Tuesday, January 11, 2005

How should bloggers react to the CBS whitewash report?

Since I was unable to connect with the streaming audio feed off of KVI radio yesterday afternoon to listen to the John Carlson show, I wandered over to Hugh Hewitt's site and tuned in his show instead. He blogged that he'd be on the Rathergate report wall-to-wall and would be having a processional of fellow bloggers as guests giving their take on the results of CBS's "internal investigation."

When I logged on, Jim Geraghty, the master of TKS (yeah, I was expecting a more creative name change, too), was on and was being flamb├ęd by Double-H for being way too soft on CBS. His opening to JG (which I didn't hear) was apparently, "So when did CBS acquire National Review?"

Geraghty's essential conclusion was that the report was mostly good, but was a little weak on ducking the political bias question. Hewitt's retort was that it was a complete joke because the political bias that permeated the whole forged memo caper was the very heart of the matter, and refusing to even admit it rendered the rest of the report essentially null and void.

After his on-air dressing-down, JG blogged briefly about it and suggested this explanation for this difference of opinion:

Maybe this is the difference between a lawyer's thinking, a political strategist's thinking, and a reporter's thinking. Hugh says, "it's a whitewash; press harder for more concessions." Patrick [Ruffini, the erstwhile webmaster for georgewbush.com] said (back then, he hasn't posted on the latest developments) "forget about the small stuff, act like winners." And [JG] said, "Call 'em as you see 'em. Praise what you like, criticize what you don't, and urge the panel to provide the public with more raw data."

For what it's worth, I tend to side with Hugh. Rathergate didn't happen because Rather and Mapes, et al were too impatient, or too sloppy, or too unprofessional; it happened because they had a pathological vendetta against President Bush and were willing to do anything to bring him down. "Praising what you like and criticizing what you don't" is, in this case, like having a contractor build your dream house, getting a final product that is missing the roof, and praising him for the paint job.

Ruffini's view is, if anything, even more delusional:

In media, images and raw perceptions matter more than words in a sterile investigative report, and the images of Rather defending the indefensible will not soon be forgotten in the annals of media.

True; so why does this report matter? It can only obfuscate that image unless it addresses the bias issue, on which, of course, it punts instead.

In short, David slew Goliath. The victory may not have come cleanly in all respects, but it was still a victory. The ideal posture for the pajamahedeen right now is to act like winners, gracious and humble winners. In doing so, they'll earn valuable capital to spend in future tooth-and-nail fights with the worst of big media.

"David" did no such thing. The pajamahadeen got some licks in, maybe made Goliath take a step or two backwards, but that was the extent of it. Not that this wasn't a considerable achievement in and of itself, but let's not get carried away.

Ironically, that's a better reason for graciousness and humility than Ruffini offers. If the blogosphere was the winner in this sordid affair, the "ideal posture" would be to go for "Goliath's" throat, knock him down, and kick him to death. God knows that's what CBS and its Big Media brethren would (and will, and have done in the past) do in its place. Indeed, without that level of ruthlessness, what would be the point of "future tooth & nail fights with the worst of Big Media" if bloggers' "graciousness and humility" would always let their foes escape to fight another day?

Double-H calls this the "Heisenberg Principle":

The Heisenberg Principle holds that "the act of observing alters the reality being observed." To make it even more blunt: Things and people act differently when they are being observed.

The zeal with which the bloggers took out after the original forgeries is partially missing from today's collective response to the Whitewash Report. Even as the fine print is examined, many are trying to find a few kind words for the Panel's effort. Why? Jim hinted that there is a concern that the blogosphere not injure its new-found reputation with over-zealousness. Hmmm. That doesn't sound good to me. In fact, that sounds like Woodward and Bernstein declaring the day after Halderman and Erlichman were fired that all was well in the Nixon White House.

Where I think Hugh gets a bit carried away is in the power he believes the blogosphere to collectively possess. It seems to me that if the pajamahadeen had that much clout, CBS would have been compelled to deal with the left-wing bias that has destroyed the credibility of its news division. As it is, they commissioned this report to serve as what amounts to a public relations diaper changing, disposing of the soiled one while leaving the same ass in place and making not even the appearance of implementing a potty-training regimen. What tends to happen in the literal instance of this metaphor? More soiled diapers. And in this case there's nobody, no matter what Double-H thinks, who can make the "baby" go where it's supposed to.

The reality is that while Big Media are certainly no longer a monopoly, they're still dominant, and tower over the blogosphere in power and influence. And while we in the latter should by no means ever cut them a break, and should keep at them relentlessly, swinging away with maximum ferocity, we should not let the overpowering aura of our manly swagger lure us into, as it were, writing checks that our blogs can't yet cash.