed and fueled by blogs and likely never would have been acknowledged in their absence.

But blogs also can, and frequently do, serve as a repository for all sorts of reckless innuendo, baseless accusations and the assembling of lynch mobs over nothing. Because bloggers are really not accountable to anyone other than their (almost invariably) like-minded readers, it becomes cheap and easy to rant out one shrill accusation after the next without regard to whether there is merit to the accusation. That many bloggers are anonymous makes doing so even easier, and even cheaper.

If the accusation is revealed to be baseless and false, no problem - you just blithely move on to the next one, letting the prior allegations you spat out just linger until its odor slowly fades away, leaving residual damage (or worse) for the target of the false accusations. The bloggers’ fans will invariably forgive the injustice, because it’s directed at the common enemy, so even if false, the attack will be viewed as at least motivated by the right intentions.

Bloggers are the first to demand accountability and retraction from media outlets and politicians when they err. They should apply that same standard to themselves.

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