Bloggery, Dueling Lawyers, and Bolton Undressed

Ever hear of those blog things? Businessweek has, and devotes its cover story this week to a piece proclaiming “Blogs Will Change Your Business.” The article itself is written as a series of blog posts, and the very first one declares that blogs are full of “Self-obsession, politics of hate, and the same hunger for fame that has people lining up to trade punches on ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ Name just about anything that’s sick in our society today, and it’s on parade in the blogs. On lots of them, even the writing stinks.”

But what’s the downside?

To be sure, the magazine also sees plenty of value in the blogosphere. And, thankfully, it keeps its wits, recognizing that the vast majority of Americans still don’t visit blogs (or even know what they are). Despite this, they note that some companies, like General Motors, are beginning to take advantage of the medium to make an end-run around the traditional public relations industry and reach out to their customers. And it ain’t just corporations who see an opportunity in the ‘sphere, but also the dreaded “mainstream media.” The media, the mag proclaims, “will master blogs as an advertising tool and take over vast commercial stretches of the blogosphere.” Citizen journalists, take heed!

The Economist also looks at the future of the media this week (subscription required). The piece uses Rupert Murdoch’s comments at the gathering of the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week as a jumping-off point, saying his comments about falling newspaper readership “may go down in history as the day that the stodgy newspaper business officially woke up to the new realities of the Internet age.” The article rehashes most of what you’ve read over the last several months about how blogs won’t necessarily replace newspapers and magazines, but that they can serve the function of providing a much-needed fresh perspective on the news. Not exactly groundbreaking work, but it’s an important story and being the Economist, it’s worth a look.

Sticking with the news game, the New York Review of Books runs a response by CBS Rathergate investigators Dick Thornburgh and Lou Boccardi to an April 7 article by James C. Goodale, which harshly criticized the report’s findings and methodology. If you’re looking for media navel-gazing at its snarky, literary best, it doesn’t get any better than this, folks.

In the original piece, Goodale, a former vice chairman of the New York Times Co., charges that the report is “flawed” and shouldn’t be “uncritically accepted, as it has been by the press and by television commentators.” Goodale complains that the investigating panel copped out by failing to decide whether the documents CBS relied upon were forgeries or not. He also faulted the panel’s criticism of the network for failing to establish a “chain of custody” of the documents. “Chain of custody” is a lawyer’s term, not a reporter’s, he declares, while noting that journalists seldom pass that test. (He uses the Pentagon Papers as an example). Finally, Goodale notes that CBS producer Mary Mapes found that the disputed documents she received from her source “meshed” with what she discovered in 1999 and 2000 through Freedom of Information Act requests about the president’s National Guard service, an inconvenient fact that he accuses the CBS report of ignoring.

Thornburgh and Boccardi’s reply answers these charges — sometimes convincingly, sometimes not — and there is also a further response by Goodale. But if you’re really that interested, go read it for yourself.

Turning to more current news, The Weekly Standard takes up the cause of John Bolton, whose nomination for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is bogged down in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Stephen F. Hayes has been paying close attention to the hearings and decries the use of a letter, read by Democratic Senator Joe Biden from Melody Townsel — a public relations consultant from Texas — who charges that Bolton chased her though the halls of a Russian hotel, threw things at her, and slid threatening letters under her door. She also claims that Bolton spread rumors about her in Kyrgyzstan (where she was working on a project). Hayes claims Townsel is a “Democratic activist who founded the Dallas, Texas, chapter of Mothers Opposing Bush.” Her charges have also been challenged by “four of her colleagues, including Jayant Kolatra, owner of the firm that employed Townsel.” Having disposed of Townsel to his satisfaction, Hayes finds himself still jittery about Bolton’s chances for confirmation, given the doubts about Bolton coming from Republican Senators Lincoln Chafee and George Voinovich.

William Kristol also weighs in with the unfortunately titled “The Borking of Bolton.” He equates the Bolton nomination fight with the successful Democratic campaign to deny Robert Bork a Supreme Court seat in 1987. Sticking mercilessly to Republican talking points, Kristol says that just as Bork’s defeat ushered in “[eighteen] years of intellectual mediocrity and constitutional incoherence from the Supreme Court,” Bolton’s defeat would lead the United States to “pay almost as great a price in foreign policy.” (Does that mean if Bolton crashes and burns, maybe Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia will take his place as President Bush’s go-to guy at the U.N.?)

Newsweek also takes on the Bolton issue, and includes some information that the Standard sees fit to ignore. Seems that not only are some analysts mad at Bolton for trying to force through WMD claims that simply weren’t true, but in November 2003 British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Colin Powell that Bolton “was making it impossible to reach allied agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.”

What’s more, the magazine reports, Bolton on several occasions tried to “undermine promising diplomatic openings,” including the successful effort to get Libya to surrender its nuclear program. The deal only went though after the British demanded that Bolton have no part in the negotiations. Now that’s news we can use.

Paul McLeary

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.