Bloggers Attack The Regulation Bogeyman

We’d like to join the litany of bloggers wondering what, exactly, senior political writer David Paul Kuhn was thinking when he put together a piece lamenting the fact that there are no government regulations keeping bloggers honest — a piece that itself was inaccurate. As Kevin Drum puts it, “IF-YOU’RE-GOING-TO-COMPLAIN-THAT-BLOGS-HAVE-NO-STANDARDS, YOU-PROBABLY-OUGHT-TO-HAVE-SOME-YOURSELF.”

What did Kuhn do wrong? It’s not so easy to tell now, because CBS has corrected the story since it was first posted — without noting as much. But we’ve got a screen grab of the original piece, which includes this passage:

In the case of Duncan Black, this is what happened. The author of the popular liberal blog Atrios, Black wrote under a pseudonym. All the while, he was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America.

“People are pretty smart in assuming that if a blog is making a case on one side that it’s partisan,” [Kathleen] Jamieson [dean of the Annenberg School for Communications] said. “The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan.”

That is not a legal problem, however, but an ethical one. Black eventually claimed credit for his blog and fellow bloggers heavily publicized his political connections. But he is still blogging.

As Black notes, the name of his blog is “Eschaton,” not “Atrios” — but that’s just the start of the problems. “I began writing this weblog in April, 2002,” he writes. “MMFA only came into existence in May, 2004. I began working with them in June, 2004.” Kuhn’s piece — with its accusatory “all the while” — not only gets the facts wrong, it suggests an “ethical” problem that simply isn’t there.

And what of the quote? “Jamieson’s quote has nothing to do with the situation, either as it exists or as CBS seems to lay out,” says Pandagon’s Jesse Taylor. “You might as well have had someone from the Southern Poverty Law Center talking about the proliferation of racist hate groups on the internet — it would have been about as relevant, and done a lot more damage. I’m not even sure what, editorially, the rational for the quote is.” Of course, the quote’s placement suggests that Black is among those who “pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan” — and is thus somehow trying to pull the wool over his readers’ eyes. “I have never made my political views secret, any more than has the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal,” Black writes in response.

The blog World O’Crap, also no fan of the piece, has been kind enough to rewrite the story for Kuhn, adopting what it takes to be the writers’ voice:

The bloggers’ lack of ethics is a real problem, because they often presume to fact-check actual journalists, their moral superiors. Can you believe the nerve of them! We go to journalism school and learn how to journalize, and yet they think they can correct us on factual matters when they don’t even have a code of ethics except their own personal ones, which can’t be very good, or they would be on TV.

Ultimately, it’s too bad Kuhn’s piece contained the flaws, because it’s built on a solid hook — documents that show that the two leading South Dakota blogs, which readers believed to be objective, were run by paid advisors to Republican Senator John Thune — and opens up what could be a provocative discussion of whether bloggers should be held to account for their content, beyond a mere dressing-down from one another.

But the inaccuracies are inexcusable, especially coming from “a senior political writer” for a network website. And even more inexcusable is that the corrections took place without the editors of informing their readers of the revisions. If either Kuhn or wants to try to make the case that the government needs to regulate unprofessional behavior on the Internet, they could use their own performance on this one as Exhibit A.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.