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Swampland, Indeed

Time Magazine has launched a Washington political blog, where at least one of the staffers posting to the site shows how he doesn’t get the medium at all — and perhaps needs remedial work in basic journalism, too.

In this posting, entitled “The Clinton Playbook,” Jay Carney wrote, among other things:

In late 1994 and early 1995, President Clinton was in free fall. His aides despaired. They worried he might never recover from the shellacking the Democrats took in the 1994 mid-term elections. His approval ratings were mired in the 30’s, and seemed unlikely to rise. When Clinton delivered his State of the Union address in January 1995, his first with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole seated behind him as Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, he looked out at an audience of Democrats who blamed him for losing their majorities and of Republicans who were already convinced he would be a one-term president…

There are two glaring errors in that paragraph, which commenters pointed out almost immediately. First, Clinton’s approval ratings were considerably higher than that at the time. Second, the vice president and House speaker sit behind the president at the State of the Union speech. The Senate Majority Leader (Dole in those days) does not.

The comments were often unfriendly, to be sure, and sometimes downright stupid in their hostility. But Carney’s response made things worse.

He didn’t correct his errors in the original piece — a no-no in any journalistic book. And then, in this posting, where he grudgingly admitted his mistake (and tried to salvage credibility by noting the Clinton’s approval ratings had gone below 40 percent briefly in 1993, more than a year before the time he’d asserted in the other posting, he compounded his problems by writing:

Amazingly, some Swampland readers seem to think my earlier post about President Bush’s State of the Union address was too sympathetic to Bush, which proves nothing but that the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land.

As one commenter then wrote, accurately: “Journalism is supposed to be about accuracy. The proper response to someone who points out an error is to say ‘Thank you’ and then correct the error.”

The original posting remains uncorrected, incidentally.

11 Comments on “Swampland, Indeed”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 10:39 am

    Dan, it seems to me that most people don’t think of blogging as journalism… it’s more of an extroverted diary, a chance to put thoughts down and get the ideas out there (if anybody else is interested or… even if they aren’t…). Yes it would be good if they were all nice and fair but plenty just aren’t and I don’t know that I can fault them for it… (they are just “volunteers” showing up at work and doing what they can… subject to their many limitations including blatant bias) D.

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 10:47 am

    A journalist who writes a blog as part of the job should abide by the rules of journalism. Period.

  3. #3 Delia
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 11:36 am

    that wasn’t obvious to me… (the *getting paid* part… is that what you meant? that since he was getting *paid* to do it…)

    well, then, I think he will hear more on this… (from his employer!)

    still, is that something agreed on? journalists blogging are held to “the rules of journalism”? I’m thinking that even if they are trained to be fair etc. (well, should be) they may not necessarily want to practice that on their own time… you’d certainly not expect that if they were writing a diary, for instance… (they are people after all… may need to relax once in a while…)

    and are they necessarily *paid* for blogging when it occurs in the context of their employment? (because if they are NOT, you’d think they would just stop doing it and go get some coffee instead if it turns out to be just too much of a headache…) D.

  4. #4 Paul Andrews
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Hey Dan, Maybe you should send him a copy of your book, We the Media! (In response to your point, I’d add that it would help if bloggers also tried to observe journalistic best practices.)

    I think Delia is right in one respect, most people *still* don’t think of blogging as journalism. Nor do they understand community journalism (a term I prefer to citizen journalism), which imo is the next phase of blogging. The best example I know of how online journalism should work, incorporating blogging, commenting, groups and other great Web tools into the *process* of journalism, is Check it out if you get a chance, but don’t expect yourself to figure it out on the first or second pass. Its subtleties and strengths take some usage to fully appreciate.

  5. #5 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    The principles of journalism are good ones to follow in pretty much any endeavor: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and transparency.

  6. #6 Delia
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Paul: I think regarding the *whole* of blogging as journalism (even if you just look at it as what would be ideal) is missing a very important aspect — just kicking back and relaxing!

    Dan: yes, those are GREAT qualities that would serve anybody well in *serious* circumstances… (I’m just not sure that blogging, when done by journalists in their own time, should always be regarded as… one of *those* situations…) D.

  7. #7 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Dan, this is another one of my questions to you – what if the would-be “journalist” just doesn’t care?

    Yes, we should all follow the Boy Scout oath – “thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and transparency.”. We should, we should, we should.

    It’s not wrong for you to say this. It may even help.

    But the obvious next issue is – what if someone doesn’t? What if someone’s attitude is “I’ll lie, be inaccurate, and as long as I get readers, who cares what you think?”.

    The deep question is why destroying the structures which have any connection to such professionalism, and cheerleading structures which reward demagoguery, going to result in more journalism rather than demagoguery?

  8. #8 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 25th, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    It’s not a new problem. The “traditional” media are full of the things you’re complaining about. All we can do is try to persuade people to do the right thing.

  9. #9 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 26th, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Absolutely, it’s not a new problem. The question is whether it’s worsening, and what can be done regarding it. All *I* can do is vent frustration in little comment boxes, since I know very well that by definition, I can’t persuade people to do the right thing, since the hacks don’t care about what *I* say.

  10. #10 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 26th, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    What makes you think they care about what I say, either?

  11. #11 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 26th, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Well, I tried to avoid going down the holier-than-thou path, as I know it’s simplistic. My basic belief is that if people who care about truth want to push the system towards valuing truth more (note the phrasing, it’ll never be perfect, I’m talking “better”), that’s going to involve doing much more difficult and costly things than moralizing. On the other hand, as someone who is even stopped from writing some articles and blog posts (*some*, not *all*), because of being underpowered and overmatched by liars and flacks, I’m really in no position to recommend to anyone they do anything.

    I just try to get liberal intellectuals (used descriptively, not pejoratively) to engage the problem in a systematic way, and not be fooled by certain appealing but wrong *and harmful* concepts of net-utopianism. If I can’t do that (which seems pretty evident), I have no basis to think I can do more. 🙁