Fisking An Attack On Blogs By Cal Thomas

Perhaps Cal Thomas woke up on the wrong side of the bed or maybe he’s just cranky because he wasn’t one of the favorite columnists of right-of-center bloggers, but for whatever reason, he decided to tear into the blogosphere in his latest column. The tail-end of Cal’s screed — and my comments — follow:

The problem with blogs like The Huffington Post is that they divert our attention from real and serious journalism. OK, there hasn’t been much serious journalism for at least 20 years as real journalists have died or gone on to other rewards and the networks have been taken over by people who care only about the bottom line and little about covering news that matters.

Cal undercuts his own point here. Are blogs “divert(ing) our attention from real and serious journalism” or has “serious journalism” been practically dead for “20 years?” Here’s a hint, Cal: there weren’t any blogs around 20 years ago, so don’t blame us if there isn’t enough “serious journalism” for your liking these days.

“When I started in journalism, my superior at NBC told me I would need a college degree and a minimum of five years’ writing experience at a newspaper or wire service to be considered for on-air work. At NBC in those years, every reporter and many producers met or exceeded those requirements. Virtually every journalist wrote his own copy.

Now, none of those things seem to matter. As the quality of stories has diminished and we now fixate on runaway brides, car chases, celebrity trials and other sideshows, serious subjects such as the war and coming conflicts with China and possibly Russia take a back seat.”

The reason “runaway brides, car chases, celebrity trials and other sideshows” have become prevalent is not because of blogs, it’s because the cable news networks are on for 24 hours a day and they need to fill airtime. If you want to get the daily scoop on who was kidnapped today or the latest details of the Michael Jackson trial, you tune into somewhere like Fox — where Cal Thomas appears every week — you don’t go to blogs. If Cal regularly read blogs, he’d realize how little time most of us spend covering “sideshows” like the Michael Jackson trial or the runaway bride story.

“If the public is unprepared for new threats and challenges, it will largely be the big media’s fault for failing to prepare them. The public will share the blame for fixating on blogs.”

Again, it becomes apparent that Cal Thomas doesn’t regularly read blogs or even know much about them. For one thing, the public isn’t fixated on blogs. Only 16% of Americans read blogs at all and the number of regular readers of blogs — of all types — is probably only about 1/3 of that number.

Furthermore, as a general rule, the blogosphere often covers potential foreign policy “threats and challenges” in more depth than most newspapers. Just to give one example, Democracy protests in Lebanon that were barely covered by the MSM, got widespread play in the blogosphere. On top of that, there are blogs like Belmont Club & The 4th Rail that discuss foreign policy extensively every day. Heck, as a rule, even the daily news at RWN covers multiple foreign policy related “threats and challenges” daily.

So this is a baseless complaint all the way around.

“Blogs have their place. They played an important role in the last presidential election by contributing to the debate over John Kerry’s experience in Vietnam and George Bush’s National Guard records. But if they replace solid journalistic principles and practices, the public will be ill-served and the profession may suffer a mortal wound from which it might not recover.”

I don’t know of a single blogger of note who thinks blogs are going to replace the MSM. So don’t worry, “solid journalistic principles and practices” aren’t threatened by blogs.

“With blogs, we do not know if what we read is true. For most blogs, no editor checks for factual errors and no one is restrained from editorializing. The Big Media sometime are guilty of these same shortcomings, but at least with them there is a presumption in favor of accuracy and fairness, plus there’s a way to shame them and occasionally force a correction if they mess up. Blogs have no checks and balances.

I suspect – and hope – that once the bloom is off the blogs, serious people (and they seem to be an endangered species) might still crave real journalism and be able to remember what it looked and sounded like.”

One of the common things that professional journalists like to charge is that you just can’t trust bloggers because they don’t have editors. Yet, the editors and multiple layers of fact checkers didn’t stop Jayson Blair at the New York Times, Jack Kelley at USA Today, or Dan Rather at CBS did they? There’s even a scandal unfolding right now involving Michelle Delio, a writer for another one of those publications with editors, Wired. So if you compare credibility between blogs and MSM sources like USA Today or New York Times, I think blogs do very well — especially since we tend to link directly to our sources so the readers can examine them if they so desire.

Furthermore, as far as checks and balances go, blogs are in the same position as the newspapers. Why Thomas doesn’t think blogs can be shamed into issuing a correction is a mystery, given that as general rule, bloggers tend to publicly correct errors an order of magnitude faster than the big papers. Again, Thomas would know that if he regularly perused the blogosphere.

Last but not least, it’s puzzling to me that Cal Thomas has suddenly had this shift in opinion about blogs because in his March 17th column, he was much friendlier:

“It is this distrust and the perception that the so-called “mainstream media” is biased that has fueled the rise of alternative sources of information. It has also fueled the angst of the big media boys, who are being held accountable for their biases for the first time. They don’t like such accountability and so they are reacting by attacking cable TV and Internet bloggers.

Were it not for these alternate sources of information, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth might never have found an avenue to make their voices heard about John Kerry, and Dan Rather might still be sitting in the CBS anchor chair instead of being held accountable for misreporting on President Bush’s National Guard records.

…The problem for the mainstream media (which isn’t mainstream anymore) is that its denial of its own biases has caused the rise of bloggers and cable news, especially Fox. If they had been truly reporting and not indoctrinating, there would be no Fox and no bloggers to study.”

Back then, Cal seemed to look at blogs and cable news as two peas in a pod. Now, two months later, we’re the “big bad” out there threatening to subvert the media.

What changed, Cal?

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