Journalists, relying on anonymous government sources, attack anonymous bloggers who correct journalists’ errors

Summary:  Today’s lack of self-awareness award goes to these CNN journalists, on CNN’s Newsroom.

Here we have a conversation by journalists about the news, displaying an astonishing lack of awareness about the limitations about their business that have diminished their credibility and vaporized the profitability of their employers.  Their self-congratulations are nuts as so many stories in recent years are broken by bloggers and alternative media. 

They mention the bloggers role in the Sherrod incident, ignoring that of the mainstream media.  Who did little other than using their bullhorn to propagate the lies and — eventually — the true story.  The most interesting aspect of this story is why the media spread Breitbart’s story — that of a serial fabulist — without first verifying it.  And why this sort of activity requires journalists,  rather than clerks and stenographers. 

This is little more than sour graphs, yearning for a bygone day when they controlled the flow of information to the pubic — who were passive consumers.  When the only people who could “that people can post whatever they want about anyone and get away with it” were journalists.

Update:  For a survey of critical coverage of this farce, see Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

Transcript from CNN’s Newsroom, 23 July 2010

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And one that you and I discuss all the time. There are so many great things that the internet does and has to offer, but at the same time, Kyra, as you know, there was this dark side where — anyone’s enemy can take something nasty and post it on the internet and maybe it doesn’t rise to the level as did it with Shirley Sherrod, but it still gets out there among a certain community and does damage to that person’s reputation.

Imagine, what would have happened if we hadn’t taken a look at — what happened with Shirley Sherrod and plumb the depths further and found out that what had been posted on the internet was not, in fact, reflective of what she said? Would she still be without a job? Would her reputation still be ruined? That, to some degree, is the effect of what many people might consider to be a wild west of the internet where anybody can post anything they want about anyone.

Andrew Keen is the author of “The Cult of the Amateur.” How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and other user generated media are killing the American economy, the culture, and our values. Here’s what he says about this idea that people can post whatever they want about anyone and many times, probably more times than not, get away with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  ANDREW KEEN, AUTHOR: “What I think it reflects is a certain sort of paranoia about media and obsession with conspiracy, a kind of a lunacy that reflects us and extremism, bitterness, but also a degree of responsibility. I think this case is interesting because it shows the worst of the internet in the sense that someone printed a lie or published a lie which then was virally spread and almost ruined her life.

“But then, part of the internet and also mainstream media guys like you came to the rescue. And you sorted the case out. You showed that it was a lie. You revealed the fact, the reality, the truth which was actually the very opposite of what was published.”  (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: But John, we can’t always do that. There’s going to have to be a point in time where these people have to be held accountable. How about all these bloggers that blog anonymously? They say rotten things about people, and they’re actually given credibility which is — which is crazy. They are a bunch of cowards. They’re just people seeking attention. So, what is this guy propose that we can do about it?

ROBERTS: Andrew talked about with me was this idea of a gatekeeper, but there are huge first amendment rights that come into play here, freedom of speech and all of that. And he said that the people who need to be the gatekeepers are the media, to check into these stories. But for every Shirley Sherrod story that there is, there’s probably 100,000 other ones that never rise to the level of attention that we would look into them. So, I don’t know what you do about all of those people and we’ve seen them. People who are bullied on the internet who commit suicide. Others whose reputations have been ruined.

Andrew was also pointing to companies that try to ruin other companies by posting false information on their websites. To this idea of anonymous blogging, we chatted about that a little bit off camera. And to some degree, the internet is like a giant worldwide bathroom wall that you can write anything you want about anyone under an anonymous pseudonym. Somebody is going to have that information.

But I’ve always thought that if you’re going to say something — if you’re going to criticize someone in a public forum, have the courage to at the very least put your name on it. I mean, the better thing would be if you got a criticism for someone, say it to their face. The very least have — have the — whatever you want to call them, to put your name to it.

PHILLIPS: Sure. I think that’s what we all want because it’s very unfair. You know, we talk about writing on a bathroom wall, but come on, you can go — you can spray paint over that. That’s one wall for no — for the world, you know, whole world is not going to see that. I mean, we’re talking about — it’s not just freedom of first amendment. And I know that’s what they all claim. It’s freedom of defamation many times.

And what’s Andrew say about is there going to come a point where something is going to have to be done legally? There has to be some point where there’s some accountability. And companies, especially with the media, have to stop giving these anonymous bloggers credit or credibility, I guess that’s a better word.

ROBERTS: As you know, the ubiquitous nature of the internet and the way that it gathers together factions and divides others, you’re going to have allies of certain people who comment or blog anonymously.

Now, it’s not to say that anonymous blogging doesn’t have its place. I mean, if you’re in a place like Iran or North Korea or something like that, anonymous blogging is the only way you can ever get your point of view out without being searched down and thrown in jail or worse. But when it comes to a society like ours, an open society, you know, do there have to be some checks and balances, not national, but maybe website to website on who comments on things.

But we didn’t really have time to get into what you do about those people. But it’s a matter of, you know, you really have to be aware. You have to be aware of what you post on the internet which is why I always caution young people never post a naked photograph of yourself on the internet, but it’s for the rest of it. These are very thorny issues that we’re going to have to deal with.

Now, Shirley Sherrod may take this in a new direction if she actually does pursue a defamation suit as she said she might against Andrew Breitbart. She has the power now, and she also has the profile to maybe bring this into a new light. So, we’ll see where this goes.

Other posts about journalism

  1. A time-saving tip when reading the daily news, 2 Januaary 2008
  2. Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable, 30 April 2008
  3. The myth of media pessimism about the economy, 13 June 2008
  4. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  5. “The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism”, 23 December 2008
  6. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 18 February 2009
  7. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009
  8. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  9. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  10. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009 
  11. The perfidy of ABC News (tentative conclusion on a breaking story), 18 June 2009
  12. We know nothing because we read newspapers, 12 October 2009
  13. Must the old media die for the new media to flourish?, 29 October 2009
  14. Media madness #1 – their lies and ignorance make us stupid, 1 December 2009
  15. Media madness #2 – their lies and ignorance make us stupid, 4 December 2009

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