Blogs and the Press

BLOGS AND THE PRESS….Hum de hum, kind of a slow day. What can I do to piss someone off?

I know. I’ll defend the honor of the mainstream media. Or, perhaps more accurately, I’ll besmirch the honor of the blogosphere. But it pretty much amounts to the same thing these days, doesn’t it?

Anyhoo, let’s start off with Franklin Foer, who wrote today that although the conservative blogosphere is batshit crazy when it comes to the MSM, he’s also concerned about the “reckless, sweeping assault on important institutions ? especially The New York Times and The Washington Post ? that emanates from large swaths of the liberal blogosphere.” Atrios was unamused:

I’ve never seen most liberal bloggers making a “reckless, sweeping assault” on the Times and the Post. They aren’t just institutions, they’re outlets run (cough keller cough) and staffed (cough miller bumiller nagourney bruni cough) and published (cough pinch cough) by individuals.

….Nonetheless, institutions only deserve the respect that they… well, deserve. Until Conrad Black bought it the Telegraph was a fine, if conservative-leaning, newspaper in Britain. It then became a pile of steaming crap. If idiots destroy institutions there’s no reason to continue to respect them.

Now, my reputation as a shill for the MSM has probably already tainted me beyond redemption when it comes to media criticism, but I want to try to make a serious point about this anyway. As Atrios himself has noted in the past, emphasis matters. The things we choose to emphasize are often a reliable guide to what we think, and even if we don’t always set those thoughts down directly on the page, they nonetheless expose our real motivations.

Even though analogies in the blogosphere are akin to throwing chum in the water, let me offer one anyway. There are blogs that concentrate exclusively on the subject of Muslim terrorism and Arab perfidy. There are other blogs that devote their attention exclusively to the evidence of low test scores and other negative intellectual attributes of nonwhite people. What do we think of such sites?

Personally, I find them odious. It’s not because there are no Muslim terrorists, of course, nor because blacks don’t generally score lower on standardized tests than whites. It’s because I find it creepy that anyone would devote all their attention to such things. They don’t have to say they’re racists for me to suspect that they are, indeed, racists.

A similar thing is true of the blogosphere, both liberal and conservative, when it comes to the MSM. It’s not that pointing out the shortcomings of the MSM is out of bounds. Far from it. But when blog coverage of the MSM focuses solely on its shortcomings ? as it generally does ? surely it’s safe to conclude that the blogosphere is not just practicing its own version of toughlove on a beloved but wayward institution. Rather, the blogosphere hates the MSM with a white hot passion.

And that’s long been my problem with what passes for media criticism in the blogosphere: it consists solely of scathing critiques and just about nothing else. And while it’s true that recent events ? Wen Ho Lee, the 2000 election, Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, Jack Kelly, Rathergate, and the Plame debacle, to name just a few ? have made this kind of pit bull attitude both easy and appealing, that’s hardly an excuse.

I don’t hold much of a brief for TV news, but I do for newspapers. Despite their many faults, they’re pretty much the only source of serious daily news we have. And they do a lot of good work. Peter Gosselin at the LA Times has churned out dozens of good stories on economic insecurity. Dana Priest at the Washington Post is a terrific reporter covering the intelligence community. John Burns of the New York Times and Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder do great work from Iraq. Dan Froomkin gives us the straight dope from the White House briefing room on a daily basis. Paul Krugman continues to roam the pages of the MSM with no apparent misgivings. And again, that’s just to name a few.

Bloggers often link to stories they like, but that’s all they do: link. But when they link to a story they don’t like, they generally do more: they make it into yet another chapter in the grand narrative tale of the Fall of the MSM. That may be a pleasing storyline, as well as a satisfying rationalization for liberal defeats in the past few elections, but it’s only a small part of reality. The bigger story is more complex.

So attack away. The MSM surely deserves it. But they also deserve equally sustained praise for the stuff they do well. It wouldn’t hurt to combine a bit more of the carrot with the everpresent stick.