Like most South Dakotans, I’m a Tom Brokaw fan. Unfortunately, our native son has become a bit too defensive about the mistakes of the media dinosaurs.
In response to blogger criticism of CBS, Brokaw recently said at an event for the New Yorker that “What I think is highly inappropriate is what’s going on across the Internet, a kind of political jihad against Dan Rather and CBS News that is quite outrageous.”
Well, why precisely is it “outrageous” to criticize CBS News for using forged documents in a story which could have altered the result of the Presidential race? Brokaw’s “outrage” is misplaced. Instead of using an opportunity to condemn one of his fellows, Brokaw threw in his lot with the dying Old Order. Brokaw’s response is part of a familiar pattern.
Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently wrote that “When journalists go after bloggers, op-ed style, they typically have one thing to say: ‘these bloggers, they’re not real journalists. And they don’t have to meet our standards, so don’t trust them.'”
The editor of the Argus Leader recently said that blogger criticism of the Argus was “crap” and driven by a “violent” internet “cabal” of “yahoos” and “jokers,” who are full of “hatred” and “vitriol” and lacked “guts” because they hid “behind their computer screens” and wouldn’t face him “man to man.” The editor then went on to highlight the importance of debating issues “without calling each other names.” A few weeks later he compared bloggers to Hitler.
Satullo has a better grasp of the duties of journalists and the proper response to blogging: “For any journalist who understands his real job- helping the public life of this nation work well — the rise of citizen comment on the Internet should be something to celebrate.” Satullo adds that “The blogosphere is a dynamic expansion of things newspapers have long done to aid democratic dialogue, from letters to the editor to experiments in civic journalism.”
That some editors are so outraged at public commentary and the expansion of the democratic dialogue should alarm us all. Why should a couple of editors decide for the entire citizenry what is “news?” Why should they define the terms of our politics?
Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a defender of the Old Order. He recently said that “most bloggers are not fit to carry a reporter’s notebook.” The problem in Coleman’s argument, however, is becoming more and more obvious all the time-it’s not that difficult to be a reporter.
Hugh Hewitt, a law professor and blogger, said that he’s been a practicing lawyer, a professor, and a reporter, and by far the easiest job was being a reporter. A reporter should try to get all sides of a story and all the relevant facts, which is not exactly a Herculean endeavor. Bloggers can easily do it too, which is perhaps why the Old Media barons are so snippy and defensive.
The key problem is discretion-what angle a reporter chooses to take, which “experts” they quote, or which story they are assigned to write from the myriad of extant choices. Into all this discretion creeps political ideology and political preferences.
For bloggers to criticize these choices is entirely proper. And it makes our democracy better. Despite what Tom Brokaw says.
Jon Lauck is an SDSU history professor and a blogger.
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