Sleep-deprived noodling on MSM (hold the Russert)

June 17, 2008 by barbara

barbara writes

So I just went to Susan’s link and read the Neil Justin piece from the Strib, wherein he reflects on the National Conference for Media Reform early this month in Minneapolis.

Justin is bummed because of the scarcity of mainstream media reps at the Conference. And it does appear there weren’t a lot of them. What he doesn’t say (and perhaps doesn’t know) is whether they were invited and declined. I don’t know either. And because I was doing my duty as a delegate to the DFL convention in Rochester that same weekend, I am now dependent on the MSM (and others) to fill in the blanks for me. Who you gonna believe?

Justin spotlights Arianna Huffington and Phil Donohue as the conference’s “luminaries” with a later, albeit negative, nod to Bill Moyers. I admit that frosted my cake. Moyers as second fiddle to . . . anyone? Okay, Moyers did take a hit when the wackadoodle Jeremiah Wright appeared on his show to proclaim that he’s not a wackadoodle. But Bill Moyers remains for me a touchstone for journalistic integrity. Was it ever thus with him? I don’t remember. Like much of this nation now, I didn’t much care back in the day.

Anyway, re Justin’s complaint that the MSM were not greatly represented, I see there were a couple of Strib “alumni” at the conference – notably Jeremy Iggers and Joel Kramer. Hardly lightweights. Also there were reps from CBS, MPR and KSTP, along with FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps plus representatives from assorted institutions of higher learning, churches and a boatload of grassroots organizations. A pretty good smorgasbord, all in all. Oh, did I mention bloggers? There were bloggers. And there is more to this post.

Neil Justin is defensive about criticism of the MSM. Well, yeah, journalism is his career and the MSM-Strib enables him to pay his bills, so I get that. And while I agree that the criticism can be over-wrought sometimes, I continue to believe it is generally warranted. To me, it’s more about sins of omission than commission. It’s about hard questions never asked and tough follow-up not launched. It’s about dots like so many chicken pox, just waiting for someone to connect them, only nobody does.

I’m not a complete dork, just so you know. I do understand that the MSM does some of the heavy lifting in terms of scaring up stories. Unlike bloggers and indy operations, they have more (though not unlimited) resources, connections, Lexi-Nexi, the wire services, etc. at their disposal. Theoretically, they are the virtual eyes, ears and conscience of this nation. And there are some journalists who attempt to do that. Like…umm…Moyers, for example. But there’s a belief in some circles—many circles, in fact—that the MSM increasingly march to the drumbeat of their corporate sponsors. Even public radio. Bottom line is bottom line is bottom line.

It was the MSM vacuum during Plamegate that drove the founders of Firedoglake Blog to unleash the lawyers and researchers among them in an effort to ferret out what really happened. They worked for months and months, doing investigative research and writing. They live-blogged the Scooter Libby trial and won kudos from their peers and from no less than Bill Moyers, who said in my hearing that he reads their stuff. They did not and generally do not rely on the MSM to do their work.

Juan Cole is a world-class blogger and analyst (though he wears many other hats). His is probably the most relevant, insightful reporting on Iraq, period. He does not rely on the MSM to do his work.

Digby is a first-rate analyst and dot-connector. She’s partisan as hell, but she’s honest about it. And like all principled bloggers, she acknowledges and links to sources when what she’s analyzing isn’t her own stuff. Ditto Josh Marshall, Greg Palast (who does all kinds of investigative stuff), the Davids Sirota and Swanson, etc., etc., etc.

There are multiple talented folks out there in the blogosphere. And then there are the tagalongs, like the Clotheslineblog. I confess that I am sometimes dependent on ideas I hit upon while scanning the MSM online. I especially love the beleaguered McClatchy. So I do engage in the occasional sortie into the MSM but more often the downstream media. Most people I know in the alternative media (if that’s what we are) cross-reference and check sources and facts before publishing them. Most.

So what am I saying? That it seems there should be some symbiosis possible between MSM and backwater media. The part that makes this difficult is that, by and large, bloggers and some indies are working gratis. We feed on our love of ideas and information even more than we love our own deathless prose. (Which reminds me I read somewhere yesterday that we often confuse information with knowledge. No kidding. I don’t hear anyone kvetching about knowledge overload, do you?) Not many of us are making, nor do we expect to make, a living doing what we’re doing. Which gives us a lot of freedom that folks tethered to the MSM don’t have, apparently.

Unlike the MSM, blogs also offer the opportunity to think, inwardly digest and then to interact, discuss, dissect, critique in the here and now, as opposed to firing off an LTE that may or may not appear sometime later in the week. Obviously the newspapers, radio and TV stations get that, given the growing number of MSM sites that now have options for online comments.

Susan says “we on the left are just as guilty as the right about hanging out with our own kind and not listening to others.” Maybe so. But because lefties are so conflicted, even amongst our own kind, our discourse does seem to wander occasionally toward other perspectives. Who hasn’t sneaked a peek at George Will or David Brooks or even (suck it up, folks) Karl Rove in Newsweek? Kristol and Coulter, not so much.

This has become a lengthy, loopy babble. So I will circle back to this. I’m intensely sorry I didn’t get to the Media Reform Conference. I’m sorry some people felt their own kind were not fully represented. I’m somewhat sorry the blogosphere is causing so much heartburn in the world of traditional journalism. I’m delighted we seem to have gotten the attention of the MSM. Psychologists tell us re: children who act out that for some, bad attention is better than no attention at all. Which may go a long way toward explaining Bill O’Reilly.

I’m not really sure how the aforementioned symbiosis between MSM and the rest of us can happen. I’m not sure I care if it does. But for those of you who stew about such things, remember that even as the blogosphere helps hold the MSM more accountable, it is inevitable that someone(s) will dream up a whole new technology to keep bloggers accountable. See how neatly all of this works?

Posted in


paul miller (not verified) | June 18, 2008 - 7:49am

very good! are you sure Rev. Wright is a "wackadoodle" (you agree with O'Reilly here - dangerous ground always) and wasn't just speaking truth to power? a truth that doesn't play well because righteous anger from African Americans makes us uncomfortable while Obama appeals to our better self image?


barbara says (not verified) | June 18, 2008 - 4:13pm

You know, I'm not sure. I was pretty much with Wright during his Moyers appearance. But after that, Wright exhibited some pretty deeply self-aggrandizing stuff as I recall, and it occurred to me that Moyers (and I and others) might have been duped. As I said, I dunno. So that was my wackadoodle reference -- an in the here and now dealie.