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« Reversing Yalta | Main | Another Scalp For The Blogosphere? »

Clueless Reporters

At the WaPo.

When are they going to learn what a blog is? Hint: Free Republic isn't one, doesn't have one, and its commenters are not "bloggers."

I think that to the degree they think they know what a blog is, in their minds, it probably means "people who post stuff on that Internet thingie that somehow, unaccountably, keeps making us look bad."

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 11, 2005 06:49 AM
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Clueless at WaPo
Excerpt: Skimming the Washington Post, I was drawn to an article entitled, "Uproar Brings Focus on Role of Bloggers". Expecting to read something perhaps on Easongate, I instead stumbled on black & white evidence of the media's profound ignorance of what...
Tracked: February 11, 2005 04:56 PM
Clueless at WaPo
Excerpt: Skimming the Washington Post, I was drawn to an article entitled, "Uproar Brings Focus on Role of Bloggers". Expecting to read something perhaps on Easongate, I instead stumbled on black & white evidence of the media's profound ignorance of what...
Tracked: February 11, 2005 04:56 PM

Free Republic is not a blog, true, but you would do well to observe that the nature of the site is such that there are well known personalities there, even if the posters are anonymous. This is in fact, no different than the TRB column at the New Republic (IIRC) was for years. The personality (and trustworthyness) of the reporter is well known to the community - much the same as how the MSM talking heads are calibrated today by bloggers and their readership. As a measure of the influence of sites like this, I would observe, that in spite of the trumphalism of certain bloggers, it was Buckhead at Free Republic who first publically called the Rathergate documents a fraud. LGF, Powerline and others did well to follow Buckhead's lead and certainly put more into the story in terms of hard analysis, but they came in second in making the critical determination of the lack of authenticity of the TANG documents. Further, while the quality of posts there is uneven, if you will pay attention to the more influential posters you will certainly learn much while there. Perhaps not as "sexy" as blogs now that the MSM has recognized their competion, the usenet and other bulletin boards have their place for critical thinkers in the modern information ecology.

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 08:47 AM


To our Readers: is undergoing maintenance and some sections
of the site are temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Of course,
the latest news and updates will continue to be available on our home page.

Maybe they realized how stupid they sound?

Posted by joekujo at February 11, 2005 08:49 AM

It would also be good to bear in mind that just because a blogger says something "is not a blog," it isn't necessarily a criticism, but that said blogger may be merely establishing and insisting on a factual distinction.

Posted by McGehee at February 11, 2005 08:58 AM

David Snyder and Matthew Mosk are a couple of idiots. The word "freeper" existed long before the word "blogger". FreeRepublic is NOT a blog, it's a discussion forum. The discussion isn't directed by one or a few people, which means there's a lot of unverified or questionable information floating out there. And it's precisely for this reason that these two bozos want to associate "blogs" with FreeRepublic - to make you think that every blog is a "lawless" chaos where anything goes. You can't trust those darned blogs, dontcha know. So, they may be idiots, or they may be intentionally misleading people with this false association.

Posted by Danny Taggart at February 11, 2005 09:00 AM

Here's the thing that the MSM is either ignoring, or just isn't aware of: these rumors about O'Malley have been going around for years. I am not, by the way, in any way endorsing, validating, verifying, or in any way trying to spread these rumors. In fact, I don't believe them. O'Malley is a political scumbag, but really seems to be genuinely devoted to his wife and family.

But the fact remains that these rumors were only given more juice by Steffan. He's not the one who started them. But the WaPo is trying desparately to pin this on Erhlich, because O'Malley's clearly running for Governor in '06, and he's their glory boy.

There is also word that it was Democratic operatives associated with O'Malley who started dishing the information about Steffan to the Post last Fall. And everyone here is trying to figure out how they knew he was the one posting the rumors on Free Republic.

Maryland's all atwitter!

Posted by NukemHill at February 11, 2005 09:16 AM

Danny Taggart - I think the point we ought to make is not that blogs or bulletin boards are untrustworthy. Some of what is found there is true and useful, and they should be subject to fact checking and criticism if wrong. The point (IMO) is that the MSM should ALSO be accountable - for what they print and what the do not print, for how they characterize the stories they print and for what conflicts of interest exist in their management and their reporters. Rathergate exemplifies one kind of MSM failure - partisan interest in story choice (and the will suspension of disbelief associated with partisanship). The Eason affair points to two other related problems - suppression of newsworthy items [aka the spike] AND in the WSJ response, undisclosed conflict of interests between elite media reporters.

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 09:27 AM

A major distinction between discussion forums and blogs is that blogs are primarily a mechanism for broadcasting misleading propaganda --whereas the the give and take of views in a discussion forum often allows something like a objective truth to emerge --similar to the adversary method in court.
That's assuming that censorship of "trolls" does not get heavyhanded.

Blogs often mislead -- as much by withholding/concealing major relevant facts as by outright lying. Some, like Instapundit , do not even allow comments for refutation. In that regard, they are like the mass rallies of the Nazis.

Posted by Don at February 11, 2005 09:37 AM

RKV -- the point you make cannot be over-emphasized.

Good show.

Posted by Billy Beck at February 11, 2005 09:38 AM

Don, what planet are you on? Even newspapers which nominally allow comments for refutation get to pick and choose which letters they themselves print. Your reference to Nazis discounts any point you might make. Enjoy the tinfoil hat.

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 09:41 AM

You are most kind Mr. Beck. I have used usenet professionally for years. I would not expect the typical journalism major from an "elite" university to know about such things. For technical types, we know we could not get along without them. The MSM has traded in "trust" for many years, because there was no mechanism for the average person to get first hand reporting of many events. That era is over. Low cost network based publishing has barely got started and it already looks like it will be as explosive to our culture as the printing press was. I recommend Evan Coyle Maloney to you as an example of where the genre is heading.

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 09:50 AM

Why should the definition of "blog" bandied about here be the final one? I bet that a large fraction of the Internet community doesn't make a distinction between Transterrestrial and a discussion forum like what resides at the Free Republic. Ie, both become "blogs". Seems similar to how "hacking" became breaking into computer systems.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at February 11, 2005 10:12 AM

Looks like the notion of a "blog" is a bigger problem than originally suspected. Even people who read blogs - and leave comments - sometimes don't seem to grasp what the real blog breakthrough is all about.

There are a great number of people worldwide who know a great deal about certain things. Some people are genuine experts in their fields, others are true polymaths and can make a strong showing in several fields. But we can make a pretty strong generalization - these people won't be found in the MSM. Those are journalism majors. The higher-ups are accountants or used-car salesmen. What are they likely to know about history? Epidemiology? Constitutional law? International finance? Statistical mechanics? Climatology? If you've read the newspapers and newsmagazines and watched TV news for a few decades, the answer should start to be pretty clear - they don't know much about much.

But now, genuine experts can write about the hot topics of the day from the viewpoint of their own lifetimes of education and experience. Non-experts can read and reach their own conclusions.

I'm assuming the readers lack specific knowledge - as do we all - but not a grasp of logic. That may be assuming a lot. And of course not all bloggers are experts in anything. Most are hacks. Maybe one in a hundred has something to say which is more useful than the random opinion of the man in the street. As always, it is up to the reader to do his own evaluations of the reliability and trustworthiness of any writer. Nobody said it would be easy. But pre-blog, the opportunities to learn something more solid than the standard press garble were much rarer.

Posted by big dirigible at February 11, 2005 10:32 AM

BD - with "amateur" bloggers like Steven den Beste (a software guy IIRC) and Charles Johnson (a musician) who needs the "pros." You make an excellent point about the role of editors and publishers - their value add is VERY LOW. What I hope we are headed for is developing means of collecting/controlling the various information streams which are being produced. Directly syndiating one flow we discover for ourselves, of known ability/trust is one model, but by no means the most productive. Information discovery agents need to be built using recent developments in linquistic and graphic processing (e.g. widespread use of neural networks) to mine the network for resources and services. It is going to get VERY interesting and shortly. Hang onto your hat!

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 11:17 AM

"Why should the definition of "blog" bandied about here be the final one..."

Except if we wind up conflating "blog" and "discussion board," we lose an important distinction, and our language becomes less precise (just as happened with "hacker" and "cracker"). IMO, the precision is worth arguing for.

Posted by Old Grouch at February 11, 2005 12:09 PM

I don't have anything against including Free Republic posters as bloggers, but I agree that the MSM seems to lump all opiners on the internet as critics of them. They don't seem to realize that bloggers also criticize each other, which journalists seldom do. I think the problem is that the MSM is an oligarchy, a cartel, while the internet is a free forum of ideas and interpretations, much more like the free press as it existed at the time of the founding of the U.S.

If they really believe in the First Amendment, why are they so angry at Bernie Goldberg and Fox News?

Posted by AST at February 11, 2005 02:18 PM

A couple of points:

First, it's not blogs that matter, really, it's the Internet. Blogging software gives people a convenient and practical way of organising and updating a web site, and so web sites get organised and update, which makes them far more useful. But blogging software just makes things easier, it didn't create something new.

Second, blogs and forums are isomorphic. The underlying structure of blogs and forums, and also of news groups (Usenet) and mailing lists (and "communities" like Slashdot), is the same. The difference lies in access and presentation, and there are infinitely many ways to configure those. Blogs and forums aren't two distinct classes of thing, but merely two points on a continuum.

Posted by Pixy Misa at February 11, 2005 02:20 PM

While I get the distinction between "blogs" and "discussion forums" at the ends of the spectrum, for me there are clearly grey areas in the middle.

At one end you have single-author no comment blogs.
At the other you have anonymous discussion forum postings.
In the middle you have comment blogs, group blogs (Volokh), edited group blogs with comments (Slashdot and Fark), and mass group blogs with comments (Kos, FreeRepublic)

Is the distinction merely about the number of potential editors or thread starters or whether those thread starters have some sort of editing process?

As a person who both blogs AND posts to discussion threads, I'm as confused as WaPo evidently is.

Posted by Out4Blood at February 11, 2005 02:21 PM

I'm not sure what the source of the confusion is. I thought that it was pretty well understood what a blog is, to bloggers. It has an author, or group of authors, it has permalinks, new posts appear in reverse chronological order.

The significant point is that it's a largely recent phenomenon. Free Repuiblic, which is a forum, or bulletin board, has been around for years, but blogs are new, and different, and to clueless journalists who don't understand them, simply a buzzword defined as I did in my post.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 11, 2005 02:27 PM

Wow Don. So by your definition, CBS, CNN and the rest of the old media are blogs.

Posted by SCSIwuzzy at February 11, 2005 02:54 PM

Rand. It just got a whole lot more interesting up here in MD. I don't know if I can reproduce this completely, but I think I can get the gist of it down.

I just got home from work. I was listening to the local AM talk radio station (WBAL-1090), and just before 5pm, a Freeper came on the air. He'd been talking to the producer behind the scenes since sometime this morning, and they decided to let him tell his story.

Apparently, early last year, several new members joined Free Republic, all within a day of each other. This included a member called "MD4Bush". They immediately began to post about the rumors surrounding O'Malley's supposed infidelity. They'd disappear for a while, then come back and post again, pushing the rumor, keeping it alive.

At some point, Steffan came into the conversation. Here's where it's a little vague. Apparently, initially he told the posters, especially MD4Bush, to tone it down a little, because they were trying to really push the rumor out into the public eye. They claimed they wanted to take O'Malley down, apparently like Rove took someone out years ago with some well-placed rumors (might be a reference to the rumors around McCain fathering a black child--I don't know). Steffan admitted he had been working on this, in some private freeper-mail with MD4Bush, but was warning them to be careful.

Now the interesting piece: The Washington Post used these private emails as part of their source for the original story that broke two nights ago. The timestamp on their article was 11:05 pm. At exactly the same time, MD4Bush posted these previously private emails on the Free Republic forum.

Needless to say, the talk show host and callers are going nuts with this. To add a little more fuel to the fire, the host says he's been hearing these rumors for a couple of years, now. And his initial source was a group of Democrats from Montgomery County, where Dave Duncan, a potential rival to O'Malley in the '06 Gov Democratic primary, has a council seat.

Expect to hear more about this in the next few days. Governor Erhlich has started an investigation, and the owner of Free Republic has said he wants to be subpoena'd, because he has some apparently blistering information.

Thought you'd be interested!

Posted by NukemHill at February 11, 2005 03:33 PM

Nukem - what you are describing is information warfare. The opposition is attempting to use our own weapons against us by polluting the medium. Deception operations (like false flag ops) work for those who do not know the territory. Again, pay attention to the long time posters (either at a blog or a forum) and evaluate their reaction to certain comments. In a low trust environment like the web you have to fact check everyone. Also, remember that unlike some other arenas of life, we do have the luxury of time in the blogoshpere. The use of Wonkette to deliver false exit poll results during the election is another attempt by third parties to manipulate the new media. We are going to get burned occasionally as the MSM attempts to reassert dominance over the agenda. A "counter-reformation" is to be expected - and dealt with without mercy. In 1976 when I first used the internet as an undergrad at UCSB we had nothing like the tools we have now. Google kicks WAISs ass everytime etc.. We can and will prevail. The MSM isn't dead yet (and in fact I doubt it is going away completely) - but the game is never going to be the same.

Posted by RKV at February 11, 2005 06:00 PM


To our Readers: is undergoing maintenance and some sections
of the site are temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Of course,
the latest news and updates will continue to be available on our home page.

Maybe they realized how stupid they sound?"

The Washington Post site has been undergoing that maintenance for the past 10 days or so and those messages have appeared for many articles. Maybe you realize how stupid you sound?

Posted by at February 13, 2005 09:03 AM

One thing I've been wondering is, are the FReepmails that the WaPO used in order to implicate Steffen even real? Or were they fabricated by MD4Bush?


Posted by GOP_1900AD at February 16, 2005 11:05 AM

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