Thursday, November 13, 2008

Real Evidence of Shoddy Journalism and Blogging

A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence
It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. “Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.


[The comic creators of Eisenstadt] say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.

“With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find,” said Mr. Mirvish, 40.

Mr. Gorlin, 39, argued that Eisenstadt was no more of a joke than half the bloggers or political commentators on the Internet or television.
This is part of what I meant by how bloggers take any tidbit of dirt they find that shows their opponent in a bad light and run with it.
But most of Eisenstadt’s victims have been bloggers, a reflection of the sloppy speed at which any tidbit, no matter how specious, can bounce around the Internet. And they fell for the fake material despite ample warnings online about Eisenstadt, including the work of one blogger who spent months chasing the illusion around cyberspace, trying to debunk it.
This past election, bloggers and the media took small pieces of stories and ran with them, gleefully, without worrying about whether they were true or even really plausible. If there was a nugget of truth, or even a hint of plausibility, as long as it made the other guy (or gal) look silly, stupid, uninformed or evil, it was repeated and expounded on.

This is why it was almost impossible to separate fact from fiction in the blogs this year. First the opinions are biased - they're backed up by facts from biased sources that were themselves researched with biased intent. Then the comments to these articles, where supposedly the great internet strength of fact-checking is supposed to come into play, revealed refutations and defense by people who had equally biased "sources" on the other side. There was no way to tell, short of personally talking to the candidates face to face, what was right and what was exaggeration, distortion, and outright lies.

I do want to take a moment to comment about my friend Rich, of the blog "Shots Across the Bow. He took exception to me in this post and on this site for painting him and his site with the same broad brush I did with a lot of other political blogs. I actually counted on his site a great deal for some well-researched commentary and it was one of the exceptions I noted in my post. I apologize for not spelling it out more completely to him before-hand, but I just didn't want to get into naming specific sites either way out of fairness.

After the post and commentary were reprinted in the Knoxville Sentinel this past Sunday, I thought some more about it and wanted to respond to his concerns publicly.

One thing I do wish Rich had done - I would have liked to have seen more posts - any posts, in some cases - dealing not with they Obama should not be president, but why McCain should be president. Or any reasons he could find that signaled positives he could see in an Obama presidency. I know I saw pluses and minuses all over the place for both candidates throughout the election, and the positive aspects of either candidates (and their VP's) deserve to be highlighted - even more than the negatives, in most cases. But that's just me, and maybe reflects more on the lack of such posts elsewhere. It's not fair to expect one person to cover the whole spectrum of political discussion - that's everyone's responsibility.

I've seen several interviews with Sarah Palin this past week where she refuted and explained - over and over, it seemed - some of the "charges" made against her. I can't imagine they're all true, but it seemed to some they were, or must have been, because of who she was and what she represented. To start with the conclusion and work backward...that's just kind of sad.

But that's politics.

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