TCS Daily

Does the MSM Salivate?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - February 23, 2005 12:00 AM

It took the Eason Jordan scandal to finally get the mainstream media up in arms about the phenomenon of blogging. And now Big Media appears resolved to take bloggers down a notch by any means necessary. Those means include trying to portray bloggers as some kind of vicious collective dedicated more to "collecting scalps" than contributing to the national discourse.

Thus we have Steve Lovelady of the Columbia Journalism Review stating that bloggers are "salivating morons" who are part of a "lynch mob." (Lovelady claims that his remarks were "taken out of context" and not meant to apply to all bloggers.) We have Los Angeles Times writer David Shaw claiming that bloggers have "almost mythical power these days," and that "when these bloggers rise up in arms, grown men weep -- and news executives cave in. That's much more alarming than anything Jordan said." Even some bloggers are concerned that blogs are in danger of becoming the latest instrument in "the politics of personal destruction."

All of this concern is unwarranted and some of it is quite overblown. Here is why:

  • First of all, the overwhelming majority of bloggers simply wanted to see the transcript of Jordan's comments at Davos, or better yet, a tape of his comments so that not only all of Jordan's statements could be considered in context, but his tone and body language could be viewed as well. Neither Jordan nor CNN made any serious moves to provide the public with either a transcript or a tape. If CNN was the primary decision-maker in this non-decision and then compounded its refusal to provide a tape or a transcript with a decision to push Jordan out the door -- the appearance of a voluntary resignation by Jordan notwithstanding -- then it is CNN that should be blamed for any injustice doled out to Jordan and his career. This is especially the case if Jordan pleaded in good faith and in vain for CNN to release the video or a transcript where his comments could be considered in context. Regardless, either Jordan or CNN had it in their power to prevent Jordan's parting from CNN -- and failed.

  • Secondly, it wasn't just bloggers who publicized the Eason Jordan scandal. The very mainstream media concerned about the "mythical power" of bloggers was only too happy to add fuel to the fire of EasonGate. Blogger Ed Morrissey details the evolution and resolution of EasonGate and notes that there were more than a few mainstream journalists actively and avidly involved in covering the fallout resulting from Jordan's comments. This includes mainstream journalists like Howard Kurtz, the Boston Globe and the New York Sun -- among others mentioned in Morrissey's piece. Politicians like Representative Barney Frank and Senator Christopher Dodd got involved as well and even helped initiate the interest and curiosity surrounding Jordan's comments.

  • Furthermore, EasonGate does not represent the first time that Jordan made comments that were both inflammatory and unverifiable. As Morrissey points out, Jordan had made a habit of claiming that journalists were under fire from military forces. Additionally, Jordan had compromised CNN's integrity in the past by making the network appear to be a propaganda arm of the former regime of Saddam Hussein. Many of Jordan's defenders have claimed that Jordan should never have lost his job solely because of the EasonGate affair. But Jordan's past reveals that his leaving CNN -- or being fired from it -- was not the result of a "one strike and you are out" situation. Rather, EasonGate may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

  • Finally, when it comes to the nature of the Blogosphere, Eugene Volokh does a better job in describing the blogger mentality than do the (perhaps truncated) comments of Steve Lovelady:

        ". . . What's wrong with lynch mobs? It's that the mob itself has the power 
        to kill. They could be completely wrong, and entirely unpersuasive to 
        reasonable people or to the rest of the public. Yet by their physical 
        power, they can impose their will without regard to the law.

        "But bloggers, or critics generally, have power only to the extent that they 
        are persuasive
. Jordan's resignation didn't come because he was afraid that 
        bloggers will fire him. They can't fire him. I assume that to the extent the 
        bloggers' speech led him to resign, it did so by persuading the public 
        that he wasn't trustworthy.

        [. . .]

        "Maybe if a persuasion bunch tries to persuade people by using factual 
        falsehoods, they could be faulted on those grounds (though that too has 
        little to do with lynch mobs). But I've seen no evidence that their criticisms 
        were factually unfounded, or that Jordan quit because of any factual 
        errors in the criticisms. (Plus presumably releasing the video of the panel 
        would have been the best way to fight the factual errors.)

        "We should love persuasion bunches, who operate through peaceful 
        persuasion, while hating lynch mobs, who operate through violence 
        and coercion. What's more, journalists -- to the extent that they love the 
        First Amendment's premise that broad public debate helps discover 
        the truth, and improve society -- ought to love persuasion bunches, 
        too. When the only power you wield is the power to speak, and persuade 
        others through the force of your arguments (and not through the force of 
        your guns, clubs, or fists), that's just fine. Come to think of it, isn't that 
        the power that opinion journalists themselves wield?"

Bloggers neither "lynched" Jordan nor prevented him from a fair hearing in which he could have cleared his name and cleared up the situation surrounding him. It is certainly possible for any individual or group of individuals to abuse whatever power they have access to, and the Blogosphere is not immune from this danger. But there is scant evidence at best to suggest that bloggers abused their power when it came to EasonGate. Bloggers did not cause the downfall of Eason Jordan. Eason Jordan did that all by himself.



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