Is the blogosphere ready for prime time?

No, but it’s playing in prime time anyway, and it’s not going to change now.

Yesterday’s announcement that Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant came because of “rumors spreading on the Internet” that the youngest child of Palin was actually that of Sarah’s daughter.

The controversy has raised questions about how well Palin was vetted by the McCain campaign.

But there’s a more important question: Who’s vetting Daily Kos, where the rumor picked up steam, was regurgitated and was never properly checked out?

There are, as you might expect, dueling reactions to the “new journalism” today, but it’s mostly based around the “old journalism.” Should the mainstream media have paid any attention to the rumors?

No, says media critic Dan Kennedy. But he lets Kos off lightly:

Who was hurt by Daily Kos? No one, really, because there’s all sorts of misinformation percolating in the tubes (I thought an Alaska reference would be appropriate). What you hope is that the solid stuff will rise to the top, and that it will be proven or debunked. And if it’s debunked, it ought to be done somewhere other than in the mainstream media.

As for what “millions of people” who know about the rumor would think if the media stayed silent, well, I don’t hear any complaints over the lack of an investigative series on 9/11 conspiracy theories. Most people are smart enough to understand that the media would not shy away from a story like Palin’s fake pregnancy if it were true and could be verified.

PoliGazette (in the Netherlands), however, sees little role for the “new journalism”


… it is too late to backpeddle, apologize and move on for those who brought up this

subject and who have now already done tremendous damage to Palin’s image and reputation. After all, in the end rumors are heard by many more people than the news that the rumors are false.

The issue itself speaks ill, not of Palin but of the blogosphere and partisan ‘citizen journalists’ who are more than willing to publish stories that unfairly destroy a person’s good reputation, simply because doing so may help their favorite candidate or because it will help them get some more hits.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post pushed Markos Moulitsas (the creator of Daily Kos) on the subject and got the stock blogger answer to questions surrounding what defines responsible journalism for “citizen journalists.”


“Our people are doing the vetting. Even if some of it is hitting dead ends, other ones are striking direct hits,” Moulitsas says. His role, he adds, “is to sit back and let the citizen journalists do their job, and I amplify the stuff that shakes out.”:

In other words, if you throw enough stuff against the wall,some of it will stick. Moulitsas focuses on the stuff that sticks. Others says the danger is the amplification and effect of the stuff that doesn’t.

Many bloggers like to point out that other bloggers will “fact check.” But that didn’t happen in this case. Nobody in the blogosphere investigated the rumors, or made phone calls, or lifted much of a finger to confirm (or deny) a damaging accusation that turned out to be entirely incorrect.

  • daveg

    The controversy has raised questions about how well Palin was vetted by the McCain campaign.

    Vetted for what? Being a real-life American family working through real-life family problems in an honest and ethical manner?

    I’m afraid that I just don’t see the issue here. I’m seeing a lot of accusations of hypocrisy, but unless the Palin’s are forcing their daughter to get an abortion against her will, I just don’t see the alleged crime.

    Why are people that ostensibly (and vocally) so gung-ho about privacy and “pro-choice” so adamant when people, you know… choose? And probably wouldn’t mind a little of the privacy the Obama family has claimed for themselves?

  • mindtron

    Unfortunately it seems like the liberal blogger community is getting caught up in the same kind of stories that they have been angry about the conservative blogging community pushing (think all the Obama smears).

    There are many more substantial items that could be covered and probably more that should be covered but we don’t know of yet since she is such an unknown. Why this stupid National enquirer story was pushed is beyond me.

  • C

    GOSSIP?!!!

    oh never.

    whether she is pregnant or not is NOT a campaign issue.

    This rumor being spread has nothing to do with Obama’s campaigning. Obama has had the strength in all the gossip/trash throwing that has gone on from the opponent to NOT retaliate. Obama is a leader. BY ACTIONS

    LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS.

  • Jim

    The story does cast a light on Palin’s promotion of abstinence sex education. Does it work?

  • daveg

    I have read that Palin advocated abstinence and contraception sex education, not just abstinence.

    The question is not so much “does it work” (what with the answer “not always” being so very self-evident in this case) but “what do you do if it doesn’t work?”

  • Paul

    The fact that an abstinence only advocate ( yes she does promote abstinence only education, no contraceptives, that would be too confusing: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/09/01/1320417.aspx ) and “family values” candidate has a 17 year old daughter who is pregnant out of wedlock is significant and raises questions that should be asked of a vice presidential candidate, even if they are uncomfortable questions. Even though the Kos got it wrong, the reports did lead to this disclosure. Would the mainstream media have broken the story had it not been for the internet rumors? I don’t think we can assume they would have. The idea that more people read the Daily Kos and will remember the inaccurate report than read, watch, and listen to mainstream news is silly. As for vetting and what not, this idea that “blog” standards are less reliable is kinda funny. The mainstream outlets are constantly getting things wrong. MPR midmorning had a stream pro war experts on in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq and didn’t bother to “vet” any of mostly bogus information they were selling. The funniest was a guy from the “Institute for Peace Studies”, literally the first thing this guy said was: “well of course the question isn’t whether not to invade Iraq, the only question is when”. A real nut for peace that guy was. Of course the main reason for having to choose a time for invasion was WMDs. Yes Kos got it wrong. No there’s no excuse for it. But the important this is that the bogus report was debunked. I’ve seen dozens of bogus facts and stories in the mainstream media that have never been corrected as well as the really big ones that weren’t corrected until some real damage was done.

  • daveg

    Well, if you put any credence in MSNBC, you’re probably ok with Time Magazine too:

    The fact is, regardless of what you will hear over the next few days, Bristol’s pregnancy is not a legitimate political issue. Sarah Palin is a longterm member of a group called Feminists for Life, which is not opposed to birth control. So you probably can’t tag her for consigning young people to unwanted pregnancies.

    And again, I’m far more interested in the family’s response to what happened, not how it happened.

    …raises questions that should be asked of a vice presidential candidate, even if they are uncomfortable questions.

    Yes, and as an example of how that should work, I would look at the John Edwards case. If, that is, the media that is so thirsty for details regarding the sex life of the VP candidate’s teenage daughter had shown anything like that level of interest in a presidential candidate’s extramarital activities. Oh, I’m equally certain that they would have never reported that story either had the blogs not done it for them.

  • David W.

    I don’t see what’s lost when the self-appointed guardians of our discourse, aka journalists, no longer have a lock over what is or is not a fit subject for mass discussion. Especially given how well journalists are regularly spun and fail to really fact check what they’re told before reporting it. There’s a reason why we don’t have issues in politics anymore, and it has everything to do with reporters blithely relating PR bullshit on topics from global warming to flat taxes.

    Lately the analogy of the press with the church comes to mind, and here’s hoping the internet reformation makes it possible for citizens to directly participate in democracy rather than be spoon-fed the truth by reporters and pundits who supposedly know best – when it’s very clear that many of them have little or no clue about the subjects they write and pontificate about.

    But Bob, I’ll always look forward to you talking about flying. You really know something about that at least.

  • Bob Collins

    //I don’t see what’s lost when the self-appointed guardians of our discourse, aka journalists, no longer have a lock over what is or is not a fit subject for mass discussion.

    David W., for some reason when this discussion comes up, someone always posts this response. Today, it’s you. Journalists love good journalism regardless of who’s doing it. Similarly, we hate bad journalism — just as you do — regardless of who’s doing it. For purposes of this discussion, we’re not talking, though, about not participating in the journalistic process or who should control it.

    Here’s what we’re talking about: “Is checking and verifying still important?”

    If the answer is no, then just say it. If the answer is yes, then what’s to defend here ?

    It has nothing to do with whether it’s a good idea to give citizens a voice in democracy or in the media. It’s about making a reasonable attempt to be accurate, and taking this task — journalism — that everyone seems to want to do, seriously enough to the point where those who follow — again, regardless of who is doing it — the respect it deserves. Why? Because doing it well shows a high regard for the people who are reading or watching it. And doing it poorly shows no respect or regard for those same people.

    The citizen journalist movement is a good one. Daily Kos’ performance on the “it’s not her baby” story was about as schlocky as it gets. I don’t think one can reasonably preach against the ills of mainstream media and the lack of “issues in politics” (do you LISTEN to MPR?) while at the same time embracing a story that Sarah Palin isn’t the mother of her Down Syndrome son.

    The comment uttered earlier here that the value of the Kos story was that it smoked out the “real” story is even more frightening. So the next time we want to find out if a politician is on the take, we’ll just accuse him of being a pedophile.

    Is that really a better method of journalism, even than the one we’ve got now, warts and all? Does that really show a respect for the reader?

    When it’s no longer about the reader — when it’s about getting the “right” person elected — then it’s not journalism any more and there’s no point arguing that it is.

  • D Koski

    The “journalism” of the blog-o-sphere is really just a great organ of communication and research. And yes, it has opinions. To try and negate the story about Sarah Palin not having a Down Syndrome child, because the information can not be verified is ridiculous. The story had legs, because it didn’t add up. Information from reputable sources, told the story of a woman who did not let anyone know she was pregnant till the seventh month and she flew home to have the child after going into labor. That, Mr Journalist, is worthy of research and speculation.

    And as for your slippery little insert about 9-11 conspiracies.

    Many people have very legitimate questions. To say that it must not be valid since millions are not clamoring for answers is an oversimplification. You may not have wrote it, but you used it.

    That is what I call poor journalism.

  • David W.

    Bob, do you think something does or doesn’t add up about Sarah Palin’s multi-modal half-continental trip to give birth? If not, why not? Or is this something that you just let go without checking up on it? Rumors feed on what isn’t known, not what is known, so blaming the purveyors of rumor doesn’t excuse not getting the truth about what generates the rumors to begin with.

    So when I say that the major media outlets are the guardians of our discourse, I’m saying that because it took the National Enquirer – not NPR – to break the Edwards story. Will the same apply to Palin?

  • Bob Collins

    // so blaming the purveyors of rumor doesn’t excuse not getting the truth about what generates the rumors to begin with.

    That’s your view and I respect it. What I disagree with — and the point you seem to be missing — is that the truth and rumors are not the same thing.

    You’re right, checking up on rumors is an important part of the process. But where you and I disagree is where it fits in that process.

    I think it comes BEFORE a story is written. You think it comes after.

    As for you, Mr. Koski, some stories don’t add up because the “new journalist” can’t — or is too lazy — to do the math. You ruin a lot of good stories by checking the facts.

    Anybody who believes that you smoke out the truth by printing the falsehoods is not qualified to evaluate what is or isn’t good journalism. That technique is merely the ill-informed creating the misinformed.

  • http://medianation.blogspot.com Dan Kennedy

    Yes, I let Daily Kos off lightly, but I wrote that the pseudonymous Kos blogger who floated the rumor has “the ethics of a snake.”

    Why do I differentiate? Because Kos isn’t a media organization or a journalistic enterprise. Instead, it’s a huge community in which anyone can sign up and start spouting off. Frankly, that’s why I don’t read it all that often. There’s good stuff and there’s a whole lot of misinformation, and it can be pretty hard to tell one from the other.

    But I’m not sure why it deserves to be criticized on that basis. To invoke the cliché of the moment, it is what it is.