Dan Simon has a comment (in a Crooked Timber discussion of inconsistency of conservative bloggers’ criticism of mainstream media bias) that pretty elegently expresses the problem of bloggers taking themselves too seriously and journalists not taking them seriously enough:
At the risk of sounding reasonable, I’d like to propose that we stop treating “bloggers” and “mainstream media” as uniform, lockstep monoliths. There are, indeed, examples of what is known as “blogger triumphalism” in the blogosphere—bloggers who trumpet, and possibly even believe, the claim that in the future, the mainstream media will disappear, to be entirely replaced by bloggers. There are also lots of bloggers—myself included—who dismiss such talk as nonsense.
Similarly, there are plently of mainstream journalists who have embraced—even started—blogs, and welcome the extra channel of information and feedback they provide. And there are journalists who seem to have come completely unhinged at the prospect of blogger criticism/competition, muttering darkly about fully funded partisan conspiracies, false propaganda, and even the possible need for government regulation.
Simon is right to encourage the seperation of this issue from the somewhat problematic orignial post by Henry Farell, which suggested that particular conservative bloggers’ hunt for liberal bias is hypocritical given their blogger trumphalist belief that the blogosphere is historically destined to replace journalism in its entirety. For this criticism to work, you need to prove that an individual blogger is a triumphalist, which is often hard to do.
Farrell’s post points out some interesting reading on the ideology of bias detection by Matt Welsh, which makes the key point about the big bias criticism. The right-wing blogosphere’s fact-checking of Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes II report on George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard demonstrated the huge potential of blogs:
After having provided crucial, convincing skepticism of the memos’ veracity within hours of the original broadcast, using distributed expertise in topics ranging from old typewriters to military jargon, webloggers had good reason to pat themselves on the back. …
Dan Rather deserved what he got, not because he has a liberal bias but because he failed to excercise sufficient journalistic skepticism. The problem is that the blogs’ potential for distributed fact-checking is also deployed selectively. Only politically inconvenient fact-claims are subjected to this sort of scrutiny. As Welsh notes,
Many of the same people who roasted Dan Rather lapped up Judith Miller’s discredited New York Times reporting about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. People believe what they want to hear.
Blogger triumphalism is a seperate issue. Selective skepticism is the real problem, both in the blogs and in mainstream journalism.
Update: Back in September Dan Simon posted a good summary about the CBS memo affair.