The Blogosphere, Free Speech, & Off-The-Record Comments

I’m a fan of Kathleen Parker’s work, but I think she’s worried about a horse getting out the barn that has already lived a long happy life, perished, been sent to the glue factory, and then gone up to that big horsie heaven in the sky.

Here’s what Parker has to say about the blogosphere ruining the concept of “off the record comments” & squashing free speech…

“…Given the “instanaeity” of the bloggers’ electronic encampment, known as the “blogosphere” – enabling real-time posting of news and commentary – newspapers and even broadcast media have become the news cycle’s Sunday drivers.

As a longtime observer of the blog phenomenon – awed by the volcanic energy and talent that erupts by the nanosecond and flows without pause – I’m a fan. But I’m also wary of such unbridled power. For all their attractive swashbuckling and bravura, bloggers also can become a cyber-mob that acts, as mobs do, without conscience or restraint.

Thus, the other funeral is, I fear, for our freedom of speech. Not the kind we once worried would be quashed by government jackboots, but the sort that restricts the very thing bloggers represent – the freewheeling, unfettered expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of censure. Or without the life-altering, career-busting personal demolitions we’ve witnessed recently.

….The fact that the mainstream media didn’t initially report Jordan’s remarks probably has more to do with this recognition than with any attempt to protect fellow journalists, as was charged after a blogger broke the story. “Off the record” means you’re allowed to say what you think with impunity and live to see your next paycheck.

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at buzzmachine.com, told media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that “off the record” is dead. Jarvis, who also said he was after the truth, not Jordan’s head, may be right. But as we expand the boundaries of speech – inviting all comers to the virtual newsroom and reporting every utterance without contextual distinction – we may find that we no longer feel free to speak freely.”

Two Points.

First of all, I don’t care what anybody tells you, what line they feed to you, or how they try to spin it: if you say something wildly controversial in front of a room full of reporters, you’re being foolish. This is not new.

During the last presidential campaign, this story featuring off the record comments was broken by non-blogger Matt Drudge?

Democrat John Kerry joked about President Bush’s weekend bicycle accident by comparing the president to a child, Internet newshound Matt Drudge reported yesterday.

“Kerry told reporters in front of cameras, ‘Did the training wheels fall off?’ ” Mr. Drudge reported on his Web site, www.drudgereport.com. Interviewed by The Washington Times yesterday, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter would say only that the words Mr. Drudge reported were “off the record.”

Mr. Drudge said the debate among reporters over the on-camera “training wheels” remark has been “whether to treat it as on or off the record.”

What’s that you say? Drudge is one of those “internet reporters” and “You know how Matt Drudge is.” In that case, remember these “off-the-record” golden oldies?

“Some take it to mean “between us” or “use with discretion.” Jesse Jackson thought he was “off-the-record” when he referred to New York City as “Hymietown.” Ronald Reagan thought he was “off-the-record” when he referred to White House reporters as “sons of b*tches.” Newt Gingrich’s mother thought she was “off-the-record” when she disparaged Hillary Clinton on network television.”

So maybe “off-the-record” officially died after “Easongate,” but it has been on life support for decades at least and the truth is the plug should have been pulled long ago.

Secondly, there is truly no such thing as “freewheeling, unfettered expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of censure,” even among friends and family. If you think there is, sit down with your wife and start reeling off a list of women you’re more sexually attracted to than her along with why you think they’re better looking than she is and I suspect that you will learn what “censure” is all about.

Lol…Ok, ok, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but I was trying to make a point. There have always been limits to what you can get away with saying without facing the consequences and you cannot ever let yourself lose sight of that. Furthermore, if you are inclined to kick some really controversial ideas around, the very last place you want to do it is in front of a crowd. Today, people are worrying about saying something in front of bloggers who’ll be happy to hoist you on your own petard to get an Instalanche, but I’m not sure they’re any more likely to humiliate you than the reporters who make a living out of digging up dirt.

So there’s no need to worry about the increased scrutiny that the blogosphere brings to bear. That’s not something that puts free speech in jeopardy. To the contrary, it’s a side-effect of having more free speech and it’s a good thing…

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