September 20, 2004

For Fear of Being Rathered

According to Jeremy Brown, Hugh Downs thinks news reporters will censor themselves even more than they did before because they’re afraid they’ll be Rathered by the blogosphere.

Eh. What a silly thing to say. Jeremy found the perfect analogy.
You're sitting in the back of a bus. You and some of the other passengers begin to notice that the bus is not actually going anywhere. You walk up to the front of the bus and you see that the driver is simply turning the wheel back and forth and saying "vroom-vroom-vroom" to himself, and screeching once in a while. You say, 'excuse me...you're not actually driving this thing, are you?' and he says, 'Look, buddy, I'm an experienced bus driver and you're just a passenger. Besides, I can't do my job if you people are going to keep bitching at me.'
Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 20, 2004 10:06 PM
Comments

>>>"According to Jeremy Brown, Hugh Downs thinks news reporters will censor themselves even more than they did before because they’re afraid they’ll be Rathered by the blogosphere."

and that's a bad thing? Now maybe you'll just stick to the facts.

Posted by: David at September 20, 2004 10:21 PM

Hugh Downs is speaking in defense of his class, the major network news anchor class. The other nine members of this class certainly support him fully in this declaration. The other six billion of us might not agree, but we aren't on the news every night...yet.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at September 20, 2004 11:21 PM

David, I think what Mr. Downs means is that reporters will be afraid to report on things that make certain people look bad.

I think this was a stupid issue for there to be such a "truth be damned" attitude by CBS. Wow, Bush might have been a priviledged little snot! Nobody knew that! You mean he's not this cowboy field hand self made man we thought he was? oh no!

Everyone knows Bush has had strings pulled for him throughout his whole life. I don't care about that. There's more important reasons to elect Bush out of office.

I find it funny that Robert Novak is all over CBS to name sources on this while he sits there and refuses to tell who outed that CIA spy (Plume, I think).

Posted by: Greg at September 20, 2004 11:25 PM

Greg: I find it funny that Robert Novak is all over CBS to name sources on this while he sits there and refuses to tell who outed that CIA spy (Plume, I think).

No kidding. John Stewart on The Daily Show gave Novak a "douchebag" award for that one. And Stewart is nice to everybody.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 20, 2004 11:35 PM

Hugh Downs has said many silly things through the years. The MSM would be wise to kiss the public's collective ass and then shut the hell up. I hold little hope.

Patrick Lasswell if you read this, nice job on the dissent you presented to Michael's last thread.

Posted by: Samuel at September 21, 2004 12:14 AM

Perhaps Rather's disgrace will chill the work of other journalists. But I hope the profession instead learns from this episode, and adapts itself to harness the collective mind enabled by the internet.

For example, CBS could have posted images of the documents before broadcast, saying something along the lines of, "A source has given us copies of what looks like memos by LTC Killian. Can anyone help us verify these, and put them into context?"

Had CBS done so, they would have reaped for free the benefit of our collective expertise (the value of which in the end probably exceeded $500,000), would have rapidly uncovered the true story: an attempt to defraud by one or more Kerry partisans, and by the way would have avoided the scandal that has engulfed them.

Journalism will do itself a favor if it abandons the twin ideals of the "perfectly finished story" and the "exclusive scoop", and accept the reality that the pursuit of truth is evolutionary, the approach to truth necessarily asymptotic; that the path towards civic understanding is best traveled collaboratively.

Media organizations should strive not so much to attract large audiences as recruit them. Involve them, and they will come (along with their eyeballs)!

Posted by: db at September 21, 2004 04:08 AM

Can anyone help us verify these, and put them into context?

That's sorta hilarious. How many unverified stories can news organizations run? You would just be reduced to posting rumors and asking the public to send in any proof they can find. It's the heat death of news.

To extend the bus driver analogy, it's like everyone on the bus has a hand on the wheel. Then what happens? The bus crashes every time, instead of once every few years with the current system.

I hope the profession instead learns from this episode, and adapts itself to harness the collective mind enabled by the internet.

Yes, I hope the profession learns to do the basic function of reporting, which is verifying the facts before reporting the story. But the rest of the "collective mind" stuff is just a vague blog fantasy. Bloggers are primarily - almost exclusively - explainers of stories, not gatherers and publishers of facts. To argue that news organizations have to integrate themselves with bloggers to improve their products is like arguing that reporters should be talking to opinion columnists to vet their stories before publishing.

If the argument is more limited, that blogs act like a sort of distributed fact-checking department, then you have to explain how a news organization can maintain its competitive advantage of getting a fact-checked story out first while it's busy revealing all the unchecked facts on the internet. That is the current economic model for news organizations.

One of the sources of this blogs-eat-MSM fantasy is the mistaken belief that the public are like bloggers. We get all involved in the minutiae of stories and want to talk back to the reporters and editors. But there are only about 250,000 people in the country (my estimate based on the Pew report) who read political blogs regularly. The rest of the country doesn't want to participate in news gathering. They don't want to fact-check someone's ass. They want the news to get the story right, or they just want to be entertained. When you project your own beliefs and attitudes onto the public, it's easy to say that the MSM should all quit and let us run their businesses.

Posted by: Mithras at September 21, 2004 04:36 AM

Tough crap for Hugh Downs and everyone who agrees with him. Chilled? Damn straight. Reporting a story by using fabricated evidence was always a journalistic wrong, it's just a hell of a lot harder for the fabricator or the reporter to get away with. That's a good thing.

Hugh? We're watching, just like you guys want. But we're not passive sponges anymore, We have minds and also voices now. Please plan your reporting accordingly. Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Posted by: bk at September 21, 2004 06:42 AM

Censorship? Vetting your sources and determining the documents you've received are of dubious authenticitiy at best is hardly censorship; examining your own motives and innate bias is hardly censorship; exercising judgment, caution and putting some lid on your own arrogance is not censorship. I suspect Hugh Downs is out there in corporate media la la land.

Posted by: Zacek at September 21, 2004 07:09 AM

Just my opinion - I think there are two themes running concurrently. One is the "oh S**t, what hath Rather wrought, jump on the bash bandwagon to distance ourselves" and the other is the polling numbers. The first one is easy. Broadcasters are realizing they aren't the only game in town. The second might be harder to swallow. Despite all the cynical Bush opinions he's polling pretty high. Higher then I'd thought he'd be 6 weeks out. The shift may be incremental at first but I think we are already seeing a media regrouping.

Posted by: Kim at September 21, 2004 07:51 AM

>>>"David, I think what Mr. Downs means is that reporters will be afraid to report on things that make certain people look bad."

Greg,

And that's a bad thing? If their evidence is bogus, and if they're hopelessly biased and partisan, they BETTER be afraid of tarnishing someone else's reputation.

Posted by: David at September 21, 2004 08:35 AM

Samuel,

Thank you. That one just flowed out. Part of that had to do with Michael's willingness to work with such weak stuff that refuting it was like picking up windfalls after a storm. It took a lot of courage and imagination for him to make that effort as convincing as it was.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at September 21, 2004 10:06 AM

Patrick--very funny post re the major Network news anchor class--class struggle in a way that
Marx & Engels might not have imagined...hahaha

Posted by: Daniel Calto at September 21, 2004 11:02 AM

When I worked for a newspaper, I was terrified I'd make a mistake and humiliate myself in front of hundreds of thousands of readers. As a result, I was careful and made very few mistakes. When I did screw up, I corrected it quickly and without whining. We used to consider that a mark of professionalism.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs at September 22, 2004 01:27 PM

Mithras: Suggesting that 'too many cooks spoil the broth' (if I read you correctly) is a valid point IF there is only one broth (or, to use your analogy, one bus). This is manifestly NOT the case on the internet, where a multiplicity of voices is not only possible, but pretty much necessitated by the nature of the medium. I find the idea of too many voices ('the heat death of news'...how very glib...) quite comforting, but then again I like marketplaces...

Posted by: Scott at September 22, 2004 02:34 PM

Suggesting that 'too many cooks spoil the broth' ... is a valid point IF there is only one broth

No, it's valid if there are too many cooks for the available number of broths. Sometimes, the right number of cooks is one per dish. Of course, lousy cooks should go into another line of business. But having a bunch of people standing behind a lousy cook telling him what to do in the middle of preparation is not going to make him better.

Whew! That was a strained analogy, wasn't it?

My basic problem with the Blogs Triumphant thing is that I don't understand how it is we're supposed to be taking over reporting. Right now there's already a pretty good relationship between bloggers and journalists. They read us, we read them. Some of them are us. Maybe this publicity will get a few more to read us. But that's basically it. There is going to be no magical process where we all collect and report the news and it's a much better product.

The folly of thinking blogs are going to replace journalism is demonstrated by the CBS thing. The memos were a political dirty trick likely initiated by a Nixon-era Republican operative. In other words, you got played. The internet and blogs just made it easier for them to play you. Congratulations!

then again I like marketplaces...

Neat. Snide insuation I must be some commie bastard, should play well on this thread. But it shows the source of all this nonsense is idiotic libertarianism, the kind that thinks if we just apply the market and technology in just the right way, stuff like journalism will just happen, you know, like, for free, like music used to cost money, and now it's free.

Personally, I believe in professionalism and personal integrity. Don't tell me 100,000 bad cooks will make a better broth.

Posted by: Mithras at September 22, 2004 09:00 PM

"You're sitting in the back of a bus. You and some of the other passengers begin to notice that the bus is not actually going anywhere. You walk up to the front of the bus and you see that the driver is simply turning the wheel back and forth and saying "vroom-vroom-vroom" to himself, and screeching once in a while. You say, 'excuse me...you're not actually driving this thing, are you?' and he says, 'Look, buddy, I'm an experienced bus driver and you're just a passenger. Besides, I can't do my job if you people are going to keep bitching at me.'"

Beautiful. I've never seen a better metaphor for the Bush administration.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 24, 2004 02:31 PM
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