Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes:
Blogging is about speed: the early post catches the Google. It is about linking, which may sound like creating a community and encouraging diversity of views but which too often deteriorates into a closed circle of reinforced preconceptions. It is about provocation. Shrillness sells. Even-handedness goes unclicked. Once the people in my business spent time checking and rechecking facts and first impressions. Opinion writers mulled things over. In the world of the blogosphere, mistakes can always be crossed through and corrected; seat-of-the-pants reactions refined.
Except: Shirley Sherrod.
I am being unfair, in part, by singling out the blgosphere. The Sherrod story originated there, but the sins of Andrew Breitbart were aided and abetted by bloggers' co-conspirators on cable news. And, of course, in the Obama administration.
And, of course (though Marcus never so much as hints at it): The Washington Post.
The Post's first Sherrod article was absolutely horrible. And it came long after many of those shrill bloggers Marcus criticizes had gotten the story right. It must feel good for legacy media to wag their fingers at irresponsible bloggers -- but they'd do far more good by calling out their peers.
Another Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, did just that today:
[T]he Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that "balance" demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters.
This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had.
There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." ...
The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.
Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense -- and it's nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.
The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it. And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda.