I had an interesting exchange last week with a fellow journalist about the trustworthiness of bloggers versus the mainstream media. I've been thinking about it ever since. The upshot was this: the MSM has systems in place to verify the info they put out; bloggers don't. So the info put out there by bloggers requires a little bit of extra work on the part of the reader, or the linker, to doublecheck it and make sure it's ok.
Fair enough. Seems to make sense.
But then, the context of our conversation was about political info. So that kind of muddies things in my mind. Like, what is the "info" of political reporting exactly. Quite often it's just powerful people saying stuff. Almost as often it's two or more powerful people saying things that directly contradict. So I suppose that you might say that up to half of the info offered in any given MSM political article is complete bunk -- which half depends, I suppose, on which party you belong to.
But seriously. There's a real point here: A lot of the "info" in news stories is just stuff folks say. Sometimes it's verified. But a lot of the time it's just written down, typed up and distributed, where it solidifies into a truth of sorts.
I'm not saying there's necessarily anything wrong with this. When newsmakers speak, it's news, I guess. But everyone knows newsmakers lie. (Of course they do -- they're people.) So what does this say about the info they offer through the MSM? And why do their lies not merit extra effort for verification, simply because they're filtered through the AP or Slate? Indeed, I think there's a strong argument to be made that the powerful's lies demand more verification precicely because they're uttered by the powerful. Their impact is arguably much greater than the potential impact of falsities offered by bloggers, or everyday citizens.
In the end this conversation reminds me of the old journalism movie, Absense of Malice. It was kind of an awful movie, much of its premise absurd. But it did hit a couple of points dead on. A recurring motif in that film was the journalism establishment's deferrence to power. Sally Fields's character ran with the info that had been leaked to her by the DA's office. She trusted the info, no questions asked. Of course, the info turned out to be totally false. Then, when an everyday citizen tried to tell her the truth, she viewed this person with suspision bordering on contempt. Whereas she granted the people in the DA's office anonymity, she turned around and sandbagged this average citizen (who later killed herself).
Which brings me to the point where I drag out my old red-white-and-blue soap box and warily climb on top to toot my tin horn:
It seems like my ally in news has it back assward. Aren't we supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? And if you don't buy that old pollyanna cliche, you probably won't buy this:
Ours is a democracy, not an aristocracy, right? So doesn't the true power lie -- at least potentially -- among us out here in the cheap seats, with our laptops and our cups of coffee?
If you can trust Kit Bond with power, why can't you trust us?