"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Fourth Estate

In the midst of discussing how disinformation spreads about Iran, and about how he challanged a reporter for misquoting Iranian President Ahmadinejad as saying he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map," Juan Cole drops this perl:

So this is how we got mire in the Iraq morass. Gullible and frankly lazy and very possibly highly biased reporters on the staffs of the newspapers in Washington DC and New York. And they criticize bloggers.

This is what many members of the press, particularly those who cover national affaris and politics still fail to realize: a lot of us out here in citizen-land hold them responsible of the mess we're currently in. Not solely responsible -- obviously -- but many of us believe the Fourth Estate is an important part of how a democracy works, and that the current lot are doing a piss-poor job of it.

I can imagine that people who work in the Press must feel differently. I had an opportunity to speak briefly last week with ABC's Mark Halperin (who writes "The Note" and has a feud with the blogosphere) after his appearance at PDF with Elliot Spitzer, and I pressed this point. He answeres somewhat evasively by saying that news organizations are businesses, and they have to follow consumer taste, and they don't have enough consumers who want reporting that holds people in power accountable.

This is a troubling position to hear a member of the Press take. Journalism isn't like making pizzas. There's a bit more on the line, and with regard to the government there's an important role for news organizations to fill. Copping out to "following the consumer" seems dubious. If that's not a dodge and this is really what Halpernin thinks, it's a remarkably irresponsible sentiment.

It is also a highly fatuous stance for someone so upset with the blogosphere. Halpernin also said he thinks Markos (the Kos in Daily Kos) Moulitsas is "one of the most destructive people out there." Putting aside the normative part of that judgment, where does Halpernin think the power to be destructive comes from? Obviously it's site-traffic. If no one reads you, you don't really matter. Site-traffic means consumers.

Clearly there is an large audience for investigative journalism and a vital Fourth Estate. The hostility between independent internet publishers and traditional news organizations exists precisely because the old-school Press is losing power, influence and attention. They are losing precisely because they are failing in this critical function and dissapointing this critical group of consumers.

We're clearly in a period of change. Power is shifting in big ways. Wheels are in motion. It's a crying shame that so many 20th Century institutions which are supposed to have the Public interest at heart are turning in such lackluster performances.


Only last week, U. S. intelligence "czar" John Negroponte said the government was "absolutely not" monitoring domestic calls. Two days later, USA Today learned that NSA has secretly compiled databases of hundreds of millions of domestic phone calls and uses computer algorithms to scrutinize them for suspicious patterns. How do you know they're up to no good? Because when Qwest refused to hand over customer data without a FISA court ruling, the government dropped the effort. The administration wanted not only Americans to be kept in the dark, but the U. S. government's own secret courts. That's probably because a 1986 federal law made it illegal for communications companies to divulge "a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber or customer... to any government entity." (My emphasis ) ABC News has since confirmed that the FBI is scrutinizing its reporters' phone records as well as those of The New York Times and The Washington Post as part of a CIA "leaks" investigation. Leaks, that is, about torture, secret prisons and, yes, legally suspect domestic "intelligence" efforts—basically anything the government calls classified for reasons of political convenience. Possibly you recall the First Amendment, which reads in part, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." But hey, look over there: Some stocky little brown guys are digging a ditch.

That's Geney Lyons, via David Neiwert. I too wish I had thought of that.