Political bloggers often make a point of keeping the media honest. Take a recent case involving an oft-cited AP source, which the rightosphere claimed didn’t exist. It turns out he does, and now the leftosphere is crowing. Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey helps us plumb the psychology of the ’sphere.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Many bloggers across the political spectrum say that part of their job is to keep the mainstream media, or MSM, honest. For example, the conservative blogosphere was happy to claim the scalp of former CBS anchor Dan Rather for using forged memos to discount the President's National Guard service.
But liberal bloggers charge that for every right-wing "gotcha" that pans out, there are 20 wild allegations that don't. A recent case involves a source often cited by the Associated Press, an Iraqi police officer called Jamil Hussein. After he was the sole source cited in a contested AP story, the rightosphere claimed he didn't exist. The AP stonewalled, and the clamor grew louder. He was finally found. It turns out that the AP was using a pseudonym to protect him. Now the leftosphere is crowing.
Meanwhile, some conservative bloggers, mired in the ugly truth about the war in Iraq, are wondering whether they should have spent less time attacking the MSM and more time believing it. We thought we'd get into the argument, so we've enlisted prominent conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, AKA Captain Ed. We'll take the position of – surprise, surprise – the liberal blogs. Ed, welcome to the show. ED MORRISSEY: Well, thank you very much. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So last month, Rich Lowry, who's the editor of The National Review Online, wrote a column accusing his brothers-in-arms, fellow conservatives, of being overly skeptical of the mainstream media. He wrote – and I've got a quote – "In their distrust of the mainstream media and their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq." Do you agree with Lowry? ED MORRISSEY: Well, I think it's a feeling among some people in the blogosphere that they have been burned enough by the media that they have a blanket sort of hostility towards it. But it's a little too easy to just say, well, the whole media is unbiased and untruthful, and therefore we can't trust anything they say. BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you feel that the conservative bloggers, or just conservatives in general, got burned? ED MORRISSEY: We've seen the Rathergate memo issue, the Eason Jordan admission that CNN was basically in the bag for Saddam Hussein up until the time that he was deposed by the American invasion. And those are certainly very clear examples of mainstream media outlets not delivering the truth. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But it does seem as if bloggers on the right have turned these "gotchas" into a sweeping indictment of the MSM and its supposed agenda. ED MORRISSEY: I think it's a little much to say that every single person in the media is biased against the conservatives, and therefore nothing that we see in the newspapers or the television or any other media can be trusted at all.
I certainly think that there are plenty of people out there who are practicing agenda journalism, but there are also plenty of people out there who are practicing very good journalism. One of the people that I'm thinking of, of course, would be The New York Times' John Burns. Now, The New York Times is not necessarily my favorite source for news media, but John Burns has done an excellent job in reporting out of Iraq. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But these sweeping indictments seem to keep coming. Recently, Stanley Kurtz, who's a fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote that, quote, "Conservative distrust of the media's very real bias has inclined us to dismiss reports about problems in Iraq that are real, and, in the end, the media bear fundamental responsibility for this." ED MORRISSEY: Well, take a look at the Jamil Hussein issue that came up. The AP used him for 61 stories between April and November, and in this last story in which they used him, about the burning of the four mosques and the six people who were supposedly burned alive, people went to other news sources, including, by the way, The New York Times, who said that they never heard of this story and there was no evidence that that had ever existed.
And so the bloggers asked, where is Jamil Hussein? Who is this one source, this single source that AP used for that story? And they couldn't produce him. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, you could accuse the AP of sloppily reporting that story, but the obsession within the rightosphere was that he didn't exist. "The fraud we know as Jamil Hussein," Flopping Aces called him, and the Little Green Footballs' website called him "AP's non-existent news source." ED MORRISSEY: Well, I would tell you this. I think it was a mistake to assume that Jamil Hussein did not exist. And, in this case, that damaged their credibility, and I wrote that the other day. I'm not saying that from this point forward we should never, ever, ever trust the AP. I cite the AP. I probably cite the AP dozens of times a week, because I write a lot of posts. I'm just saying that if they're using single-source stories, their track record is somewhat spotty. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And yet it was in the rightosphere that Democrats were accused of inventing a fake Republican National Committee memo regarding the Terri Schiavo controversy, which turned out to be authored by Republicans, and also accused an AP photographer, Bilal Hussein, of photographing an ongoing execution on the streets of Baghdad, even though he had nothing to do with those photographs.
If you were looking for facts, would you be more likely to believe ones that are cited without much evidence in a blog or ones that were cited without much evidence in the AP? ED MORRISSEY: If you put it that way, I would say the AP. There are bloggers that I know who are very, very outstanding in making sure that they are as accurate as they possibly can be, and military bloggers, especially. I think both sides are a little hypocritical in pointing to each other and saying, you're not trustworthy.
But if you're saying generic blog versus the AP, I mean, the AP has got, what, 100 years of a reputation for gathering news? BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you agree with Stanley Kurtz when he says the mainstream media are to blame for the right-wing bloggers not believing what they said about Iraq, which was true? ED MORRISSEY: We are all big boys and girls, and, just like when we go into a store to buy a car, when it turns out that bought a Yugo, we can't turn around and say, but all the advertising told us it was great. [LAUGHS] You have to do some homework. You have to look into what it is that you're buying, and if you're not doing that, then that's your fault. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I guess the lesson here for all news consumers in whatever form would simply be caveat emptor. ED MORRISSEY: Otherwise, you wind up with a Yugo. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Ed, thank you very much. ED MORRISSEY: Thank you, Brooke. It's been great. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ed Morrissey blogs at captainsquartersblog.com and is the host of a Saturday afternoon talk show on the Northern Alliance Radio Network, AM-1280, in the Twin Cities.