Standards? We Don't Need No Stinking Standards
I caught commentator and former presidential advisor David Gergen doing an editorial on CBS Sunday Morning today about bloggers. Gergen acknowledged the growing power of bloggers in the United States, although until recently he knew very little about blogging. We can all thank Dan Rather for bringing blogging to the forefront of public discourse.
In his editorial, Gergen advocated for civility and journalistic standards to be adopted by the blogosphere. Gergen is no dummy, but suggestions like this show how little he truly understands the Internet and bloggers. Either that or it's wishful thinking. Blogging is free speech in the raw. Every blogger has his or her own standards for what goes in his or her own blog. Civility is in the eye of the beholder. Mr. Surly likes to use a little invective on occasion if you hadn't noticed.
The cause for Gergen's call for civility was the recent resignation of Eason Jordan from the Communist --, excuse me, Cable News Network. This is the same Eason Jordan who chose not report on atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein's regime so that CNN could continue to operate in Iraq. Jordan resigned after allegedly making off-the-record remarks that American soldiers may have intentionally targeted journalists in Iraq. This is a pretty wacky thing for a "journalist" to say without offering proof and apparently he immediately back tracked on the alleged statement. However, the story hit the blogosphere and the end result is that Jordan resigned.
Gergen finds this regrettable. I do not. Gergen, if you take him at his word, misunderstands the nature of free speech. In a free society, there will always be "good speech" -- i.e. the truth -- and "bad speech" -- i.e. lies, hate mongering, innuendo etc.--, but good speech in time will trump bad speech. That's the theory, and for the most part, I think it works.
A lack of journalistic standards for bloggers had nothing to do with Jordan's downfall. Bloggers are basically self-policing. Though accountable only to themselves, if a blogger says something off the wall without proof, that blogger will either be 1) roundly ignored as one of many nutjobs on the Internet or 2) called to the carpet -- by other bloggers. Let's not romanticize mainstream journalistic standards too much either. They didn't keep Dan Rather from going into the deep end. Journalistic objectivity exists for two reasons, 1) so the press can maintain the semblance of credibility with the public so that papers and networks can sell ads for their readers and viewers to see, and 2) so journalists can pay lip service to being objective.
The real problem for Jordan was not bloggers, but that he never came clean, as raised in a PBS Newshour discussion Gergen participated in. The tape of Jordan's actual comments has never been released and Jordan and CNN were tight lipped about the whole affair. Gergen blames the bloggers who kept the story alive for causing Jordan's resignation. CNN caved in to the bloggers. I see it a different way. When the only people talking about Jordan are saying critical things, then Jordan's got a problem. Had Jordan and CNN been more forthcoming and willing to release the tape of Jordan's comments, maybe Jordan would have prevailed, maybe Jordan did not make an outrageous claim without proof. Or maybe the tape would make things worse. We'll never know though for sure now.
The moral of the story is, there are 8 million bloggers in the United States. You can ignore them at your own peril.
I once interviewed Morton Downey, Jr. way back when. He seemed like a really nice guy when met him, not the washed up person he would become. Downey and his television shows were egalitarian, aimed at giving voice to the kind of people who normally didn't have a voice on television. Unfortunately, his shows sometimes resembled a mob, with lots of Jersey frat boys, and he also begat Jerry Springer which, on the whole, is a bad thing.
Downey had one very interesting thing to say to me though which I have never forgotten. He said, "A journalist is merely someone who tells a story. . . .Anyone out there on the street who tells a story they've seen or heard, they're a journalist. Thank God we've got a country full of them. I'd like to see us start using them." Mort was pretty prescient. The reality is now we do have a country full of journalists and they are called bloggers.