Screw Credibility

Recently Digby wrote about an astonishing Harvard conference on political blogging. Of the 43 participants, only about 3 or 4 were free-lance bloggers. Everyone else represented an institution, and while all but two had some internet presence, the majority were best known for their non-internet work.

Bloggers apparently don’t have credibility. Judy Fucking Miller has credibility, and William Fucking Safire has credibility, but bloggers don’t. Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and Josh Micah Marshall strive for credibility, but they weren’t invited. They might as well all have been off in Vegas playing poker with the infamous Bartcop.

The major media has lost the ability to control the political dialogue. No one can say “That’s the way it is” any more. But media people are fighting hard to maintain their status, and that’s why the credibility issue is raised. (In Digby’s comments, the blogger Susan Madrak – once a professional journalist – talks about the fear and hostility she encounters when representing bloggers at journalistic events.)

People who promote Judith Miller, but fire Robert Parry, really need to shut up about credibility. “Credibility” is just the conventional wisdom — if you disagree with it, you’re not credible. (Scott Ritter knew as much about the facts of Iraqi WMD as anyone did, and he was right when almost everyone else was wrong, but do you see him on TV any more, or read him in the NYT? No. Not credible.)

Two things are happening here. First, there is no middle any more. This is mostly because the hard right is trying to take over the country by any means necessary, and destroying moderates (including Republican moderates) is part of their game. They have many plants in the media itself — especially at the relatively-anonymous high levels, including ownership – and rightwing activists outside the media have learned that if they complain all the time about everything, often they’ll get their way. (This accounts for a supposed paradox: why do both liberals and conservatives hate the media? It’s because the conservatives are faking it. They know as well as liberals do that Dan Rather wasn’t really a liberal, but they can win by lying and smearing, so they do it.)

The second thing is more positive. Faceless copyeditors and other behind-the-scenes pros try to control the spin of news by highlighting some stories, downplaying others, and hardening or softening the main point. Various tricks can be used to suppress a story: putting it on page 16 with a small, misleading headline and burying the point of the story in the 9th paragraph sum up the most common ones.

With the internet, this arbiter function is lost. Every man can be his own I.F. Stone now. Stone used to say that you could always find the truth in the newspapers, but it would often be in a short paragraph on page sixteen. Most of the damage that bloggers do to the established media doesn’t come from independent reporting, but from displacing the copy editors by highlighting stories the editors wanted to downplay.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll have lot more to say later. For right now, I’ll just say that the Democratic Party’s timidity about bloggers is a good example of the way that Democrats’ institutional, bureaucratic commitments cripple them, and that the quest for credibility is not worth bothering with, since Rove, Norquist, Bush, and Cheney are out to destroy us any way they can. There’s no middle any more.

P. S. Note that I didn’t even mention Armstrong Williams.