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Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Virginian Pilot Ventures Into Blogging

This is a third, and last, post on a recent experience with bloggers and the Pilot. That bloggers have an issue with the MSM is not new. But given an opportunity to participate in the process of observing the evolution of the old media into the "blogosphere" was very interesting.

The first thing I want to acknowledge is that MSM people are usually good writers. They cannot be faulted on sheer "professional writer" skills. But quite often, that's just what they are. And, being human, they have a political orientation that makes what they write about and how they write about it drearily predictable.

The danger is that their viewpoints and attitudes, their narrative of life, will shape and form the viewpoint of their readers who will be unable to perceive reality. It's as if you went to an eye doctor who fitted you with glasses that made everything you saw look like the reflections in a fun house mirror.

Ronald Reagan told a story about how his vision as a youth was so bad that virtually everything he saw was a blur. It was a revelation to him when he got glasses and saw things as they are. One of the benefits of the Internet revolution is that the role of the "gatekeepers of truth" is being eliminated. There will still be distortion, there will still be the funhouse mirror view, but through the multiplicity of views people whill be able to see things as they are. Prava and the Virginian Pilot will no longer define reality.

"Power To The People"

Which gets me back to the new MSM bloggers.

Richard Quinn wrote a blog article on the meeting Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, had with bloggers prior to his speech to a Republican fund raiser.

A video tape of the meeting is available HERE.

It was part snark, part fact and part a slam at bloggers. I have previously discussed Dick’s snark. Let’s now get to what he apparently considers to be the role of reporters and how we as bloggers failed. Keep in mind that Dick is a trained writer. Not an analyst, not an engineer, but a 1999 graduate of Rowan State University with a degree in “professional writing.” In other words, his alternative career choice could have been to write the manuals that you get with your VCR.

What are our failures as reporters? Let me count the ways: We are:

“regular guys with opinions and an Internet connection.”
True. We don’t have a degree in “professional writing.” The difference between us and Dick is that we come from a variety of backgrounds. We’re older and more experienced and we don’t get paid to give our opinions. One has the impression that unless there’s money in it, we should shut up and sit down.

I’m not sure what to make of

“The rigidity of mainstream media wasn’t in the room.”
But I have to agree that we were not rigid. Some of us even slumped. It was a pretty relaxed meeting with a very important person.

I do know what to make of this:

“There was no animosity or sense of confrontation. It wasn’t a candidate
preaching to journalists. It was a preacher talking to his flock.”
My response is twofold: professional writers who get paid for writing about public figures are sometimes confrontational, and sometimes resemble Monica Lewinski under Bill Clinton's desk.
If you want an example of this blatant sucking-up click on my link to “More Obama Ogling in Newsweek.”

There is animosity and confrontation when the writer disagrees with the politician. Go to any White House news conference and listen to that old crone Helen Thomas, or virtually any other reporter from the alphabet networks or the NewyorkTimesLATimesChicagotribuneNewsweekTimeblablabla. That's animosity.

Apparently the big questions that professional reporters would ask are about someone’s personal life:

“questions were frank, but rarely too probing. His personal foibles of the past were never broached, and since there was no political squirming, his striped yellow tie never moved off his blue shirt.”
Well, maybe that’s why I’m not a professional reporter. I have never asked anyone who has been divorced whether he cheated on his wife, how many times, and “how was it?” The Speaker had scheduled 30 minutes with the bloggers. I had prepared some questions beforehand. Not one of them involved marital infidelity. Why should it? We were not participants in the Jerry Springer show. There are momentous issues facing the country and Newt Gingrich’s past history with women is not one of them. To suggest that they are or ought to be discussed for the purposes of watching him squirm is juvenile.

I despise Bill Clinton, but if I had the opportunity to interview him I would not go into his affair with Monica, his rape of Juanita Broderick or any of his other sexual escapades although these are issues that certainly affected his Presidency and no doubt deflected his attention from issues that were more vital to the country. Questions like that, of course, sell newspapers. They provide heat without light. But keep in mind that professional writers get paid to sell newspapers. We “amateurs” don’t need to do that so we can ask questions that don’t bring adolescent sniggers.

Then again we have the assumption that verbal aggression is key to the role of getting the facts:

"The Speaker could say all that because no one here would push too hard. “
Actually we did not have to push hard to get the Speaker to tell us what he thought of the current administration. He let the Bush Administration have it with both barrels, and did it from an historical perspective

But no one pressed the issue on Gingrich’s views on the ever-controversial justification for the war and whether the country should withdraw its troops.
Why should people who agree with Gingrich on the war press him on this issue? We question people on issues when they disagree with us on issues. Why should I express an opinion that is not mine? Should I repeat the bumper sticker slogans “Bush lied, people died” when I don’t believe that?

Gingrich believes the war is justified. In fact, he believes the war has been fought with much too political correctness. He believes that when people state they intend to kill you, they should be taken seriously and handled in such a way that they are no longer capable of carrying out that threat. He says he would be "Bush plus 40%."

That may not be Quinn’s position. In fact, some on the Left believe that there is an “acceptable” level of death from terror attacks that society should learn to live with. That terror attacks are acceptable at some "nuisance" level. I would like to know Quinn’s position on that. I have no question about Newt’s position on that.

Regarding border security and a fence:
"No one pushed the Speaker on how much that would cost or how many border agents would have to be hired.“
Because that question would have been irrelevant, and would have been a big fat layup for the Speaker. We amateur bloggers and the American public by overwhelming majorities see border security as one of the critical roles of a national government. Not one of the other bloggers there believed that porous borders that allow millions to stream in from neighboring countries should be allowed. The bizarre assumption that the United States Federal budget, currently $3 TRILLION DOLLARS, does not have room for border enforcement is fall-down laughable and a question about that would have revealed more about the questioner than about the Speaker.

"No one even asked whether he will run for president. It would be unseemly, they said.“
Well, "they“ did not say it. That was Jim Hoeft. But asking him a question that he has refused to answer hundreds, if not thousands, of times before in the limited time we had with him would have been a waste. It would have exposed us as silly and not serious. It would have exposed us as "reporters." There is something in "reporters" mental wiring that causes each one, in turn, to ask the same question even if they know the answer. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Finally, reporters, especially blogging reporters, should know that misquoting someone, taking a quote out of context or otherwise distorting what someone said - while standard operating procedure in the print media - is futile in the Internet age. When there is an electronic record of the actual quotation it can make you look dishonest. So when Quinn says
He answered a query about whether he thinks this country can lose to terrorists by saying "We have defeated the Kaiser.” only have to go the the video tape to know how dishonest that quote was. For those who don't have the capability, what Newt said was:
If somebody gets up and says they are going to come and kill us I have a very straightforward answer. We have defeated the Kaiser, we defeated Adolf Hitler and Imperial Japan, we defeated the Soviet Union. And if you want to threaten our survival we’re going to make sure when this is over we’re still here and you’re not.

Lesson number one to "professional" bloggers: don't screw around with the facts when there is a recorder on.

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