Monday, May 08, 2006

American Prospect columnist Greg Sargent on MSM frustration with blogs


The Blog Rage Canard

What all the MSM complaints are really about.

By Greg Sargent
The American Prospect

Web Exclusive: 05.04.06

In recent weeks, one member after another of the D.C. media establishment
has gone out of his way to depict bloggers as hysterical, angry and
destructive. To hear them tell it, bloggers sitting at their computers are
akin to squalling brats in high-chairs chucking baby food at their sober,
serious elders -- i.e., major figures at the established news

Not long ago, The Washington Post.s Jim Brady lamented .blog rage.. Joe
Klein.s latest column complained about .vitriol. and .all the left-wing
screeching.. Former Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry recently
told us that reporters are complaining they feel "intimidated" because
.most of the blogosphere spends hours making them feel that way.. And a
CBS opinion piece recently asked: "Does noise trump contemplation in the

What.s all this really about? These skirmishes, obviously, are part of a
much larger war between established opinion-makers and bloggers, in which
the establishment figures continually profess themselves dismayed by the
tone of the blogosphere. It.s a conflict that isn.t going away anytime
soon. But guess what: This fight doesn.t really have anything to do with
the .tone. of the blogosphere at all. Rather, it.s actually about the
efforts of bloggers to establish the legitimacy of their medium, and about
the reluctance of major news organizations and their employees to
recognize that legitimacy.

For the moment, I.d like to put aside the debate over Net-neutrality, and
sidestep the ideological reasons driving this battle, in order to focus on
something I think is more fundamental about this fight. It.s often
observed that the blogosphere constitutes a threat to big news orgs. But
it.s not a threat only for the usual reasons mentioned -- competition for
traffic, the speeding up of the news cycle, etc. Bloggers are also a
threat because they're in the process of making the opinion-generating
profession a purely meritocratic one. And that's the real reason, as I
hope to show, that commentators like Joe Klein and self-appointed
custodians of journalistic standards like Deborah Howell constantly carp
about "tone."

To be sure, some blogospheric elements do make it easier for critics of
the blogosphere to toss out the "tone" red herring. I.m no blog
triumphalist. There's tons of work to do. Some attacks on the MSM are
hysterical and ill-considered. And a fair amount of blogospheric media
criticism is marred by its own hyper-ideological nature, which makes it
that much easier for the targets of the criticism to dismiss it. What's
more, plenty of blogging -- commentary and reporting -- is just not up to
journalistic snuff. Meanwhile, news orgs do sometimes show extraordinarily
high standards or pull off incredible reporting feats that no web site
could ever hope to emulate -- yet.

But the attacks on the blogosphere are nonetheless flawed in a very
fundamental way. The criticism is often premised on the idea that bloggers
are somehow offering something dramatically different from what
commentators like Klein are serving up. But it's not really different.
What Klein, like other commentators, delivers to readers (the column that
appears in the hard copy of Time magazine notwithstanding) is words on a
screen, and of course whatever sensibility, wit, analysis, and
interpretive intelligence he brings to those words.

Now, all of a sudden, anyone can come along and, with little to no
overhead, offer pretty much exactly the same thing. Aside from some
obvious differences -- bloggers sometimes double as political activists,
and the idiom is different in some ways -- the truth is that bloggers
essentially offer exactly what Klein does: Words on a screen which are
meant to help the reader interpret current affairs and politics. What.s
more -- and here.s the real crux of the matter -- readers are choosing
between the words on a screen offered by Klein and other commentators and
the words on a screen offered by bloggers on the basis of one thing alone:
The quality of the work.

Before, Joe Klein and his colleagues enjoyed an exclusive perch, one that
was maintained for them by the folks who controlled the systems that,
previously, were the only ways commentary and news were disseminated. One
could argue that columnists earn their perches -- through hard work,
experience and, occasionally, talent. But once they attain their position,
their status is more or less protected -- both by the fact that news orgs
rarely fire columnists and by the kind of de facto gentleman.s agreement
that has long kept columnists from attacking each other too aggressively.

The blogosphere has shattered that comfy arrangement -- permanently. All
of a sudden, there.s no longer a system in place that allows columnists to
grow lazy, sloppy, or biased without facing consequences. Suddenly it's
possible to pinpoint a commentator.s weak reasoning or inaccuracies and
broadcast them far and wide. Suddenly underperforming columnists, and
their editors, are no longer insulated from competition -- from bloggers
who, as hard as this may be for established commentators to accept,
actually do work that.s as good or better than they do. I'd put up Josh
Marshall, Kevin Drum, Digby, Billmon and others up against many mainstream
columnists in America any day. Atrios -- who tends towards short form and
makes choices partly for political punch . has as finely-tuned a sense of
what stories will be big and controversial as any news editor does. And
the comparison occasionally holds up with reporters, too. Murray Waas
offers purely Internet-based investigations that are every bit as good as
some of what you read on, and is certainly better than
much of the investigative reporting you see by the major networks.

Yet Klein and other internet critics refuse to acknowledge this. Their
criticism deliberately blurs the distinction between crappy, substandard
work on blogs and high-quality work that stands toe to toe with much
offered by major news orgs. The obvious subtext of their attacks is that
there is something inherently wrong with content delivered via the
blogosphere -- it's unruly, unpoliced territory, and bloggers themselves
in any case are overly emotional or have questionable motives -- and
therefore, everything puglished there should be seen as suspect. The
content offered by main news organizations, by contrast, should be
presumed to have validity. The blanket criticism of the "tone" of the
blogosphere is driven by a refusal to acknowledge the substantive,
high-quality content being offered -- it's all about tarring the
blogosphere with one brush. Klein blasted .frothing. and .screeching.
bloggers . when in fact, much of the criticism of him was measured,
well-researched, and well-reasoned.

The good news is that this effort to paper over the distinction between
bad blogging and the top-notch work that's being done is failing. Right
now, readers are undeniably evaluating work based on its merits -- on its
sensibility, wit, analysis, and intelligence -- rather than based on how
it's reaching them or who.s publishing it. Readers see that some bloggers
do high-quality journalism and are concluding that the mere fact that it.s
reaching them via blogs doesn.t diminish the worth of that work in any way
whatsoever. Readers are turning to bloggers to do what a handful of
exalted columnists and their editors once did exclusively . that is,
interpret the world for them. And that, not the tone or the supposedly
destructive streak of bloggers, is the thing that.s really intimidating to
the "MSM" about the blogosphere.

Greg Sargent, a contributing editor at New York magazine, writes bi-weekly
for The American Prospect Online. He can be reached at

© 2006 by The American Prospect, Inc.


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?