Wednesday, March 02, 2005

MSM Media Blasts Blogosphere; Blogger Reponds

In his weekly International Herald Tribune column, Roger Cohen takes on the blogger attack on the mainstream media:
It was not until recently that journalists like myself, hacks with decades of service to respected newspapers, had to confront the fact that many view us today as no more than blinkered lackeys of the mainstream media, which is now more commonly known by the acronym MSM.

For the world's Internet chat-room fulminators, and the say-it-like-it-is Web-log chroniclers known as bloggers, and the legions of folk who are now electronic publishers without intermediary, newspapers are old hat. As for the men and women of the press, they are often seen as contemptible troglodytes.

Here comes the counter-attack (which will continue, with such expressions as "a domestic atmosphere of patriotic fervor that imbues such incidents [as those at My Lai and Abu Ghraib] with a polarizing force"):
After all, we have editors — and what could editors be but censors of the unfettered language that now courses across the Internet? And, being from the MSM, we must have an agenda, one often depicted as liberal and godless by an ascendant right-wing and religious movement in the United States that tends to see itself as sole custodian of the truth. Make no mistake, the mainstream media are under attack.

…In both cases [My Lai and Abu Ghraib] only persistence, a passion for getting the story right, the ability to listen, a readiness to hear all sides and the courage to take on the powerful brought [Seymour] Hersh to scoops that many wanted hidden — and had succeeded in hiding for a long time. Instinct, hard work and a questioning mind took him past the barriers to truth.

Was it a passion for getting the story right, or a passion for castigating Uncle Sam, and Uncle Sam alone? Is playing up a marine general's quote on enjoying shooting "some people" while ignoring a CNN executive's attack on the American military supposed to display evidence of MSM objectivity, "a passion for getting the story right", and "a readiness to hear all sides"? Who is it who wanted things hidden here?

And speaking of Vietnam (and issues of greater portent), I still remember my astonishment (followed by growing anger) on hearing — 30 years after the battle and after years of basically taking it for granted as an illustration that Americans would never prevail over the Viet Cong (or over "the Vietnamese people", it was often said) — that the Tet offensive had, in military terms, been an utter defeat for the VC (meaning a victory for the American military). How does that fit into "getting the story right", I wonder? And am I a right-wing, religious nut for pointing this out?

It is easy enough to rail from an armchair. It is easy enough to fire off moral commentaries and castigations by pushing a button. It is easy enough to join the angry mob, whether in the street or online.
It is just as easy to rail from the armchair of a plush hotel in Baghdad, Moscow, Havana, or Hanoi, whose "powerful" (and unelected) leaders you do not take on (with courage or without), certainly not with the same "passion". It is easy enough to fire off moral commentaries and castigations against the American government, while taking at face value the attacks of the governments, democratic or other, of those countries opposed, partially or otherwise, to Uncle Sam.
It is less easy for each of us to know what we would have done if caught in a powerful system that has veered into criminal violence: Conform and be safe, or confront the crime at considerable risk.
Since the end of the Vietnam war, more Vietnamese have been killed by (or through) the policies (or non-policies) of their own government, and system, than Americans were killed during the war. This in peacetime (sic). How much have we heard about that "powerful system that has veered into criminal violence" and its victims over the past 30 years? How many of those crimes have been confronted? How many times is it stated, and taken as a given, that Vietnam "won" the war (suggesting it was a blessing, undisguised or otherwise, for its citizens)?
[Ronald] Ridenhour and [Joseph] Darby were the exception, just as Hersh has been exceptional in his moral rigor, setting the highest standards for the journalistic profession. And, as Hersh writes in his most recent book, "Chain of Command," his work has depended on "rigorous editing and fact checking by my editors."
Besides giving us the old if-you-aren't-in-the-field,-your-view-is-of-no-importance spiel (answer here), Cohen ignores the fact that the problem that bloggers have with MSM editors is not "rigorous editing and fact checking" per se — far from it — but that rigorous editing and fact checking is applied selectively. Bloggers are not — as you claim — right-wing and religious nuts who see themselves as the sole custodians of the truth, they are for the most part decent people who recognize double standards when they see them, and who do not like the injustice that derives therefrom.

One example: as far as "powerful system[s] that [have] veered into criminal violence" are concerned, take a look at the type of pictures that the MSM (American or foreign) do choose to display in their periodicals (and in journalism festivals) and those which they do not (be sure to click on "Next photo" every time). Cohen claims that "a domestic atmosphere of patriotic fervor" was what imbued incidents like Abu Ghraib "with a polarizing force", suggesting that no such force would be forthcoming, or present, without the subjective, unwelcome shrieking ("with righteous indignation") of right-wing and religious nuts. No. No, once and a thousand times No. The reason MSM reporting is revolting to some of us is because of the type of stories which the MSM chooses to emphasize and the type it chooses to play down or ignore altogether

Mock the expressions "liberal and godless" all you want as reasons bloggers have for opposing MSM, it remains that words like "odious" and "infamous", if those words make more sense to you, are pretty good indicators (especially for the victims) of how these double standards play out…

Cohen is ready for his conclusion:

We live in a time of danger, moral uncertainty and virulent division in which the MSM have become an easy target. But it appears critical, now, not to be cowed. The values of Hersh — against-the-grain, inquiring, skeptical, painstaking — are still what make the press an essential check on power rather than an accumulation of voices shrieking with righteous indignation in the electronic wilderness.
If I support America, and, indirectly, the Bush administration, it is not because of blind patriotism; it is not because tears come to my eyes when I think of Dubya, and that I am blind to Bush and his faults; nor is it because I am not "against-the-grain, inquiring, skeptical, painstaking". Au contraire. It is because I have found that an objective "against-the-grain, inquiring, skeptical, painstaking" analysis of all the actors involved has unearthed the fact that Uncle Sam (I might add, "as usual") comes out the best (or the least-worst). And that the "essential check on power" that the press claims to be is entirely one-sided, and that towards the best player in the field.

To conclude, I suggest you read Jeff Jarvis's letter to the editor of the New York Times in which he tells Bill Keller that if we "get some Times journalists and citizen journalists together in a room … the reporters and the bloggers will learn that the 'other side' is not another side at all; this isn't about monoliths and mobs but about good people trying hard to do the right thing."

If you wish to give Roger Cohen a (valid, objective, non-patriotic, non-religious, non-right-wing, and non-shrieking-with-righteous-indignation) reason (or even the other kind) why the mainstream media deserves to be "under attack", his email can be found at the bottom of his IHT column. (Include my email as a recipient for a copy of the text, and NP will post one or two of the best answers.)

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