Sunday, September 09, 2007

Real journalism vs. fake journalism

Can you tell the difference?

Marc Fisher is a real journalist. You can tell because his column is published and distributed by the Washington Post, a once good and respectable newspaper. Fisher shares with his fellow journalists a deep concern over the attention paid to bloggers, since some of us traffic in matters that are news-like—or journalism lite. The gold standard of meticulously sourced and edited news copy is being debased by the false coinage circulated by unprofessional bloggers. It's a problem.
From high atop his Adams Morgan apartment building, Michael Rogers decides who is living a lie and who may be turning toward righteousness.

Then, with a few words sprayed onto the uneven ground between gossip and journalism, he turns a life upside down. Or he offers absolution, remaining silent if he believes the person in question has a good heart.

A year ago, Rogers, having decided that Sen. Larry Craig was a hypocrite, reported on his blog that the Idaho Republican, who publicly opposed gay marriage, secretly had sex with men. Craig has denied the allegations.
I'm sure we all remember how the Rogers statement destroyed Sen. Craig's reputation and forced him from office, right? Oh, wait a minute. That didn't happen until the police officer arrested him in that Minneapolis airport men's room. I guess Rogers didn't do a very good job of turning Craig's life upside down.

But perhaps that's not Fisher's point. Rogers is only a kind of pseudo-journalist, merely aspiring to the kind of dignity and credibility that are the hallmarks of true journalism. You know, the responsible news sources whose impeccable work leaves Media Matters starved of any faux pas on which to report.
... Rogers, a 43-year-old gay man who worked as a fundraiser for gay and environmental lobbies before turning to full-time Internet activism, considers himself an investigative reporter, “someone who has been able to sway a lot of people from my living room.” He sees his work as quintessentially moral, a modern truth-telling that bares political hypocrisy.

But who elected him moral arbiter? Do his readers at even know how he makes his choices about whom to out?
Damned good question, Marc. The mainstream media are always scrupulous in informing their readers how they decide to publish White House talking points and why they refrain from pointing out that most of them are lies. It wasn't even a week ago that the Washington Post quoted President Bush's claim that continued “success” of his surge could eventually permit reductions of U.S. troops while neglecting to cite the earlier conflicting statement of the generals; they noted that the armed forces were so over-extended that reductions in troop levels were inevitable, not conditional. I'm sure there was a good reason the Post did not provide a pertinent context for the president's comments, and I'll just bet the reporters must have mentioned it somewhere. We just missed it.

Oh, and by the way, Marc. The readers at can find out how Rogers makes his decisions because he tells them. It's all about the hypocrisy—of his targets, I mean.
Rogers is frank enough to admit that talking to him can win a target a reprieve. “If people call me back, the chances I won't write about them go through the roof,” he says.

But for all his earnest honesty, Rogers has a blind spot. His work requires him to play God. He boasts that “there will be more Larry Craigs—this year.” And he declares, “When I say someone is gay, they are gay, because if I'm wrong, the only person in the world who won't believe me is the guy himself.”
For someone who Marc Fisher says is playing God, Rogers seems a bit short in the omnipotence department. It wasn't Rogers who ended Craig's career. But perhaps Fisher is just using a trusty metaphor that subtly signals to the reader that hubris is in play. (Yes, but whose?)
In the American tradition, different kinds of messengers win varying degrees of credibility according to the standards they follow. I don't want Rogers deciding which politicians remain in office, but if he gets his facts straight, there's a place for him in the information marketplace. The Founders figured that the people could discern what's right, what's sleazy and what's outrageous.

At this early hour of a new information era, old notions of credibility and authority are fading in a blur of smaller voices. A Rogers can rise from the babble, then slip right back in.
If only Rogers would get his facts straight, then maybe he could be considered a news purveyor in our brave new information age. Is it impolite for me to point out that Fisher opened his column with the Larry Craig matter, in which case Rogers has been amply vindicated? Maybe he really is a reporter, isn't he?

Fisher closes with a parting shot at the “vigilante reporting” pursued by Rogers. Rogers is certainly a free-lancer with an ax to grind, but I think he'd have fewer opportunities to ply his trade if the mainstream media were sharper. It's the mainstream reporters who neglected to investigate the Bush administration rationale for invading Iraq and it's the mainstream reporters who today keep soft-pedaling the failure of Bush's vaunted surge. It's mainstream reporters who keep publishing articles on John Edwards' haircut and neglecting the mega-billion spendthrift ways of the administration.

If we had a better press corps, we'd have fewer pretenders to their throne.


The Ridger, FCD said...

Your final two paragraphs are absolutely true. The main reason many of us now get our news from someone other than the MSM is because the MSM is blindly devoted to parroting the administration's line; providing false "balance" by presenting dissenters to everything, regardless of how few or wacko they are; and pushing celebrity "news" that most of us don't even want to read, according to studies.

It's a bit disingenuous for someone like Helen Thomas to write an entire book taking the White House Press Corps to task for abjectly failing to report the truth and in the same book say that calling bloggers journalists is absurd. It's worse for prominent pundits who have been 100% wrong for years to deride bloggers who have been right.

If the mainstream press were doing their job, bloggers wouldn't have to.

Porlock Junior said...

Let's see if I've got this technique right.

I want to show how bad bloggers are: how completely they fail to live up to my journamalistic standards of trustiworhtiness. So I choose for my showpiece a blogger who has just now, after months of looking like a dubious rumormonger, been proved absolutely right.

Yeah, I could do that. Now can I have my well-paid prestigious job?