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January 11, 2005
The Mainstream Media Whitewash

Twenty-four hours after the other shoe dropped at CBS and their long-awaited independent report was released, the mainstream media and their cousins in the blogosphere have analyzed and debated its meaning. Some bloggers see some small victories in the otherwise tepid and timid conclusions reached by the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel. Others, especially Hugh Hewitt and Jonathan Last, understandably call the entire exercise a whitewash for failing to reach the obvious conclusion that producer Mary Mapes and CBS allowed Memogate to occur because of their deep political biases. Some, oddly, have hardly bothered to comment at all.

The mainstream media has analyzed and opined on the report all morning. Every major news outlet has its own take on the situation, although as Hugh notes, they mostly want to declare the war over and look towards a new era of accountability with a jaundiced eye. Given their proximity to the same pressures and biases evident at CBS, this reaction is understandable, if self-destructive; a refusal to see the truth almost guarantees that another major news outlet will suffer the same debacle.

But what's missing from all the mainstream media analyses, as CQ reader John Holas notes, is any consideration at all of the role that the blogosphere played in bringing accountability to CBS. The panel report itself only mentions the word "blog" 12 times in the entire 234-page report, and only in passing except for the Aftermath section, which acknowledges that the criticism began with Power Line and Little Green Footballs. After that, no mention is made of the critical role that the entire blogosphere played in keeping the story hot and breaking down the stonewalling that Dan Rather and Mary Mapes used to attempt escaping their accountability.

The mainstream media today offers the same myopic analysis for CBS' woes. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and Dana Milbank never mention the word "blog in their analysis. Kurtz doesn't mention blogs once in his news story on the CBS report, either, although he does quote a few bloggers in his Media Notes column today. Neither does the New York Times' Bill Carter in the story which I linked earlier, nor does USA Today's coverage of the story. Bloggers get shut out at the Boston Globe, too. The Los Angeles Times article on the CBS report actually manages to mention blogs -- once, in the penultimate paragraph:

Much of the early criticism of the broadcast on Bush came from Web loggers, or "bloggers," and their critiques spread rapidly through the media.

Perhaps you'd assume the Internet news sources would do better -- but you'd be mistaken. CNN also comes up with nothing on bloggers, and in fact their report no longer has a link on CNN's front page. MS-NBC also comes a cropper on bloggers, even though it pays a few bloggers for commentary and hosts its own blog site.

Why all the reluctance? How exactly does the mainstream media fail to report this singular and revolutionary event, where a mainstream news outlet was forced into accountability by a semi-organized movement of its own customers? Without the blogosphere, there would have been no story. The other news agencies hardly poked their nose into the story until Power Line, LGF, InDC Journal, and a number of other bloggers and Internet users had created a firestorm of outrage over the obvious forgeries of the Killian memos. Bloggers, being failed by the media organizations they patronize, hired their own experts to review the CBS memos, notably Bill Ardolino at InDC Journal.

In other words, the blogosphere did the MSM's job for it -- and ate their lunch while doing so. Only after professional-quality reporting burst forth from hundreds of citizen journalists did any of the MSM grab onto the story. Even then, the quality of their reporting was almost uniformly poor, castigating the amateur sleuths in the blogosphere as partisan and unreliable, while they mostly declined to engage CBS on the merits of the argument. (ABC and the New York Post were two notable exceptions.) In their central mission to the American populace -- uncovering and reporting the truth -- the mainstream media failed utterly, and for the same reasons as CBS allowed Memogate to air: political bias.

That's the other part of the whitewash we see in today's coverage of the CBS report. The mainstream media would have us believe now that the corruption of CBS and 60 Minutes Wednesday was self-evident and needed no impetus for discovery. They do not want to come to terms with an activist and energized readership, one that refuses to act like sheep any more. These media leaders cannot face their own biases and their desperate grip on the spigot of information, and so they attempt to simply ignore the critical role that the blogosphere played in bringing this debacle to light.

When we talk about whitewashes, let's remember that history can also be rewritten to hand defeats to the victors and acquittals to the guilty. We can see this process happening before our eyes in the media right now -- and the blogosphere had better react to it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2005 12:01 PM

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