Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad Journalism and the Speck In Your Brother's Eye

There are a lot of things wrong with this article from the Wall Street Journal, most of which revolve around a dumb premise regarding Senators Obama and McCain. I'll also just mention that just because Barack Obama lost to Hillary Clinton in Appalachia, that does not mean he won't win working-class white votes in November. Primaries and the general election are a different game, and pushing that narrative is just stupid.

Besides that item though (one of many dumb assertions in the article), there's one part that's actually relevant to this blog:
The opposite is happening with Republicans, whose toughest races are in Democratic-leaning or closely divided districts. Nevada Republican Jon Porter, who represents a Democrat-friendly district in Las Vegas, supports Sen. McCain and will attend the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., even though he isn't a delegate, his spokesman said. Minnesota's Tim Walberg, the sole Republican House freshman, also supports the senator and may attend the convention, although he can't vote there, said his spokesman.
This raises two obvious questions:
  1. When did our district become "Democratic-leaning or closely divided"? The conventional wisdom was always that our district was so Republican that a Democrat will never have a chance.
  2. When did Tim Walberg move to Minnesota?
Now, it might seem petty of me to be complaining about the Minnesota thing. "MI" and "MN" look roughly similar, so that could be what happened. Also, Minnesota does have a freshman in Congress named Tim Walz, but he's a Democrat, so the point of the paragraph wouldn't make sense. But darn it, this bothers me a lot!

This brings me to a larger point and a little bit of a rant. I hope you'll all forgive me, and I hope I don't just fan the flames of something that seems to have settled down for a little while. This is just something that's been bothering me.

I like Susan Demas a lot. She's a smart woman (and a much better writer than hacks like Maureen Dowd) and her analysis is generally pretty good, even when it's negative for the people I support. But I just don't understand her or the countless other journalists that get hung up on blogs. While there are many (especially in the D.C. pundit class) who are guilty of this, I'm going to stick with Susan Demas for the moment, though.

On her Capitol Chronicles page, Susan has written several columns deriding left-leaning bloggers. This website and myself have been more or less spared from this (and in the past, Susan and I have had a good private relationship, though I think I might have forgotten to reply to her last e-mail), but some of her targets are people for whom I have a great deal of respect. She has no qualms at all with calling out people who she feels have breached either journalistic ethics, shown poor judgment, or have simply made callous remarks (ie. 1 2 3 4 5 6 in the last month).

This in and of itself is not a problem. Sometimes, bloggers deserve to be called out, and we do it to each other all the time. In some of the instances I cited above, I even agree. But that's not what bothers me.

Journalists like Susan Demas spend an incredible amount of time trying to prove that blogs are an unreliable source of information. It seems as if they're trying to show their own value as traditional journalists by making the alternatives look bad. It's the same principle behind every political attack ad.

While they're busy with that, crap like the Wall Street Journal article I started with gets printed. Traditional journalists give one another a free pass, when they themselves are guilty of some pretty serious missteps. Why point it out when someone at Michigan Liberal spells says "wretch" instead of "retch," but ignore it when, say, the Tecumseh Herald spells "Monday" wrong? (It's not just the Herald, either. If you live in a town of 40,000 or less, you've seen the same mistakes.) Why question the journalistic integrity of bloggers when newspapers throughout the 7th District report without analysis Tim Walberg's claims that drilling in ANWR will bring down gas prices?

I have a question for all of the serious journalists out there. When you're getting ready to write another column talking about the horrible things you've found on the internet, do you even bother to read what your own publications are printing? You're in a position of trust that blogs still lack. The least you could do is hold yourselves to a higher standard.

I'm not at all religious, but I think the former Pastor Tim Walberg would probably tell us to cite this passage:
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

So here's what it comes down to:

Although plenty of bloggers would disagree with me, I don't consider myself a journalist. I consider myself an activist, and a part of that involves conveying information via a different medium. I don't pretend to be a reliable source for unbiased reporting. I don't see myself in competition with them. Sometimes people like me screw up. It happens. We're amateurs. That doesn't mean the medium itself doesn't have value, it means that we're roughly on the same level as the traditional media, which is itself far from perfect. I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you still have value, too.

That said, if journalists will continue deriding what I do, I don't have any problem with pointing out their own poor writing. The Wall Street Journal article above is a fine example. When Susan Demas, whom I greatly respect, is wasting her time writing about things that don't really matter, I don't mind pointing that out, either.

I can promise all of you that this will be the last time I rant like this, because I think it's bad form and a bad way to take care of disputes that ought to be settled in private. In the end, journalists like Susan Demas and bloggers like me or Eric B. or Christine are all interested in the same thing: better, more responsive government. I choose to accomplish that by working on the internet and in real life to support and oppose political candidates. Susan chooses to accomplish that by ripping apart public officials in print. These strategies don't have to be at odds with one another.

Before I get accused of turning my "venom" against Susan, let me assure everyone that this is not what I'm trying to do. I'm just tired of seeing otherwise intelligent people waste their time snipping back and forth. It's stupid. We're all better than this.

And, for all any of you know, you may have just been lectured at by a 12-year-old sitting in his parents' basement in his underwear. So what?

As of July 09, 2008, I have been working with the Schauer for Congress campaign in Lenawee County. My thoughts and writings are my own opinions, and I do not speak for Senator Schauer or anyone else in his organization.

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I don't see any venom here against me, just reasonable disagreement. Which is what public discourse is all about.

For the record, I do criticize the MSM all the time:


I haven't criticized your site because you don't engage in questionable journalistic practices or junior-high insults. You and other bloggers on the site, in general, treat Tim Walberg with respect, while slamming his policies. More power to you.

Best of luck.

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