Jim Rutenberg has an interesting article in today’s New York Times (Web Offers Hefty Voice to Critics of Mainstream Journalists) about the torrid heat that journalists face from political joggers who dispute their reportage. Rutenberg begins by saying:
Practicing cheap and dirty politics, playing fast and loose with the facts and even lying: Accusations like these, and worse, have been slung nonstop this year.
The accused in this case are not the candidates, but the mainstream news media. And the accusers are an ever-growing army of Internet writers, many of them partisans, who reach hundreds of thousands of people a day.
Journalists covering the campaign believe the intent is often to bully them into caving to a particular point of view. They insist the efforts have not swayed them in any significant way, though others worry the criticism could eventually have a chilling effect.
I’m really of two minds about the article and its perspective. My first and primary response is unsympathetic. To such journalists I’d say, “You’re not used to the rough and tumble of online debate? You’re used to the refinement and civility of discourse within the pages of your newspaper? You don’t like being called names? Well, sorry–but you’ll just have to figure out a way to deal with it.”
Tom Brokaw accuses bloggers of “lying in wait” or “ambushing” Dan Rather and CBS over the Bush National Guard story. Well, excuse me, does the media deserve a bye when they mess up a story? I don’t think so. (Mind you, I believe that the substance of the story Rather reported about Bush’s service is entirely true, except for the actual memos themselves–but that’s not directly relevant to the issue at hand.)
Personally, I don’t believe in ad hominem attacks like those described in the article in which a reporter’s physical features are attacked or they’re called “dumb” and the like. But most discourse short of personal invective or insults is fair game as far as I’m concerned. Here in this blog, several journalists like David Brooks and others have come in for their fair share of opprobrium. But I’ve tried to attack their arguments and not their person.
I have noticed especially at right wing sites (though I’m sure left wing sites may be guilty of this as well) the level of prejudice, racism and downright nastiness against John Kerry and those who support him is very high. I’ve also noticed that attacks on major media like CNN or the New York Times are often redolent of overkill. But Rutenberg neglects to point out that Fox News contributes greatly to this by the savagery of their diatribes against Democrats. Perhaps it’s a case of which vitriol came first, right wing bloggers or Fox. But given Fox’s iconic position in the right wing universe, I’d say that they set a certain rabid tone which the blog world attempts to emulate.
My second reaction to this phenomenon is that Rutenberg is right in pointing out the idiocy of some of this blog “stalking” of supposedly biased journalists. The internet does produce more than its share of nut jobs. Just as I get worked up over them when they leave their do-do on my blog doorstep, I don’t believe that jouralists should be subject to it either.
And lest journalists think that they’re the only objects of hatred, take a look at this lovely piece of dreck left for me yesterday by someone commenting on a critical post I wrote about a Martin Peretz column in the Los Angeles Times:
Since you love the Palestinians so much and were opposed to the Iraq war, why don’t you just crawl out of your hole and go to your blessed Palestine – Arafat’s Hitlerian bunker in Ramallah…or offer your- self up to Al-Zarqari [sic] in Fallujah. There, now, boychik, wouldn’t that make you feel better.
You look like a clueless schliemiel, Silverstein, and sound like one. Arafat walked away from peace – including half of Jerusalem and virtually all of Judea-Samaria, and chose to kill Israeli babies and teenagers instead. If you like that mentality, then go there – after all, you are no better than the hapless Nick Berg or Danny Pearl. They’d love a guy like you.