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Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Bloggers and the MSM
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:33 am

There is something rather disingenuous about the following NYT piece: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign.

What I find problematic is that it suggests that the print and broadcast media never, ever use press releases to write their stories and that they always and forevermore release all information regarding the influences that have gone into their work.

This is, of course, absurd.

The real story here, it seems to me, isn’t the disclosure habits of bloggers, but the overall fact that an actor the size of Wal*Mart sees blogging as a legitimate and worthwhile vehicle for information dissemination (and, yes, spin). Indeed, I myself have noted the degree to which members of Congress saw the blogosphere as a place to fight part of the House Majority Leader battle and publishers and filmmakers are increasingly using blogs to get their products seen by the public.

That’s the real story here, not some bloggers, *gasp* linked to some stories in the same order that some Wal*Mart rep e-mailed them to him.

I would agree that clear disclosure makes a great deal of sense, and some of the practices described in the piece are sloppy and not the way I would have handled it.

Still, the NYT seem more interested in trying to use the piece to slap down the amateurish bloggers than to get to the heart of the real story, which is the evolution of blogging, the pending death of which has been highly exaggerated.

On a personal note, I would point out that James Joyner, a blogger who has written on the Wal*Mart situation, and has received information from the sources cited in the NYT piece has long held the views he has espoused on on his blog, and at TCS, on this topic. Having known him well before either us knew what a blog was (and having had ample opportunity to discuss Wal*Mart, as we both lived in a small town at the time), I can attest to the fact that whatever tips he has received has hardly colored his views.

Indeed, like is often the case with interest groups and members of congress, smart lobbyists seek out those already sympathetic to their views, rather than trying to flip someone opposed to them.

Speaking of James, he has a lengthy round of reaction to the NYT piece Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its Public Relations Campaign » Outside The Beltway | OTB“>here.

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Outside The Beltway | OTB linked with Bloggers, Flacks, and Media Ethics Redux
Below The Beltway linked with Wal-Mart, Blogging, And Public Relations
Outside The Beltway | OTB linked with Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its Public Relations Campaign
PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Congressmen Reading Blogs linked with [...] ead by nine members of Congress. Interesting to see, and falls in line with my main point in my Wal*Mart PR post from the other day. Filed under: US Politics, Blogging | [...]
Monday, January 16, 2006
Analyzing the Alito Transcripts
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:34 am

WaPo gets out the ol’ “search” function in Word and give us some counts: I, I, Sir: The Alito Hearings, Annotated.

Here’s shocker:

But one thing united lawmakers on both sides: reverence for the first person. Republicans used the “I” word 1,180 times. Democrats used it 1,123 times. Combined, they used it well more than the nominee, who said “I” 1,907 times.

Generically I find much of the commentary on the contents of the hearing to be somewhat vacuous-insofar as everyone seems shocked, shocked!! that Alito was cautious and that the Senators were egotistical.

Given that the purpose of the hearings for the nominee is to say as little as possible and emerge confirmable, and the goal for the Senators is to score political points, can any other outcome be expected?

Basic conditions and the incentive structures that they create shape behavior. How hard is this to understand?

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Thursday, January 12, 2006
A Busy Retirement
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:17 pm

Via the AP: Ted Koppel Joining NPR

He will provide weekly commentary.

This in additional to becoming an occasional contributor for the NYT op/ed page and his new work for Discovery Channel.

Still, he won’t have to stay up as late.

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Friday, January 6, 2006
By Steven L. @ 9:29 am

Patternico and his reaction to the LA Times’ columnist revealing him to be a Stalinist for pointing out errors of the paper.

That, my friends, is what we call a good old-fashioned whippin’.

Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the LA Times. On his blog, sponsored by the paper, he states the following:

Frey has several qualities in common with many other right-wing bloggers who have set themselves up as watchdogs of what they categorize, self-revealingly, as the “mainstream media.” . . . None of these critics appears to be genuinely interested in correcting factual errors or improving this newspaper’s, or any newspaper’s, performance as a journalistic institution, which are certainly legitimate goals. Their main purpose is to hunt down deviations from a political orthodoxy that they themselves define. Their techniques include a promiscuous use of labels as shorthand slurs (”leftist” and “liberal” being, of course, their most popular denigrations). They no doubt find this technique valuable because once they can hang a label on a newspaper or a journalist, they can dispense with anything so fundamental as discussion or argument.

So “right-wing bloggers” use labels so that they can dispense with anything so fundamental as discussion. Because labeling is wrong — unless you are correctly labeling right-wing bloggers, of course. But couldn’t we find a better label that “right-wing blogger”?

(hmmm. Despite what all the other columnists are saying, “right-wing blogger” might not sound ominous enough . . . .wait — I know)

To back up their assertions, they often quote articles selectively, take out of context what they do quote, and ascribe imaginary motivations to reporters and editors, which they then feel free to decry. As any student of history knows, these are tools and techniques that were used to great effect during the Stalinist show trials of the 40s and 50s.

Stalinist. Yes, perfect. Blogging is exactly like Soviet-era show trials.

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Thursday, December 1, 2005
Newmark on Woodward
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:44 pm

Yup, that about sums it up.

In all seriousness, I have been having a hard time mustering the energy to delve deeply into the Woodward/Plame story. However, that which I have read, especially the commentary side of things has really struck me in the sense that it was just a couple of months ago that Woodward was the darling of the media for his courageous ability to have kept Mark Felt’s secret for all these years. Now, because he kept another secret about another source he’s a bum?

Rather remarkable, really. Indeed, it is remarkable regardless of what one thinks about the Plame investigation.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005
When Newspaper Reporters Write in Gross Generalities
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:42 am

David Carr has an odd column in the NYT about Gawker and some crime story I am unaware of: When Bloggers Joke About the Unfunny.

I can’t disagree with the basic criticism of the facts presented-this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to make jokes about, but gee whiz, it’s Gawker. To generalized in any way about blogs via Gakwer is to generalize about print media from Page Six.

Jeff Jarvis, quoted in the story, has some interesting back story and analysis of the piece itself here.

The degree to which Carr inserts all the basic MSM criticisms of blogs into this column is remarkable.

  • There’s the “but blogs aren’t permanent like print” argument:

    But because blogs can be amended or erased, the people who write them tend not to be held to account.

    First off, I have been reading blogs quite steadily for over two and a half years and have witnessed practically no erasure to avoid embarrassment. Indeed, bloggers tend to be pack-rats when it comes to their words, keeping all them, sometimes perhaps when they shouldn’t have (not to mention Google caches and the fact that other bloggers have a tendency to take screen captures and such if something is especially noteworthy).

    But second, and more importantly, an error made on “permanent” newsprint is usually forgotten by the next day. As I have noted before, bloggers tend to go back and made visible, lasting corrections to their errors-blog errors, especially big ones, are usually published ont he front page. The NYT doesn’t go back and fix the Lexis/Nexis archives of their stuff0they just print correction, if they even do that, in a place in the paper where no one looks.

    Further: make a serious error (or a not so serious one) as a blogger and see how quickly you are corrected.

  • The above quote also contains the: “you don’t have editors” argument.

    Look, I’d love someone to come and double-check my spelling and grammar, and I will confess to the fact that I typically am quick about my blogging. However, as noted above, to state that bloggers, especially ones with any kind of audience at all, aren’t held accountable is ludicrous. It is especially ludicrous coming from an newspaper that employed Jasyon Blair and Judith Miller.

  • And, of course, there’s the “you aren’t real journalists” argument:
    A generation of Web writers - many of them excellent and genuinely hilarious - sees the world and its travails through a hail of nasty e-mail messages, tips and other blogs. That’s a different job than leaving the computer screen to interview the mother of an eight-year-old who has been run over by a car. Ms. Coen of Gawker and some of her fellow bloggers are fond off pointing out that they are not reporters, which explains everything and excuses nothing.

    This strikes me as MSM insecurity coming through. Most bloggers don’t claim to be reporters (and many who do have an inflated view of themselves). Mostly we are commentators (ironically, that is what Carr is doing here: commenting). Also, the Gawker stuff wasn’t sold as first-person reporting. As such, the Gawker thing really appears to have been nothing more than a pretense to slam blogs, even given Carr’s proviso at the end of the sentence.

    Indeed, how is Carr’s column really any different than a blog post? The reporting in the story consists of him reading news stories and a blog and this generates his essay. Sounds pretty bloggy to me…

As a side note: is it just me, or this all a pretty NYC-centric story to begin with?

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Sunday, October 16, 2005
A Wild and Crazy Defense
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:29 am


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Saturday, October 1, 2005
Back to the Waiver
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:04 am

Via the NYT (Phone Call With Source and Deal Led Reporter to Testify) comes more information that continues to bolster my view of the Miller jailing: that at the heart of the matter is the waiver that Libby gave her to testify. Allegedly Miller preferred a jailing on contempt because she believe that the waiver that Libby initially gave was coerced. As such, she appears to have decided that testifying about her conversations wil him violated the confidentiality of her source. (I use tentative language on purpose, given that there may be more information that may be unrevealed at this time).

It is wholly possible that this was a giant misunderstanding for the beginning, which is why I listed as one of the possibilities to explain her prolonged incarceration as “misguided journalistic ethics,” i.e., she thought she was living up to specific ethical standard when she didn’t really have to do so. Allegedly, the lynchpin of her release is that she is now convinced that the waiver given by Libby was wholly voluntary.

Mr. Libby’s side says he gave Ms. Miller unequivocal permission to testify about her conversations with Mr. Libby concerning his role, if any, in the disclosure of the identify of the officer, Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame.

In a letter from Mr. Libby to Ms. Miller this month, he expressed surprise that her lawyers had asked him to “repeat for you the waiver of confidentiality that I specifically gave to your counsel over a year ago.” He added that he expected her testimony to help him.

Part of why I hold out the real possibility that there is some important piece of missing information here, is that the back-and-forth over the waiver doesn’t fully make sense to me. Especially when one reads the story and see that it seems like Libby/his representatives had made similar attempts at clarification more than once during Miller’s sojourn in jail-indeed, did so before it came to the point of contempt.

Clearly the offer to limit the questions directed at Miller are part of all of this as well:

The second factor in Ms. Miller’s decision to go before the grand jury was a change in the position of the special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, concerning the scope of the questions she would be asked, according to Mr. Abrams. Mr. Fitzgerald only recently agreed to confine his questions to Ms. Miller’s conversations with Mr. Libby concerning the identification of Ms. Wilson, Mr. Abrams said.

However, since other reporters had the same deal (the ones who already testified) it would seem as though this provision would have been available to Miller at the time as well.

None of this either proves the guilt of administration officials, nor exonerates them. Indeed, I would argue we, the public, know no more today than we knew Thursday. Presummably the Grand Jury now does, but exactly how much and what remains to be seen.

Despite the assertions of some, I simply do not see that we can now assume the Libby, Rove or someone else in the administration is about to be indicted or that they are guilty of purposefully outing an undercover agent.

Indeed, if there was a vast conspiracy aimed at providing illegal information to the press about Plame, one would think that Fitzegerald would already have gathered enough evidence for an indictment form the other testimony that he has obtained.

I still think that that Occam’s Razor dictates that the best explanation, based on known facts, is that the administration noted that Plame worked for the CIA to explain why Wilson would have been sent on the mission in the first place. Obviously it was evident that Wilson opposed administration policy. As such, his public pronouncements (which were at odds with what he said to Congress, btw, casting doubts on the motivations of more than just the administration) were considered to be questionable by the administration. No doubt, people within the administration were displeased that an opponent of the administration was put on this task, and hence pointing out potential nepotism does cast Wilson’s statements in a particular light that was more advantageous to the administration.

In other words, if Wilson was a loyal agent of the administration, one might read his report one way, just as one would read the report differently if he had been an unbiased observer who got the job solely on merit. Further, if he was predisposed to oppose the administration and got the job due to his wife’s recommendation, this created yet a different lens through which to view the situation. This is all about spin, something that politicians and political operatives practically breath. It is second nature. I am not saying I like it, but I am saying it is standard operating procedure for all politicians of all political stripes. One has to therefore view their actions with that in mind.

So, it is possible that this entire affair was not about ruining Plame’s cover as revenge (which is the standard Democratic interpretation). It is entirely possible that it was all about spinning why Wilson did what he did.

This raises problems for those who insist that there was a crime here-as to meet the standard of the law, there are certain thresholds that must be met, including the fact that the person mentioning Plame knew that they were compromising an undercover agent. For the “spin scenario” outlined above to be true, it is wholly possible that this was not the case. However, it is also possible that it was. We simply don’t know yet.

I certainly see the real possibility that there were criminal acts here. However, the evidence at hand makes this unlikely (indeed, the nature of the law in question is such that a crime is unlikely). However, if Libby really was facing criminal charges, and Miller’s contempt jailing was keeping him out of jail, it seems unlikely to me he would have issued the waiver in the first place (even before she went to jail, btw), or have clarified it now. If we assume he was willing to commit a crime in the first place, then I would think he would be willing to let Miller rot in jail.

Again, this analysis changes if new data are brought to fore. However, we analyze with the data we have, not the data we would like to have.

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Friday, September 30, 2005
It’s About the Waiver
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:59 am

Via Reuters: Reporter breaks silence in CIA leak case

Miller agreed to break her silence and testify after receiving what she described as a voluntary and personal waiver of confidentiality from her source, identified as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby.

This bolster my point made below, especially in the comments. Her stay is jail is linked to this waiver business, for reasons I don’t totally understand. It is why I mentioned “misguided journalistic ethics”-she allegedly stayed in jail because she thought the Libby waiver was coerced. Now, supposedly, she is willing to accept that it was freely given.

As such, I am not certian that anyone can assume they know how this will play out:

With Miller’s testimony, lawyers said, Fitzgerald could move quickly to bring indictments in the case. Or he may conclude that no crime was committed and end his investigation and possibly issue a report on his findings.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005
More Katrina and the Press
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:48 am

Following the LAT, the NYT (Fear Exceeded Crime’s Reality in New Orleans) is joining the chorus of stories noting that the reporting of utter chaos in post-Katrina New Orleans was over the top and misleading (if not mythical). I would note that the tone of this story strikes me a a bit more cautious in terms of criticizing the media-driven hyperbole than the LAT story.

After the storm came the siege. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, terror from crimes seen and unseen, real and rumored, gripped New Orleans. The fears changed troop deployments, delayed medical evacuations, drove police officers to quit, grounded helicopters. Edwin P. Compass III, the police superintendent, said that tourists - the core of the city’s economy - were being robbed and raped on streets that had slid into anarchy.

The mass misery in the city’s two unlit and uncooled primary shelters, the convention center and the Superdome, was compounded, officials said, by gangs that were raping women and children.

A month later, a review of the available evidence now shows that some, though not all, of the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations, the product of chaotic circumstances that included no reliable communications, and perhaps the residue of the longstanding raw relations between some police officers and members of the public.


What became clear is that the rumor of crime, as much as the reality of the public disorder, often played a powerful role in the emergency response. A team of paramedics was barred from entering Slidell, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, for nearly 10 hours based on a state trooper’s report that a mob of armed, marauding people had commandeered boats. It turned out to be two men escaping from their flooded streets, said Farol Champlin, a paramedic with the Acadian Ambulance Company.

On another occasion, the company’s ambulances were locked down after word came that a firehouse in Covington had been looted by armed robbers of all its water - a report that proved totally untrue, said Aaron Labatt, another paramedic.

What strikes me is that this all comports with some comments I made in the midst of the coverage (here) wherein I noted that reporting stories of extreme violence, often without adequate evidence, was hindering the relief effort. Some commenters disputed my assessment, but it would appear I had a point:

Faced with reports that 400 to 500 armed looters were advancing on the town of Westwego, two police officers quit on the spot. The looters never appeared, said the Westwego police chief, Dwayne Munch.

“Rumors could tear down an entire army,” Chief Munch said.

During six days when the Superdome was used as a shelter, the head of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crimes unit, Lt. David Benelli, said he and his officers lived inside the dome and ran down every rumor of rape or atrocity. In the end, they made two arrests for attempted sexual assault, and concluded that the other attacks had not happened.

Specifically, I was especially struck at the time that the cable coverage was rife with reports of a Hobbesesque state of nature within New Orleans while simultaneously criticizing relief workers for not rushing into the city. At the time I maintained that the press coverage was actually contributing to the slow response that they were also vehemently criticizing.

As with assessments of the responses by government and private organizations, I think that the magnitude of the events have to be taken into consideration in criticizing media coverage. Still, I do think that some self-assessment needs to be undertaken here-especially by cable news. The coverage underscored the current manner in which 24/7 cable coverage (especially when covering a live event) weakens or entirely tosses rules of evidence. I like getting information as quickly as possible more than most people (it’s my bloggin’ nature) but gee whiz, rumor should not be presented as news-especially when such rumors can lead to serious real world consequences.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005
Can You Say “Marketing”? Yes, I Think you Can
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:54 am

Hmm, the three most prominent NYT columnists just happen to be on MTP this week, and Tim makes the comment about how we’re getting them all free today, instead of paying to read them online.

Coincidence? I think not. Indeed, I predict seeing more of this kind of thing-getting groups of NYT columnist on TV rather than seeing them as individuals who also happen to write for a specific paper. The message will be: see what you are missing? Surely you to pay to read these luminaries now!

However, I will state for the record that I moved no closer to paying for NYT’s select than I was before see the NYT Three on TV.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005
The JetBlue Drama and Media Coverage
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:00 am

I just happened to turn on MSNBC last night to see the end of this drama. In the age of TiVo I rarely surf the channels any more, and had flipped the TV to see if there was any new news on Rita, and the Weather Channel was talking about something else, so I flipped the channel.

I must confess, on one level, watching the event unfold seemed a bit morbid, as there was a real chance that the front landing gear would collapse and the nose of the plane would be driven into the runway. That would have been horrible and while the situation was certainly legitimate news, on the other hand one always has this terrible feeling that the news people are secretly hoping that the worst will happen so that they can capture it on TV.

It was quite appropriate that the event took place in LA, as LA news loves to show this kind of stuff, for hours on end if possible. LA is the land of the most dramatic presentation of the evening news of anywhere I have ever lived or visited. This event reminded me of time one Christmas where we were back visiting family and a bank had been robbed, and the robbers were holding hostages and reportedly had explosives. At least one station kept live cameras on the bank the whole time, while another station, where we were watching a movie, kept breaking in to show us all that yep, the bank hadn’t exploded yet. One got the distinct impression that they were just waiting for the bank to explode.

At any rate, I can’t imagine watching the TV commentary, which, of course, would deal with worst case scenarios, of the event while I was in the plane, yet that is what the JetBlue passengers were able to do: JetBlue Passengers Watched News of Drama

While satellite TV sets aboard JetBlue Flight 292 were tuned to news broadcasts, some passengers cried. Others tried to telephone relatives and one woman sent a text message to her mother in Florida attempting to comfort her in the event she died.

“It was very weird. It would’ve been so much calmer without” the televisions, Pia Varma of Los Angeles said after the plane skidded to a safe landing Wednesday evening in a stream of sparks and burning tires. No one was hurt.

Varma, 23, and other passengers said the plane’s monitors carried live DirectTV broadcasts on the plane’s problems until just a few minutes before landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

The landing gear trouble-the front wheels were stuck in a sideways position-was discovered almost immediately after the plane departed Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:17 p.m., en route to New York City.

On the one hand, more information would be good in that kind of situation, I suppose (certainly I am one who always want more information). On the other, the hand the hyperbolic coverage of your typical able news anchor would hardly be comforting in such a situation.

I will say, the pilots landed that plane in impressive fashion.

Update: More here with photos, commentary from during the event and links to other related items.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005
The Great Experiment
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:16 pm

..and the Blogosphere yawned and turned the page to other sources of opinion (like, say, on blogs and WaPo and OpinionJournal andWaTi and BoGlo and the LAT and Slate and all that stuff at Real Clear Politics and Jewish World Review and all those links at Drudge and Townhall and at Salon and…well, you get the picture).

Meanwhile, Brad and Ann are just annoyed.

Meanwhile, Mickey just makes fun.

(and by “Great Experiment” I don’t mean the Excelsior, I mean this).

Filed under: Blogging, MSM, The Press | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

» An Open Blog Post to Leonard Apcar » Arguing with signposts… » Blog Archive linked with [...] in online publishing. As others have no doubt observed, it looks doomed to failure. h/t Poliblog | RSS | Inlinks | Blogging | Media • Time published: 11:11 pm [...]
Friday, September 16, 2005
Phun with Photos
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:00 am

If you haven’t seen this, I must confess, it is rather amusing (a clearer shot here). It also demonstrates the pitfalls of having cameras around you all the time every time you are in public.

Some background on the photo and the photographer can be found here.

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Thursday, September 8, 2005
WaPo and Blogs
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:47 pm

I just noticed that WaPo stories now have a nifty little box that show Technorati results for each of their stories:

Each box leads to a WaPo hosted special Technorati page with the most recent posts, a Technorati search box, and then a link to a full Technorati listing.

Quite interesting. I wonder how much of this is simply a nod by WaPo to acknowledge the signifiance/chicness of blogging and how much of it is WaPo wanting bloggers to use their site as the primary paper of blogging.

Update: Here’s a press release on the new partnership.

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