Another Gatekeeper Cries in His Champagne

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Washington Post columnist William Raspberry becomes the one-millionth journalist to decry the corrupting influence of that danged Internet, whining inaccurately that "it has made serious journalism—political journalism in particular—a hundred times more difficult." Excerpt:

What has changed in the years since Gennifer Flowers, says Rieder, is that a handful of national newspapers no longer can operate as journalistic gatekeepers—effectively blocking stories that are unverified or unverifiable and driven by people whose political motivations are plain to see.

The problem is that anyone with Web access can run any cockamamie story up the flagpole—and if enough people salute, prompt the mainstream press to deploy its resources.

It's that bad—and it isn't likely to get better any time soon.

Well, at least he's open about his paternalism, and his distaste for media diversity and stories that sound even vaguely conspiratorial. I suggested a different strategy for confronting political rumors in the November issue (short answer: figure out whether they're true), and defended the gossip-mongers back in May.

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  1. Don’t you know freedom of the press is only for “official” journalists, just like the right to keep and bear arms is only for the “official” militia, i.e., the National Guard? sheesh.

  2. Two nights ago, local Channel 5 nooz reported on a media story – the Boston Herald ran a particularly gruesome photo of the poor girl who was killed by the police after the Red Sox won, and the Herald had to apologize after everyone went nuts.

    After reporting on the Herald’s misfortune, the anchor spent 30 seconds describing the issue of what to run, and weighing reality vs. respect for the victim – an old journalistic conundrum, but one that I’ve never seen explained in such detail by the TV news. Then, she flogged the station’s web site, touted a longer, more detailed story about the issue, and asked viewers to comment on the site. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a traditional news outlet use its visibility to engage in a dialogue – turning a cold medium into a hot medium, as it were. This wasn’t some innovative new show, this was the decades-old Channel 5 News.

    It would appear that some of the MSM are coming around faster than others.

  3. Hardly relevant to the debate about MSM losing it’s status as the traditional “gatekeeper”, though.

  4. Actually, WR is correct. Look at the quote again:
    “a handful of national newspapers no longer can operate as journalistic gatekeepers — effectively blocking stories that are unverified or unverifiable and driven by people whose political motivations are plain to see.”

    Without the internet, stories would be blocked by people whose political motivations are NOT plain to see.

    This is, in fact, the well that the MSM has drawing from for years. Their political motivations have been masked by a pretense of neutrality.

    In addition, the recent activities of say, CBS, have caused this bias to become much more overt. This can only be considered a Good Thing. The end result will be a much more diverse menu of media outlets – in the worst case. In the best case, one of the outlets may actually try to become a Real “media outlet” of record. That is, as much w/o bias as is possible.

  5. Hardly a Libertarian, but this here Intarweb thingie is a threat to Bill Raspeberrry… If ANYONE can post commentary on it, then why would anyone pay Bill Rasperry to write a column? Or pay him as much as they do, right now! Remember Mel Brooks’ great line from “Blazing Saddles”, ” WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT OUR PHONEY-BOLONEY JOBS!”

  6. “…a handful of national newspapers no longer can operate as journalistic gatekeepers — effectively blocking stories that are unverified or unverifiable and driven by people whose political motivations are plain to see.

    Thank goodness the mainstream media was there to catch that fake memo. If they hadn’t, it might have been propogated by people on the internet.

    …and, you know, that fake memo was just one case. For all we know, it was the tip of the iceberg. The mainstreams media can’t verify the authenticity of every document on the internet, you know?

  7. I didn’t get a harumph out of you!

  8. chef,

    It refutes Rasberry’s contention (and that of a lot of bloggers, btw) that the changes wrought by internet journalism are inherently a zero-sum game.

    Remember when punk was going to destroy the record companies, and they weren’t going to be able to control what people listened to anymore?

  9. Work, work, work. Work, work, work. Work, work, work. Hello boys, have a good night’s rest, I missed you.

  10. I’ve got a raspberry for ya’, William.

  11. Another great screed condeming freedom of speech.

    Mr Raspberry should be proud of himself. He’s finally out of the closet.

  12. No Pierre Salinger references yet. I guess a reference to Salinger would be more appropriate on a “If it’s on the internet, it’s got to be true” thread.

    JDM, good point.

    Joe L., good quote.

  13. Dang, what a surprising set of comments in this thread: People who are using the Internet to express their thoughts are defending the value of the Internet as a medium for expressing thoughts.

    Why bother even posting items like this one? Raspberry is right, of course. Professionals ARE better than amateurs. I’m an amateur, and I’m not offended. But do you expect that highlighting this sort of column will actually foster a productive discussion, rather than spurring a predictable litany of pro-Internet cheers from Internet users?

  14. Well, back when I was a young, Cold Warrior Republican, I remember that William Raspberry struck me as a rather reasonable, slightly left-of-center columnist. Assuming this memory is accurate, I’m interested in what he has to say — more so than the CBS-affiliated people who just got their ox gored.

    I think the Internet is important not just for pushing otherwise neglected stories (deservedly or not) into the spotlight, but for providing an easily accessed forum for millions of fact-checkers and news analyists. This is an important function that we have been dying for, and it has helped shred the mystique of “respectability” shrouding the Old Media.

    As that young Cold Warrior Republican, I used to work in the PR dept. of a major aerospace/defence firm. While I was a very minor cog who almost never dealt directly with the press, as a result of my job I did get insights and information not available to the general public. It soon struck me that whenever the newspapers covered a subject I knew a fair amount about, EVERY FREAKING TIME the article either (1) got a fact dead wrong, or (2) left out something important that would have been critical to the reader’s evaluation of the story.

    I also frequently read comments by others, in many walks of life, making the same point. (Google +newspaper and +”had personal knowledge” and look at some of the results.)

    Even George Orwell said: “Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.”

    It’s not necessarily the reporters’ “fault” — they are severely limited by deadlines, by the time or space available for coverage, by the need to simplify, and by the fact that any nuance-adding paragraph might be cut to make room for a dog food coupon.

    My faith in the Old Media “gatekeepers” is long gone. My motto is, “Be skeptical, and the more sources of info, the better.” I trust my local daily paper less than the multiple sources of the Internet. The New Media sources may have an axe to grind, and they may feed off each other, but they also check and dissect each other without mercy.

  15. Sam I was,

    The only problem I see with using the “pro’s are better than amatuers” arguement is that what Mr. Raspberry is talking about is choosing the “Pro” by tradition. It seems to me that his arguement is exactly the same as the ones used against the Gutenberg press, and the very simple act of translating the bible. After all, if amatures are alowed access to the bible, they will make thier own decisions, and that is one of the prime purposes of gate keepers. To stop that kind of behaviour.

    Weirdly enough, all I got from his article, was basically a South arguement concerning molesting children. Don’t concern yourself with whether or not molesting chldren is a good or bad thing, merely worry about why the children are suddenly telling eveyone that they were molested.

    Is it harder on trad Media? Yep. But, like Stevo said (Here Here, by the way) trad media is only paritaly good anyway, just by the act of being human, and suffereing human limitations.

  16. Sorry…A south park arguement (not a south arguement)

  17. Sam I Was, I’m a Republican so I’m going to focus on things that bother ME:
    1) For five years the Media has focussed Dubya’s National Guard Service, and EVERY time the answer is the same, “He Served and completed his term.”
    2) The DRAFT, CBS runs a story about “IS THE DRAFT COMING BACK?” Based on what? A set of Internet e-mails? The President says’ “No Draft”, Rumsfeld says, “No Draft”, Congress says “No Draft” yet CBS worries about a Draft????
    3) Finally those wonderful “documents” Dan Rather produced, that within an hour were being credibly questioned and within 24 hours were under tremendous attack, and within 48 hours were seen to be forgeries.
    My point is not that the Media has a case of the Ass with Dubya (I think they do, but it’s irrelevant) but that the so-called professionals have botched the job repeatedly and don’t seem overly apologetic for having botched the job.

    Would I believe everything I found on the ‘Net, NO! But do I believe Steven Den Beste, Glenn Reynolds and a host of others, YES! Their track record is just as good as Dan Rather’s is recently and they are subject to immediate criticism and critique. Dan is not, Dan has producer, a publicist, an ombudsman, and corporate suits that can insulate him from the slings and arrows tossed his way. I find Den Beste et. al. MUCH more accessible and honest in their reportage.

    I guess I’d sum and say it this way, SURE the Bengals are a professional football team, but I’ve played on little league teams that had better records, so what does PROFESSIONAL mean in this case, other than they get paid to do a lousy job?

  18. This being the internet and all it’s always good to see someone post an opinion on the internet that derides posting opinions on the internet.

  19. Yeap Joe, excellent points. The media harangues you poor republicans way too much. Bernstein and Woodworth should have just listened to Nixon’s superluous explanations instead of running yellow press on that whole watergate farce.

    The president also said “Yes, they have WMD!” “Yes, they have links to Osama bin Laden!” “No, we will not accrue a deficit under my watch!”…maybe you can see why we’re a bit sketchy on taking his word.

    Or would you rather the mm just bend over and be political sycophants to all republicans, b/c it’s what you want to hear?

  20. von writes: -“Yes, they have WMD!” “Yes, they have links to Osama bin Laden!” “No, we will not accrue a deficit under my watch!”-

    About the first, yes, Bush said that — so did John Kerry and tons of other Dems, throughout the 90s and right up to the war. About the other two: evidence that Bush said these? Espcecially Osama, exactly what do you claim Bush said about that re: Iraq?

  21. the administration purported numerous times that there was a connection, as any idiot with a television can remember.
    More specifically, re: a Dec 9 interview with Cheney on NBC
    Cheney: “Well, what we have that’s developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that–it’s been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia [sic] last April.”
    Too bad Cheney tried retracting this back in June after the 9/11 commission found no evidence of a link:
    Interviewer:”Let’s go to Mohammed Atta … you have said in the past that it [the alleged Prague meeting] was, quote, ‘pretty well confirmed’.”
    Cheney: “No. I never said that.”
    Interviewer: “OK.”
    Cheney: “Never said that … absolutely not.”
    New Statesman (1996), June 28, 2004 v133 i4694 p14(2)
    Or we have this little jem:
    “Bush along with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials have offered new details over the past 24 hours about what they described as Baghdad’s long-standing ties and active support of Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.”
    Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, Sept 27, 2002 pITEM02270021

    deficit…bit of hyperbole on my part…what Bush stated back in 2000:
    “See, I come from the school of thought that during a recession, it’s important to give people more money back faster. That may cause us to run a short-term deficit, but the fundamental question is how do you cause the economy to grow….”
    US Newswire, Sept 19, 2000 p1008263n6417

    SHORT-TERM…right. This administration misleading, never!

  22. von,

    You make good points, but you are an obvious partisan. The Republicans are not arguing against the press being tough on Republicans. They are arguing that the press should treat Republicans and Democrats equally. Do you think that the press should softball Dems?

  23. Well Von,
    I apologize, I knew that I ran the risk of diverting this into a partisan debate with my examples. Nonetheless you missed my point. These are three examples of bad reporting…unless you think ANY reporting that is or can be spun against your opponent is good reporting. But that being the case IF your candidate wins will you be happy if the same thing happens to him/her? The point I had hoped you’d see was that these were not well done stories.

    One set is repetitious, one set is foolish-lets also discuss the spider in the toilet theory, the alien adbuction theories, etc. etc. (All stories available on the Internet with as much substantiation as the draft story) and one patently FALSE. I’m sure your side receives the same thing.

    So that was the sum-up, that YES CBS are professionals, just as the Bengals are, but all that means is that they cash a pay cheque for miserable performances, not that their professionalism is a guarantor of product worth. And that’s what Raspberry doesn’t seem to grasp. Just because you’re PROFESSIONAL journalist or columnist doesn’t mean that you’re any good and the ‘Net is starting to expose that more and more.

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