Fixing a Blog In Time – Bob’s response

Yesterday I posted the article Fixing a Blog in Time, which was a little experiment in reading a particular blog, and trying to understand how it covered 26 different posts over a period of a little over two weeks. I chose Robert Cox's The National Debate. I did not make fully clear, with each post, how much I was mixing my initial impression of reading it with subsequent understandings. This begs a larger discussion about the tradeoffs inherent in impressionistic news.

Bob sent me the following response via email this evening. I post it in full here with my brief reactions interjected.

The first (and only) numbered paragraph I read was #4. Since it completely mis characterized what I wrote I stopped reading and send you an email suggestion we talk. Here is a VERY quick and dirty analysis….

You wrote:

"Bob reports that he started using this line [How Many People Have Died from Blogging?] in interviews with media outlets, by suggesting that mistakes in journalism have caused deaths."

What I wrote:

"In every interview I have done as President of the Media Bloggers Association some journalist has asked about the "problem" with blogs being inaccurate or irresponsible."

My comment:

I did not write I was using the line "How Many People Have Died from Blogging?" in interviews but rather relating to the reader that every interview I had done as President of the MBA was openly predicated on the idea that bloggers are "inaccurate or irresponsible".

This error then snowballs and compounds all the errors that follow to completely alter the point I was making in the post – that given the various news scandals over the couple of years, traditional media ought not to "throw stones" by condemning bloggers for being "inaccurate or irresponsible".

I read the next sentence "Yet the best I can tell no one has died…" To me that sounded like what your answer had been in interviews. But yes, I understand now what it is you have stated in interivews and what you haven't.

You wrote:

"He asserts…that a Newsweek item had caused the deaths of 17 rioters in Afghanistan"

What I wrote:

MSNBC, a business partner with Newsweek, reports that 17 people are dead in the wake of violence following the publication of an article in Newsweek by Michael Isikoff and John Barry: Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown

My comment:

I did not ASSERT anything. I cited a report on MSNBC; a report they were airing continuously that day. This report was similar to many other reports coming from many different media outlets.

Would “led to” have been better? Perhaps. But again, the headline is hanging over the whole piece “How Many People Have Died from Blogging.” Which leads me, the reader, to think, “how many people have died from reporting?” And the number given is 17. That's the power of a headline.

Would “suggests” or even “relays” have been better? Yes, indeed. You were relaying from MSNBC. But this is a case where the blog post eclipsed the news story it was reporting on. I read this first thing Monday morning– and pointed out that it was the first I heard of the story. I couldn't put it together in my mind that MSNBC would level such accusations at Newsweek (as they are corporate buddies), but it seemed to fit in my mind that you were putting more heart into the assertions here.

You wrote:

"…as other conservative commentators would for the next week…"

My comment:

This is a trifecta. You have gratuitously lumped me in with an amorphous group of "conservative commentators" as if the position I took in my post was based on my political ideology, you are basing this erroneously on a previous incorrect characterization of my post as noted above, and the lumping you are doing is based on the false claim that I ASSERTED something I did not assert.

I've written at length about the rage that the American conservatives have against the mainstream media. It's not the "happy medium" approach that Gillmor and Rosen espouse.

Now, had you come out later in the week and echoed Jay Rosen's statement “Equally absurd was the blogosphere's use of the catch phrase: Newsweek Lied, People Died” my impression of you would have been changed.

You wrote:

…and demanded an apology and a retraction…

What I wrote:

"In what purports to be some sort of "apology" (MSNBC's characterization), the Newsweek editor responsible for publishing a false story asks: "Did a report in NEWSWEEK set off a wave of deadly anti-American riots in Afghanistan?"

For the rest of the world the answer is clearly YES but Newsweek's 'mea culpa' is replete with hedging, equivocation and blame-shifting. And, more importantly, at no point does Newsweek RETRACT the story despite admitting they have NO FACTUAL SUPPORT for the story. In other words the story is 'fake but accurate'. Sound familiar?”

My Comments:

– Since I don't actually demand an apology or a retraction at all I am left to assume that you based this statement on the passage above where the word "apology" and "retraction" was used.

– I noted a fact, that MSNBC described the Editor's Note was an "apology". My take of the Editor's Note is that Newsweek is not apologizing. A reading again tonight confirms that to me now. Later that day Michael Isikoff confirmed my take to Howard Kurtz, defending his reporting and claiming "it's important to remember there was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards here".

– At the time I was writing, every major news outlet that I saw/heard/read was saying the same thing MSNBC was saying – that the riots stemmed from anger over the report in Newsweek. In fact, the Editor's Note proposes to answer that question in the lead (and never actually does).

– The Editor's note included this statement "Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cite." In other words, they admit that they did not have a source for the story but they don't take the obvious next step – since there is no factual basis for the story they retract the story (something they did within 24 hours after I posted).  In the context of my actual point – the hypocrisy of traditional media looking down its nose at bloggers (at least in the case of recent inteviews I had done) – this was meant to contrast with the common blogger practice of correcting errors quickly, clearly and unequivocally.

Again, it's the tone. When you say they have not apologized, and you say it was a bad thing they did, it seems to me you are requesting an apology and a retraction. And then later in the week, you were looking for a retraction on the website, and when they supplied it, you made mention of it.

I concede that “looked for” would have been a better verb.

In short, I am fisking the Newsweek Editor's Note to make a broader point about the media and doing so in the context of a previous post I wrote about my experience with a journalist from the AP. According to you, I am part of the "Newsweek Lied, People Died" group of "conservative commentators". Given this I conclude that you did not read what I wrote and mischaracterized my post.

There was undoutably a chorus of conservative commentators who were set to pick up another big media scalp. I didn't see what you wrote as anything you wrote that would stand apart from them. Here's how I would have phrased it were I in your position:

“In every interview I get asked by journalists about the supposed irresponsibility of bloggers. I answer, that bloggers have made mistakes, and reputations have been bruised. Fortunately there's still a community feel among most bloggers, so many times they are quick to admit mistakes and to repair the damage. But I hope that a blogger never gets to a point where what any damage caused– however indirect– is irreparable such as in the tragic taking of human life. It is all over MSNBC this morning that the recent riots in Afghanistan were agitated by a Pakistani politician who had waived an issue of Newsweek that had reported of an Koran being flushed down the toilet. 17 lives were lost because of the manipulation of words.”

Sure, it would have been a boring pablum of statement, and would not have caught the attention of CNN. It wouldn't have spoken to the masses of bloggers out there who are ready to sling whatever arrow they can find at the hated MSM. Perhaps it would have set the tone differently for bloggers who hadn't made up their mind yet. One thing I can say for sure: it would have been a nice gesture to the old media types who, for right or wrong reasons, continue to question the legitimacy of media bloggers.