TCS Daily


Mainstream Meltdown

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - January 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Despite the fact that Big Media in general appears to be reconciling itself to the Blogosphere, there remain Big Media denizens who are having more than a little trouble adjusting to blogs. This year, in response to the "Rathergate" saga where the CBS news program 60 Minutes was found to have been suckered by forged documents purporting to reflect on George W. Bush's National Guard service, Jonathan Klein, the former executive vice president of CBS news complained that "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [employed by 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."

Naturally, the Blogosphere appropriated Klein's disparaging remark and went ahead undaunted to demolish the 60 Minutes story -- thanks in large part to this devastating post at the blog Power Line. Because of Power Line's crucial work in revealing the 60 Minutes documents to be forgeries, Time Magazine named the site as its "Blog of the Year" -- a powerful acknowledgment of the role, value and influence of the Blogosphere at large.

When you make it big, though, the "ankle-biters" (to quote a phrase used by former blogger Steven Den Beste) come out in force. One such ankle-biter, columnist Nick Coleman at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, was particularly unhappy that Power Line was so successful -- especially because some of his previous columns had been the targets of exacting criticism; criticism to which Coleman did not exactly respond well. Apparently feeling the need to unburden himself of his fury at being repeatedly shown up by a mere weblog, Coleman wrote a column (annoying free registration required to read the entire column) which amounted to little more than a vicious personal attack against two of the three Power Line authors, Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker.

Reading the column, one does not know whether to laugh at Coleman's evident immaturity, or cry over the fact that he's actually getting paid to write opinion columns. Coleman's column mixes amateurish insults (calling Power Line "Powertool," speculating on the state and function of -- I kid you not -- Hinderaker's and Johnson's . . . er . . . reproductive organs and calling Hinderaker and Johnson "Rottweilers" and "partisan hacks,") with lousy fact-checking. Breathlessly seeking to contradict Scott Johnson's statement that the Time Magazine "Blog of the Year" award was "totally unexpected," Coleman informs us that "Powerline campaigned shamelessly for awards, winning an online 'Best Blog of 2004' a week before the Time honor. That online award was a bloggers' poll, and Powerline linked its readers to the award site 10 times during the balloting, shilling for votes." What an online "bloggers' poll" has to do with winning an award from Time for "Blog of the Year," Coleman does not explain (you can find the online poll here in the event that you are really interested, and just for full disclosure, let me state that my blog was a candidate for one of the awards and finished fourth, thank you very much). Blogger and UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh is treats Coleman's incoherent ranting with the contempt it deserves:

        "Wow, they won an online poll! And they wanted to win it, and tried to 
        get their readers to vote for them. Therefore, they're lying when they say 
        that they didn't expect being named Blog of the Year by Time Magazine
        The penetrating logic astounds me."

Coleman also goes on to accuse the Power Line folks of blogging from work (gasp!) even though John Hinderaker says that both he and his fellow bloggers keep the blog "very much separate from [their] day jobs." As Volokh points out, Coleman likely truncated and misrepresented a comment made by Hinderaker in the Time interview stating that the bloggers don't plan on leaving their day jobs and that blogging is a hobby for them. The full quote and passage makes clear that none of the Power Line authors claimed not to blog at work, and of course, merely because bloggers may blog at work does not mean that blogging is work and not a hobby -- a fact that everyone familiar with blogging save Nick Coleman appears to readily understand.

In the second genitalia-centric reference in his column (assuming that one does not count the "Powertool" comment), Coleman points out that Power Line sells ads on its site including one that says "Hung Like a Republican" and then goes on to rhetorically ask whether "Powerline or its mighty righty allies take money from political parties, campaigns or well-heeled benefactors who hope to affect Minnesota's politics from behind the scenes? We don't know, and they don't have to say. They are not Mainstream." As John Hinderaker pointed out in response to this insinuation, the Power Line authors make themselves readily available to be contacted by readers-going so far as to post e-mail addresses and phone numbers. If Coleman really wanted to know whether Power Line takes political money for spreading its message, all he had to do was to ask. But apparently, this is too taxing for a "Mainstream" columnist.

Many members of Big Media -- Coleman included -- cannot deal with the fact that they now have competitors in the information business -- a point blogger Evan Coyne Maloney makes. Rather than try to adjust to the new reality, people like Nick Coleman fume against the deterioration of their monopoly and seem to think that if they can just rage loudly enough, the Blogosphere will go away and everything will return to the way it was. The naïveté is charming, but the outlook is utterly antiquated.

Equally revealing is Big Media's inability to acknowledge error and correct it -- an inability that is symbolized by the Star-Tribune's utter unwillingness to publicly correct Coleman's egregiously false commentary. Whether this unwillingness reflects a wholesale abandonment of journalistic standards or only their selective application to protect columnists and their cushy jobs is left for further debate, but it is ironic that Nick Coleman accused Power Line of being unaccountable when this entire episode reveals the unaccountability that makes Coleman's work and the Star-Tribune's journalistic reputation a laughingstock of the industry.

Meanwhile, the Blogosphere goes from strength to strength. The estimate is that there are now 5 million weblogs in existence and each of them has the chance to win the kind of fame that Power Line has been able to win. Blogs continue to make waves by scooping mainstream media outlets and mainstream media are continually forced to pay attention to those scoops and to the Blogosphere in general (even though Big Media's coverage of the Blogosphere may remain somewhat off-kilter). In time, more mainstream journalists will accept the Blogosphere as part of the information flow of the 21st century, and will enter in constructive dialogues and partnerships with bloggers.

Except for Nick Coleman, that is. He'll stay up late at night raging against his Blogospheric critics and trying to think of new ways to make dirty jokes about them.

The author is a lawyer and TCS contributor. Find more of his writing here.



 

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