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The Blogosphere is "Watching" CBS News

from the people-i'd-rather-not-be dept.

It is fascinating to watch the credibility implosion of Dan Rather and CBS News over their scoop about the obviously forged Bush National Guard "documents" they broke last Wed. There are numerous blogs on with a rundown of the events, so if you missed this story--which people are now referring to as RatherGate--you can get up to speed with Power Line, Hugh, or PoliPundit.

As intrigueing as the story has been, what is of even greater importance to all of us who consume news are its implications for the ... practice of journalism and the role of our legacy media organizations.

Here are some intriguing comments from Glen Reynolds, one of the real players in the blogosphere. He's speculating on the phenomenon of "open source journalism."

...But all fun aside, I think there are some important lessons for Big Media -- and for everyone else -- in the rise of the blogosphere. They stem from the fact that bloggers operate on the Internet, where arguments from authority are difficult since nobody knows whether you're a dog.

In short, it's the difference between high-trust and low-trust environments.

The world of Big Media used to be a high-trust environment. You read something in the paper, or heard something from Dan Rather, and you figured it was probably true. You didn't ask to hear all the background, because it wouldn't fit in a newspaper story, much less in the highly truncated TV-news format anyway, and because you assumed that they had done the necessary legwork. (Had they? I'm not sure. It's not clear whether standards have fallen since, or whether the curtain has simply been pulled open on the Mighty Oz. But they had names, and familiar faces, so you usually believed them even when you had your doubts.)

The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

That's because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren't linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that's impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper...

You can also refine your arguments, updating -- and even abandoning them -- in realtime as new facts or arguments appear. It's part of the deal.

This also means admitting when you're wrong. And that's another difference. When you're a blogger, you present ideas and arguments, and see how they do. You have a reputation, and it matters, but the reputation is for playing it straight with the facts you present, not necessarily the conclusions you reach. And a big part of the reputation's component involves being willing to admit you're wrong when you present wrong facts, and to make a quick and prominent correction.

When you're a news anchor, you're not just putting your arguments on the line -- you're putting yourself on the line. Dan Rather has a problem with that. For journalists of his generation, admitting an error means admitting that you've violated people's trust. For bloggers, admitting an error means you've missed something, and now you're going to set it right.

What people in the legacy media need to ask themselves is, which approach is more likely to retain credibility over time? I think I know the answer. I think Dan Rather does, too.


From Biased to Partisan

I saw a blog tonight that called CBS News' efforts at defense of the fake Bush National Guard documents fiasco their "suicide bomber" strategy. I think Stanley Kurtz hits the ball out of the park with this take on what is actually driving them to chunk their last vestiges of impartiality. But hey, isn't it better that CBS has finally admitted their true beliefs?

New Bush National Guard Memo!!!!

It looks like an old document. It talks bad about Bush.
And since no experts have denounced it, we at CBS News stand behind it. End of discussion.

"You can trust CBS News"


I'm so pleased with this RatherGate scandal ... it highlights the media bias that conservatives have been pointing out for years. Liberals always try to make conservatives out to be crackpot conspiracy theorists ... saying that they're paranoia alone shows them to have flawed thinking.

It's great that something like this has finally blown up in their face, especially since it involves such a respected journalist.

If someone as respected as Dan Rather would be biased enough to try to wool us with something that was such an obvious fake, think about how pervasive the more subtle skewing of the truth must be among the press.

Pervasive--that's exactly what it is. (I hope the Bush haters are taking notice.)