Blogging: Compared To What?

As Patterico celebrates his tenth blogging anniversary, and Scott Greenfield celebrates his sixth, I am moved to think again about how bloggers are regarded by what is called the "mainstream media."

Despite how mainstream bloggers have become, and despite the fact that almost all "mainstream media" outlets have their own bloggers, the prevailing attitude seems unchanged in more than a decade: bloggers, we're told, are unreliable, biased, wild-eyed pajama-clad basement-dwellers.

Apart from the pajamas and basement part, I think this is irrefutably true. Bloggers are biased and unreliable.

Here's the key question: compared to what?

We've been told to think that people who went to journalism school, who write or talk for established media outlets, who are clad in the garb of media-officialdom, represent some sort of neutral-and-reliable baseline, and that bloggers are somewhere below that. But it's fallible humans all the way down, my friends. The notion that someone is trustworthy or honest because they landed a job with an old-school media outlet is, to be blunt, laughable.

Are bloggers wild-eyed? Sure. Some of us are nuts. But check out the sort of people that "mainstream media" hires. This week's example — local news writer Kathleen O'Brein Wilhelm, who as far as I can tell thinks deer can't read because Obama kills babies, and offers deathless lines like this: "Words are fun and worth clearly stating, in English if in America, and with an opinion that is yours because it’s good to have an opinion." Too obscure a media outlet, an exception that proves the rule? Well, you could go with the crazy Suzi Parker of the Washington Post, whose crazitude led her breathlessly to report satire about Sarah Palin as fact.

Are bloggers biased, uninterested in facts that don't support their biases, eager to push stories that promote their narratives, throwing out red meat like chum to sharts? Of course. But again, compared to what? Consider this Platonic ideal of mastubatory senile-dementia-agitating drivel from Fox News pearl-clutching about a university recognizing pagan and Wiccan holidays. Quoth Tucker Carlson on a Fox program "Every Wiccan I've known is either a compulsive Dungeons & Dragons player or is a middle-aged twice divorced older woman living in a rural area who works as a midwife." Gosh, Tucker. That's pretty strong language from someone who puts on a bow tie to seem tougher.

"Mainstream" journalists, like bloggers, can be statistapologists and amusingly arrogant louts and gullible twerps and con-men on the make and straight-up bigots.

This is not to say you should trust bloggers. You should exercise skepticism about what you read on blogs. You should use your independent judgment about their work product.

But why, exactly, shouldn't we do the same with "mainstream" journalism outlets? By what stretch of the imagination are they reliable just because they have the big name?

To Catch a Predator

Yesterday, Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio posted an expose on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's rape consensual sex with an underage a 17 year old.

So the story here is … an NFL quarterback had consensual sex? A woman had sex with an NFL quarterback? And this story is worth publishing because … the young woman very briefly thought it was a good idea to brag about it? Deadspin doesn't name the woman but they include all but her name. The NY Post steps in to connect the dots laid out so cheekily by Deadspin (her initials, hometown and a facebook screencap). Of course.

Deadspin is a site about sports but this story isn't within their jurisdiction. It isn't a story about Mark Sanchez. It isn't a story about the Jets. It is a story about how teenagers make decisions that they regret and about adults who take advantage of them.

The noteworthy adult in this story isn't Mark Sanchez; it is A.J. Daulerio.

What this is about more than anything else, it is that if you are a woman and willingly have sex, there is an asshole out there who will try to make you feel like shit about it.

You could say that E.K. asked for it when she dressed provocatively threatened to sue Deadspin to stop publication but that is just blaming the victim. Daulerio had already told her what he was going to do. And he told a 17 year old that she had to shut up and take it.

Skadden Arps Doesn't Observe "Take Your Dog To Work Day"

Today is "Take Your Dog To Work Day." If I had wished to do so, I could have taken one of my dogs to work.  I practice, by choice, in a small laid back insurance defense firm, having left a larger law firm (not Skadden by any means) because I could see myself dying of a heart attack at the age of fifty if I'd stayed with those backstabbing stuffed shirts.

The money isn't as good, but I have a stereo in my office, more unusual art than what I could have displayed at the big firm, and I can take my dog to work.

As a hobby, I write for a "Take Your Dog To Work" blog.  I can write about anything I wish.  I can cuss up a storm.  I can abuse and vilify anyone I choose, and I can write under a pseudonym, like the nameless coward that I am.

Dave Weigel found out, the hard way, that you can't take your dog to work at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom.

Weigel, long one of the more entertaining journalist / bloggers at Reason and later the Washington Independent, "resigned" today from his new gig as the Washington Post's blogger in chief on the conservative political movement.  Weigel, as anyone who can read could tell, is no conservative though he covers the movement well.  His resignation was prompted by the revelation of several emails he'd written, he thought in private, concerning Matt Drudge and the followers of Ron Paul.  As it turned out Weigel trusted the wrong people, and the emails were revealed.

Weigel, coming from a "Take Your Dog To Work" background at Reason, a "Take Your Dog To Work" political magazine if ever there was one, made the mistake of taking his dog to work at the Washington Post, which is Skadden Arps.

The dog promptly shit on the rug, humped an important client who was allergic to fur, knocked over the aquarium filled with rare Japanese koi, then vomited fish bones all over the managing partner's office.  And so Dave Weigel first apologized, then got to carry his belongings out of the office in a cardboard box.

It's as simple as that.  Some claim that Weigel was fired for "having an opinion". That's shit on the rug, and it won't come out.  Weigel was fired for forgetting that you can't take your dog to work at Skadden Arps, no matter what they tell new associates about the wonderful lifestyle they'll enjoy working at the world's most prestigious law firm.

No doubt Weigel will land on his feet.  He's talented and he's smart.  But he'd be better off at a "Take Your Dog To Work" magazine or blog.

I've wondered why some of Weigel's former colleagues, such as Radley Balko or Katherine Mangu Ward, aren't working for the Post or the Times.  "Shit man, Balko's a thousand times smarter than David Brooks, and a much better reporter than James Risen.  He should be in the big leagues."

But they probably enjoy taking their dogs to work now and then, around people who actually like dogs and won't be offended by the smell.

A Cautionary Tale About Bloggers Recomending Products and Services

Popular rightward blogger Confederate Yankee wrote a post very enthusiastically endorsing a class (which comes complete with a gun and a knife) put on by something called the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute.

Folks, this is one great offer.

What should you expect to get out of this investment in your shooting skills?

The ability to draw from a concealed holster and put a controlled pair of shots to the target's thoracic cavity from 3-5 yards away, in less than 1.5 seconds.

[An analysis of the marketing acumen displayed in that description is an entire separate post.]

The folks at Sadly, No — who never miss an opportunity to shit on Confederate Yankee, sometimes reasonably and sometimes not — do a little digging about Front Sight and its founder, "Dr." Ignatious Piazza, and rather quickly discover some circumstances that might make reasonable people very hesitant to do business with them. (I'm primarily referring to the circumstances that led to the company being placed in receivership briefly, not to "Dr." Piazza's affiliation with Scientology.)

Read it for yourself.

In his comments, Confederate Yankee responds "knowing the whole story helps," and offers some facts which, in his opinion, counter the negative information about Front Sight and Piazza. He concludes by repeating his endorsement, and inviting people to do their own research on the internet.

The speed with which he does so suggests that he was aware of the negative information to begin with.

Here's my question: would you, should you, trust a blogger who endorses a product or service under those circumstances? Would you, should you, trust a blogger who doesn't call his readers' attention to such material information in the course of the endorsement, rather than in response to questions?

Also, a query: I wonder whether Confederate Yankee will get any consideration from this rather gushing endorsement. I have no idea one way or the other. I oppose any law forcing him to do so. But if he is getting some kind of consideration, and hasn't disclosed it — wouldn't that be relevant to your evaluation of his credibility?

[For the record, we at Popehat have never gotten consideration for any of our various gushing endorsements, unless you count the creators of the products and services occasionally saying nice things in comments.]

I Like My Humor Black. Like My Men.

Writer and director Craig Mazin is a genuinely funny guy, on paper and in person. I've suffered through a number of kiddie parties and similar events with him. I've managed to overcome my resentment of the fact that he has some sort of deal with his wife where if he doesn't want to go to a social event, he doesn't have to go. That shit's not fair, man.

I've talked before about Craig's blog The Artful Writer, which has lots of inside-baseball stuff about Hollywood, as well as good writing about the craft of writing. Today I enjoyed his recent piece on the up-and-down cycle of the movie genre of spoofs, in which he has worked. That genre hit its peak with Airplane! and its nadir with the recent Meet the Spartans, which I recently encountered on cable and from which I was unable to avert my sickly fascinated gaze.

It's a good read. Check it out.

Blogger Anonymity and Outing

Patrick beat me to the punch today talking about how Ed Whelan of NRO outed the anonymous blogger Publius at Obsidian Wings. Walter Olson had an overview.

I want to make three points: (1) why I blog anonymously, (2) why I disagree with some people — including some people I respect — that there is anything inherently wrong with anonymous blogging, and (3) why I think that Whelan's action — while entirely legal and protected by the First Amendment — was worthy of contempt.

[Read more…]

The Internet: Making it Vastly More Difficult To Obfuscate

Have you ever gotten a cold call from an unfamiliar charity asking for money, and wonder if the charity was legit and how much of your money would actually go to the kittens or children or police officers or baby seals or whatever if you donated?

Of course you have.

But have you ever taken it upon yourself to find out?

Of course you have not. Because you are — and I mean this in the kindest and most constructive way possible — a lazy, feckless couch muffin what makes Kato Kaelin look like Horatio Alger.

But you could have found out. With an internet connection, you have the tools you need. All you need from there is determination and talent.

Like Kathleen Seidel.

Kathleen Seidel is the ludicrously thorough blogger who runs the usually-over-my-head Neurodiversity Weblog, which follows scientific, legal, and social issues related to autism. We followed along gleefully when Seidel, not herself a lawyer, defeated a thuggish lawyer and got him sanctioned when he served her with a retaliatory and abusive subpoena for writing things critical of one of his anti-vaccine junk science lawsuits. Pardon me if I gush, but Seidel is the embodiment of how good "amateur" blogging can be — how an informed citizen with a subject matter interest willing to put in the time can cover an issue just as thoroughly and usefully as a "professional journalist."

Today, she blogged about her detective work after she got a cold-call charitable solicitation from something called the "Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation," which promises to support children through "TAX DEDUCTABLE" [sic] donations. Just like your fourth-grade math teacher always asked, Seidel shows her work — and the post is a blueprint for an aggressive, thorough, swift investigation of a charitable entity by a citizen journalist. That investigation raised grave questions about the "Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation," not the least of which is the percentage of telemarketing-driven receipts that will ever be used to help autistic kids. Read it if you are interested in those suspicious charitable calls you get, or if you are interested in how one could investigate them.

And ask yourself — couldn't I do this on some subject that interests me? Why haven't I? What would the nation be like, if a hundred thousand people did?

With Sudden Success Comes Raw Terror and Exhaustion

A few years back there was a TV advertisement for a shipping company — I don't recall whether it was FedEx or UPS or one of the others. It showed a small business taking their web site live to advertise and sell their product. The ad shows them reacting with joy as they start to get orders, and then disbelief and eventually terror as the orders quickly pile up beyond what they had anticipated and beyond their capacity to process — which is why they needed the shipping company's services, of course.

What would that be like in real life for a small or start-up company?

Find out at Curious Business, Ken Parker's blog about running a small online business. I've known Ken online for years. Ken opened Curio City, his online ship of quirky and fun gifts, a while back. He experienced how the internet could give you a profitable put exhausting kick in the ass when the New York Times profiled one of his products and his traffic spiked like mad. Ken's observations about the aftermath are a fascinating window into what it's like to run a small online business, and how that business changes when it gets noticed in a big way. Major congrats are due to Ken. Gore Vidal said memorably "It is not enough that I succeed, others must fail" — a sentiment that I often thought was at the heart of fondness for trial lawyering. But Ken's success at Curio City makes me warm and fuzzy.