A “Slow-Blog” Movement?

Clinton’s cryptic quote causes frustration

A cryptic quote from Bill Clinton about how dealing with climate change will affect the economy is causing quite a stir in political circles and the blogosphere. It all stems from a post on ABC News’s Political Punch blog, which reported:

In a long, and interesting speech, [Clinton] characterized what the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global warming this way: “We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ‘cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.”

Almost immediately, the Republican National Committee and conservative bloggers, pounced on Clinton and his presidential-candidate wife (for whom he was stumping when he made the comment). It was evidence (finally!) that Democrats are willing induce financial ruin in order to cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

But is that what Clinton really meant? ABC’s Jake Tapper pulled the one-line quote out of a longer comment that included some very important context, which suggested just the opposite. In fact, Clinton seemed to being arguing that the U.S. (and Hillary) needs to make the case that emissions reductions are “good economics” that “will create more jobs.” Tapper actually had the full quote in his blog post, but farther down. So just as quickly as some bloggers jumped on the quote, others jumped on Tapper for taking it out of context.

The whole affair and the ensuing skinback operation received fine summations at the Carpetbagger Report, Media Matters, and The New York Times’s Dot Earth blog, so I will not replay it here. What is worth noting, however, is a suggestion that Andrew Revkin made at Dot Earth for how to avoid such runaway misunderstandings and mischaracterizations in the future:

Maybe it’s time for a “slow blog” movement, just as there’s now a slow food movement - and even a slow life movement, as described in The Times this week.

Revkin doesn’t really get into what this movement would look like or how it might thwart the online “echo chamber,” as he puts it. Rather, he puts the question to his readers, one of whom very cleverly responds in the comments section: “‘Slow blog?’ Isn’t that called a newspaper?” It’s an astute point. Dedicated online readers have come to understand (if not accept) that there is a trade-off to be made with blogs: faster news and more information put accuracy and objectivity at risk. That might be acceptable, or even preferable, for some, but to the extent that bloggers want to be taken seriously as trusted sources of news and information, it seems problematic. And when what is written in the blogosphere is picked up in the mainstream punditocracy, as it increasingly is, a slow-blog movement (beyond traditional print platforms, that is) begins to make some sense. This certainly happened when the Republican National Convention used Bill Clinton’s quote to attack Hillary; it happened, as Revkin points out in his post, in November, when a bogus report “debunked” global warming; and again in December, when an environmentalist hoax made the rounds and the Bali climate conference.

Given these events, a slow-blog movement would conceivably mean more of the traditional journalistic fact-checking and editorial oversight. Or maybe bloggers like Tapper just need to be more careful, not let the need for speed trump the need to think. Tapper has explained that he fully understood the context of Clinton’s quote and was merely trying to flesh out what the former president really meant. Perhaps he won’t make the same mistake twice. One of the great miracles of the blogosphere is its ability to self-correct quickly and to spotlight and rectify errors in the mainstream press, as well. But then again, there is the problem of first impressions: once a misperception is planted, is it really that easy to un-seed it?

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.