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(C)hanukkah (c)hopping block
George Will and Cokie Roberts were unceremoniously fired today in response to a CBS article pointing out that any reporter paid by a campaign would 'likely never work in mainstream journalism again'. Will, who helped prepare Ronald Reagan for a debate while reporting on Reagan's performance for ABC, was unable to be reached from deep within the piles of money he has earned while moonlighting throughout his career in journalism. Will's wife, Mari Maseng, reportedly is unwilling to return the $200,000 she was paid to lobby for Japanese automobile manufactures while Will used his forum on ABC to denounce a Clinton plan to impose a tariff on Japanese luxury cars.
For similar reasons, Cokie Roberts will no longer be welcome within mainstream journalism. Although she has not worked for any campaigns, the money she has accepted from bankers and Philip Morris was enough to scare serious news organizations away from her damaged reputation.
With the ranks of the millionaire punditocracy thinning like Bush's cabinet, speculation is focused on the next necks to find themselves on the chopping block. Some say NBC's Andrea Mitchell, whose marriage to Alan Greenspan is occasionally noted. Others point to Paul Begala and James Carville, citing their recent, but disclosed, work on the John Kerry campaign.
Dan Rather, who describes himself as an average New Yorker nearing retirement, was pleased with the dismissal of Will and Roberts. "I'm so glad to know that mainstream journalism is maintaining its high standards rather than descending into the anything-goes blogosphere."
Grave factual errors and other problems with the CBS article have been discussed in greater depth elsewhere. For example, CJR takes on the placement of the quote from Jamieson, which is entirely out of place. Also, Atrios himself weighs in here. Finally, Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly has this to say.
From CBS, December 8, 2004
Blogs: New Medium, Old Politics
Internet blogs are providing a new and unregulated medium for politically motivated attacks. With the same First Amendment protections as newspapers, blogs are increasingly gaining influence.
While many are must-reads for political junkies, are some Internet blogs also being used as proxies for campaigns? In the nation's hottest Senate race, this past year, the answer was yes.
Little over a month ago, the first Senate party leader in 52 years was ousted when South Dakota Republican John Thune defeated top Senate Democrat Tom Daschle. While more than $40 million was spent in the race, saturating the airwaves with advertising, a potentially more intriguing front was also opened.
The two leading South Dakota blogs -- websites full of informal analysis, opinions and links -- were authored by paid advisers to Thune's campaign.
Hypothetically, if The Washington Post discovered that The New York Times had a reporter being paid by the Bush campaign it would report it. If proven, the suspect reporter would be fired and likely never work in mainstream journalism again. Hence, the courts have been satisfied with the industry's ability to regulate itself.
The affiliations and identities of bloggers are not always apparent. Take writer Duncan Black, who blogged under the name Atrios. His was a popular liberal blog. During part of the period he was blogging, Black was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America. Critics in the blogosphere said this fact wasn't fairly disclosed.
"People are pretty smart in assuming that if a blog is making a case on one side that it's partisan," Jamieson said. "The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan."
That is not a legal problem, however, but one of ethics. Black eventually claimed credit for his blog and his affiliation with Media Matters. Fellow bloggers heavily publicized his political connections. And Black continued blogging.
From the Captain's Quarters:
In my opinion, bloggers who wish to do serious work should disclose all funding sources that could present a conflict of interest. In the case of DvT, clearly those payments cast a different light on their writing. Had Thune just bought blogads for their site, we would have seen the sponsorship up front and incorporated that information into our estimation of their credibility. The very fact that they chose not to disclose the payments or sponsorship in general now calls their motives and work into serious question.
Am I angry about this? Not especially. Neither site pretended to present an unbiased look at the race -- DvT overtly supported John Thune from the start of the blog. (Like Pat, I didn't read SDP.) Now that the payments have been disclosed, the bloggers have to answer to the marketplace, and I suspect they will suffer a marked loss of readership -- which is the only coin of this realm. The free market of ideas works similarly to any other free market; if the supplier can't be trusted, people find a different supplier.
As Jon says, this should be a lesson to all bloggers: fully disclose if you value credibility, especially if your mission is ostensibly to counter the bias of the mainstream media in your market, as was DvT. Otherwise, the mission begins to look somewhat hypocritical.