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

The world according to Bob

Bob, the third member of the Blue Mass Group troika, has weighed in with his thoughts on the “Greater Boston” blogging piece. His contribution is clarifying, partly in a good way, partly not. Let me pull out what I think are the main points:

1. It all started with that New York Times piece. In Bob’s view, the Times op-ed on political bloggers who are paid by campaigns was “sloppy because it lumps all bloggers who have taken money from politicians together, even though what the bloggers have done, and what they have disclosed, is very different in many cases.”

Bob hails Charley’s analysis of same, but I think Bob’s summary is more useful. I thought it was hard to tell whether Charley believed the Times article was wrong, was accurate but misunderstood by John Carroll and company, or somewhere in between.

Any fair reading of the Times op-ed would lead one to conclude that some leading political bloggers were taking money from candidates to write favorable things about them on their own sites (as opposed, or in addition, to the candidates’ sites), and that some of them were disclosing that fact and some weren’t.

Now, if you think “Greater Boston” should not have used the Times piece as fodder for discussion without independently verifying every purported fact contained therein, then your view of the media-criticism world is very different from mine. Suffice it to say that it would take a month to put together a show if every single media report that’s used is treated as though it were wrong until proven right.

2. “Greater Boston” and Carroll made a mistake. Uh, I think that’s been established. And acknowledged. And corrected.

Like every working journalist, I’ve got a pile of corrections to my credit. If I can hang on until 2010, I’ll be able to say that I’ve had corrections published about my work over five decades. It happens. (OK, 2011 for those of you who think a new decade doesn’t begin until the end of the year ending in zero.)

3. BMG blogger David Kravitz was screwed. Kravitz has claimed that an interview “Greater Boston” did with him made it appear that he was directly speaking about Armstrong, and that his words were thus distorted and manipulated.

I disagree. I’ve watched the segment twice now, and it didn’t strike me that Kravitz was addressing Armstrong’s situation specifically, but, rather, conflicts of interest involving bloggers in general.

I heartily endorse the Massachusetts Liberal’s take on this. He writes:

I’m not troubled by how David Kravitz sounded, even if he believes he was cut and pasted inappropriately. He comes across as a strong believer in the value of blogging and in the ability of the blogosphere to police its own.

4. Bob undermines himself with an inflated sense of his own importance. Without a shred of irony, Bob writes about “bits of arrogance continu[ing] to fall from the sky.” No, he’s not talking about himself and his fellow bloggers.

Bob follows up with a ransom note demanding that Carroll take a leave of absence, that “Greater Boston” issue a public apology and that Kravitz be included as a panelist. Good grief. Actually, the third demand wouldn’t be a bad idea were it not for the absurdity of the first two.

And by the way, I’m not saying that Bob and company are being arrogant because they’re trying to place themselves on the same level as the mainstream media. No, they’re being arrogant in a way that I’ve never seen on the part of journalists I respect.

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  1. bostonph

    Great, so after David’s relentless posting on the need to vote on gay marriage, Bob is attacking Public Television as a whole.The responses to this latest thread on BMG have been universally negative. So were the responses to the gay marriage threads. I’d admire their tenacity, if it weren’t for the absolute wrongheadedness.David takes it a little further with :As if I hadn’t caused enough trouble on TV already, here we go again. I’ll be on Joe Heisler’s “Talk of the Neighborhoods” tonight at 7 pm on BNN-TV (Boston Neighborhood Network television), to talk about the Deval Patrick campaign, BMG and blogging, and the transition.Huh?Hey David, nice ego, but you don’t you think the platinum inlay is maybe just a tad garish?

  2. Anonymous

    EB3 hereYou da man, dan!

  3. Anonymous

    EB3 hereIs BMG jumping the shark? This hiisy fit may ruin the credibility they have gained. Not much but a foundation for bigger things.Yet they keep talking and sounding more and more marginal.

  4. Bob Neer

    Thanks for your comments, Dan. It will be interesting to see how Greater Boston responds. Discussions of my arrogance aside, what do you think the proper response should be to Carroll’s story: just an acknowledgement that a mistake was made and move on?

  5. Bob Neer

    Thanks EB3. If you think BMG is so marginal, why do you spend so much time posting there? Anyway, sorry Dan for cluttering up your blog with a back-and-forth with EBIII. Thanks again for your comments.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: It all depends on the meaning of “mistake.” By my reading of the situation, I’d say, yeah, acknowledge it and move on. If I believed that “GB” was somehow wrong in not vetting the NYT piece and/or that David had truly been abused, then my reaction would be different.

  7. Steve

    Bob – I’ll weigh in on what I think Carroll’s “penance” should be:1) an acknowlegement of his misreading of Armstrong and an apology2) a thorough fact-check of Glover’s op-ed – some actual reporting, with actual factsI think calls for Carroll to be suspended for sloppy reporting are overblown (bordering on ridiculous). If *every* reporter was suspended for episodes of sloppy reporting, the newsrooms would be empty. “Accountability” to me means owning up to mistakes and correcting lingering misimpressions.

  8. Anonymous

    Dan — I think there’s a useful distinction to be made, not between ‘mainstream journalism’ and ‘blogging,’ or even ‘straight journalism’ vs. ‘punditry,’ but between work done within a journalistic structure and outside of one. When someone reads my work in the Phoenix, or sees a news report on CBS, they can generally assume, to a degree, that a certain level of professionalism, integrity, and ethics is being applied — and that when something goes wrong, from a misspelled name to a fabricated story — appropriate steps will be taken. After all, the entire organization’s credibility is at stake. Sometimes this assumption proves false, and the organization’s credibility suffers for it.When someone blogs on their own site, or otherwise produces content without supervision or a structure of accountability, they might or might not be applying those standards, and nobody can make them do so if they don’t want to. Thus, readers rightly approach them all with skepticism, and credibility must be earned.I recall a few years ago there was a lot of speculation that top journalists — say, a top business reporter for the NY Times — would leave their salaried positions to sell their work directly over the Internet via a micro-payment system. One reason that this always struck me as unlikely is that not only would they lose the actual contributions of their editorial staff, but more importantly the credibility that the structure provides.It seems to me that John and the folks at Greater Boston are demonstrating how this journalistic structure properly functions, by quickly, publicly, and eagerly acknowledging and correcting their mistake. We can be pretty sure that if such mistakes were common or part of a pattern, more serious action would be taken, to preserve the show’s credibility.Meanwhile, the underlying issue about bloggers on campaign payrolls suggests the flip side of this credibility issue. Yes, perhaps you can trust Jerome or Marcus to police themselves, but we have no idea who is and who isn’t worthy of that trust.Sorry for the lengthy post!

  9. bostonph

    DavidB,I think that’s the crux of it though. When pushed, BMG says “we’re not journalists, we’re bloggers” Of course, being BMG, they get high and mighty about it.Here’s Charley commenting here on MediaNation:David’s not a journalist, although sometimes he does journalism. He’s a *citizen*, first and foremost, and he’s doing his damn best to act like oneCue the national anthem, through in a flag background, and you’ve got… the Ollie North trial.At the same time, they’re all up in arms because BtP (*gasp*) edited David’s comments. Plueeeze.At the end of the day, I think BMG’s claims to operate on a lower standard ring as hollow as Scott Allen Miller’s. You can’t absolve yourself from responsibility for your words and actions by playing semantic games.

  10. Cos

    Dan – regarding the New York Times piece, it was indeed sloppy and misleading and did start this whole scandal, and acknowledging that doesn’t necessarily mean criticising people for believing it. If Carroll’s only mistake were to believe the article, it wouldn’t be so shocking. However, he would still be wrong, if more understandably so.When talking about the NY Times piece and how it relates to the Beat the Press segment, I think these are the major points to address:1. Conflation.If you want to have a discussion about the effects, ethics, etc., of blogging about campaigns while working for candidates involved in those campaigns, have at it. It’s a worthwhile topic for discussion. However, it is a very different topic than talking about “masquerading”, “hiding”, or bein shocked to find out that bloggers are being paid by candidates. I blogged on Blue Mass Group while working for John Bonifaz and I can assure you not a single one of the people who read my posts would be shocked at this revelation, because I said I was on Bonifaz’s campaign in every post I made that mentioned anything related to his campaign. Now obviously what I was doing was not the same as writing “objective” newspaper articles, but I never pretended it was, and my readers didn’t think it was. So, sure, discuss paid blogging, it’s an interesting topic, but don’t lump it with Armstrong Williams-style fraud & deception. Doing so buries the serious discussion under a mound of hype & titillation.2. IronyHere we have a bunch of TV pundits going on about bloggers’ lack of credibility and lack of accountability and low journalistic standards… and they’re relying on a sloppy op-ed piece from the New York Times that has completely miscast the story. Even if they were honestly misled by their belief in the journalistic standards of print media (and the Jerome Armstrong gaffe shows it was more than that), surely they can acknowledge that irony now: their very source is an example of how wrong the overall message of their show was.3. It’s still wrongAnd, above all, the point is that their point was wrong. Regardless of how they got to it, even if they’d relied only on “credible” media sources, even if they hadn’t made stupid mistakes in preparing the story. They asserted that all/most/many of the major liberal bloggers, particularly at MyDD and Daily Kos, are being paid by candidates to write good stuff about them, are hiding that fact, and it’s a surprise to their readers. That is false. I haven’t seen a correction run about that yet….Note that these three points are independent of the Jerome Armstrong satire bit. Had Beat the Press never used it, these three points would still stand.

  11. Anonymous

    You’re burying the lead here Dan. It’s obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of the political blogosphere that people like Kos are paid political operatives. Forget about his contributing posters. I would assume the same thing about the denizens of Redstate etc.

  12. Anonymous

    if you think “Greater Boston” should not have used the Times piece as fodder for discussion without independently verifying every purported fact contained therein, then your view of the media-criticism world is very different from mine. Suffice it to say that it would take a month to put together a show if every single media report that’s used is treated as though it were wrong until proven right.That’s a strawman. I work both sides of this issue: I’ve done a lot with blogs, and I’m a filmmaker. While most of my work has been in long-format pieces (docs), I’ve done segments like this. And it would simply never occur to me to take the word of a single newspaper piece as gospel. I wouldn’t feel the need to fact-check every piece of information, but I also wouldn’t feel comfortable just regurgitating the article’s premise as I understood it. That’s not journalism in any way. All it would take is a single phone call or email or a short Google search to check on that article. You don’t need to find out Tim Tagaris’s employment history, but a discussion with someone who knows the issue is mandatory, imo. The interview with Kravitz doesn’t seem to have been about the Times article, so that doesn’t count.While I think the calls for Carroll’s suspension for six months are waayyy too harsh, I do think GB needs to spend some time on the air correcting the mistaken impression of their last piece. Yes, they corrected the Armstrong thing (incidentally, I do think Jerome deserves an apology; what they said about him was deplorable), but that’s just the barest minimum of what was wrong with that story. The whole thing was wrong in fact and in overall conclusion.It’s a little disingenuous to absolve GB of all responsibility for their piece because the Times article was misleading as well. They decided to produce and air the piece, and they are responsible for the product.It’s obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of the political blogosphere that people like Kos are paid political operativesThat’s false. Markos Moulitsas gets no money from any political entity. He’s a partisan, no doubt, but he’s not a paid political operative. Big difference.

  13. Rick Holmes

    I’m not convinced that the point of either the NYT piece or the GB discussion was that “all/most/many of the major liberal bloggers were taking money,” but that impression must by why so many liberal bloggers and their readers have circled the wagons rather than engaging what is, in my view, a far more interesting issue than how best to punish John Carroll and the NYT.What’s interesting to me is that SOME political bloggers take money directly from people they write about and that the code of ethics governing this new medium is a work in progress. I find it sad that instead of grappling with the threat such practices pose to their credibility, too many bloggers are defensively ganging up on John Carroll.

  14. Steve

    Rick says: “SOME political bloggers take money directly from people they write about”. True. The same can be said of print journalists and broadcast journalists. I think everyone agrees that it’s OK – as long as there is disclosure of those ties.The alleged unethical conduct is taking money and writing commentary WITHOUT disclosure, thus “masquerading as independent commentators” (in John Carroll’s words).I want to know – who is guilty of that conduct? That’s what a real reporter should address.

  15. Bob Neer

    Dan. To your earlier response to me on this thread: I think that is a perfectly defensible position. It is not what I would do if I were the big boss, but I’m not. I suppose the interesting question is: what is in the long-term best interest of Greater Boston? That’s their/your call. It will be interesting to see what you decide. To your comments on BMG, I wrote you a little response over there.Most importantly, to Rick Holmes. I agree that the interesting issue is the relationship between money and information and conflicts of interest — for blogs, print, TV, etc. The pity is that by botching this story Greater Boston fumbled the opportunity to engage that subject in a constructive way last week. Let’s hope they can acknowledge their mistake, come up with a meaningful response that enhances their credibility, and that there can be well-produced, informative, hard-hitting pieces on the subject in the future. Heck, we’d do our best to help them at BMG in any way we could I am sure, if they asked (sorry, was that last line arrogant ;-).

  16. MeTheSheeple

    David Bernstein: Your points about credibility are well made, but I think you need to keep in mind where the credibility came from. Credibility is trust, which is normally built with a track record. A reporter at an established paper, such as the New York Times, shares in the perceived credibility. If the reporter blows it in a big enough way, the individual reputation can be destroyed and harm the organization’s credibility (see “Judy Miller”).Yett quite some time ago the New York Times was a scrappy paper in a major city littered with them. The Times had to build its reputation.Nothing means newspapers are inherently credible; just witness the National Enquirer.Bloggers, for the most start, started with little reputation because it was a new medium. Bloggers are many and diverse, and sometimes have to share in a collective blogging reputation.In time, we might see blogging scandals taint the “industry” as a whole, but I think major blogs will get a reputation of their own. That’s going to be built with time and experience. Would you trust Dan Kennedy’s blog more than Huffington? That more than Blue Mass Group?There’s nothing inherently professional or unprofessional about blogging or newspapers, just as you might trust Media Nation more than the National Enquirer. It’s easy to paint blogging with a broad brush.

  17. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Trust and blogging are mutually exclusive in the short term. There are no standards, so credibility must be earned day by day, post by post.Carroll has little to apologize for. This is a lot like the Dan Rather flap, the truthful essence of content is lost by blowing something at the margins way out of proportion — nitpicking that had as its origin a badly-told joke.Gee, where has that happened before.Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go make something up and say it publicly, then blame anyone who believes it because they didn’t get the joke.

  18. Anonymous

    Regarding your first point, I don’t think Greater Boston can simply pass on the fault for the error to the NY Times. I agree that it’s not the responsibility of every journalist to re-fact check any assertion listed in any other publication. But the NY Times report and chart was already in the process of being debunked when the Carroll broadcast was aired. So the assertions made by the NY Times cannot be treated with the same respect made by any arbitrary fact listed in a newspaper. There was already cause for doubting the value of the story, and if the group had been serious about their journalism, they would have made the minor effort of contacting the people involved. The latter point is particularly relevant with regard to the MyDD incident. So, I agree with your second point, that “Greater Boston” and Carroll made a mistake, but not the first point, that somehow it’s OK to pass on some of the blame to the NY Times. If I’m writing a paper, and I cite a source that has already been discredited publicly, that reflects poorly on my own research abilities.(Side note: do we have any idea when this “log in to Blogger beta via Google feature” will be fixed? The way it’s currently implemented, the process of logging in steers me away from this comment page completely and I have to use tricks to make sure my comment isn’t completely lost before it’s submitted.)

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