Anonymous Bloggers Vs. The MSM

The mainstream media regularly traffics in speculation, rumors, anonymous charges, bogus politically motivated allegations, but when some anonymous bloggers try to get in on the action, the WAPO feels compelled to punch up a story on this possible threat to Democracy. Here’s the crux of the WAPO’s article:

“First came this posting on the site virginia2005.blogspot.com: “David isn’t the only Englin with designs on public office. . . . There’s going to be an Englin running for Congress in 2006, but not the one you think. I know for a fact that Shayna has already been getting pledges for money for her race.”

Then a slightly more disturbing note appeared on the same Web site: “Driving home tonight, guess what I saw on the Englins’ front lawn??? Democrat Greg Werkheiser. I walked back to try to listen into the conversation but couldn’t hear much without being obvious.”

Both were anonymous postings on a Web site run by the group of bloggers known as Not Larry Sabato. The pseudonym is a dig at the frequency with which Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, appears in mainstream media.

Shayna Englin, 31, who lives in Alexandria, said she has no plans to run for office, especially against Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). She added she was “chilled” to learn that people were spying on her home and posting what they saw on the Internet.

“It’s creepy. That somebody would spread rumors on Jim Moran’s seat, that’s not all that surprising. The fact that somebody is keeping tabs on who we have over to dinner, that’s more problematic,” she said. “The whole thing about being anonymous is that there’s no accountability. They can literally post anything.”

Such is the new and emerging realm of Internet blogs. Since the 2005 Virginia election cycle kicked off, the number of blogs talking about Virginia politics has swelled to at least 20. Many are run anonymously, allowing people to express their views freely — and giving them an easy way to spread rumors and half-truths.

…The blogs are too new to have a major impact on the Nov. 8 election, Sabato and some politicians agreed. Most draw only a few thousand readers a day. But in a primary, where voter turnout is low and “political junkies” who frequent such Web sites are more likely to vote, the blogs might have a real effect, they said.

Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), for one, said he is not a fan of anonymous blogs. He has been the target of a new blogger who adopted the name “Not Brian Moran.”

“Anyone who does it anonymously is being cowardly, in my opinion,” he said. Blogs, he added, “don’t seem to be used constructively at this point. It just seems to be wild potshots at people.”

The whole point of the piece is to undermine bloggers who are portrayed as weirdos who spend their days listening in on people’s conversations and tossing out wild rumors and half-truths. But even if that were true — which it isn’t — how different is that from what the mainstream media does on a day in and day out basis?

Have you ever heard of Paparazzi? They make a living spying on public figures, taking pictures and selling the pics, often to the MSM. What about the “Bush was AWOL from the National Guard” story? What is that other than still unconfirmed speculation and rumor that has spawned tens of thousands of stories in the mainstream media over the last few years?

Moreover, for all the talk about “anonymous blogging,” it’s not the free pass the WAPO makes it appear to be. Yes, anonymous bloggers can say whatever they want, but the very fact that they’re anonymous and that blogging tends to be a partisan endeavor is going to lead to their readers being very skeptical about any “hot rumors” or political propaganda that they may post….and that’s assuming that more than a handful of people are even reading what they have to say which isn’t necessarily a given.

Furthermore, take it from somebody who used to work for an ISP wholesaler: there really is no such thing as anonymity on the net if you break the law. If someone who can get a subpoena wants to know who you are — at least in the US — they can track you right down to the computer you posted from 99 times out of 100 and your webhosting company, your ISP, and even your local phone company will happily help them do it. So even the identity protection of anonymous blogging only goes so far.

Despite the impression that you get from reading stories like this one in the WAPO, for every questionable ethical decision made by a blogger, you’ll find members of the MSM who’ve done almost the exact same thing and usually on a far grander scale. The difference is that most members of the MSM consider bloggers to be a growing threat to their bottom line and so they’ll write articles that attack blogs for practices that they’d merely shrug off if one of their journalistic brethren had been involved.

PS: I know somebody is going to say: “OK, this was a column about “anonymous” bloggers. Name someone in the MSM who has contributed anonymously to their publication.” Setting aside the common practice of having stringers contribute to articles without having their names mentioned, here is anonymous blogger David M on the Columbia Journalism Review:

“Imagine this scenario: A supposedly unbiased publication is being run by someone with a clear political bias, and that person is not listed on the publication’s masthead. It’s just the type of story that media watchdog Columbia Journalism Review would love to uncover.

Only in this case CJR is the perpetrator.

This blog has learned that Victor Navasky, publisher, editorial director and apparently co-owner of iconic left wing journal The Nation, is running CJR; however he is not on the masthead.

CJR executive editor Michael Hoyt said in a phone conversation today with this blog, “I think he should be on the masthead as soon as possible.”

Commenting on Navasky’s organizational role, Hoyt said, “I answer to him. But honestly, to date, he hasn’t done much editorially. Most of his work has been on the business side.” Hoyt said Navasky had been with CJR for a couple of months in an incrementally responsible role.

Here’s a far left winger running a “supposedly unbiased publication” without the readers — who might understandably start to question the biases of CJR if they were in the know — being alerted at all. Like I said, when members of the MSM engage in the same sins they sneer at bloggers over, they do it on a “far grander scale”.

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