Reading about Garry Trudeau’s attack on Bloggers got me thinking about all of the bad press the mainstream media has thrown at the Blogosphere since…well, since before there was a Blogosphere.
In 1998, a young man (who has since indicated that he hates being called a blogger) burst onto the national scene by the name of Matt Drudge. Here’s a little bit of what the mainstream press wrote about Drudge, the first person to gain national recognition as an Internet-based journalist:
In 1998, Doug Harbrecht was the president of the National Press Club and Washington news editor of Business Week magazine. Here’s how he introduced Drudge, when Drudge was invited to speak at Washington’s National Press Club in June 1998:
I’d like to welcome Club members and their guests in the audience today, as well as those of you watching on C-SPAN or listening to this program on National Public Radio.I must confess, my first reaction to having our speaker today at the National Press Club was the same as what a lot of other members of the Club have had: Why do we want to give a forum to that guy?
Then there’s Keith Olbermann, that bright spark of cable TV chat shows. Speaking at Cornell University’s commencement around that same time, he quipped that Newsweek’s story on Monica Lewinsky got scooped “by an idiot with a modem who has decided that his job is to take any rumor he hears and put it out onto the Internet.”
Similarly, the New York Times dubbed Drudge “the country’s reigning mischief maker and proprietor of a one-man Internet gossip column”. And Columbia Journalism Review wrote that “Drudge isn’t a reporter; he’s your next-door neighbor gossiping over the electronic fence”.
The irony is that Drudge was hardly the first one-man citizen content provider. As Jonah Goldberg wrote around that time, I.F. “Izzy” Stone published his own one-man newsletter for almost twenty years. And in contrast to Drudge, the leftwing Stone was praised by numerous big-league journalists:
[Stone] was called a “journalist’s journalist” by ABC’s Peter Jennings. The Los Angeles Times hailed him as “the conscience of investigative journalism.” The New York Times’ Anthony Lewis praised him as “the reporter who taught us to penetrate the squid-ink of official truth.”
Jonah asked, “So why is Stone considered a brave iconoclast by the Dan Rathers of the world, while Drudge is treated like something Rather might accidentally step in on the New York sidewalks outside CBS headquarters?”
Perhaps because Drudge was the harbinger of things to come. Since then, numerous citizen journalists have arrived on the scene. Back in 2002, Glenn Reynolds, one of the pioneers of using Weblogs as a news and opinion publishing platform, asked his readers to email in if his site influenced them to launch their own Weblogs.
The result? Over 200 bloggers (including us) cited Instapundit as their inspiration. And that number has only increased–exponentially–since.
But the rise of this army of populist pundits only angered the mainstream media. This has resulted in some…amusing…commentary from newspapers who hold themselves out as representing “the little guy”–until the little guy decides to go into the same business. We can only provide a taste of some of the thousands of words written about Weblogs since 9/11, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what some of the recurring themes of their criticism contain.
One of the first of these often great anti-classics was the April 2002 column by Alex Beam of the Boston Globe, in which Beam parachuted into the Blogosphere on 4/1/2002, confused an April Fools Joke of a Weblog with serious content, and wrote:
Another cloying attribute of bloggers is their intense admiration for other bloggers. Many of their Web sites link to one another’s, which serves to build collective audience. But clicking beyond the above-mentioned writers, or the likes of Virginia Postrel and Mickey Kaus (both too smart to write every day), lands you in the remote wilds of Lower Blogovia very quickly. Over the weekend, for instance, Postrel posted a link to Norwegian revolutionary (!) Bjorn Staerk ‘s bizarre recommitment to left-wing raving: ”This new blog is dedicated to the coming revolution, and the age of peace and equality it heralds.” (More Staerk: ”Noam Chomsky is a brave man, and how he escapes imprisonment in that horrible police state he lives in is beyond me.”) It goes without saying that Staerk includes a link to Postrel’s site, www.dynamist.com, in blogland’s infinite echo chamber of self-regard.
Of course, that echo chamber has its own rewards: having been ridiculed endlessly by the Blogosphere for unwittingly becoming the butt of Staerk’s April Fool’s Joke, that column of Beam’s now 404s. Fortunately, big swatches of it are still online at various blogs, including this one.
Back then, the big beef about Weblogs was that its writers were nothing but “navel gazers”, which has its origins in blogging’s early days, back when the first bloggers wrote about day-in-the-life events like discovering new boyfriends, girlfriends, and the like. And of course, as Nick Stewart noted earlier today, that’s still the raison d’etre of millions of bloggers.
But the navel gazing line was frequently used as a crack against bloggers who were actually busy correcting Beam and the rest of the mainstream media. One example of this genre was contained in an otherwise balanced piece in Wired News back in December of 2002:
“Bloggers are navel-gazers,” said Elizabeth Osder, a visiting professor at The University of Southern California’s School of Journalism. “And they’re about as interesting as friends who make you look at their scrap books.”She added, “There’s an overfascination here with self-expression, with opinion. This is opinion without expertise, without resources, without reporting.”
Tell that to Trent Lott, John Kerry, Dan Rather, and Eason Jordan, all of whom would later have their lunch handed to them by those same navel gazers. And of course, tell that to the dozens of professional journalists who have their own Weblogs as a sideline (err, like me).
With the exception of Trent Lott being sent to the backbenches of the Senate, those stories above happened in 2004 and 2005. 2004 was the year the public as a whole began to discover Weblogs, first via their being interviewed during the Democrat and Republican conventions, and then through their role in making known Dan Rather built a news story based on forged documents.
In December, Time magazine dubbed Power Line “Weblog of the Year” for the part they played in highlighting RatherGate. But Time’s praise was the exception that proved the rule. The world “pajamas” became synonymous with bloggers in September of 2004, as a result of a crack on The O’Reilly Factor by Jonathan Klein, a former CBS executive, and now with CNN. As John Fund wrote:
A watershed media moment occurred Friday on Fox News Channel, when Jonathan Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News who oversaw “60 Minutes,” debated Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly Standard, on the documents CBS used to raise questions about George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service.Mr. Klein dismissed the bloggers who are raising questions about the authenticity of the memos: “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at ’60 Minutes’] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”
He will regret that snide disparagement of the bloggers, many of whom are skilled lawyers or have backgrounds in military intelligence or typeface design. A growing number of design and document experts say they are certain or almost certain the memos on which CBS relied are forgeries.
Mr. Klein didn’t directly address the mounting objections to CBS’s story. He fell back on what high school debaters call the appeal to authority, implying that the reputation of “60 Minutes” should be enough to dissolve doubts without the network sharing its methods with other journalists and experts. He told Fox’s Tony Snow that the “60 Minutes” team is “the most careful news organization, certainly on television.” He said that Mary Mapes, the producer of the story, was “a crack journalist” who had broken the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story.
(Note to self: Must not make jokes about crack and a CBS journalist…Must not make jokes about crack and a CBS journalist….Must not make jokes about crack and a CBS journalist…..)
Also during the fall of 2004, Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchorman, praised at least one blogger to his face, but would be quoted saying this:
Williams, 45, is capable of showing good humor and a dry wit in public. When Time magazine held a lunch to discuss candidates for its person of the year, he exposed a side of his personality that is seldom seen on the air.When a fellow panelist mentioned that bloggers had had a big impact on the reporting on Election Day, Williams waved that point away by quipping that the self-styled journalists are “on an equal footing with someone in a bathroom with a modem.”
Perhaps the ultimate hitpiece on blogs, one that incorporated virtually all of the previous attacks on them, as well as dusting off a few of the first generation prototype shots that founding father Matt Drudge received, was this classic screed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Nick Coleman, who decided to vent spleen–buckets’ worth–when his fellow Minnesotans at Power Line won that “Blog of the Year” sobriquet from Time:
Time magazine’s “Blog of the Year” is not run by Boy Scouts. It is the spear of a campaign aimed at making Minnesota into a state most of us won’t recognize. Unless you came from Alabama with a keyboard on your knee.My ancestors came here as Irish sod busters in the 1850s, and they would be spinning beneath that sod if they saw powerful people trying to tear down what they built. But they’d enjoy how the Extreme works now: How it hammers all its opponents in the Mainstream as limousine liberals.
I keep wishing the Ivy League boys had told me I was rich before I took my first job cleaning bathrooms in a factory at night, or my next job driving a school bus, or my first newspaper job at the old Tribune for $147 a week.
But Extreme bloggers don’t tell truths. They tell talking points. Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of … what?
The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday’s idea of the purpose of journalism. Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices.
That last sentence (note the extreme bloggers tag. Not just bloggers–but Extreme Bloggers!) prompted this humorous exchange between a reader of Instapundit, and the man himself:
Reader John Raynes emails:
I’m really confused . . . . First MSM told me that you guys all wore pajamas. Now they tell me that you work out of “paneled bank offices”. So do you guys blog from bank offices in your pajamas? The public has a right to know.
Yes, but they’re Brooks Brothers pajamas.
But of course. Incidentally, the above paragraphs by Coleman are only a taste. Like Beam’s 2002 piece, the original appears to have been tossed down the memory hole by its newspaper, but can still be found here, which I found via about five minutes worth of Googling.
Another of Glenn’s readers, in the same post linked above, explained how significant Coleman’s attack was. He described it as “a milestone for how far the Internet has come”:
One of the nation’s leading papers now has an opinion writer who has picked a fight with a leading blog. It’s practically incidental that the columnist appears to be losing. One of the rules of politics is that you try not to give your adversary any publicity, unless you have to. You don’t mention the fellow’s name. Even just a year ago, no one in the MSM would have entered into a debate with a blogger. Today, Coleman seems to feel threatened enough by Powerline that he has to attack them. How much does that say about the extraordinary growth of the Internet – and bloggers – as sources of news? To me, it seems that we’ve reached another major marker of the decline of the MSM.
Responding to Alex Beam’s 2002 column, James Lileks wrote:
Blogs need papers. But newspapers don’t seem to realize how they feed this new medium – instead of taking advantage of it, they treat it like a school of minnows nibbling on their toes. And Gulliver was no doubt amused by the Lilliputians until he woke up and found himself tied by a thousand small ropes.
Funny how that works.