Sunday, February 12, 2006

"They dissed me!" - Washington Post style...

The Washington Post's Jim Brady today shows, media style- the phenomenon I was just referring to- anger fueled by a perception of impotence.

Only, it isn't blogger impotence that fuels this, but the Washington Post's own impotence at a) being caught dissembling in to create false "balance," and b) being called out on it on their own website.

As it was, things got pretty ugly, and it's worth figuring out why. In her Jan. 15 column, Howell erred in saying that Abramoff gave campaign donations to Democrats as well as Republicans. In fact, Abramoff directed clients to give to members of both parties, but he had donated his own personal funds only to Republicans.

Howell's inadvertent error prompted a handful of bloggers to urge their readers to go to to vent their discontent, and in the subsequent four days we received more than a thousand comments in our public forum. Only, the word "comments" doesn't convey the obscene, vituperative tone of a lot of the postings, which were the sort of things you might find carved on the door of a public toilet stall. About a hundred of them had to be removed for violating the Post site's standards, which don't allow profanity or personal attacks.

You can go to Atrios or Kos to find the instances where Howell had no problem with profanity coming from her mouth.

But Brady still ignores the central issue here: the Post was selling a defective product, and refused to admit the defect.

To my dismay, matters only got worse on Jan. 19 after Howell posted a clarification on Instead of mollifying angry readers, the clarification prompted more than 400 additional comments over the next five hours, many of them so crude as to be unprintable in a family newspaper. Soon the number of comments that violated our standards of Web civility overwhelmed our ability to get rid of them; only then did we decide to shut down comments on the blog.

"Clarification?" What was -and is still- needed is first a retraction, and then an examination of the entire ethics of the newspaper.

This all raises a question: Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected.

The big issue with every single American media outlet is its conflicts of interest, its desire to please a marketplace that it simultaneously "informs" (but doesn't enlighten) by creating content that serves those media outlets and those in power.

Unlike righties, this isn't a question of left-right "bias." It's a simple question of honesty and ethics.

The bloggers get it, even if they use potty-words some time.

For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

It is hardly a "conspiracy" to say that the motives of a Judith Miller, whoever puts on Wolf Blitzer at Time Warner, or the folks who give us the WaPo editorial pages have systematically downplayed certain aspects of what has happened, and have shaded other aspects to make it appear as if something else has happened.

Now I know this is "Jim Brady's feelings," and not fact we're talking about but you know what? When you, Jim Brady, and the WaPo stop behaving as the last stop on a right-wing echo chamber, you might just get some more respect.

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