By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Journalism versus activism

The Boston Globe today publishes a good summation of the war between the Daily Kos and The New Republic. Written by Michael Grynbaum, the article casts things in standard terms: old media versus new media. But I don’t think that quite gets at it. In essence, this is really a battle between journalists (Jason Zengerle et al. at TNR) and political activists who think they’ve become journalists — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they think they’ve replaced journalists.

Zengerle appears to have caught Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga in some fairly shady dealings with regard to his political consultant/business partner, Jerome Armstrong, blowing wet cyberkisses to Armstrong clients such as Mark Warner and writing an e-mail aimed at persuading fellow liberal bloggers not to write about Armstrong’s problems. Kos heads an advertising network that those bloggers belong to, so such a request comes with a little added zing.

Kos has denied the allegations, but hasn’t really explained anything. Instead, he’s embarked on a campaign of villification against TNR.

I know Zengerle a bit and consider him to be an honest journalist. I also find the Kos to be an unreadable amalgamation from people whose credibility I have no way of judging. That’s not to say it’s of no value. But which posts? By whom? Besides, my interest in blogging is journalistic. Blogging as another form of politics I find less interesting.

Update: I realize I was negligent in not acknowledging Zengerle’s e-mail screw-up — although, frankly, not as negligent as Grynbaum. Oof.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Our fill of Dr. Phil


Toward a New England Common


  1. Anonymous

    I am not the biggest fan of Kos. In fact, I stopped going to his site regularly after he was dismissive women’s rights issues. That said, the article misses part of the issue with the Zengerle article — he attributed an email to a blogger who did not write the email.Also, I don’t understand the outsized hostility toward Lieberman. Other than the Iraq war, he’s more liberal than Kerry or Clinton.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Anon — Your point about Zengerle’s error is well-taken, and I should have caught that. You’re half-right about Lieberman. The most reliable measure of liberal voting is probably the index put out by Americans for Democratic Action, which you can find at Project Vote Smart. In 2005, Kerry and Clinton both had an ADA rating of 100 percent. Lieberman got 80 percent — higher than that of any Republican. I can’t find the issues that were ranked, but I don’t believe the war came up for a vote in 2005.

  3. whispers

    Yes, the ironic thing about the Grynbaum article is that it purports to be holding blogs to journalistic standards, and insinutates repeatedly that the blogs may not be meeting those standards, completely ignores Zengerle’s own journalistic failing. Zengerle cited an email, claimed it was from Steve Gilliard and that it went to the TownHall mailing list. The people on the list never received this email and Gilliard denied writing it, a point Zengerle later conceded. That failure by Zengerle would appear to be relevant to any discussion of journalistic quality associated with the TNR/Koss brouhaha. Grynbaum teases us with a paragraph consisting only of “But he (Zengerle) didn’t expect death threats”. Everybody reading this will then presume that death threats were sent, but this may simply be a game Grynbaum is playing with us. The sentence itself doesn’t say that death threats were given, only that Zengerle didn’t expect them. Perhaps his expectations were correct? In any case, this comment comes across as a smear, since no death threats are actually provided, or even placed into evidence, so to speak. There are a lot of insinuations like this:”There’s no question that no one would care whether Kos was corrupt if he was absolutely powerless or irrelevant,” Bradley said. “The reason it’s a serious question is because the guy’s come to wield some clout.”This quote implies that Kos is corrupt without having the guts to actually come out and say it. Nice job preserving deniability!It’s kind of curious why the Kos email is considered newsworthy in the first place. A group of politically-aligned people talk on a private chat list about how to collectively respond to an ongoing story. And that’s interesting because…? The Globe article glosses over the fact that Zengerle smeared Kos as somehow running a payola operation based on blog advertising, a charge that itself appears to be baseless. I don’t quite get why Zengerle would think it’s “ridiculous on its face” for TNR to be called “The Joe Lieberman Weekly”. TNR and Joe Lieberman both represent the same political viewpoints, in particular with respect to the war in Iraq. “The mainstream media coverage has not produced any definitive proof of the alleged misdeeds of Moulitsas or Armstrong, but Bradley, for his part, thinks the idealism of the blogosphere has already vanished.”Another smear job by Grynbaum. If there are no substantiated allegations, what is the story here? That TNR is making unsubstantiated allegations? That doesn’t appear to be the tone of the Globe’s article. And what is the net effect of these actions by TNR and the Globe? You are left with a negative impression about Kos.”Zengerle appears to have caught Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga in some fairly shady dealings with regard to his political consultant/business partner, Jerome Armstrong, blowing wet cyberkisses to Armstrong clients such as Mark Warner and writing an e-mail aimed at persuading fellow liberal bloggers not to write about Armstrong’s problems.”There has never been any deception about the relationship between Jerome Armstrong and Mark Warner. Indeed, when Armstrong went into working for candidates full time, he essentially stopped blogging. I would say that the transparency in this case is at least as great as is typical in the so-called mainstream media. Howard Kurtz appears on CNN and in the Washington Post without ever mentioning the fact that his wife is an active Republican operative. Andrea Mitchell reports for NBC without mentioning the political affiliation of her husband, Alan Greenspan. And we typically have no idea of the complex interactions between the corporations covering government affairs and the possible implications to their coverage. Should we expect Kos to not respect Mark Warner? Mark Warner is a leading Democrat in the mold that is popular with the Kos readers. He is fiscally conservative, has shown ability to win a statewide election in a relatively conservative state (Virginia) and could be a leading figure in the future of the Democratic party. Absent any evidence of some kind of quid pro quo, it simply is not noteworthy that Warner is liked at the Kos website. Is the email asking people not to talk about Jerome’s SEC difficulties somehow news? Well, let’s start with the fact that one of the emails involved to support this argument has turned out to be a fake. That kind of impeaches this line of argument from the start. But still, what Kos said was that some legal cases related to Jerome’s actions were still ongoing, and that he would comment on the issue when he was legally allowed to do so. I probably would be interested in hearing Jerome’s story when it comes out, but I hardly think the email asking people to not talk about it constitutes something other than common sense as part of a coordinated media strategy. Zengerle wants to imply that Kos’s relationship to the advertising network BlogAds somehow makes Kos’s suggestion into something sinister, but absent any comment from anybody involved in the circle to that effect, it seems to me that Zengerle just pulled this idea, excuse me for saying so, straight out of his ass. Um, imagination I mean.Bloggers are annoyed because “double standard” doesn’t even begin to describe the difference between the ethical standards they are adhering to and those that are routinely glossed over by more traditional media. TNR in particular has seriously gotten worse in the past decade. I used to find it an interesting magazine to read, representing a modern liberal outlook. It has degenerated a lot in the past decade and I no longer subscribe. The Stephen Glass incident might have been mentioned in the Globe article, by the way, if the Globe wanted to compare journalistic standards in a way that was remotely even-handed.

  4. whispers

    As for the hostility towards Lieberman, I’ll chime in on that point, since I somehow managed to vote for him four times (thrice for Senator, once for VP), and yet he’s managed to adopt a position in the party where he never represents my thinking anymore.Lieberman has consistenly given Bush “bipartisan” cover in the past 5 years, while intoning ponderously against war critics that criticism of Bush would only come “at our peril”. If your position is that Bush is a freakin’ idiot running an illegal war for reasons that he’s lied about and based on falsified evidence, then Lieberman appears to be living in a separate reality. Lieberman used to be consistently moderate-to-liberal, or rather acceptable for your typical Connecticut Democrat. But he has become much more oriented to corporate America in recent years. He’s worked as bipartisan cover on the medicare bill, he refused to commit himself on the issue of Social Security privatization, he failed to support the Alito filibuster, etc. Basically, at this point I’m really hard-pressed to think of anything he’s done right in the past five years. I don’t think you could seriously say that he’s been more liberal than Kerry or (Hillary?) Clinton in recent years.

  5. tony schinella

    Whispers: Good points on the Lieberman thing.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén