Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Normally we wouldn’t start the blog report by quoting the dreaded “MSM,” but we couldn’t keep from laughing when we read the following passage, from the New York Times’ (notably late) report on how conservative blogs are “incensed” over the Pulitzer that went to the Associated Press:

“The Pulitzer Prize for felony murder goes to The Associated Press,” Scott W. Johnson wrote last Monday in a posting on the blog Power Line. But in an interview yesterday, Mr. Johnson said that the AP’s explanation of what happened seemed plausible and that he planned to update the blog, with a link to information posted on Tuesday by the AP that he said he had not seen. Mr. Johnson is a fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative research organization in Claremont, Calif.

Johnson’s ridiculous attack on the AP — and subsequent semi-rollback, which came only after Times reporter Mark Glassman emailed Johnson an AP statement about the matter that Johnson, in his exhaustive and dogged pursuit of the story, hadn’t seen — speaks to one of the worst aspects of the blogosphere: the tendency of many bloggers to make grand, hyperbolic pronouncements based on hunches and ideological convenience instead of solid evidence. (We should note here that Johnson disputes Glassman’s interpretation of their conversation.)

Bloggers come out swinging wildly every day, and only rarely do the punches actually land. But that doesn’t keep them from pretending that even the haymakers that catch nothing but air are somehow knocking down their targets. And then, when it turns out they’re boxing a phantom, they can’t admit as much — witness last week’s absurd attempts by conservative bloggers to continue spinning the Schiavo memo nonsense, despite the fact evidence emerged showing that the initial reporting was generally solid, if sloppy. Not that the corporate media are much help — they charge in whenever a punch lands and crow about certain blogs as though they never get anything wrong. Yeah, we’re looking at you here, Time, though you’re hardly the only one.

Moving on: Garret Vreeland tries to rein in lefty bloggers and Democrats who are up in arms in the wake of a Times story concerning a proposed EPA study on pesticides in Florida. According to the story, “A recruiting flier for the program, called the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study, or Cheers, offered $970, a free camcorder, a bib and a T-shirt to parents whose infants or babies were exposed to pesticides if the parents completed the two-year study. The requirements for participation were living in Duval County, Fla., having a baby under 3 months old or 9 to 12 months old, and ‘spraying pesticides inside your home routinely.’” Bloggers, flailing away, took this to mean that the government would be spraying pesticides in those homes, but Vreeland concluded from reading the documents that EPA would be “merely monitoring families with young children who routinely use pesticides.” Which makes the Josef Mengele references completely absurd. Concludes Vreeland: “Of late, it seems even my favorite sources of news are getting so ideological (on whichever side), I must postpone posting until hitting as close to the actual source of information as possible. I almost took this one at face value, and howled outrage myself. The media are making us work very hard to find facts these days.”

Finally, Think Progress’ Judd Legum juxtaposes two quotes, in a post entitled “More Crackerjack Reporting by Bob Novak”:

“Contrary to claims on leftist Web sites, no Republican member has called for the majority leader’s resignation.” — Robert Novak, 4/11/05

“Rep. Christopher Shays said Sunday that fellow Republican Rep. Tom DeLay should step down as House majority leader because his continuing ethics problems are hurting the GOP.” — ABC News, 4/10/05

Even giving Novak the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he wrote and submitted his column before Shays went on the record, shouldn’t someone have caught that before it went to press?

If bloggers saved up half the fire directed at the AP’s Pulitzer and the Schiavo memo story for actual examples of media malfeasance like this, we’d have a lot less to complain about.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.