It looks like Paul Burka of the Texas Monthly, is deliberatly trying to draw fire from the blogosphere with a provocative column about l’affaire Rather and the relationship between blogging and journalism:
…bloggers think of themselves as far more than just a collection of individual commentators. They see themselves as the vanguard of a media revolution in which more and more of the public will get information not from professional media organizations like the New York Times, CBS, and, yes, TEXAS MONTHLY but instead from ordinary citizens who want their voices and their opinions to be heard but don’t have a prayer of breaking into the MSM, as the bloggers refer to the mainstream media. Blogs are the talk radio of cyberspace: entertaining, provocative, and usually identified with one end or the other of the political spectrum. The main difference between themselves and the mainstream media, the bloggers say, is that they own up to their biases, while the MSM masquerade as objective. Their belief that they own the future is Maoist in its fervor. Here is Hindrocket on powerlineblog.com: “So far, the blogosphere has a far better record of honesty and accuracy than mainstream organs like the New York Times and CBS. This isn’t entirely a matter of personality; it is also a function of the checks and balances of the blogosphere, which are far stronger and more effective than the alleged ‘checks and balances’ of the mainstream media, which, in the absence of political and intellectual diversity, may not operate at all.”
I have always believed that the strength of the MSM is precisely what [Matt] Drudge denounced. TEXAS MONTHLY is full of editors, copy editors, fact checkers, even a libel lawyer. They-we-I-act as filters. We filter out writing that doesn’t meet our standards. We filter out stories that we think readers won’t find interesting. We filter out lack of objectivity (though not the author’s point of view). Hopefully, we filter out mistakes. We see this structure as something of a Good Housekeeping seal that promises a certain level of quality: that our authors really know Texas, that their stories are about important subjects, that they are well written, that they have been verified. Indeed, this process is how we—and, for that matter, the Times, CBS, Time, Newsweek, all the MSM—measure quality. What’s more, we’re accountable. If the public doesn’t like our journalism, they won’t buy our publication. If they don’t like what we write, they will call our authors out by name. Who do the bloggers think they are, hiding behind pseudonyms, denouncing the very concept of the filter as anti-democratic, insisting that their unfiltered, unfettered, unaccountable, uncommercial way is better?
I think CBS messed up big time, but the idea that anyone, much less an entire news organization, would knowingly use fake documents with the primary objective of electing a particular candidate is inconceivable to me. I know what the bloggers are going to say (and maybe some readers as well): I’m defending CBS (no, I’m not); I’m out of touch (maybe so); the case against CBS’s liberal bias is rock-solid (excessive zeal for the big story isn’t liberal bias, just bad journalism); I’m guilty of liberal bias (you’re out of touch: I voted for Bush). Journalists want to get the story, and the more they are manipulated—and the Bush White House has been a master manipulator of the media—the more they want to get it. Just because CBS wanted to get the goods on Bush doesn’t mean that it wanted to elect John Kerry. The story is reward enough. If it’s true.
Burka is right: the gatekeeping and quality control function is in journalism is not a bad thing. Suggestions in some parts of the blogosphere that journalists should just make available all their materials available to the public without any assessment of its value is nonsensical — and impossible, given the laws of defamation that exist all over the world.
If the bloggers that hounded CBS had framed their attack around the clear breakdown of the gatekeeping process that occured in this case, rather than viewing it through the lens of presumed personal liberal bias by the individuals or institutions involved, their critique would be much more persuasive, powerful and productive.