The Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review and other mainstream media – made up of Journalist Truth-seeker Priests – have had a mostly negative reaction to the Eason Jordan affair where Jordan, head of CNN news, resigned under pressure after reportedly claiming on multiple occasions – without offering evidence – that U.S. troops were targeting journalists in Iraq. Considering the actions of Mr. Jordan, that’s not surprising. Oh, wait, what they’re really upset about is the actions of the bloggers! They have decried the witch-hunt mentality and described bloggers as “knuckledragging mouthbreathers” – or was that knucklebreathing mouthdraggers? All I know is that all the knuckledragging makes it painful to type.
[If you’re not familiar with the Eason Jordan story as it has developed over the past few weeks, you can read a timeline on Easongate.com here.]
As a brand new blogger I can’t claim any credit or share any blame for being one of the Barbarians at the Gatekeepers, but I did have the experience of watching this story develop from the very beginning as I researched the blogosphere in preparation for launching The Night Writer. The behavior I saw was pretty consistent with what was drummed into me by my professors and editors at the major journalism school that – perhaps grudgingly – saw fit to give me a diploma a couple of decades ago.
First, an eye-witness to the event (and someone not normally associated with any of the conservative blogs) posted his description of what Mr. Jordan said and the reactions of other conference attendees (including members of the U.S. Senate). The first reaction in the blogs was to ask if others could corroborate the story. Several blogs, using their own initiative, found people who had been at the scene and could corroborate. These bloggers also pursued and received statements from Senators Frank and Dodd, and reported Mr. Jordan’s clarification. Some did further research that turned up previous statements by Mr. Jordan in public forums that were consistent in tone and content with the Davos statements and were also presented without evidence. Mr. Jordan himself was also contacted, and he responded to certain bloggers with a “clarification” of what he said and the context of his comments.
When other WEF attendees who had heard the original statements contradicted Mr. Jordan’s clarification, the bloggers identified the person at the WEF responsible for managing the recordings and transcripts from the Forum, interviewed him and sought a tape or transcript of the original remarks to establish what was true. The tape was originally promised, and then that promise was rescinded. The WEF defended withholding the tape to defend their “non-attribution” policy and preserve an atmosphere that would allow future speakers and panelists to speak freely. I note that this policy is similar to the one the White House and Vice President Cheney took in regards to discussions with key energy company executives early in President Bush’s first term. The bloggers reacted to this embargo in a manner very similar to the way the media reacted to Mr. Cheney’s position.
Blogs on both the left and the right began to press this issue and ask why the mainstream media was ignoring a story that raised questions about the true views and intentions of a high-ranking person with a significant influence over what messages a large portion of the population receives. Even given Mr. Jordan’s influence, this might not have been a big story, but the ensuing stonewalling served to inflate, rather than deflate, the controversy. All in all, while there may have been some elements on the fringe of the developing story who were more reactionary, it was a methodical, “what are the facts” approach that showed initiative, perseverance and accountability in getting confirmation from sources. In fact, the ongoing accounts of Michelle Malkin, LaShawn Barber, and Ed Morrissey (CaptainsQuartersblog) and many others, though a bit heated toward the end, could be a good case study on how to responsibly follow a developing story.
Rather than acknowledge – let alone celebrate – the process, the MSM reacted as if it had been hustled, when instead it had been out hustled. The WSJ editorial board even described themselves, in comparison to bloggers, as reasonable adults able to determine what is or isn’t newsworthy and essentially indicating that only they and their knighted brethren were qualified to pursue the Holy Grail (truth). They were like King Arthur in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” trying to sound reasonable but becoming more and more frustrated until finally shouting “Bloody Peasant!” at an annoying serf. This of course gives the blogosphere the opportunity to respond in kind, “Oh, what a giveaway! Did you hear that? That’s what I’m all about! Help, I’m being repressed!”
The worst thing for the MSM about this latest scandal isn’t that one of their own supposedly self-defenestrated (jumped or pushed, you decide), but that they completely missed the lesson of the Trent Lott/Swift Boat Vets/Dan Rather/Eason Jordan “kerfuffles”, and that is that the blogosphere and the world beyond is made up of multitudes of responsible adults who may not need or appreciate such paternalism from their watchdogs.
The mainstream media may continue to see itself in the role of gatekeeper; what it can’t see is that thanks to the growth and accessibility of the new media, the fence is knocked down.
If you’re reading this and want some additional perspectives on the aftermath of Eason Jordan’s resignation, I suggest visiting Jay Rosen’s Pressthink blog for this take and related comments. Jay’s not typing with his knuckles.