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February 13, 2005
NYT: What Drove The Eason's Fables Blogswarm?

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with New York Times reporter David Gallagher about the blogswarm surrounding the remarks made by Eason Jordan at the World Economic Forum in Davos. We spent the better part of an hour discussing the controversy itself and the blogosphere's reaction, and Gallagher asked some tough but fair questions about my response. The interview forms part of the NYT's look at the implications of the blogswarm coming out in tomorrow's edition:

With the resignation Friday of a top news executive from CNN, bloggers have laid claim to a prominent media career for the second time in five months.

In September, conservative bloggers exposed flaws in a report by Dan Rather; he subsequently announced that on March 9 he would step down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News." On Friday, after nearly two weeks of intensifying pressure on the Internet, Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, abruptly resigned after being besieged by the online community. Morever, last week liberal bloggers forced a sketchily credentialed White House reporter to quit his post.

For some bloggers - people who publish the sites known as Web logs - it was a declaration that this was just the beginning. Edward Morrissey, a call center manager who lives near Minneapolis and has written extensively about the Jordan controversy, wrote on his blog, Captain's Quarters ( "The moral of the story: the media can't just cover up the truth and expect to get away with it - and journalists can't just toss around allegations without substantiation and expect people to believe them anymore."

Gallagher et al give a balanced look at the blogosphere's reaction to the blogswarm, on which the article focuses rather than the controversy itself. If any criticism of the article is warranted, it is that the Times again fails to mention the earlier instances of Jordan's pattern of slandering the military. However, in its focus on blogs and their newfound strength, the article stands on its own as an excellent background piece and a welcome addition to the growing library on Eason's Fables.

For instance, Gallagher gets a good variety of reactions about the unexpected power of the bloggers that moved CNN to protect itself with Jordan's resignation. The article contains reactions from significant members of our community, and those responses demand answers:

But while the bloggers are feeling empowered, some in their ranks are openly questioning where they are headed. One was Jeff Jarvis, the head of the Internet arm of Advance Publications, who publishes a blog at Mr. Jarvis said bloggers should keep their real target in mind. "I wish our goal were not taking off heads but digging up truth," he cautioned. ...

Steve Lovelady, a former editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal and now managing editor of CJR Daily, the Web site of The Columbia Journalism Review, has been among the most outspoken.

"The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail," he lamented online after Mr. Jordan's resignation. He said that Mr. Jordan cared deeply about the reporters he had sent into battle and was "haunted by the fact that not all of them came back."

Some on line were simply trying to make sense of what happened. "Have we entered an era where our lives can be destroyed by a pack of wolves hacking at their keyboards with no oversight, no editors, and no accountability?" asked a blogger named Mark Coffey, 36, who says he works as an analyst in Austin, Tex. "Or does it mean that we've entered a brave new world where the MSM has become irrelevant," he asked, using blogger shorthand for mainstream media.

His own conclusion is that the mainstream media "is being held to account as never before by the strong force of individual citizens who won't settle for sloppy research and inflammatory comments without foundation, particularly from those with a wide national reach, such as Rather and Eason."

I had an opportunity to exchange e-mails with Steve Lovelady earlier today, and while the Times could not possibly have known this, his remarks suffer from the context. Our discussion wasn't quite under Chatham House Rules, but I don't want to quote him directly, either. I think I feel safe in saying that his intent did not include all bloggers who wrote critically about Eason Jordan, and he respects the efforts of some even while disagreeing about our take on the controversy. He should have a more complete reaction at CJR sometime soon.

Jeff Jarvis and Steve Lovelady echo what Jim Geraghty asked the blogosphere on February 9th:

I was exchanging emails with another blogger, Paul, who asked the good question, Aside from "forcing" the resignation of Jordan, what is there to accomplish? Can CNN be shamed into behaving better?

The question deserves some thought. What has the goal of the blogs in this case been? In the case of the CBS memos, it was pretty clear to confirm suspicions that the memos were fake, and then squeeze a retraction out of a stubborn network digging in its heels.

A few flaws find their way into the piece. It misses entirely the crucial role played by Hugh Hewitt in generating the momentum in the blogosphere. It tends towards an implication that the blogswarm flew out of control, which I don't think is accurate. The article argues the same allegations that Eason Jordan now denies ever making, and it only presents one side, especially in regards to the death of two journalists at the Palestine Hotel. Jules Crittendon of the Baltimore Sun just rebutted the charges of deliberate murder or even of negligent disregard for safety, as he was embedded with the unit that fired on the hotel. It also mentions Nik Gowing, whom I referenced briefly in my interview with Gallagher, but doesn't mention the connection Gowing has with Jordan through CNNi president Chris Cramer, who has his own record of unsubstantiated allegations.

Of course, the Times has limited space in its print edition, and stories have to fit and sometimes suffer for the editing process. However, if these issues were to be brought up, I would have preferred to see their entire context.

Read the entire New York Times piece. It tends towards a warning to the blogosphere to take care not to go off half-cocked, and that may not be a bad message. At least as it pertains to my interview, I feel very well treated in the article and represented fairly, which gives me confidence that everyone else received equally fair treatment. The background will interest bloggers and non-bloggers alike and reminds us that we need to think about the terms of our mission.

NOTE: The Times also provides links back to the blogs it mentions. Nice touch; not all newspapers remember to do that.

UPDATE: Okay, here's one they missed. I updated this because I can't afford the price of silence any longer.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 13, 2005 10:17 PM

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