Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, I depended on liberal bloggers to not only analyze and highlight stories not being covered by the mainstream media but also to present the news accurately and objectively. During the entire health care debate the media was more fixated on Tea Party antics and Sarah Palin tweets than they were on the contents of this historic bill. Not one time did a single member of the MSM call out Palin for the "biggest lie of the year" in 2010.
Most recently, it took the media a full week to utter a single blip about Occupy Wall Street, despite the fact that an estimated 1000 protesters had kicked it off and it had been growing in intensity ever since. Even then, and until very recently, the media coverage has been spotty, lazy and fraught with predictable preconceptions but is likely to improve, according to an article at Poynter. Well, the amount of coverage has certainly improved thanks to the actions of city fathers and mothers and to police brutality against peaceful demonstrators.
Needless to say, relying on Fox News and conservative blogs, with only a few notable exceptions such as the Frum Report, is not an option. There's a reason that Fox viewers are even less informed than people who don't watch any news at all: lies, distortions, hysterical conspiracy theories, propaganda and the list goes on.
Ironically, I'm seeing a disturbing trend among progressive bloggers who seem to be resorting to the same kinds of practices most of us abhor on the right-wing blogs - misleading headlines, hysterics, slanted news, disregard for facts in too many cases, and a lack of substantiation. While most of us enjoy scooping a story, it should never be at the expense of accuracy, which usually requires a little time devoted to research and verification.
Remember the story that originated with the National Enquirer about an alleged affair John Boehner had been having with a lobbyist? According to the article, "Capitol Hill insiders and political bloggers have been buzzing about an upcoming New York Times probe - detailing an alleged affair that the 61-year-old married father of two had with pretty Washington lobbyist LISBETH LYONS." When I'd inquire why anyone would trust anything printed in this yellow rag, the response was inevitably, "Well, they were right about John Edwards." One correct story out of umpteen million manufactured ones makes this publication a "reliable source?" By the way, I'm still waiting for that Times expose.
Remember the one about how folks in the little town of Brandon, MS showed members of the Westboro Baptist Church their own brand of southern hospitality? It took a lot of backtracking but it was a myth which had originated on a college bulletin board. In the meantime it too had gone viral. Just because we'd like something to be true doesn't make it so. Just because a story or video can be found all over the Internet doesn't make it so either.
A headline on Addicting Info recently proclaimed, "Occupy Oakland Update: Marine Scott Olsen to Have Brain Surgery". The author wrote, "The LA Times is reporting that Occupy Oakland Protester and veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Scott Olsen will need brain surgery . . . ." What's wrong with this picture? The answer should be obvious - no link. So, I get on my broom and fly over to LA to check it out. The story was by Marvin Scott at WPIX in New York. A friend of Olsen's was quoted as saying, "Scott is in stable but serious condition as the neurologists decide whether to take him into surgery or the ICU." Another misleading story bites the dust but spreads like the plague that it is.
Another even more recent Occupy story that doesn't meet the smell test but which has also gone viral is the one about Jennifer Fox of Seattle who allegedly had a miscarriage because of being pepper sprayed and kicked in the stomach by police. Salon took their story from Crooks and Liars which got it from The Stranger, blah, blah, blah. To their credit, The Stranger did provide an update of sorts while Addicting Info hasn't even bothered. The Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly offer up some pretty persuasive proof that there's more fiction than truth to Fox's claims.
When Sean P. Means defines "citizen journalists," I wonder if he is including people who claim to be journalists when they aren't, which is what I suspect may be the case in this video.
In a comment, I asked how we know this guy is in fact a journalist by pointing out the obvious: he admits to not having a press card, a pretty standard requirement. Usually, in fact, the press wear their id's on a cord around their necks or attached to their belts or another piece of apparel. Of course, as in all things in a society that thrives on gen-u-ine replicas, it's not all that hard to buy or even make a fake press card,*
Mr. Means, in describing the pros and cons of "citizen journalists" writes:
The truth is that journalism is a profession. But, thanks to the First Amendment, it’s one of the few professions that don’t require a license or an advanced degree (as doctors and lawyers do) — which means anyone who claims to be a journalist can be one.While most of us "citizen bloggers" on the liberal side refrain from calling ourselves professional journalists - fake or otherwise - if we want credibility, which I think most of us want, shouldn't we strive to be as accurate, as fair and as balanced as possible? Shouldn't we avoid using hysterical, sensational and misleading headlines and the same kinds of mythology that is so prevalent on right-wing blogs? Shouldn't we learn the art of the smell test, how to read between the lines, and look beyond the headlines? Shouldn't we take the time to research back to, and beyond, the original source?
*Procedure required to get a press pass in NYC.
NOTE: I should make it very clear that none of what I describe here applies to one single blogger currently listed on my roll, with one tiny exception - but as someone commented, we all make mistakes. Each blogger is knowledgeable, highly principled and talented, and each one, regardless of what they write about (it isn't all about politics), strives to be as accurate as humanly possible. Take some time and get to know them.