About this Author
Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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July 04, 2005

Experiments in Newspaper/Blog Hybrids

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The New York Times has a good summary of the many changes that are ongoing and coming up at the News & Record daily newspaper (Why Newspapers Are Betting on Audience Participation).

In this world, "Get me rewrite" will in effect be a menu option, a way for unhappy readers to go online and offer their own versions of articles they do not like. Their hope is to convert the paper, through its Web site,, into a virtual town square, where citizens have a say in the news and where every reader is a reporter.

This feature, part of a planned overhaul of The News & Record's Web site that is to begin next week, is a potent symbol of a transformation taking place across the country, where top-down, voice-of-God journalism is being challenged by what is called participatory journalism, or civic or citizen journalism.

It is interesting that the NY Times doesn't mention its baby steps in covering blogs, but I especially like this story of sources "scooping" the News & Record.
Yet there is fierce competition with bloggers. Several local politicians blog, including Sandy Carmany, a member of the City Council, who blogs in near-real time, and who scooped The News & Record recently on the city budget. Last week, when a News & Record reporter called Tom Phillips, another councilman, for comment on the paper's exclusive information that Wal-Mart was coming to town, Mr. Phillips turned around and broke the news on his own blog.
I hardly think a council member informing their constituents what is happening on the city council should be considered a "scoop." In any case, is the budget that is the news, or is analysis of what it means the news? What's the real "scoop"? And, should a politician wait to inform citizens of news that will affect them until a newspaper has had a chance to publish a story on it?

Read the whole thing and then check out Citizen Paine's take: NYT's take on Greensboro News-Record.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

The Marginality of Blogging

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Stephen Baker wonders about how important blogs are (How to Appeal to Non-Bloggers? Think Virus Wikis).

I haven't been blogging. I've spent the best part of a week in Oregon, wandering from the misty coast to the high desert to the vineyards along the Columbia Gorge, and I have yet to meet anyone connected with the blog world in any way (at least as far as they told me.) To be fair, there were probably some bloggers or at least blog readers at those cafes in Portland and Bend. I didn't go around tapping on their tatooed shoulders.
Ok. And how many of those people with tatooed shoulders in those cafes read Business Week? Depending on the context, what medium doesn't seem disconnected? Isn't one of the major debates about broadcast television is that despite its wide reach it is pretty darn disconnected from the real world? Stephen continues:
My point is that blogging seems enormous and nearly omnipresent when you're doing it, but can seem marginal when you step away. Will blogging inevitably spread to rest of the world? I don't think so. Lots of people look at the computer as an information tool--a search engine and e-mail machine--but prefer to have most of their human interactions elsewhere.
But how long did it take email to really take off and become ubiquitous? I remember being exposed to email in the mid-1980s. It was very cool, sending a near instantaneous message across the country, getting two computers to talk to each other (which was a big deal at the time), but there weren't really very many people to email. Email was marginal. Very. Like email, blogs aren't a substitute for human interaction, they're a potential enhancement and it takes some time for them to propagate and be integrated into society.

It is still amazing to me how many people don't use TiVo. I can hardly stand to watch television without it. I grew up without the internet, yet it is difficult to imagine getting news without it. Currently, if I don't have access to my RSS subscription list, I feel disconnected. The internet, which just a few years ago was liberating for me, now feels limited and frustrating without RSS. Getting the news without RSS? Well, if you want to be all primitive about it, I guess you can try to make that work, but what a pain.

Do we need better tools? Absolutely. Do few people use blogs? Yes, but does that mean blogging is marginal? Only in the sense that all new technologies are marginal when they are first introduced. Ask whether blogs are marginal in ten years.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

July 02, 2005

Trust Me?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There has been a bit of a hubbub over codes and labeling of bloggers. The Media Blogger's Association is "is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting MBA members and their blogs, educating bloggers, and promoting the explosion of citizen's media." They are considering whether to adopt a code of ethics/standards for their members.

Jeff Jarvis has been opposing this move. Dana Blankenhorn on Moore's Lore has taken him to task for his opposition (Media Anarchy). Part of his reasoning is that there is a need for an enforceable code:

The problem with the SPJ [Society of Professional Journalists] code is that it’s unenforceable. Journalists have no say in deciding who a journalist is. Employers have all the say, and they don’t have to subscribe to this ethic in their hiring, firing or promotion policies.

I figure a group like the MBA could at least enforce simple rules by creating valuable member benefits and kicking out those who refuse to conform, following some objective process.

Jeff has responded here: As Groucho Used to Say .... I side with Jeff on this one.

Why have a code at all? Why not simply a set of best practices? A practical guide to transparency, accuracy, fairness, open access?

Can journalism really be codified? Do we want it to be codified? To me, journalism is like democracy, there isn't one single way to practice it correctly. It isn't a monolithic institution; it is a cacophony of voices. We define journalism through a working consensus, not a hard and fast set of rules. There will never be perfect agreement on what the means of journalism entail beyond some general guidelines.

We all know enough that we should be honest, but what the blogosphere needs if anything, is some practical guides as to what that might entail in various circumstances. Of course, even here there won't be agreement on some of this, but that doesn't mean that those who disagree are somehow dishonest.

If you think that someone has gone beyond the bounds, then make that case. Is there any particular reason that such decisions need be rule-bound? Do we really need an organization to declare when someone has been dishonest? This isn't a call for anarchy, but simply a recognition that free speech doesn't need a certification process for it to work.

The other labeling move is the introduction of Honor Tags, which claim to "help readers find content they can trust, and help journalists, bloggers, podcasters and other creators build that trust within their communities. As a creator, you can tag the postings on your own blog or other site to indicate your intentions." What's Next Blog has a lot more information (Bayosphere to Institute Voluntary Honor Tags for Bloggers & Other Writers). I don't really get it.

The tag system will include:
A. Journalist-- "I'm fair, thorough, accurate, open, and in general operate with integrity."

J-News tag: "I write and explain the facts as truthfully and fairly as I can report them. I work for the community interest."

J-POV tag (for reviews and commentary) "I make the case for action based on the most thorough reporting of facts possible. I work for the public interest."

We need tags to tell us this?

Tags are a very cool technology, but not everything is suited to tagging. This is one of them. Of course I'm going to self-lable myself honest. What, I'm going to tell you I'm a liar? Even aggregated do these tags give us any particularly useful information? via Citizen Paine

Now, this idea has probably already been raised, but what I would like is to be able to tag my links to other blogs and sources. That might provide some useful information, even if the majority of tags are very simple such as "agree", "disagree", "informative", "humorous". The tagging would be unlimited, of course. It would be interesting to see the results of how people who linked to a page labeled it. After all we often show our support for a page by linking to it, but also we disagree, and it is unfortunate that pages with high levels of links due to disagreement benefit disproportionately from this.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

June 30, 2005

June 25, 2005

Implications of the Power Law for Grokster 'Punditry'

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Seth Finkelstein has responded to my response to his post, Meta-Meta-Grokster. My response here: Meta-Meta-Meta-Grokster. Seth's response is an interesting one, well worth responding to in full, so I will reply in full:

This commentary misunderstands my main point, which is a mathematical observation on the nature of punditry, and implications thereof. I wrote "there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:". The big, mass-appeal, newspapers and TV will take the simplest view. Small specialized publications - which include blogs will go into more detailed analysis. But, for any nontrivial given scale, the total number of "worthwhile" analyses is quite small, and much less than the number of people who will write them. Hence, there is a huge imbalance - which is then resolved in a exponential distribution, with a few specialists taking the secondary slots after the bigger media takes the primary slots. And you have to be positioned to get in "[w]ithin 24 hours" to even try. Frankly, this looks very much like being an (unpaid) trade-publication reporter than anything else.
We're talking about the implications for punditry of the power law distribution curve.

The facts are pretty straightforward. There are more people saying things then there are worthwhile things to say. So, what are the implications of this?

Well, there is the head of the power law curve. That's where we will see one of the "top three" storylines Seth has pronounced. Dozens of newspapers will regurgitate some semblance of these stories. So it is, so it has been, so it will be.

Then there is the long tail. That is where the other dozen or so major facts will be. Of course, I'm not sure it is a simple dozen. It could be many, many more. In fact, the farther down the long tail you go, the more details of importance will be there. Trade publications will bring in more detail, but people who really care are going to demand even more detail. Certain sectors of society will consider different details important (there isn't one long tail, there are many). How many details are important is in the eye of the beholder.

Also, there is a qualitative difference in the long tail, not simply a quantative one. Yes, in the past, there were small specialized publications. The legal newspapers went into more detail than big-time newspapers, but they never went anywhere near the level of detail that blogs will on Monday morning and afternoon. But that was a function of where they were on the power law distribution curve. There simply isn't enough interest in something like Grokster to justify the equivalent of many pages of newsprint discussing it. In the long tail, however, there is plenty of demand for a degree of detail that is unprecedented.

Honestly, how many people really care what William Patry has to say about Grokster? No disrespect intended, but not a whole heck of a lot compared to the readership of major newspapers and broadcast news; he would be well within the long tail. At best he would get a couple of short quotes into any mainstream publication (unless he wrote an op-ed). But with blogs, Patry has a forum to speak to the people who want to hear him, even if there aren't enough to justify handing him a dozen column inches in the paper. I'm one of those relative few, so I'm pretty happy to have the opportunity.

This isn't "being an (unpaid) trade-publication reporter." You'd never get the sort of dialog I expect on Monday from any trade publication, and certainly not from a reporter. If Patry gets a big audience among those who care deeply about copyright law, it is because he is a true specialist, who really knows his stuff. He's as close as you'll get to a primary source (since I don't expect the Supreme Court Justices to start blogging anytime soon). I think it is quite facile to compare true experts with "(unpaid) trade publication reporters." This is a qualitative diffence that simply isn't captured by difference in scale.

Furthermore, even if there is an arbitrary number of details that are "worthwhile," there is no way before these details are written to predetermine who is going to issue them. Yes, chances are the specialists will be the ones to ferret out most of them, but you can't predetermine that they will get all of them. The implication of this is that you do want to encourage an oversupply of analysts, to ensure you get all the details right.

Of course, this also ignores the process of determining these details. What is going to happen on Monday is that there is going to be dialog and discussion. It's not going to be a bunch of specialists in isolated cells writing about what they think is important. There is going to be a lot of back and forth. Statements will be put forth, challenged, refined, and expanded. That sort of thing doesn't happen too much in the old media world. Despite these specialists' expertise, there remain gaps in their knowledge. Some writers (specialists and non-specialists) may only provide slight additions, but they will contribute nonetheless, and even specialists will be better off for it. Process is important. Open dialog is far superior in generating knowledge.

As for the time element, is there something wrong with wanting to be quick? A lot of the people are going to be discussing the case in depth because they really care about it. It is a pleasure and an opportunity to do so in the space of 24 hours, as opposed to waiting the days, weeks and months of a different form of publication. There will be plenty of mediums and opportunity to continue to discuss Grokster in the days, weeks and months to follow, it'll just be a different opportunity than the one offered in the first 24 hours. After all, most of the details will be determined in 24 hours, but not all. I think I used the figure of 80% ... I stand by that. There will certianly be plenty of opportunity to apply Grokster to various fact patterns that are certain to arise later.

Finally, what is wrong with redundancy? EFF may make some of the same points as PFF, but that's a good thing. If EFF and PFF agree on something, one can probably put it in the bank. Certainly, the MPAA and RIAA are likely to see the details differently than Public Knowledge, and both will probably be different than CDT's take. Same details, different perspectives, redundancy is good.

The point is hardly that specialist publications go into more detail than nonspecialist publications. But here, talk of "the blogosphere" is not useful analysis. There's levels of pundits. In fact, my view is that from a certain height of observation, this is the old regime structually (and remember, quite a few A-list bloggers are traditional media people, and the prominent specialists often have many bigger-media connections).
Like that Seth Finkelstein fellow who is frequently cited with regard to filtering issues? When you're talking about the long tail, you're no longer talking about an "A-list" for the most part, you're talking about experts. They're not read simply because they're "A-list", they're read because they really know what they are talking about. That's a good thing.
I highly value Miller's legal analysis. However, the structure of the distribution isn't changed - in fact, that's exactly the point. There's more overall excellent people that there are pundit-slots, and small differences (not necessarily of quality) lead to exponential curves. Hence my use of this case as a worked example. [emphasis in original]
I disagree. It's not about the number of hits you get, it's about the knowledge produced. My contribution may be small, my readership not even a blip compared to Instapundit, but I believe my contribution worthwhile. And, for the reasons I've shown above, I encourage others who think they can move the knowledge ball down the field, if only a little, to give it a try. For all this talk of power law distributions and A-lists, the creation of knowledge is not pre-determined. Newton may have stood on the shoulders of giants, but he also stood on the shoulders of guys who weren't so giant, who filled in the gaps, who made a small contribution. They may be forgotten now, but they contributed. If I can contribute, I'll be happy.


Posts crossing in the ether. Seth Finkelstein, responds some more to my earlier post here: "Existence" vs "Constructive" Blog Punditry Standards. The only thing I'll say here is that, although Seth's audience may be small, it is the audience that really cares about the issues he addresses. The quantity may be small, but the quality is high.

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WKRN-TV Gets It, They Really Get It

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Lostremote is reporting from Gnomedex about the future of media and Terry Heaton talks about what WKRN in Nashville is doing (The WKRN-TV 'Breakthrough'). Read the whole thing, but this really caught my attention:

On July 17th, WKRN's chief photographer will host a video workshop for bloggers -- which will become a monthly event. Twenty bloggers or so are signed up to learn tricks of the trade so they can become better photographers.
By the end of the summer, Heaton says WKRN will offer portions of raw news video online that fall under Creative Commons (this is a first for a local TV station). The crowd applauded. "[We're] involving the citizenry of Nashville in producing our news," he said.
Now that is really something. Teaching and sharing. That is the future of news.

Related news also from lostremote, WKRN-TV to Switch to VJs.

The Nashville ABC affiliate is expected to announce on Monday that the station is switching to the video journalist (VJ) model of news -- reporters who shoot and edit their own video.

Viewfinder Blues, an actual VJ, discusses how this change is being taken by various of his colleagues, and what it might portend for TV news (The Age of Convergence (Part 2)).

Imagine a TV newsroom where even the top anchor schleps gear, thus tarnishing the artifice of suave superiority inherent in the dapper newsreader model. While that’s not likely to happen, one aspect of the changing times does excite me: the gradual transformation of local correspondents from overdressed poseurs to blue-collar news gatherers. Blasphemy you say? Perhaps, but a newscast focused more on stories than storytellers is one even I might watch. Might.

But I digress. What will most probably transpire is an amalgamation of the fears and concerns wafting over the internet right now. Depth and aesthetics WILL suffer, at least until practitioners of these new methods get the formula right. Even then, TV news won’t be the same. Higher story counts will be delivered with far cruder execution. Smaller, lighter lenses will open up new frontiers, but it will be a bumpy, often out-of-focus ride. Reporters will still go live(!) for no apparent reason, but they may be a little more out of breath from shooting and editing their own stuff. Legions of reporters and photogs opposed to cross-training will leave the fold, making room for a new generation of loners with lenses who will merrily take their place. Not so long from now, this group of 21st century newsies will sit around their magic laptops, wi-fi wristbands and sat-dish jetpacks, and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Read the whole thing.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

June 24, 2005


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Posted by Ernest Miller

Seth Finkelstein takes an interesting and pre-emptive shot at post-Grokster commentary, claiming that there will only be one of three main story lines (Meta-Meta-Grokster). For the traditional media, sure. But this is wrong:

So, as a matter of mathematics, the number of people trying to say something about this, vastly outnumbers the basic number of things to say. The insight of power-laws is that the distribution won't be uniform. Sure, anyone can write about it - but there isn't much of a reason to read what anyone writes. Blog-evangelists consistently neglect this factor. Not to mention the relative privilege necessary to be able to take the time to spend pouring over a document and writing analysis. [italics in original]
Most of the news stories are going to be much simplified versions of the general outline of the decision, and once you've read the AP or NY Times account, there isn't going to be much reason to read the LA Times and all the rest. Indeed, there will be surfeit of "me too" posts in the blogosphere as well (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

Yet the blogosphere is going to be doing something else as well. On several sites, including the Picker MobBlog and a branch off of SCOTUS Blog, you're going to have more than two dozen of the finest legal minds in the country dissect and discuss the decision in real time. Within 24 hours, many of the main legal themes, disagreements, and remaining questions will have been thoroughly analyzed. There will still be room for the academic papers, but 80% of the work will have already been done. Of course, this will only be of interest to those who follow the legal arguments closely, but for those this is a cornucopia of serious goodness. Far from being no reason to read the commentary there are now dozens.

Yeah, there are going to be hundreds if not thousands of mediocre news stories and blog postings on Grokster ... but there is also going to be a level of serious legal commentary never before seen.

And. yes, its a relative privilege to be able to spend time to analyze and write about the decision. Heck, given the poverty of vast majorities of the planet, it is a privilege to be able to read about the decision at all. And it is also a relative privilege to have the education necessary to understand the case on a deep level. But that's the point, isn't it? That is what is going to make the hours-after-release commentary on Grokster far richer than ever before.

Finkelstein himself is privileged when analyzing and writing about censorware. My commentaries on censorware can't touch Finkelstein's. That's a good thing. That's a reason for more people to write about what they know, in otherwords, to blog. The hard part is finding who to read when. The filters are imperfect, but the quality of material available has improved dramatically. Will someone's brilliant Grokster insite be lost in the shuffle? Quite possibly. On the other hand, under the old regime of information dissemination, there would have been zero chance.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

June 23, 2005

June 22, 2005

June 21, 2005

Journalists Use Blogs, Don't Trust Them

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Wow, what a paragraph in this report on a study on how journalists use blogs (ClickZ | Study Bolsters Blog-Related PR Practices).

Journalists mostly used blogs for finding story ideas (53 percent), researching and referencing facts (43 percent) and finding sources (36 percent). And 33 percent said they used blogs to uncover breaking news or scandals. Still, despite their reliance on blogs for reporting, only 1 percent of journalists found blogs credible, the study found.
Now the poll was probably worded oddly; I don't trust all blogs either. Still, I would definitely like to know more about this study.

The study itself does not appear to be online, but read the press release here: Eleventh Annual Euro RSCG Magnet and Columbia University Survey of Media Finds More than Half of Journalists Use Blogs Despite Being Unconvinced of their Credibility.

Few blog-using journalists are engaging with this new medium by posting to blogs or publishing their own; such activities might be seen as compromising objectivity and thus credibility.

Must read. Hope the study is put on the web soon.

via Blogvangelism

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June 20, 2005

Wikitorial Post Mortem

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The LA Times's 'wikitorial' experiment lasted but a few short hours. It was launched Friday morning (LA Times Wikitorial Experiment Begins). Was quite active for about two days (LA Times Wikitorials - One Day Later). And then was shut down abruptly on Sunday morning (LA Times Wikitorial Has Left the Building (For Now)).

Editor and Publisher runs an AP wirestory on the debacle ('L.A Times' Explains End of its 'Wiki'). ZDNET News cites a couple of letters to the editor (L.A. Times Sshuts Reader-Editorial). The NY Times weighs in (Postings of Obscene Photos End Free-Form Editorial Experiment). And, finally, the LA Times itself ('Wikitorial' Pulled After Vandalism).

All of these articles talk about why the 'wikitorial' was shut down: a profusion of pornographic images. In particular.

But none of these articles bother to address whether the experiment was working up to the point of the vandalism. Sure the wikitorial was forked into a pro and con side, but were either of them any good? The LA Times introduced its wikitorial with an editorial (A Wiki for Your Thoughts).

Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry? Well, what are you going to do about it? You could send us an e-mail (or even write us a letter, if you can find a stamp). But today you have a new option: Rewrite the editorial yourself, using a Web page known as a "wiki," at
Here are a few questions: were any of the revisions less fatuous? Was there less selective reading of facts or more? Were the revisions sufficiently poetic? (I don't think that changing the title from War and Consequences to Dreams About War and Consequences is particularly poetic, but it certainly is fatuous.)

Reporting that the wiki has been shut down is the easy part. Letting people know whether the experiment was otherwise successful is the hard part, and no one in the traditional press seems eager to confront it.

Welcome Insta-readers!
Jeff Jarvis provides a much better post mortem than the traditional press has: Wiki Cooties and the Death of Editorials.

Well now the LA Times has given wikis cooties. The New York Times and other media outlets have covered the collapse of its wikitorial project and I've heard more than one old-media person say, well, I see LA tried wikis and it's dangerous.
It is bad enough that many in the traditional media don't understand how wikis can succeed - they can be exceedingly useful and productive. It'll be worse if they don't understand how wikis can fail.

The Observer Blog from the Guardian has a good summation (Wikitorials. Must Have Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time):

The LA Times probably thought it was inviting the internet to join it on the anti-establishment barricades. In fact it was throwing open the doors to the Winter Palace. That the mob went on the rampage is not all that surprising.

A commentor claims to be behind the vandalism: Son of Goatse.

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

June 19, 2005

LA Times Wikitorial Has Left the Building (For Now)

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Posted by Ernest Miller

So I decided to see how the LA Times' "wikitorial" experiment was going this morning, but currently the only thing on the website is: "The Los Angeles Times Wiki is currently closed" (LAT Wiki). Vandalism perhaps? System maintenance? It would be nice to have a little more information.

In any case, Ross Mayfield thinks that the forked Wiki might have worked (Wikitorial Fork). On some topics, perhaps, you can have a single fork. But these are relatively rare. Do the two expressed opinions of the political parties cover the range of opinion? Rather than foster many voices and an exhaustive range of opinion, doesn't a forked wiki simply encourage false left/right dichotomies? You could have many forks, but why then a Wiki?

Perhaps the slashdotting had an effect (Slashdot | Editorial Wiki Debuts At LA Times).

I'm sure the instalanche wouldn't help: Instapundit | Slasdot Readers Comment on the Los Angeles Times' Wikitorial Experiment

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

June 18, 2005

LA Times Wikitorials - One Day Later

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Well, its has been more that 24 hours since the LA Times Wikitorial went live. Has it been a success? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" That is, if you're interested in left-wing banalities. The editorial has forked, as I thought it might. The left-wing version is a bloated, rather less temperate version of the original editorial. A couple of snapshots (and why is the title now "Dreams About"?) (Dreams About War and Retribution) :

We propose an international peace conference to promote peace, democracy, and reconstruction in Iraq. To this end, we have asked the Senate and House of Representatives to pass a resolution demanding this administration to immediately request the UN Security Council to convene such a conference. If you support this proposal, please write to your senators and congressmen. We, the American people, have the power to facilitate the process of ending this war and to create a just peace in a morally responsible manner.
There is also Dreams About War and Retribution - Hank Reamy's Rewrite. We need a wikitorial for this? Why not simply slap a Creative Commons license on the editorial and encourage people to rewrite on their own blog.

To balance things out, if by balanced you mean a pathetically lame counter argument, there is Counterpoint to Dreams About War and Retribution.

I hope that the LA Times is paying Jimbo Wales, since he seems to be putting in the most effort to correct the vandalism and keep the wikitorial at least somewhat on track.

I'm all for experiments, but there are better ways to bring the community into the paper.

The LA Voice live blogged the wikitorial (Dogs & Cats, Living Together: Times Launches Wikitorials).

Editor and Publisher (whose webpage - or more likely, some stupid ad - does something nasty to my browser - Firefox - and runs the CPU at 100%) talks to LA Times Editorial and Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley, the man behind the changes, on how it is going so far ('Wiki' Era Dawns at 'L.A. Times': Chaotic, But Kinsley is 'Loving It').

My original comments on the concept: Wikitorials: A Dubious Idea from the LA Times.

Question Technology: The First Wikitorial:

It looks like it's evolving into a pamphlet of everyone's favorite lefty anti-war screeds rather than a concise editorial. (Most of which screeds I agree with, just for the record.)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

June 17, 2005

June 15, 2005

Fact or Fiction, Wikipedia or Books?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The New York Times has an op-ed declaiming that the boundary between "truth" and "fiction" is disappearing (The Interactive Truth). Stacy Schiff takes to task non-objective news, citizens' journalism and Wikipedia:

This week The Los Angeles Times announced its intention to exile the square and stodgy voice of authority farther yet. The paper will launch an interactive editorial page. "We'll have some editorials where you can go online and edit an editorial to your satisfaction," the page's editor says. "It's the ultimate in reader participation," explains his boss, Michael Kinsley. Let's hope the interactive editorial will lead directly to the interactive tax return. On the other hand, I hope we might stop short before we get to structural engineering and brain surgery. Some of us like our truth the way we like our martinis: dry and straight up.
Geez. That's an impressive argument. What, the LA Times Editorial page was "Truth" before Kinsley decided to mix things up a bit? Now, I'm a bit skeptical about parts of Kinsley's experiment (Wikitorials: A Dubious Idea from the LA Times), but not because I think the LA Times will be dethroning "truth."

Oh, and let's make ridiculous comparisons between interactive editorials and structural engineering and brain surgery. You know, because editorial pages are so closely related to the processes by which we progress in structural engineering and brain surgery.

Kinsley takes as his model Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, and which grows by accretion and consensus. Relatedly, it takes as its premise the idea that "facts" belong between quotation marks. It's a winning formula; Wikipedia is one of the Web's most popular sites. I asked a teenager if he understood that it carries a disclaimer; Wikipedia "can't guarantee the validity of the information found here." "That's just so that no one will sue them," he shrugged. As to the content: "It's all true, mostly."
At least Wikipedia is honest. Are there any such guarantees in books? Do I get my money back if a book has a factual error? Judging from the errata sheets and books that take each other to task, I would say "no." Isn't "It's all true, mostly" a pretty similar standard to the one we hold for books?

I sometimes wonder what these people would have to say if the new technology for information creation and distribution arriving had been "books."

Unlike Wikipedia, books are written by a single author who is likely blind to their own personal bias and limited knowledge. Unlike Wikipedia, books aren't subject to peer review and revision by others. In fact, books aren't easily revised. Once an error makes it into a book you can fix future editions (not easily, but you can), but you can't fix the books that have already been printed. Consequently, unlike Wikipedia, books enthrone error. Once printed that error can sit waiting to ensnare an unwitting reader years, even decades, down the road. Furthermore, books certainly cannot keep up with rapidly changing fields of endeavor. At best, the very best, they're months out of date when published.

You know, if someone was given the tabula rasa choice between Wikipedia and books to get facts, I'm not so sure books would win.

What is new is our odd, bipolar approach to fact. We have a fresh taste for documentaries. Any novelist will tell you that readers hunger for nonfiction, which may explain the number of historical figures who have crowded into our novels. Facts seem important. Facts have gravitas. But the illusion of facts will suffice. One in three Americans still believes there were W.M.D.'s in Iraq.
Perhaps it isn't bipolar. Perhaps it is better method of getting closer to facts and truth. It's messy and there is a lot more disagreement, but we might be better off for it.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

June 14, 2005

EFF's Legal Guide for Bloggers

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I'm a bit late in blogging this, like by 24 hours or so, but I wanted to have a chance to read the thing. EFF has issued a For Freedom's Sake: Legal Guide for Bloggers.

The difference between you and the reporter at your local newspaper is that in many cases, you may not have the benefit of training or resources to help you determine whether what you're doing is legal. And on top of that, sometimes knowing the law doesn't help - in many cases it was written for traditional journalists, and the courts haven't yet decided how it applies to bloggers.

But here's the important part: None of this should stop you from blogging. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Internet bullies shouldn't use the law to stifle legitimate free expression. That's why EFF created this guide, compiling a number of FAQs designed to help you understand your rights and, if necessary, defend your freedom.

To be clear, this guide isn't a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice. Only an attorney who knows the details of your particular situation can provide the kind of advice you need if you're being threatened with a lawsuit. The goal here is to give you a basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.

It is good (and I really dig the cover).

They need to make some buttons so that every blog can link to it in their navigation bar. [Correction: They have links here: Link to the Legal Guide for Bloggers. However, I still think they need some smaller buttons.]

UPDATE 1010PT They also have a very cool alternative poster: liberty_waits_ad.png

More from Copyfight: Do You Know Your Rights?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

June 13, 2005

June 12, 2005

Wikitorials: A Dubious Idea from the LA Times

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I'm all for newspaper experimentation and I wish the LA Times well with its coming revamp of the editorial pages, but one idea sure sounds dubious (Editor's Note: To Our Readers).

Watch next week for the introduction of "wikitorials" — an online feature that will empower you to rewrite Los Angeles Times editorials.
Now this doesn't provide a whole lot of information on what they have planned, but I'm trying hard to imagine how they intend to make this work. Won't they simply be inviting their partisan readers to engage in an "Edit War"? After all, editorials are supposed to have a point of view, with which many readers will undoubtedly and inevitably disagree.

Furthermore, aren't editorials supposed to have a "voice"? How do you accomplish this, do you want to accomplish this, in a "wikitorial"?

They almost certainly won't be trying to embrace Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View policy, which would be pretty boring, if they could get it to work for things that are supposed to have point of views.

Perhaps they'll have forking? One (or two?) base editorials, point/counterpoint style? One base editorial, many forks? Not exactly a wiki then, really.

Well, I guess we'll have to find out next week.

via Dan Gillmor

Ross Mayfield has some thoughts on the subject (Wikitorials).

Teleread is more excited than I (Wikitorials Coming from the Los Angeles Times—But, Wait, How About Wikens?).

Political Animal has even more on this (The Future of Editorials?). Quoting the New York Times (Upheaval on Los Angeles Times Editorial Pages):

This week, the newspaper, will introduce an online feature called "wikitorials," as a way for readers to engage in an online dialogue with the paper. The model is based on "Wikipedia," the Web's free-content encyclopedia that is edited by online contributors.

"We'll have some editorials where you can go online and edit an editorial to your satisfaction," Mr. Martinez said. "We are going to do that with selected editorials initially. We don't know how this is going to turn out. It's all about finding new ways to allow readers to interact with us in the age of the Web."

Hmmm... I'm not sure they get it. When you edit a Wiki you're not really editing it to your satisfaction, you're editing it to the satisfaction of everyone who reads the Wiki subsequently. Cuz if you don't, they'll edit it to their satisfaction.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

June 09, 2005

June 07, 2005

June 06, 2005

Newspaper Opinion = Protected: Blogger Opinion = Activism, Not Protected

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I meant to blog about this last week, but Eugene Volokh noted a rather ominous comment to the FEC from the director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University (Political Activist (Bad) or Journalist (Good)?). From the director's comment:

Until recently, the distinction between the news media and rest of us was clear and uncontroversial. Bloggers blur that distinction. If anyone can publish a blog, and if bloggers are treated as journalists, then we can all become journalists. If millions of “citizen journalists,” as bloggers like to call themselves, are given the rights and privileges of the news media, two consequences will follow.
Well, yeah. Of course, the director wants to distinguish between blogger/journalists and blogger/activists. Volokh links to the best response (Common Sense):
Dear FEC,

I write to you today to request your kind advisory as to whether this pamphlet defines me as an ACTIVIST or a JOURNALIST. . . .

Thomas Paine

In a later post, Volokh also makes a point about the exemption that the media receives (Media Rights, Not Journalists' Rights):
But while "journalist" is sometimes used to refer to people who are (ostensibly) nonpartisan and impartial, neither the federal election law media exception nor the anonymous source privilege is so limited. Federal election law exempts from various regulations and prohibitions "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication." Both nonpartisan news stories and opinionated editorials (including ones that endorse candidates) are protected. Both newspapers that strive to maintain maximum objectivity and magazines that overtly and consistently advocate a particular ideology are protected. Likewise, privileges to conceal the names of anonymous sources don't turn on whether the claimant writes opinionated pieces or objective ones.
Gee, one wonders why the opinion pages of commercial newspapers should be priviledged when they endorse candidates, but not bloggers. What a strange vision of the First Amendment that must be.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

June 05, 2005

Apple + Intel: Where's the Lawsuit Against C|Net?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Late Friday afternoon, C|Net News published an extremely valuable trade secret about Apple and Intel, days before Apple was scheduled to announce it (Apple to Ditch IBM, Switch to Intel Chips). So, where's the friggin' lawsuit against C|Net to find out who leaked? Where is the judge who is going to claim that what C|Net published was "stolen property"?

Will someone please explain to me the difference between what C|Net has done and what happened in Apple v. Does?

Comments (41) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

Journalism's Coming Age of Enlightenment

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Jay Rosen has written another of his insightful pieces on the state of modern journalism, today finding the connections between J-School reform and the press mythology of Watergate (Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion). Read the whole thing, but the following passage was particularly striking to me:

In his excellent book, Watergate and American Memory (1992, Basic) Michael Schudson distinguishes between the scandal, which didn't change the world very much, and the myth of Watergate in journalism. It did change journalism by giving the warrant of history (and the mandate of heaven) to the adversarial press and the Fourth Estate model, where the press is an essential check on government, a modern addition to the balance of powers.
In many ways, this gets to the heart of the problems with the ways that the mass institutional press views itself. The picture the mass institutional press has of itself is that of the Fourth Estate, another branch of the governing structure, albeit unelected. They are adversarial because they seek to check and balance the other powers, which, presumably, do not represent the interests of the people. The mass institutional press has arrogated unto itself the voice of the absent people.

Much of this comes, I think, from a fundamental misunderstanding of "freedom of speech, or of the press".

Let me make this clear:

The interests and purposes of the First Amendment are not identical with the interests and purposes of the mass institutional press. For the purposes of the First Amendment, the mass institutional press is sometimes a means, not an end.

Freedom of speech and of the press is the principle; the mass institutional press is merely one expression of this principle and, as we are learning, is a historically contingent and flawed one at that. The error has come in thinking that the mass institutional press is the only possible means for expressing this principle, and that what the mass institutional press expresses is also an expression of this principle.

This wouldn't be so bad, if the mass institutional press hadn't gotten the underlying principle so darn wrong.

Deans of Journalism, scribble a note: Investigative reporting, exposing public corruption, and carrying the mantle of the downtrodden were taught to McGrath not as political acts in themselves--which they are--and not as a continuation of the progressive movement of the 1920s, in which the cleansing light of publicity was a weapon of reform--which they are--but just as a way of being idealistic, a non-political truthteller in the job of journalist. (Which is bunk.) [emphasis in original]
These two means are expressions of the interests and purposes of the First Amendment, though I would not emphasize that the cleansing light of publicity is not only part of the progressive movement of the 1920s. Political is not synonymous with partisan.

There are other purposes of free speech, but clearly, one of the most important is that of persuasion in service to what we can know of truth. This is inevitably, if not definitionally political. However, the mass institutional press eschews persuasion for a recitation of facts and "he said, she said," in order to avoid persusasion and, thus they think, politics. But gathering and organizing facts is still a persuasive and political act. It is fairly explicit when exposing public corruption. And it exists even in "he said, she said" reporting when it gives one implausible argument greater weight through equal stature with the superior argument. This is particularly insidious in its effects upon the journalists themselves, who seek only arguments on both sides of an issue, rather than the persuasive arguments, and may thus eventually become blind to the difference.

The biggest blindness was, of course, to the reality that fact-gathering and reporting are inevitably political. And, thus,

This kind of instruction is guaranteed to leave future journalists baffled by the culture wars, and in fact the press has been baffled to find that it has political opponents. Well, jeez louise, so did the progressives of the 1920s! As far as the religion knows, none of this is happening. And J-schools--by passing the faith along but making little room for non-believers--are part of the problem.
And so, at least partly, the mass institutional press comes to its present crisis. And what is the solution?
But maybe it should be crashed. Maybe what we need is not funding for a new church, but a breakaway church, or two, or three of them. (And what is Fox News Channel, but that?)
Well, actually, Fox News is a bunch of recreants. They still worship in the church of objectivity, but that is only lip service.

But why new churches? Tear down the church and let a diversity of schools of thought bloom.


Jay Rosen has updated the paragraph I cited above. Here is the new version:

In his excellent book, Watergate and American Memory (1992, Basic) Michael Schudson distinguishes between the scandal, which didn't change the world very much, and the myth of Watergate in journalism. By giving the warrant of history, and the mandate of heaven, to the adversarial press, and the Fourth Estate model (where the press is an essential check on government, a modern addition to the balance of powers); by telling each new crop of journalists how to be heroes and how do good; by glamorizing the underworld of confidential sources, the mythos of Watergate had very definite effects in journalism.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression | Journalism | Network Law

June 04, 2005

May 31, 2005

May 30, 2005

The Deer Have Guns and the Hunters Are Getting a Makeover

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Broadcasting & Cable's coverstory this week is on television newsroom consultants, "How consultants shape newscasts, from steering the coverage to choosing eyeliner" (News Svengalis at Work). The article is beyond parody. If you want to know why television news is circling the drain, read it. Lost remote has a succinct yet devastating critique (How Consultants Shape Newscasts):

Today's TV stations must innovate and leverage new technologies to cut through the clutter in an increasingly competitive digital marketplace. But the B&C story talked about the same old stuff: hairstyles, wardrobe and Doppler radar. Not very flattering for Magid [a consulting firm]; its new media arm wasn't even mentioned in the piece.

One example of the sort of advice being touted:

Sometimes, the juxtaposition of image consulting and the sober aspects of news events can be jarring, as when Carey talks to Wiedemann about wardrobe selection. “Who would think that a terrible thing would happen in a small place like Oklahoma City, where they had all the bombing?” Carey [image consultant] says. “You have to ask yourself: If there was a terrible tragedy in my area and that footage went all around the country—which could very well happen—would you be embarrassed? Would you be ashamed? Would you say to yourself, Oh, my God, I wore the wrong thing that day?”
Let me see, there is a major bombing in Oklahoma City, hundreds die, and the reporter should be embarrassed by what they wore? And people wonder why journalism is losing respect. Like I said, these consultants are beyond parody.

These television stations should be getting advice from Terry Heaton, instead (TV News in a Postmodern World: Stations Must Embrace Personal Tools):

Web researcher Gordon Borrell says, "The deer now have guns," and he's right. With a PC, a $100 web camera, a $200 piece of real-time TV production software that includes a teleprompter, free blog software, FTP access to a server, a small digital camera, editing software, and an imagination, anybody can be a TV station, a newspaper or a multimedia news operation. In order to do so, however, the person running the enterprise needs to know how to do everything.
"The deer have guns" and the hunters are busy getting a makeover.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

Hopefully the Last Post on the Star Trek/Pedophilia Connection

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Back at the end of April, I was skeptical of a claim in the LA Times (Shifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl) that "all but one" of the more than one hundred people arrested by the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit over the past four years was a "hard-core Trekkie" (LA Times Claim About Pedophiles Wrong). I called the unit and spoke to a detective who told me that the claim was exaggerated, but that a substantial number of those arrested were Star Trek fans. The LA Times stood by its "all but one" claim, but I remained skeptical (Star Trek and Pedophilia Claim Followup).

Last week venerable Canadian publication Maclean's published a story that had as its hook the Star Trek/Pedophilia connection found by the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit (The Star Trek Connection). And what a connection it is:

The first thing detectives from the Toronto police sex crimes unit saw when they entered Roderick Cowan's apartment was an autographed picture of William Shatner. Along with the photos on the computer of Scott Faichnie, also busted for possessing child porn, they found a snapshot of the pediatric nurse and Boy Scout leader wearing a dress "Federation" uniform. Another suspect had a TV remote control shaped like a phaser. Yet another had a Star Trek credit card in his wallet. One was using "Picard" as his screen name. In the 3 1/2 years since police in Canada's biggest city established a special unit to tackle child pornography, investigators have been through so many dwellings packed with sci-fi books, DVDs, toys and collectibles like Klingon swords and sashes that it's become a dark squadroom joke. "We always say there are two types of pedophiles: Star Trek and Star Wars," says Det. Ian Lamond, the unit's second-in-command. "But it's mostly Star Trek."

It's the type of oddball coincidence that's difficult to ignore. Even more so when you realize there's virtually nothing else, beyond their shared perversion, that links the new generation of child sex offenders.

However, the article did not repeat the "all but one" claim, so I emailed the author of the article to ask if he could confirm it.

Here is his response:

Lamond told me what he told you, that "all but one" was a bit of hyperbole. However, the cops do stick by their claim that the vast majority of people that they bust seem to have an obsession with sci-fi. And that most of them seem to really like Star Trek. Whether that's the original series, TNG or Deep Space 9, remains open to debate.
As I stated in my original piece on this story, "A weird factoid. Nevertheless, it is not correct that 'all but one ... in the last four years' was a hard core Star Trek fan."

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May 29, 2005

May 27, 2005

The Opening of the Frontier

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Ben Compaine, author of Who Owns the Media?, analogizes citizens media to the frontier, as in Frederick Jackson Turner's The Frontier In American History (Peercasting as the New Western Frontier).

[I]n 1893 [Turner] presented his view that the key component to the unique American character of democracy was the settlement of the American West. That is, the availability of vast stretches of free land away from the initial settlements of the East Coast provided a safety value for those who were dissatisfied with their circumstances. The seemingly endless western frontier offered anyone an opportunity to acquire a farm and become an independent member of society. Free land thus tended to relieve poverty in the Eastern cities while on the frontier it fostered greater economic equality.

What does this have to do with the media? Here’s what: Though it may be a tad premature, in the equally unlimited expanses of information available through the Internet and its related ecosystem I see the makings of a similar safety value for expression and communication. Today it is Blogs, Live365 streaming radio and Podcasts. Tomorrow it is likely to be the video version of streaming radio and Vodcasting [PDF]. Better than a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, reaching further than leaflets handed out in Times Square, more user-controlled than letters to the editor, “peercasting” may be for the Information Age what free land was for the late Agricultural/early Industrial Age....

Most Americans did not head West, though all knew that they could. The free land of the American West enabled those who were most motivated and most dissatisfied with the opportunities where they were to have hope. They did not see themselves as being stuck. Not every city slicker who headed West prospered. But it was the opportunity that helped shape them and the spirit of this country for over two centuries. And today’s dissatified or motivated knew that, for the first time, they too will be heard.

Blogging and podding and vodding or whatever else these formats might be called should not be viewed as a veneer or a Potemkin Village of phantom access to the world stage. The move to the Western frontier was real. Similarly this digital outlet that gives voice to the leafleteer, corner orator or anyone with a point of view or a story to be told is real and meaningful. We saw in Howard Dean’s meteoric rise the power of the Internet is getting the word out and in raising money. It happened for the most part under the radar of the mainstream media.

In the next decades peercasting will be become the norm to one degree or another. It will not replace mass media but will add a significant dimension to what and how the media is viewed. And, I believe, peercasting will have an overall positive effect on the American -- and no reason why not the rest of the world’s – experience with the expanded boundaries of this new frontier. I think that’s how Frederick Jackson Turner would describe it.


I've copied a significant chunk of Compaine's posting (go read the rest!) because I think he has really hit on something important. There is really a lot going on here, just as there was in Turner's original frontier thesis.

We've often heard the internet analogized to the Wild West, but I've never really liked the metaphor of place. In many ways, I think it is misleading. Here, I believe, is the better metaphor: frontier. A frontier isn't a place, it is a process. Ever-changing, ever-growing, never tamed, the frontier is always just at the edge of "civilization". You can't pin down the frontier because as soon as you do, it has moved on.

The American frontier shaped people and institutions; it formulated a unique American character. I think citizens media may do something similar, though this time it won't be as restricted geographically. What changes, if any, might this new frontier have on the American character? How might the concept of "frontier" impact other nations?

If the internet is a frontier, it is an incredibly fast moving one. Where parts of the American frontier took years to settle, internet frontiers are settled much quicker. What effect does this have on the frontier thesis?

By the time Turner wrote his famous thesis, the frontier had officially closed. Will an electronic frontier close? How might we seek to prevent it?

Does the open source movement also play a role in this frontier? I would think so, yes.

Lots of questions, I know, but I now have a lot to think about and chew over. I leave this post with a passage Turner quoted from Peck's New Guide to the West:

Generally, in all the western settlements, three classes, like the waves of the ocean, have rolled one after the other. First comes the pioneer, who depends for the subsistence of his family chiefly upon the natural growth of vegetation, called the "range," and the proceeds of hunting. His implements of agriculture are rude, chiefly of his own make, and his efforts directed mainly to a crop of corn and a "truck patch." The last is a rude garden for growing cabbage, beans, corn for roasting ears, cucumbers, and potatoes. A log cabin, and, occasionally, a stable and corn-crib, and a field of a dozen acres, the timber girdled or "deadened," and fenced, are enough for his occupancy. It is quite immaterial whether he ever becomes the owner of the soil. He is the occupant for the time being, pays no rent, and feels as independent as the " lord of the manor." With a horse, cow, and one or two breeders of swine, he strikes into the woods with his family, and becomes the founder of a new county, or perhaps state. He builds his cabin, gathers around him a few other families of similar tastes and habits, and occupies till the range is somewhat subdued, and hunting a little precarious, or, which is more frequently the case, till the neighbors crowd around, roads, bridges, and fields annoy him, and he lacks elbow room. The preëmption law enables him to dispose of his cabin and cornfield to the next class of emigrants; and, to employ his own figures, he "breaks for the high timber," "clears out for the New Purchase," or migrates to Arkansas or Texas, to work the same process over.

The next class of emigrants purchase the lands, add field to field, clear out the roads, throw rough bridges over the streams, put up hewn log houses with glass windows and brick or stone chimneys, occasionally plant orchards, build mills, school-houses, court-houses, etc., and exhibit the picture and forms of plain, frugal, civilized life.

Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take the advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crepes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.

A portion of the two first classes remain stationary amidst the general movement, improve their habits and condition, and rise in the scale of society.


Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Broadcatching/Podcasting | Culture | Freedom of Expression | Internet | Journalism | Network Law

May 26, 2005

May 24, 2005

Boston Globe Writer Takes Journalists to Task in Apple Trade Secrets Case

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Posted by Ernest Miller

In the Boston Globe, Alex Beam takes his journalistic colleagues to task for not providing more support to those being sued by Apple to reveal their sources (Standing Alone Against Apple). It is a particularly fine rant:

Where are the always-vocal guardians of the First Amendment? Where is the American Civil Liberties Union? Where is the American Society of Newspaper Editors? Where, for that matter, is Harvard's Nieman Foundation? They have publicly supported the higher profile case of The New York Times's Judith Miller and Time magazine's Matt Cooper, who have been ordered to reveal the sources of their reporting on the contentious Valerie Plame case. But I found not a word about Ciarelli -- a Harvard undergraduate and a beat reporter for the Harvard Crimson -- on the Nieman Watchdog website.

Maybe it's time for the Niemans to stop playing footsie with the butchers of Beijing and start standing up to the control freaks of Cupertino. The Ciarelli case ''really hasn't come to our attention in any significant way at all," Nieman curator Robert Giles says.

And, traditional media continues to fail to understand just what freedom of the press is all about:
Goldberg [general counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors] points out that many experts haven't made up their minds whether an online publication like Think Secret should enjoy the same First Amendment protections extended to print and broadcast media: ''Ciarelli's not viewed as a member of the traditional media, and that makes it difficult for anybody to understand what law currently applies."
If these so-called "experts" haven't made up their minds whether untraditional online publications should get First Amendment protections, then I would hardly consider them "experts."

David Weinberger, however, thinks the article tilts the playing field by calling Ciarelli a "journalist" (Apple the Bully). He thinks Apple is wrong, but is not sure bloggers are journalists. I really don't understand this position.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

May 23, 2005

May 22, 2005

The Problem With Journalism Is ...

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The Washington Post (reg. req.) publishes an op-ed by Prof. Chris Hanson of the College of Journalism at the Univ. of Maryland critical of the effects that the increased speed of the news cycle is having (The 'Scoop' Heard 'Round the World. Sadly.):

The very speed at which information -- or what passes for it -- comes at us is a big part of the problem. In 1857, the sepoy cartridge rumor appears to have spread slowly among Indian regiments, largely by word-of-mouth, over a period of months. In the wired world of 2005, by contrast, Newsweek's story zipped from modem to modem and then from radio broadcast to mosque, quickly igniting unrest that had simmered just below the surface. By the time the denials and retractions caught up, belief in the Koran abuse was probably too deeply rooted in the Muslim world for much skepticism to penetrate.
Um, is speed really the problem here? How would this story have played out pre-internet? Might the story have essentially been forgotten in the U.S., only to gain new prominence when, weeks later, it was picked up by demagogues in Afghanistan and Pakistan to spark riots? It is still likely that the riots would have happened, right? Is it really the speed of the internet that is the problem or the fact that it makes information more readily available? Maybe there wouldn't have been riots because so few in the Middle East would have access to Newsweek without the internet, but in that case, it isn't speed that is the problem, it is distribution and a journalism professor isn't going to argue against the spread of information, is he?

In any case, isn't this another version of the saying attributed to Mark Twain that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes"? But doesn't the internet change this to some extent? After all the Killian Memos Affair (aka "Rathergate") shows the power of the internet to counteract falsehoods. Before the internet it would have taken much more time for critical analysis of the memos to have come to light, if it ever did. Oh, wait ... apparently not.

Read on...

...continue reading.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

May 21, 2005

Newspapers Ends Reader Comments on Website Stories

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The LA Times (reg. req.) reports that the Ventura County Star, which had been one of the few newspapers to permit readers to comment directly on their stories via their website, has ended the practice due to too many abusive comments (Newspaper Shuts Down Controversial Feedback Platform). Read the Ventura County Star's (reg. req.) statement here: Star Web Site Disables Comments. From the LA Times:

Thousands of readers of the Ventura County Star have sounded off on stories since the newspaper launched the service in January as a way of connecting with the community, said John Moore, the paper's assistant managing editor for new media and technology.

But in too many instances, Moore said topic threads spun out of control, with posters using profanity and injecting vicious commentary on everything from race to immigration.

The newspaper suspended the online comments on Wednesday, although Moore said he hopes to soon resurrect them with tighter controls.

I'm glad to see that VCS is willing to experiment. Perhaps they might want to try trackbacks or Technorati links. They may also want to encourage local bloggers to engage with their stories and provide links to them. There are a lot of possibilities.

via How Appealing

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Journalism

May 17, 2005

The Populism of Blawgs

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Lincoln Caplan, editor and president of Legal Affairs, has an editorial on blawgs in the May/Jun 05 issue of that young, yet illustrious publication (Blawgs). Caplan is an acquaintance of mine and, in fact, I may have actually introduced the whole blog concept to him back in 2001 or 2002 when I and the Information Society Project at Yale Law School launched the pioneering law school blog LawMeme. Or, perhaps, it was when I invited him to speak at the first academic blog conference, Revenge of the Blog (he wasn't available unfortunately).

Whatever my limited role in introducing Caplan to blawgs was, he's certainly shown, through Legal Affairs, that he is sympathetic to them. However, I just don't buy his assertion that blawgs are generally not populist, "Yet while blawgs are blogs, they rarely have the populist touch that is supposed to make blogs blogs." Huh?

Read on ...

...continue reading.

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May 04, 2005

Star Trek and Pedophilia Claim Followup

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Last week I wrote a post about a claim in the LA Times that of the more than one hundred arrested in the past four years by the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit Child Exploitation Section "all but one" were "hard-core Trekkie[s]". I thought the claim was improbable, so I called and spoke to an officer in the unit, who denied the specific accuracy of the claim, but not the high percentage of pedophiles arrested who were Star Trek fans (LA Times Claim About Pedophiles Wrong).

Yesterday, I received an email from the author of the article:

Mr. Miller,

After your email, I double-checked the statement with Lamond's boss,
Det. Sgt. Gillespie, and he stood by it "one hundred percent." I had
also heard the same thing from two other officers in the unit.
Gillespie knew of your conversation with Lamond, and thought there had
been some misunderstanding somewhere along the line.

It is important to note that they are not saying that every Star Trek
fan is a pedophile -- just that it was a surprisingly common element
among those they had arrested. The investigators said that many
suspects were into other fantasy or role-playing games, and that it
wasn't only Star Trek that caught their interest -- as you noted.

Thanks for reading so carefully.

Maggie Farley

"[S]urprisingly common element"? It is truly an amazing fact. After all, I could go to a science fiction convention and be less likely to find that 99%+ of the attendees were "hard-core Trekkies".

And, yes, correlation doesn't imply causation and the fact that "all but one" of the people arrested by the Child Exploitation Unit is a "hard-core Trekkie" doesn't mean that all Star Trek fans are child molesters, neither of which are issues I addressed. All I addressed was the sheer unlikeliness of such a high correlation.

I don't know about any misunderstanding with regard to Det. Lamond's statements to me over the phone. He was quite clear that there was a significant correlation between their arrestees and Star Trek fans. He did, however, deny the "all but one" figure.

I've left a message on Det. Lamond's voice mail to ask him about whether there was any misunderstanding and to look further into this issue, such as defining what the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit considers to be a "hard-core Trekkie". However, many hours later I haven't heard back from him.

I still consider Det. Lamond's statements to me to be more credible, but the LA Times is standing by its story.

If I hear from the Toronto Sex Crime Unit I will followup, but I wouldn't be surprised if they won't answer these questions.

UPDATE May 30, 2005. 1200PT
Det. Lamond tells another reporter that the "all but one" claim is hyperbole: Hopefully the Last Post on the Star Trek/Pedophilia Connection.

Comments (19) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

April 28, 2005

LA Times Claim About Pedophiles Wrong

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This has very little to do with the normal topics of this blog, but yesterday the LA Times (reg. req.) published an article regarding the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit that focused on their fight against child pornography (Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl). They are the law enforcement organization that photoshopped the victims out of child porn photos in order to get the public's assistance in identifying the backgrounds (it worked). In any case, the article had this amazing claim:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.
Wow. All but one in four years. Seemed rather unlikely to me.

So, I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the LA Times article.

He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times' reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?

Nevertheless, Detective Lamond does claim that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest."

They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and Det. Lamond claims they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs." I asked if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek specific.

A weird factoid. Nevertheless, it is not correct that "all but one ... in the last four years" was a hard core Star Trek fan.

UPDATE May 4, 2005

The LA Times is standing by its story (Star Trek and Pedophilia Claim Followup).

UPDATE May 30, 2005. 1200PT
Det. Lamond tells another reporter that the "all but one" claim is hyperbole: Hopefully the Last Post on the Star Trek/Pedophilia Connection.

Comments (49) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

April 06, 2005

Just Before Death Pope Endorsed Citizens' Media

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Posted by Ernest Miller

On January 24, 2005, the Vatican issued an Apostolic Letter on communications. Many of the observations in the letter seem quite apropos to current debates regarding new media (Apostolic Letter to Those Responsible for Communications):

I would like to recall our attention to the subject of media access, and of co-responsible participation in their administration. If the communications media are a good destined for all humanity, then ever-new means must be found – including recourse to opportune legislative measures – to make possible a true participation in their management by all. The culture of co-responsibility must be nurtured.

Finally, there cannot be forgotten the great possibilities of mass media in promoting dialogue, becoming vehicles for reciprocal knowledge, of solidarity and of peace. They become a powerful resource for good if used to foster understanding between peoples; a destructive “weapon” if used to foster injustice and conflicts....

The great challenge of our time for believers and for all people of good will is that of maintaining truthful and free communication which will help consolidate integral progress in the world. Everyone should know how to foster an attentive discernment and constant vigilance, developing a healthy critical capacity regarding the persuasive force of the communications media....

To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world “Do not be afraid!”

Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank “among the marvelous things” – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom. [emphasis in original]

via Broadcasting and Cable

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March 31, 2005

Tina Brown Bemoans Death of Quality Broadcast Television News

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Posted by Ernest Miller

In the Washington Post, Tina Brown decries the death of quality TV news without a trace of irony (America's Endless News Loop). Apparently, she thinks that broadcast television news is important, or something. Its dead, its dying, who cares? Broadcast television news is shrinking into what broadcast television has always been: mass media aimed at the lowest common denominator. Of course broadcast television news is going to suck. What did you expect?

Here is the future Miss Brown forsees:

Perhaps in the near future what used to be thought of as news will be not only produced but exclusively consumed by an ever-shrinking elite who feel vaguely guilty about being well-informed. Information junkies prospect on the Web for what they want to know. Everyone else will just be transfixed by the passing reality show that comes disguised as news. The only trouble is when something really big is happening out there, we are blindsided by its impact -- as when the rise of Islamic fundamentalism somehow passed us by in the '90s. Ignorance suddenly got awkward on 9/11.
I'd say she is acting pretty gosh darn elite already. It isn't just information junkies who'll get their news from the Web, but everyone with half a clue (which seems to exclude Miss Brown herself). Furthermore, we'll get the news on our television ... it just won't be broadcast. Instead, it will be broadcatched. Sick of the Schiavo case, and interested in indepth coverage of other news? It will be available, and only as far away as a decent videonews RSS feed. Maybe not as slick, but it will be far more information rich than broadcast television news. Not everyone will watch, but that's sort of the point of a democracy isn't it?

We're looking at a news renaissance, not the death of news.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Broadcatching/Podcasting

March 21, 2005

Bloggers are Journalists: The Down Side

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Apple v. Does case and have already written a few posts and will be writing more in the future. I'm not a big fan of the "are bloggers journalists?" debate, particularly when it comes to the government deciding who is a journalist and who isn't a journalist. The only test for "press shield" laws as far as I'm concerned is whether information is gathered and then publicly distributed, or there is an intent to distribute (A Proper Press Shield Test: Publication or Intent to Publish, Period). However, despite my obvious and definitive solution to the problem, the debate about bloggers and journalists rages on.

Many commentators, both bloggers and those in "main stream media," have made the argument that, of course, bloggers are or can be journalists. Well and good. I agree with this position. However, this may have unanticipated consequences.

Today on NevOn (via BoingBoing) I read of the harassment of a foreign blogger by US Immigration (Don't Say Blogger to US Immigration):

This sounds like an unbelievable story, but it happened to Canadian blogger Jeremy Wright last week.

As already reported on quite a few blogs, Jeremy was detained and interrogated by US Immigration when he arrived in New York last week for a meeting with McGraw-Hill [Note: Wright claims the meeting was not with McGraw-Hill] to discuss a great business opportunity for Jeremy in the area of blogging.

It appears that the immigration people simply did not believe that Jeremy could make a living as a blogger. And they gave him the third degree - including an humiliating strip search - as a result for some hours. And banned him from entering the US. [links in original]

Wright's original posts appear unavailable, but he has posted "The End of the Story":
I’m still not 100% sure what happened at Customs at the airport. Really, totally unsure. However at the very least I was denied entry and flagged for followup any other time I try to enter. As far as I can tell, I am not “banned” from entering. I’m not sure why the border guard said I was, threatened to throw me and jail and sieze my assets, etc.....

Anyways, I’m not going to New York. The company basically needed someone there this week, and the only way to get a Visa is through a fairly standard 2 week process. Which I understand, and I’m not mad about, it just means I’m not going.

What happened here? Well, I don't have any more information, but Wright's story reminded me of a journalist's story from May 2004, as recounted in Slate (I, Visa):
Last week a British reporter was detained by immigration officials and then expelled from the United States for traveling here without knowing that the visa rules had changed. More precisely, she didn't know that a decades-old unenforced rule was suddenly being enforced against friendly tourists long accustomed to entering the country without a visa at all. Elena Lappin, a freelance journalist from the United Kingdom (who has written for Slate), was stopped at Los Angeles International Airport, subjected to a body search, handcuffed, frog-marched through the airport, and then held in a cell at a detention center overnight—all because she dared travel to the United States without a special journalist visa. There has been a rule on the books since 1952 requiring foreign journalists to obtain special "I visas," but foreign journalists say it was invariably ignored by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials who required only that citizens of friendly countries apply for a visa waiver, an exemption allowing most residents of 27 enumerated countries to visit the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without jumping through any INS hoops.

No more. When the INS was folded into the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, the I-visa rule began to be enforced in earnest, sometimes, resulting in at least 15 journalists from friendly countries being forcibly detained, interrogated, fingerprinted, and held in cells overnight—with most denied access to phones, pens, lawyers, or their consular officials. Their friendly welcome at the detention center included lights that shone all night long and video surveillance of the entire cell, often including toilets. [links in original]

Read the whole thing for more on this travesty of freedom of speech.

Could this be what happened to Wright? Even if it isn't, wouldn't this be a nice tool to deny entry to foreign visitors who happen to be bloggers? "You're a blogger? That means you're a journalist, which means you need an 'I' Visa. Don't have one? Too bad."

When everyone is a journalist will everyone need an "I" Visa? Will U.S. bloggers face reciprocity? Perhaps we should change this "I" Visa nonsense instead.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

March 15, 2005

Slate Induces Copyright Violations

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Slate has published another good article by tech journalist Paul Boutin, who advocates HTML annotation software for bloggers (Newsmashing: The new technique that will change blogging forever). Basically, you would be able to copy a webpage, then annotate directly on top of it, highlighting passages, writing notes, adding links, etc. Such is possible today, of course, but a software package that made it easy (just as blogging tools made publishing easy), could be a significant change, allowing anyone who can blog to create such annotations.

Being a long time fan of annotation, I think this would be great.

Of course, there is the little issue of copyright violation. Certainly, if I hosted the complete original work with annotations, that could very clearly lead to a copyright claim. Under the INDUCE Act theories, the company that made the software to allow this would also be liable. After all, if you are authorized to annotate, then you can manipulate the underlying file without need for annotation software. Clearly, the intent and purpose of annotation software would be to encourage the creation of derivative works and reproductions that people are unauthorized to make.

One possible solution would be to be able to create the annotations as a separate file and then layer them over the original copyrighted work. If one wanted to see the annotation, they would click a special browser link that would go to the original HTML of the work that is annotated (no copyright violation there) and then display the annotation over it (potential copyright violation). There is a drawback in that the underlying work could easily be changed to throw off the annotation, but that is a problem with linking in general.

Of course, all the people who were upset with Google for changing the presentation of their work would be just as upset with all the annotators. Would this be a copyright violation? Would a software company that provided this service be guilty of inducing infringement?

Currently, it is unclear how such a case would come out. I would like to think that annotation of this sort is clearly not a copyright violation inherently, but my views are not necessary shared by copyright owners and the courts.


Apparently Paul Boutin wanted to have an actual newsmashing contest, but lawyers shut him down! (Newsmashing!):

We were going to have a newsmashing contest, but the lawyers shot it down. Damn you, copyright law!

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Copyright | INDUCE Act

March 14, 2005

A Proper Press Shield Test: Publication or Intent to Publish, Period

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There is has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Apple v. Does trade secrets case and whether or not bloggers or online journalists should be protected by press shield laws. IPTA Blog has helpfully put together a group of links with various commmentary (Blogging, journalism and the law: linkdump). Much of this debate has revolved around whether bloggers are journalists or to whom press shield laws should apply, should it be to people who work for established main stream media, should we measure whether the process of journalism was followed, yadda, yadda, yadda. I find that much of this debate misses the point.

Why do we want a press shield in the first place? The reason derives from the First Amendment. We want to encourage people to gather information and publicly disseminate it without unduly impacting legitimate law enforcement interests. So, how do we limit the press shield appropriately? Linda Berger suggests four possible means to do so in her article on press shield laws (Shielding the Unmedia: Using the Process of Journalism to Protect the Journalist's Privilege in an Infinite Universe of Publication [PDF]). The four possible means are: favoring one kind of speaker, one kind of content, one medium of communication, or one type of process. Seems pretty reasonble to me.

Berger takes quite a bit of time persuasively arguing about the faults of the first three types of distinctions. If you favor one kind of speaker, you end up essentially creating some sort of licensing system for those who are "journalists" and everyone else who publishes to the world. If you favor one kind of content, you inevitably get into the business of deciding what is "news" and what is something other than "news," leading into a thicket of content-based decision-making that is anathema to free speech. If you favor one medium of communication, that just seems weird. Publish in a newspaper, okay, broadcast on television, not okay. I agree that all these means of limiting press shield laws are seriously flawed.

That leaves us with the type of process. Berger constructs quite the litmus test for journalistic processes:

  • Does the Process Show a Commitment to Regular and Public Dissemination of “Journalistic Truth” as Evidenced by a Track Record of Gathering and Publicly Disseminating Usually Truthful Information?
  • Does the Process Show a Commitment to Regular and Public Dissemination of “Journalistic Truth” as Evidenced by the Presence of Internal Mechanisms Designed to Verify and Evaluate Information Before It Is Disseminated?
  • Does the Process Show a Commitment to Regular and Public Dissemination of “Journalistic Truth” as Evidenced by Publication of Information from Which Readers Can Judge the Degree of Independence from Both Inside and Outside Forces?
Sheesh. Do you really want judges and juries deciding such things? Do you really want The Nation having to explain its version of "journalistic truth" and "degree of independence" during a McCarthy era?

Why does all this truth, verification, evaluation yadda, yadda, yadda, even matter?

The "press" and journalism boils down to two things: gather information and publish it publicly. Isn't the only process we need to know about is that information was gathered and then it was publicly published (or there was intent to publicly publish)? Does it really matter if you've never published before in your life, if this is the time you get the scoop. for whatever reason? If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, if you happen to have the specific expertise that will let you see something others miss, why in the world do we care that you've never published something before? Do we want to discourage people who might be a valuable addition to the marketplace of ideas simply because they aren't regular visitors to the marketplace? If people come across information valuable to the public sphere, don't we want them to bring it forward?

Do we really need mechanisms to evaluate truth before publication, if you happen to be the subject matter expert? This isn't libel, where the truth or falsity of a charge is specifically at issue. Even if you aren't a subject matter expert, why shouldn't it be okay to publish something with a caveat saying, "This may or may not be true, but I thought people should know." What harm has occured because of this that wouldn't occur with a fact-checking department (remember this ain't libel)?

Do we really need full disclosure of possible conflicts of interest? If someone publishes anonymously (more-or-less) people will likely take such publicatiobns with a greater grain of salt. Still, that doesn't mean that they aren't worthy of protection as gatherers and disseminators of information.

In the end, it seems to me, the only process worth protecting is gathering information and public distribution or the intent to publicly distribute said information. That is what the First Amendment wants to protect. Sure, we would prefer that information be verified and people have track records, but the First Amendment doesn't and shouldn't care. It is a relatively simple and brightline test. It would certainly protect mainstream journalists, as well as bloggers.

Would it be too broad? I doubt it. You can learn a lot simply by knowing who published the information in the first place. If that doesn't tell you much, chances are the person has probably been acting as a journalist for quite some time. Sources will also be less likely to provide information to people who might not adhere to journalistic ethics. If they adhere to journalistic ethics of protecting sources, even at some cost to themselves, they're probably journalists acting journalistically.

You've gathered information and you published it publicly. Congratulations. You've acted the way the First Amendment hopes you will. Press Shield laws should recognize this.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

March 10, 2005

How Polarized is the Political Blogosphere?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Over on Balkinization, Jack Balkin links to a new study about political polarization in the blogospher (Evidence of Cyberbalkanization?). The 16-page study by Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance can be found here: The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog [PDF]. The report's conclusion?:

In our study we witnessed a divided blogosphere: liberals and conservatives linking primarily within their separate communities, with far fewer cross-links exchanged between them. This division extended into their discussions, with liberal and conservative blogs focusing on different news articles, topics, and political figures. An interesting pattern that emerged was that conservative bloggers were more likely to link to other blogs: primarily other conservative blogs, but also some liberal ones. But while the conservative blogosphere was more densely linked, we did not detect a greater uniformity in the news and topics discussed by conservatives.
Balkin wonders:
Is this inconsistent with my previous arguments about the blogosphere? Yes, but only in part. There are two questions: one is whether we will find ideological polarization in the blogosphere. This study says that we will. The second is whether the blogosphere (and the Internet generally) causes or facilitates this polarization, and whether the polarization that it causes or facilitates is substantially greater or more worrisome than polarization that occurs through other mass media. On this second question, the evidence remains mixed. It is still quite possible that linking and the culture of linking creates marginally more exposure to divergent ideas than people otherwise experience in real space, and thus, that it is not a contributing cause of existing political polarization. That is to say, the Internet creates two opposite effects. One is ease of searching for and finding information that confirms what you already believe. That would facilitate and enhance polarization. The other is serendipitious exposure to information that you disagree with or that you weren't looking for. That would work in the opposite direction. The question is which effect dominates the other. [link in original]
Jack is right about the second question, but I'm not really all that sure about the first question after having read this study. Are we going to find political polarization in the blogosphere? If the populace as a whole is polarized, of course we will. I would also suspect that we would find a higher degree of polarization than the general population as those who are more passionate would likely have more incentive to blog about their positions and passion tends to be found in the polarized extremes. So, of course there is polarization in the blogosphere. Human beings naturally tend to associate themselves with others with whom they agree.

The question, I think, is what is the baseline for this polarization? Sure, conservative and liberal bloggers tend to link to each other more than their ideological opposites. But how often did you find The Nation referencing the National Review before the internet? Is the polarization of the blogosphere any greater than the polarization of the political news periodicals of a couple of decades ago? What can we conclude about the blogosphere as a medium as compared to other mediums? Does it foster polarization or not? And what about the long tail?

This data is intriguing, but it isn't particularly clear what it is saying or if it says much at all.

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January 20, 2005

Public Relations has Ethics? Who Knew?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Jay Rosen has sparked a mighty informative dialog about blogosphere coverage of the Department of Education/Armstrong Williams/Ketchum public relations agency "pay to play" propaganda/corruption scandal (Bloggers Are Missing in Action as Ketchum Tests the Conscience of PR). See also, this follow-up on PressThink by Lisa Stone (Ketchum and Bloggers: Who Said What? What Remains? Lisa Stone Reports) For those who missed it, the Department of Education signed a $1 million contract with the Ketchum public relations firm to tout the "No Child Left Behind Act." Among other things, the contract included $240,000 to syndicated columnist and television host Armstrong Williams to support the Act, which he did and did not publicly disclose.

Armstrong Williams has been rightly excoriated by many, and as someone else has said, Williams' losing his column and hosting duties would be a good start at repentence for his sins. I don't think the DoE has even begun to take full responsibility for this corruption.

However, what Rosen argues is that PR Bloggers haven't made as big a stink about the Ketchum PR firm's role in this scandal. Aren't they at least as culpable as Williams and the DoE? Rosen isn't saying that it wasn't mentioned, but that there didn't seem to be any sustained outrage. Here is Rosen quoting Canuck Flack:

"Why was the PR blogging community so subdued in its reaction? Why didn't a feeding frenzy of debate and recrimination erupt, as in other parts of the blogosphere, building and tearing down arguments by the minute?"
On this point, I think there is a very informative debate taking place.

However, one thing that PR bloggers and others should note is that, whether or not there was sufficient outrage among PR bloggers, there was virtually no outrage among bloggers in general. The focus of outrage has been on Williams and the DoE/Bush Administration. Part of that is certainly due to politics. Part of that, I think, is that most people don't expect much in the way of ethics from PR firms.

If many already believe that journalists lack credibility, where do PR flacks stand? For the most part, I would expect many to believe that PR only adheres to two rules: 1) It isn't illegal; and, 2) It isn't a deliberate falsehood.

Rosen is right that PR bloggers should be concerned that they might not have paid sufficient attention to significant ethical lapses by their peers. All members of the PR profession should be concerned, however, that no one else seems to have paid much attention either. If gross violation of your profession's ethics is widely ignored, that is not a good sign of the health of your profession.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

January 14, 2005

CBS Report Panel Endorses "View From Nowhere"

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The report of the Individual Review Panel on the September 8, 2004 60 Minutes Wednesday segment, "For the Record," (234-page PDF, "CBS Report"), is a devastating indictment of CBS News' handling of their report on the forged Killian Memos. I followed the CBS News' response to criticism of the report and their unethical and incompetent response closely (Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One). Earlier, I wrote about why Andrew Heyward should resign given the Report's findings (Why Does CBS News President Andrew Heyward Still Have His Job?) and another critique (Omissions and Other Critiques of the CBS News Report).

Many have noted one of the conclusions of the Panel: that there was no political agenda by individuals at CBS News against the President (p28 of the Report):

However, the Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing or the airing or the Segment or its content.
However, to say that there was not an "agenda" is not to say there was no bias. And it is in this mistaken presumption that the Panel and their Report have done CBS no favors. Note this statement from Linda Mason, CBS News' senior vice president for standards and special projects, the person CBS has created a new position for due to the Panel's recommendations (Network's brass, critics take solace in the report):
"That for us was the big headline: That there was no political agenda, because that would have been terrible," said Linda Mason, CBS News' senior vice president for standards and special projects, whose position was created Monday in response to the report. "We were all greatly relieved to see that the panel did extensive work and gave us a clean bill of health in terms of it not being politically motivated."
Well, I wouldn't exactly call the Panel's report a "clean bill of health." A "clean bill of health" would seem to indicate that nothing at CBS needs to change. Probably not the best point of view for the person who is supposed to make sure similar errors don't happen in the future. Even the Panel found (p28):
The Panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges [of political motivation].
Fired reporter Mapes reads even more into the Report's findings:
Mapes, whom the report saddled with much of the blame for what went wrong, said in a statement, "I am heartened to see that the panel found no political bias on my part, as I have none. For 25 years, I have built a reputation as a fair, honest and thorough journalist."
Nevermind that one can earn a reputation as a fair, honest and thorough journalist while acknowledging bias (indeed, such transparency might help one earn such a reputation). But that is not what the Panel found. The Panel determined that there was no political agenda, not that there was no bias, and that is why the Panel did CBS no favors.

Read on...

[UPDATE] Jeff Jarvis is an earlier entry:

The panel and the network refused to deal with the key issue of bias. They could have denied it. They could have taken the bull by the horns and grappled with the fact that, of course, Rather and Mapes have bias personal perspectives about Bush and this story and more. But they did the worst thing: neither. That's no way to build credibility and trust with your public.

...continue reading.

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January 11, 2005

Omissions and Other Critiques of the CBS News Report

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The report of the Individual Review Panel on the September 8, 2004 60 Minutes Wednesday segment, "For the Record," (234-page PDF, "CBS Report"), is a devastating indictment of CBS News' handling of their report on the forged Killian Memos. I followed the CBS News' response to criticism of the report and their unethical and incompetent response closely (Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One). Earlier, I wrote about why Andrew Heyward should resign given the Report's findings (Why Does CBS News President Andrew Heyward Still Have His Job?).

So how did the report do, at least on the "aftermath" issues?

Decent, given their access to sources. However, although the report rightly takes CBS News to task for its abysmal response to criticism of its reporting on the Killian Memo forgeries, there are some curious omissions and some of the conclusions are a bit off as well.

Read on ...

...continue reading.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

How Does Dan Rather Define "Responsible"?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've always held that the Killian Memo forgery debacle was about journalistic standards and reporting and not about Dan Rather. That is why I don't refer to it as "Rathergate."

However, I do believe that Dan Rather, as managing editor of CBS News and the main correspondent who vigorously defended the discredited segment on 60 Minutes Wednesday, must shoulder a substantial part of the blame. And it is not just me. Apparently, Dan Rather agrees.

Last September 11th, the LA Times published an interview with Dan Rather concerning the forged Killian memos (Amid Skepticism, CBS Sticks to Bush Guard Story):

Rather said in an interview that CBS worked exhaustively on the story, beginning before the 2000 presidential election.

"We worked hard, we worked long, we dug hard and did our best to be accurate, to authenticate what we could," Rather said. "This story is true, the questions we raised about then-Lt. Bush's National Guard service are serious and legitimate questions."

He topped this with:
Although many others helped report and corroborate the story, Rather said, "I'm of the school, my name is on it, I'm responsible." [emphasis added]
I wonder how Dan Rather defines "responsible"?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

January 10, 2005

Why Does CBS News President Andrew Heyward Still Have His Job?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The report of the Individual Review Panel on the September 8, 2004 60 Minutes Wednesday segment, "For the Record," (234-page PDF, "CBS Report"), is a devastating indictment of CBS News' handling of their report on the forged Killian Memos. I followed the CBS News' response to criticism of the report and their unethical and incompetent response closely (Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One). I'll have more to say about the report later, but right now I wonder why CBS News President Andrew Heyward still has a job.

The report clearly shows that the head of the embattled news organization did not perform as one would expect the head of a news organization to perform. Though Heyward clearly realized that there were problems with the reporting on the segment and issued a directive to clear up the matter, he does not appear to have provided sufficient overview or leadership to ensure that his directive was followed promptly and systematically. Instead of focusing on good reporting, as the head of a news organization should, he seems to have been primarily interested in damage control and not following up on his own directive. Accountability seems to have been sorely lacking at CBS News, which is why I find Les Moonves statement on Andrew Heyward very puzzling (Leslie Moonves Issues Statement in Response to Panel Report [8-page PDF]):

This brings us to CBS NEWS President Andrew Heyward. The Panel’s report shows that before the segment was broadcast, Heyward explicitly warned West and Howard that “we will have to defend ‘every syllable’ of the segment and, as we mentioned earlier, specifically urged them not to allow the production team to ‘stampede us.’” In the aftermath of the report, he issued direct instructions to investigate the sourcing of the story and the authentication of the documents and pressed for his staff to come up with new and substantive information rather than merely standing by the story in a “stubborn repetition of what we’ve already said.” However, the Panel concluded that Heyward’s directives were not implemented in a prompt or systematic way.

This raises questions about accountability at CBS News – questions that will have to be addressed both by Andrew Heyward and me. We intend to do so. But Heyward is an executive of integrity and talent, and the right person to be leading CBS NEWS during this challenging time.

Where is the accountability for Heyward? Doesn't he have any obligation to ensure that his directives are being followed, especially when it is obvious that they are not? There were many opportunities for Heyward to take charge when it was clear his underlings weren't doing their jobs, but he did not.

Read on for the damning evidence...

Jay Rosen is also shocked Heyward has kept his job (After Trust Me Journalism Comes Openness: Rather Report Released):

My other major reaction is that I, too, am shocked the CBS News President Andrew Heyward has his job, and this is the reason.

As soon as the reporting of the Air National Guard story came under question, CBS News had not one but two problems. The problems with the story were one. The involvement--no, the immersion--of Dan Rather in the event was the other. Rather is the star of CBS News, the face of the brand, the personification of the new division. The anchor. Immediately it was clear that he "bigfooted" the rest of the division and took over defense of a case in which he was accused. Only one person could have seen the dangers for Rather, for CBS News and for the network itself in allowing Rather to become so involved in defense of the story, which muted everyone else "under" Rather, leaving only Andrew Heyward, who did not act. He was the one who could have protected the brand and his friend, Dan Rather, by speaking truth to power. The responsibility was his alone and he failed.

Glenn Reynolds calls Heyward's continued employment at CBS a "double standard" (Rathergate breaks).

Roger Simon wonders if Heyward's protection will hold up (Where They "Stopped the Buck" at CBS).

...continue reading.

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November 08, 2004

Bloggercon IV: In the Heart of the Beast?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Jay Rosen has summed up his thoughts on Bloggercon III over on Press Think (BloggerCon III: Notes and Observations on the People of Moore's Law). He makes a very good point (among many):

In my view BloggerCon is not a tech conference--it's about democracy, and the blogger's "producerist" vision of it--but I am perfectly happy when others define the event differently.
Blogging, re: self-expression, is about democracy. When we realize that we can be creators as well as "consumers" we are more free and responsible for that freedom. Read the whole thing.

In any case, I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet Jay Rosen face-to-face and talk about some of the issues we've discussed via blog postings and comments, as well as Jay Rosen's view of Bloggercon. Part of these discussions took place over dinner with Zack Rosen (the very interesting and bright nephew of Jay), Mary Hodder, Peter Hirshberg and Doc Searls, who wrote about the dinner here: Dinnercon.

While I agree that a RosenCon would be very cool, I do think that Jay Rosen should take on the mantle of putting together a producerist Bloggercon IV. And why not in the news media capital known as New York City?

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November 06, 2004

Journalists, Publishers and Blogging

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Another report from Bloggercon. I'm in the "journalism" panel moderated by Scott Rosenberg. Once again, the discussion devolves into a debate about whether or what sort of journalists bloggers are. This discussion frustrates and saddens me. I would think that, by now, we would have realized the journalism is a particular set of practices. Publishing is another set of practices. The two are obviously related, but they are orthogonal.

Journalism should be judges on its practice, not on where it was published. We've too often thought the press and the means of publication are tied together. They're not.

Would we talk about people who run printing presses as to whether or not they are journalists? Of course not. That doesn't make any sense. Same thing with blogs. Someone with a printing press is a newspaper because they practice journalism, not because they own a press.

So, let's talk about the practice of journalism and not worry about the publishing medium (remembering that each media has particular conventions).

On a related note, Jay Rosen, points out that blogs denaturalizes journalism and forces us to reassess our assumptions about what journalism is and how it is done. Absolutely! Let's have that discussion.

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November 04, 2004

Whither the Press?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Jay Rosen continues his excellent ongoing series of postings analyzing the challenges and opportunities for news media in light of recent events over on Press Think (Are We Headed for an Opposition Press?). However, I disagree with some of the dichotomies with which Rosen sketches the possible future:

Whatever happens with the news networks, which is only part of the picture, what's more plausible to you: the "cultural divides that have increasingly defined American politics" will increasingly come to define mainstream American media, or... Big Media will successfully hold itself back from politics, and the major news sources will remain in the "nonaligned" movement?
In politics we have opposition parties. Those in each party express one position when it is their party in charge, and castigate the same position when it is championed by the other party in charge. How expected. And how sad. Is this the future we want the press to adopt?

Why not a press that is the permanent party of skepticism and contingent thinking? How about a press, not without bias, certainly, but with a commitment to exposing the facts and a humble recognition of the possibility for error? Why not a press firmly on the side of transparency? Such a position is hardly apolitical. In fact, it is radically engaged with and opposed to "politics" as well as the "view from nowhere."

This expansion of the political into "news" and commentary coincides with greater transparency for the big news combines, which are more successfully scrutinized than they have ever been. Various layers of protection once kept journalists from the knowledge the public had of their mistakes. That layer seems gone now.
Layers of protection? Only if you consider the Maginot Line a success. Lack of transparency was a false protection. Embracing transparency is the only defense.
In Bushworld, all is different. There is no fourth estate; an invalid theory, says Bush. The press is not a watchdog for the public, but another interest group that wants something. (Or it's an arm of our opponents's operation.) But the press is weak, and almost passe, in the Administrations view. There is no need to deal with it most of the time. It can be denied access with impunity. It can be attacked for bias relentlessly, which charges up Bush supporters. It can be fed gruel in plush surroundings and will come back the next day. The Bush crowd has completely changed the game on journalists, knowing that journalists are unlikely to respond with action nearly as bold.
Well, yeah. Big Media is an interest group and frequently acts like one. One can hardly blame Bush for taking advantage of the obviousness weaknesses of the press. It was bound to happen.
Washington journalism likes to imagine itself the Administration's great adversary, but most of the time it relies on access journalism-- not the adversarial kind. "Sources make news" is the first tenet in that system, and that gives sources power. But access journalism makes less and less sense when there is no access, and sources rarely deviate from the party line. The White House press corps has always been based on access, so much so that the alternatives to it have almost been forgotten. I think there will be pressure to abandon the whole dream of press access under Bush, and re-position some forces accordingly.
Exactly. And I hope there is such pressure, though I don't hold out much hope. Non-access-based journalism is a lot more work, and you don't get invited to nearly as many cocktail parties.
I expect some news organizations to begin dealing with these pressures by essentially giving in on several counts-- for example, that newsrooms are populated by liberals and conservative voices are too few. Or some sort of concession like that. Coming to terms with "liberal bias" could be seen as a way of recognizing the reality of the election and responding to continued anger at the press. The most likely place for those efforts to begin is with the supposed finding that "moral values" (read religion) were the top concern of voters, and yet this is not a strength of the liberal, secular press, therefore we need to change-- something like that. After the Republican sweep, I expect some major initiatives on the bias front.
Sigh. Of course, if this is the "solution" then the media has asked the wrong question. It isn't about the "bias." It is about the transparency. It is about the conversation with readers. It is about the links to other sources.
Keep your eye on Sinclair Broadcasting, in my view a new kind of media company-- a political empire with television stations. It was built to prosper in the conditions I have described. It already has a self-conscious political identity. It is already steeped in culture war. And it admires and imitates the Bush method of changing the world, but keeping the same language for the new situation.
I've said it before, I'll say it again. Sinclair is the result of our current broadcast regulatory scheme that turns broadcasters into gatekeepers. Change the regulation to reduce gatekeeping and you solve the Sinclair problem. Unfortunately, too many entrenched interests, including politicians and, more importantly, other broadcasters, like gatekeepers. Yeah, I'd like to see the solutions that Big Media proposes to the gatekeeper problem. That'll happen. Sure.

The press must change, and it won't be easy. Opening up formerly closed processes hardly ever is. Mistakes will be made, complaints will be ubiquitous. The challenges are clear, the opportunities many. Personally, I'm mildly optimistic.

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October 06, 2004

Media Appearance - Tammy Bruce Radio Show

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I was a guest on the Tammy Bruce radio show today for a few minutes discussing blogging and memogate.

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October 05, 2004

Fox News Correspondent Cameron's Foul Up

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've had a few things to say about the CBS Memo debacle and I've been commenting frequently media issues over on Jay Rosen's Press Think, so I thought I would throw in my 2-cents on the recent embarrasments for Fox News.

Josh Micah Marshall has taken the lead in covering the foulup over at Fox News.

As noted here (Is Fox News literally making stuff up out of whole cloth about John Kerry?), Fox News posted an article with obviously fabricated quotes from Sen. Kerry. I say "obviously fabricated" because you'd have to be pretty dense to believe such quotations were accurate:

Rallying supporters in Tampa Friday, Kerry played up his performance in Thursday night's debate, in which many observers agreed the Massachusetts senator outperformed the president.

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" Kerry said Friday.

With the foreign-policy debate in the history books, Kerry hopes to keep the pressure on and the sense of traction going.

Aides say he will step up attacks on the president in the next few days, and pivot somewhat to the domestic agenda, with a focus on women and abortion rights.

"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," Kerry said.

Kerry still trails in actual horse-race polls, but aides say his performance was strong enough to rally his base and further appeal to voters ready for a change.

"I'm metrosexual — he's a cowboy," the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent.

A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

Fox News has since corrected the post with the following statement (Trail Tales: What's That Face?):
Earlier Friday, posted an item purporting to contain quotations from Kerry. The item was based on a reporter’s partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast. We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice.
The reporter who wrote the false quotes was Carl Cameron, Fox News' chief political correspondent.

Fox News has also issued the following memo to its employees (There was a mini-brouhaha):

PLEASE READ: Last week, we experienced separate lapses of judgment, resulting in the posting, on our website, of inaccurate material.

Credibility is our lifeblood. When we make factual mistakes, we affect adversely all the hard work that we've done for eight years to become the country's leading news channel.

There is enough blame to go around. In last week's incident, a stupid parody of a quote was included in the script queue. It was picked up unthinkingly and included on the website.

For that reason, we are implementing a number of changes: first, and immediately, the scripts queue is OFF LIMITS for editorial use until the item has been broadcast or the script is approved for use. Second, the use of scripts queue for humor, sarcasm, parody or other unprofessional conduct is strictly forbidden.

Failure to follow this directive is a dismissable offense.

Marshall believes this memo "leaves the key issue entirely unstated." He is probably referring to the numerous questions he believes should be followed up on (A Few Questions). In particular, I suspect he is referring to whether or not Cameron should continue to cover the Kerry campaign.

Frankly, I agree with Marshall, I think that we should know more about why Cameron did what he did and what Fox News' reprimand consists of. Indeed, without a satisfactory explanation (and apology) from Cameron himself, he should probably be suspended from covering the Kerry Campaign, at least until the election. This was a serious lapse of judgement on Cameron's part and a failure in the publication system at Fox News. Based on what is currently known, I'd suspend Cameron for totally unprofessional behavior. Of course, I'm not sure that Marshall and I would fully agree on the reasons for proposing that Cameron be suspended until more is known.

For one, I think we need to cut some slack to reporters for joking about the subjects they cover. If all the reporters who said derogatory things about the candidates and politicians they reported on were taken off the beat, I'm not sure how much political journalism would be left. Indeed, being able to joke at a politician's expense can be a healthy sign of the distance a journalist needs from the subject. I'd worry about a reporter who couldn't laugh at the expense of the subject they covered.

What Marshall seems to be implying is the most heinous offense is that Cameron is biased. However, a joke, even such a puerile one, is not necessarily an indication of bias. It might be that Cameron makes equally crude jokes about both parties. In any case, even if Cameron was biased, what should our response be?

Well, I don't think the response should be the same as those who decry the "liberal media" and have called for Rather's firing because he is biased. All reporters are biased, objectivity is a myth and we should just get over it. What we need is more transparency and skepticism about claims. We need journalists who are rewarded for humble reporting that adheres to the facts and logic, rather than misleading rhetoric. We also need to make sure that, to the extent possible, there aren't gatekeepers for news.

Marshall errs in buying into the whole "bias" debate at all. Arguing about bias isn't going to get us anywhere. The real questions have to do with transparencey and accountability in news organizations given inevitable bias.

As for Fox News being taken by a group called "Communists for Kerry," geez. Seems like a reporter and editor need a trip to the clue factory (More Good Stuff).

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Journalism's True Enemies

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Jay Rosen is analyzing the continuing aftermath of the CBS memo debacle (Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes). He points to an op-ed by Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page editor Chris Satullo that has much to say (in 668 words) on the subject (Cries of 'media bias' hide sloppy thinking).

Satullo, like Rosen, takes a very balanced view of bloggers and big media, seeing them as symbiotic, benefiting each other. He properly denigrates excessive blog triumphalism as well as big media snobbery. He also says that we must fear "Orwellians" whose "goal isn't better journalism. It's to bully reporters into submission, so that propaganda may flourish."

Well, yes, there are plenty of folk who would prefer to be in charge of the propaganda machine rather than have to survive in a marketplace of ideas. But I don't think "Orwellian" is the right term.

Why? We live in a nation with perhaps the strongest protections for freedom of speech and the press history has ever known. The First Amendment remains a strong bulwark against the prisons and worse that journalists must face in many areas of the world.

So, I ask, what tools are these "Orwellians" using to "bully reporters into submission"? Why are these reporters cowed by the bullying? Why should they fear Brent Bozell? Why is Satullo claiming that "What matters is that journalism survive..."?


Yes, journalism is in crisis. But the enemy is not external "Orwellians" - whoever they are. The "enemy" is within journalism. The "enemy" is whenever an organization ostensibly dedicated to news decides to act like a politician and stonewall. The "enemy" is when a news organization shades its coverage to serve corporate interests. The "enemy" is those who practice poor journalism.

And how do you fight these "Orwellians"? Not with a circle-the-wagons cry of "political jihad" against critics (which only does the "Orwellians'" job for them) but with a renewed commitment to better journalism. If, as Satullo claims (and I agree), journalism is "the craft of speaking truth to power with factual care" then journalists have to hold themselves to that standard.

Satullo says that the battle cries of the Orwellians are "Bias! Arrogance! Monopoly!" Why do the Orwellians use these cries? Why do they resonate with the public? Is it perhaps because there is truth in them? A truth that should be spoken to power?

If journalists weren't so busy claiming that they were objective and, instead, insisted on transparency and accountability, there would be little to be feared from cries of "bias." The forged CBS memos are about CBS News' failure as an institution, and one of those failures was clearly arrogance by the organization and hubris on the part of Dan Rather. And the major news organizations are, and have been, gatekeepers, if not monopolies. As corporations, they want to remain gatekeepers, because it tends to be profitable.

Satullo actually points towards this:

By journalism, I don't mean getting paid $4 million a year to have nice hair and interview Kelsey Grammer. I mean the principled, difficult search for the most thorough, accurate, fair-minded account of current matters that flawed human beings can attain.

Journalism, done right, buoys democracy; hence its place in the First Amendment.

Media conglomerates are not a synonym for journalism. They employ some journalists, and many who only pretend to be. They enable the craft, but also inhibit and cheapen it.

Journalism has enemies, but where there is freedom of expression, then the only enemies journalism has to worry about are those who would destroy it from within by "inhibit[ing] and cheapen[ing] it."

Worrying about "Orwellians" is only a distraction from the real enemies of journalism (bad journalism) and the only tool needed to defend journalism in a nation with freedom of expression (good journalism).

PS I don't think journalism has an explicit place in the First Amendment. Freedom of the press is about government regulation of distribution, not journalism.


The conversation continues on the comment section of Rosen's post: Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes.

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September 23, 2004

CBS Investigation Will Look Into Stonewalling

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Contrary to my post yesterday, the investigation will look into the post-broadcast stonewalling (CBS Investigation Only on Process to Broadcast - Not Stonewalling). According to the Wall Street Journal, which is subscriber only (Viacom Unit Commissions Republican, Ex-AP CEO For Probe of '60 Minutes'):

Mr. Boccardi, who retired from the AP in 2003, said the panel would study not only the process by which the Sept. 8 report anchored by Dan Rather was prepared and broadcast, but also the network's reaction to questions challenging the piece after it aired. CBS and Mr. Rather initially stood firmly behind the story and the documents and that has generated almost as much criticism as the report itself did.

"That is very much part of what we're going to look at," Mr. Boccardi said

A CBS spokeswoman said the primary focus of the panel is the reporting of the story itself, not the aftermath. While there is no timeline for the panel to conclude its investigation, she said the hope is "it moves along at a good pace." [emphasis added]

I'm glad that Mr. Boccardi recognizes the importance of the aftermath issues. Still, one might think that CBS News should have mentioned that in their statement yesterday and the spokeswoman not been quite so dismissive of the aftermath investigation.

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September 22, 2004

CBS Investigation Only on Process to Broadcast - Not Stonewalling

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Posted by Ernest Miller

CBS News has announced a panel led by two distinguished Americans to look into the memogate scandal (CBS News Statement On Panel). Unfortunately, it seems that CBS News only wants to know how the forgeries got on the air and not look at the actions of CBS News after the memos were broadcast.

The Honorable Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania and United States attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Louis D. Boccardi, retired president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press, will comprise the independent review panel that will examine the process by which a recent "60 Minutes Wednesday" report was prepared and broadcast. ....

Two days ago, CBS News and CBS announced the commissioning of an independent review to help determine what errors occurred in the preparation of the report and what actions need to be taken. [emphasis added]

As I've said time and again, some of the most shameful violations of journalistic ethics by CBS News took place after the broadcast, when CBS began receiving many credible and legitimate criticisms. If this panel is not going to look into the terrible errors that took place after the broadcast, it is clear that CBS News is not truly interested in resolving this matter and holding itself to the highest standards of journalism.

See my timeline and analysis of CBS News' response to criticism of the Killian memo forgeries:
Part I: September 8-13
Part II: September 14-21


See also, Jeff Jarvis Two Little.

UPDATE 23 Sep 2004

The stonewalling will be looked into: CBS Investigation Will Look Into Stonewalling.

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Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part Two

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This is part two of my timeline and analysis of CBS News' response to criticism of the Killian memo forgeries. Read part one here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One.

Read on...

...continue reading.

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Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This is a full and comprehensive update to my original post providing a timeline and analysis of CBS News' response to criticism of the Killian memo forgeries (Incompetent or Unethical? The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism Over the Killian Memos). Unfortunately, due to its length, this update has to be broken into two parts. This is part one and covers September 8-13. Part two, which covers Sept 14-21, is here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part Two.

First, another note about why I'm writing this series of posts on the CBS memos scandal.

I didn't jump into the "memogate" fray immediately. My first post on this story came Monday evening after CBS News defended the authenticity of the memos with two "experts," one of whom clearly had no idea what he was talking about and another whose credentials were weak at best. See my first post here: CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els.

I never thought there would be any significant discussion of the story after the first weekend. Watching the story develop during the first couple of days, I fully expected that CBS News would do the rational and ethical thing and declare that they were going to investigate themselves and the memos in order to clear up credible questions about the authenticity of the documents. I believed that CBS News would engage in a transparent process to prove their credibility, such as releasing the "first-generation" copies they claimed to have as well as the names of the experts who had authenticated the documents prior to broadcast.

Of course, some of the conservative "wingnuts" wouldn't have been satisfied by such a course of action (and leftist "moonbats" would see it as caving into conservative pressure), but reasonable people would have accepted that CBS News might have made an error yet was working diligently to correct it. Had this happened, while there might still have been plenty of discussion of the issue among conservative circles, most everybody else would have gone into waiting mode, giving CBS News a reasonable amount of time to conduct the investigation and report on itself.

Instead, CBS News entered standard political/corporate damage control mode and began to stonewall.

It wasn't that CBS News may have erred that is important. Mistakes happen. You correct them, figure out why they happened, and try not to repeat them, knowing that you'll make another mistake down the road. This is not news, and while it would have gotten a little bit of play, especially on the right, it wouldn't have been that big a deal. Of course, as we are now learning, the mistakes may have gone beyond errors in "news judgement" and into the realm of misdeeds.

Nevertheless (and perhaps because of possible misdeeds), CBS News refused to acknowledge even the possibility of error.

Making mistakes is one thing. Absurdly defending those mistakes, stonewalling and casting aspersions on those who make credible and legitimate criticism is another. When a major news organization engages in flagrant violations of basic journalistic ethics with regard to a claim that might have significant impact on a presidential election, that is an important story.

It would be absurd to expect or demand aggressive investigative reporters to always get it right the first time. Yes, we should demand high standards, but perfection is not achievable. However, we should demand vigorous correction policies. Imagine if the documents had been better forgeries. What would it have taken to get CBS News to admit error? In this case, the cover up really is much worse than the crime.

Many claim that there are other important institutional media questions, such as potential bias, news judgement and emphasis: more coverage should be devoted to other issues, news organizations need to dig deeper into these stories, be more aggressive in investigating and uncovering government untruths, and etc. Absolutely. These are important questions and they need to be addressed, but the answers aren't simple or even readily apparent in many cases. However, if you don't take clear violations of the fundamentals seriously, you'll never get satisfactory answers to any of the more difficult questions.

Second, I'll reiterate my stand that this isn't about Dan Rather, but about CBS News. Dan Rather is important, it is clear, but he is only one link in the web of responsibility with regard to CBS News' response to valid criticism.

Third, my basic conclusion is that the upper management of CBS News has deliberately acted unethically in responding to legitimate criticism. If the management of CBS News was not deliberately unethical, their sheer incompetence rises to the level of culpability. This is not to say that the rank and file of CBS News are implicated in the guilt of the CBS News executives, just as the rank and file of Enron are only guilty of having the poor luck in inadvertantly choosing to work for a group of crooks.

For some ideas on what will or should happen next, see Press Think (Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?) and Buzzmachine (A Charge to the CBS Comission).

That said, please consider the evidence. If there are any errors or omissions, please let me know.

...continue reading.

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September 21, 2004

CBS News Producer Contacted Kerry Aide Lockhart Before Show Aired

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've already noted that CBS News seems poised to throw producer Mary Mapes to the wolves (The Fingerpointing Has Begun at CBS). Well, it would seem the Kerry Campaign is giving her a helpful push too, in order to distance themselves from the ongoing scandal, according to an AP report (Kerry Aide Talked to Retired Guard Officer:

Lockhart said Mapes asked him the weekend before the story broke to call Burkett. "She basically said there's a guy who is being helpful on the story who wants to talk to you," Lockhart said, adding that it was common knowledge that CBS was working on a story raising questions about Bush's Guard service. Mapes told him there were some records "that might move the story forward. She didn't tell me what they said."
All too often I think the charges of media bias are overblown or don't take into account various institutional issues, etc., etc. Sometimes, however, the media just hands their critics something to tear at.

Non-registration link for story (Kerry Adviser Talked to Burkett).


USA Today has much more (and don't they have their own tale to tell?) (CBS arranged for meeting with Lockhart):

Burkett told USA TODAY that he had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would help arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign.
Read the whole thing.


USA Today does indeed have a story to tell, an extraordinarily bizarre one (CBS backs off Guard story):

After he received the documents in Houston, Burkett said, he drove home, stopping on the way at a Kinko's shop in Waco to copy the six memos. In the parking lot outside, he said, he burned the ones he had been given and the envelope they were in. Ramirez was worried about leaving forensic evidence on them that might lead back to her, Burkett said, acknowledging that the story sounded fantastic. "This is going to sound like some damn sci-fi movie," he said.

After keeping the copies for a couple of days, he said he drove to a location he would not specify, about 100 miles from his ranch, to put them "in cold storage." Burkett said he took the action because he believed the papers were politically explosive and made him nervous. "I treated them like absolute TNT," he said. "They looked to me like they were devastating."

Burkett was the source of the memos for USA Today, but his story certainly raises many more questions. For example, there is the possibility that CBS News producer Mapes had two of the documents weeks before getting copies of all six:
Ultimately, Burkett decided to turn over the documents to one of the most persistent journalists, CBS producer Mary Mapes, sometime in August. He and his wife met Mapes and CBS reporter Mike Smith at a pizza restaurant a few miles from their ranch. At first he gave them only two of the six documents, which Mapes said she planned to have analyzed for authenticity, according to Burkett.

Burkett said he passed the rest of the documents to Smith around Sept. 5, at a drive-in restaurant near Baird.

Read the whole, sorry thing.

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September 20, 2004

Rather's Statement

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The Drudge Report is publishing what is claimed to be Dan Rather's statement acknowledging that there is not enough proof that the CBS memos are authentic:

Last week, amid increasing questions about the authenticity of documents used in support of a 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story about President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard, CBS News vowed to re-examine the documents in question—and their source—vigorously. And we promised that we would let the American public know what this examination turned up, whatever the outcome.

Now, after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where—if I knew then what I know now—I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.

But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.

Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.

I'm going to say it again. Investigating the documents and their source is not good enough. If we are to trust CBS News, we have to know that they will vigorously pursue legitimate and credible questions about their reporting. The response of CBS News to criticism has hardly been consistent with "investigative reporting without fear or favoritism." The fear was palpable. I would suggest that there are some things that are more important to CBS News' commitment to report fairly and truthfully: Covering Their Ass.

How long will it be before CBS News acknowledges that its response to criticism was seriously flawed and deserving of investigation?

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This Isn't About Dan Rather, It Is About CBS News

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There is a rumor that a former colleague of Dan Rather at CBS Evening News has said, after speaking with executives at CBS News, "the consensus is that Dan Rather may be forced to fall on his sword." See, Mickey Kaus Degradation Spreads!; Colby and Beyond! Rather's colleagues: Rather "to fall on his sword"; Mayflower Hill Blog ***CBS EXCLUSIVE***.

I have no idea whether this rumor is true or not, but eventually the question of Dan Rather falling on his sword will be raised.

Two points.

First, if Dan Rather has to fall on his sword it won't be because he erred in the original report, unless the problems with his involvement in vetting the story are overwhelmingly clear. If he has to fall on his sword it will be because of the stonewalling after the fact. Rather's vigorous denials that the criticisms were valid, the stories' critics partisan, after-the-fact expert shopping to support a crumbling story, and insistance that the story was true, though the documents might be forgeries will be what has done him in. In Greek tragedies, they called it "hubris."

Second, my personal view is that this isn't about Dan Rather so much as it is about CBS News as an organization. Dan Rather clearly plays an important role as the narrator and overly-aggressive defender of the report, but CBS News is too large an organization for even a single prominent individual, like Rather, to be entirely responsible. The producer of the piece, Mapes, will certainly be scapegoated, but all of CBS News is implicated in the stonewalling. Are there no editors at CBS Evening News? Who vetted and interviewed the second string experts Glennon and Katz? Dan Rather was not the anchor on the CBS Evening News on Saturday the 11th, when the show misleadingly seem to claim that a respected document examiner, Philip Bouffard, had changed his mind about the authenticity of the documents. Who was in charge of that report?

There are many other questions about CBS News' response to be answered in the coming days and weeks.


The NY Times reports that CBS News is ready to acknowledge that the documents are forgeries (CBS News Concludes It Was Misled on National Guard Memos, Network Officials Say):

Those officials, who asked not to be identified, said CBS News would most likely make an announcement as early as today that it had been deceived about the documents' origins, and that it was mounting an intensive news investigation of where they came from....

People at the network said it was now possible that officials would open a formal internal inquiry into how it moved forward with the report, which officials now say they are beginning to believe was too flawed to have gone on the air.

An investigation into where the documents came from and how they got on the air is only part of the solution. An investigation into how and why CBS News lowered its standards in order to steadfastly defend the documents after valid and credible criticism had been raised must also be part of the investigation if CBS News is to regain its credibility.

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September 19, 2004

The Fingerpointing Has Begun at CBS

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Posted by Ernest Miller

CBS staff members are now leaking like crazy to the big media press covering Rathergate in order to get their version of the story out. I'll have an update about CBS News' response in a much more indepth post, but I think it important to note that the fingerpointing has begun (always a bad sign).

The Washington Post (annoying reg. req.) (In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries)

None of the analysts, including the fourth, James J. Pierce of California, provided the network with a written report before the broadcast. Howard [a 60 Minutes executive] said Mapes told him the analysts' concerns had been addressed. [emphasis added]
Guess Mapes is going to be taking the fall.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, as Rather sat down in a CBS studio with former Texas lieutenant governor Barnes, the top brass was turning its attention to the explosive story. Heyward, the news division chief, met with Senior Vice President Betsy West; executive producer Howard, who had taken over in June after shifting from the program's Sunday edition; Mapes; senior broadcast producer Mary Murphy; and Esther Kartiganer, whose job is to ensure that interviews are not edited in a misleading way.

"All of us asked questions," Heyward said.

"We asked core questions -- about reliability, authenticity, motivation, could the source have had access to the documents," West said. The executives were satisfied by Mapes's answers, and she began writing the script. [emphasis added]

Yep. Mapes is going down.

Of course, nothing yet answers the questions I've raised about CBS News response to the scandal. Was Mapes in charge of CBS News spokespeople? Was Mapes in charge of hiring Glennon and Katz as "experts" for last Monday's CBS Evening News broadcast? Did Mapes write the CBS Evening News stories defending the broadcast with advocacy instead of reporting?

See also, the LA Times (annoying reg. req.) (In the Rush for a Scoop, CBS Found Trouble Fast).

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September 18, 2004

Real Time Fact Checking

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Posted by Ernest Miller

On Thursday, the Washington Post (annoying reg. req.) had a live online chat with Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal (Talking Points Live: Terry Neal). Responding to a question regarding Rathergate, Neal said:

The bottom line is, for however badly CBS and Dan Rather seem to have screwed up, it was the aggressive reporting of the media--and especially the Washington Post (Michael Dobbs, Howie Kurtz, et al)--that revealed the problems with the memos in the first place.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, indeed anyone following the story at virtually any level whatsoever, it was blogs that broke the story.

I don't want to give Neal a hard time, but he's the political correspondent for the Perhaps he should be paying a little more attention to the blogosphere.

In any case, by the end of the 1-hour chat, Neal had been corrected:

New York, N.Y.: I agree with your point about not blaming the entire media for CBS's bad judgement, but in terms of digging into the story of whether they were fakes -- didn't that start in the blogs?

Terry Neal: You know raise a good question. And to be honest, I'm not sure of the answer. I don't know who the first person or people were to raise the issue. Either way, it can't be denied that the mainstream media has been aggressive in its reporting of the memo mess, whether it was broken there or in the blogs first.


Washington, D.C. : The aggressive reporting of Howard Kurtz and Michael Dobbs only came after the work of bloggers who uncovered the whole mess.

Terry Neal: I'm getting a lot of notes like this...See my previous answer. And allow me, as a mainstream media guy, to give credit were credit is due. Kudos to the bloggers!

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September 17, 2004

Incompetent or Unethical? The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism Over the Killian Memos

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Posted by Ernest Miller

UPDATE September 22, 2004

A complete update of this posting can be found here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One.

When the Rathergate story broke, I studied it with interest and amusement. I did not post anything on this blog about it, because I generally stay "on-topic," which means that I focus on technology law and policy. However, I am also very concerned about freedom of experession issues and the development of blogging as a new media form. I initiated the first, as far as I am aware, blog conference at an academic institution: Revenge of the Blog at Yale Law School.

By this past Monday evening, however, the story had clearly become one involving serious questions about the future of news reporting and I decided to join the conversation on this blog. This story is important because the blatant flouting of basic and fundamental journalistic practices by one of the largest and prominent news organizations in the country is undermining the credibility of journalism as a whole. Jay Rosen has asked how the press can "win" during this election season (Campaign Puzzler: How the Press Comes Out with a Win). Well, I think that right now, the press is falling farther and farther behind in points. If major news organizations think that their credibility is not tarnished by a rogue CBS, they are sadly mistaken.

It is disappointing to me that the major media has been mostly silent in their condemnation of CBS's response to this scandal. Even granting, against reason, that there remains a serious debate about the authenticity of the documents, and that CBS's "checks and balances" for vetting this story were sufficient, the response of CBS to its critics has been outrageous. Where are the outraged calls for more transparency on the part of CBS News from the editorial boards of the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or Wall Street Journal? Why haven't anchors of the other networks called for CBS to establish an internal, or better yet, an external investigation into the issue? Any profession that won't police its own when members egregiously violate the fundamental tenets of that profession will very quickly lose all credibility.

More importantly, the press plays a vital and critical role in forcing transparency on government. How effectively will the press be able to play that role if it adopts the stonewalling tactics of the government when it is subject to criticism? If our watchdogs cannot even watch themselves, the Fourth Estate will become ever more ineffective.

Many of my most important criticisms aren't about content, but about process. Many stories will lead to valid disagreements over nuance, omissions, and etc. However, there are fundamental aspects of process that virtually all can agree upon. CBS News has violated many of these. And, even where I criticize CBS News content, it is generally with the belief that a news organizations should be especially fair and even-handed in responding to criticism.

I should also note that this isn't about Dan Rather. I couldn't care less about Dan Rather. This is about CBS News as an organization. Although Dan Rather has been the focus for attention for many, the majority of my criticisms are directed at CBS News as a whole.

Whether you agree that the documents are forged, clearly credible and legitimate questions about their authenticity have been raised. CBS News has not responded to criticisms with transparency and responsibility we should expect from any news organization, let alone such a large and important one.

The following is an analysis and timeline of CBS's response to their critics. It is abundantly clear that CBS's actions when questioned about the validity of their reporting are a breach of what should be fundamental journalistic practice. Either that, or CBS News is hopelessly incompetent.

If I've missed something or erred, please let me know.

Read on...

...continue reading.

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September 16, 2004

A Preponderance of Misdirection and Lack of Transparency

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Posted by Ernest Miller

A brief fisking of CBS's statement today.

'A Preponderance of Evidence' Wed Sep 15 2004 19:39:35 ET

The CBS News report was based on a preponderance of evidence: many interviews, both on- and off-camera, with individuals with direct and indirect knowledge of the situation, atmosphere and events of the period in question, as well as the procedures, character and thinking of Lt. Col. Killian, Lt. Bush's squadron commander in the Guard, at the time.

The report also included the first television interview with Ben Barnes, a Democrat and current fundraiser for John Kerry, who said he helped get Mr. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.

Numerous questions have been raised about the authenticity of the documents. CBS News believes it is important for the news media to be accountable and address legitimate questions.

However, CBS News also apparently believes that is appropriate to stonewall for nearly an entire week before addressing those questions. Furthermore, CBS believes that the first response should be to cast aspersions on the motivations of those questioning the report. Its not the mistake, it is the coverup afterwards.
Procurement of The Documents

The 60 MINUTES Wednesday broadcast reported that it obtained six documents from the personal files of Lt. Col. Killian, four of which were used in the broadcast. In accordance with longstanding journalistic ethics, CBS News is not prepared to reveal its confidential sources or the method by which 60 MINUTES Wednesday received the documents. CBS News' reporting determined that the source of the memos had access to the documents he provided and an opportunity to obtain copies of them. Our sources included individuals who had first-hand knowledge of the events in question.

Additionally, Mary Mapes, the producer of the report and a well-respected, veteran journalist whose credibility has never been questioned, has been following this story for more than five years. She has a vast and detailed knowledge of the issues surrounding President Bush's service in the Guard and of the individuals involved in the story. Before the report was broadcast, it was vetted and screened in accordance with CBS News standards by several veteran 60 MINUTES Wednesday senior producers and CBS News executives.

Hmmm, you would have thought Mapes might have noticed that no other documents in the Bush National Guard files resembles these documents. Now for the meat of the statement.
Authentication of the Documents

Four independent individuals with expertise in the authentication of documents were consulted prior to the broadcast of the story regarding the documents 60 MINUTES Wednesday obtained: document examiners Marcel B. Matley, James J. Pierce, Emily Will and Linda James.

Why was CBS so reticent to provide the names of these individuals? Inquiring minds want to know.
As CBS News has publicly stated, the documents used in the report were photocopies of originals.
So, when is CBS going to release high quality scans of the documents, the same quality as were provided to these experts? After all, in the initial response to critics, CBS complained that those who questioned CBS did not have access to high quality originals. A complaint CBS reiterates below.
Two of the examiners, Mssrs. Matley and Pierce, attested and continue to attest to their belief in the documents' authenticity. (see attachments 1 and 2) Two others, Ms. Will and Ms. James, appeared on a competing network yesterday, where they misrepresented their conversations and communication with CBS News. In fact, they assessed only one of the four documents used in the report, and while one of them raised a question about one aspect of that one document, they did not raise substantial objections or render definitive judgment on the document. Ultimately, they played a peripheral role in the authentication process and deferred to Mr. Matley, who examined all four of the documents used.
And we should believe CBS, why? Perhaps they could provide the world with some of the emails or other correspondence with Ms. Will and Ms. James. Perhaps they might also explain the inconsistency of this statement with what Mr. Matley has said since. I'm sure we will soon hear more from Mr. Pierce. Finally, why did CBS request that Mr. Matley not talk with the press?
Additionally, two more individuals with specific expertise relative to the documents - Bill Glennon, a technology consultant and long-time IBM typewriter service technician, and Richard Katz, a computer software expert - were asked to examine the documents after the broadcast for a report in the Sept. 13 CBS EVENING NEWS. They, too, found nothing to lead them to believe that the documents did not date back to the early 1970s. They strongly refuted the claim made by some critics that there were no typewriters in existence in the early 1970s that could have produced such documents. (see attachments 3 and 4)
Har - dee - Har Har. Please. Several other recognized and certified document experts, as well as those with vast experience in fontography and access to actual machines upon which to perform experiments (such as at Adobe) have completely and utterly discredited Mr. Glennon's recollections as an IBM Typewriter repairman. See, Joseph Newcomer, The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries!). Why did CBS choose to believe an "expert" with so little experience compared to the experts who other news organizations relied on?

As for Mr. Katz. I wrote a pretty darn good debunking in just a few hours (took time to make the images) of his conclusions. See, CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els and Little Green Footballs, Typewriter Repairman Promoted. Seriously, are we to believe these were the best "experts" CBS can find?

Oh, and by the way, how did CBS find these "experts"? Did CBS go to the society for document examiners or whatever it is called? Or did they just find people via the internet or other publications who already supported CBS's position? Is that how you should find experts as a reporter? Conclusion first, choose expert second?

CBS News Experts' Conclusions About the Documents

- Katz believes the documents were written on a typewriter and not a computer. (attachment 3)

- Glennon confirms that the superscript "th" and proportional spacing of the typeface of the four documents were definitely available on typewriters as early as the late 1960s. (attachment 4)

- Pierce believes that the documents in question are authentic as best as he can determine, given that they are copies and not originals. (attachment 2)

- Matley says the signatures are, indeed, Killian's. (attachment 1)

Um, okay, yeah.
Again, the documents used for the 60 MINUTES Wednesday report were copies, and most of the analysis fueling the current controversy is based on scanned, downloaded, faxed or re-copied copies. For now, the disagreements among "dueling experts" have not been resolved.
Uh, yeah. This is called being oblivious. Where are the better copies? The ones your experts used. Oh, right, Glennon never actually saw those original copies and neither did Katz, to my knowledge. How about a blue-ribbon panel of experts then? No. Gosh, didn't think so.
Other Issues

Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, who was group commander of Lt. Bush's squadron, has stated to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among others, that he believes the documents are not real, but also told The New York Times, in an article that appeared on Sept. 12, that the information in the CBS News report "...reflected issues he and Col. Killian had discussed-namely Mr. Bush's failure to appear for a physical, which military records released previously by the White House show, led to a suspension from flying." That is consistent with what he told CBS News off-camera as part of the research for this report.

And that supports the authenticity of the documents, how? I have lots of conversations with people. Most of them are not written down. Undoubtedly, Hodges discussed Bush's performance with Killian. That is how the military system works.
A reference in one memo to Gen. Buck Staudt applying pressure on behalf of Lt. Bush raised questions because Staudt had left his job 18 months before the memo was written. But CBS News' background reporting determined that Staudt remained a powerful figure in the Guard for years after his retirement, a fact that is confirmed by Ms. Knox in a newspaper interview. More importantly, the same memo referred to unhappiness in Austin, an obvious reference to Staudt's successor at the Austin, Texas, headquarters of the Texas Air National Guard.
Ok, let's see that background reporting, as it has been directly attacked by other members of the TexANG.

The editorial content of the report was not based solely on the physical documents, but also on numerous credible sources who supported what the documents said.

Misdirection. The argument is with the authenticity of the documents.
Through all of the frenzied debate of the past week, the basic content of the 60 MINUTES Wednesday report - that President Bush received preferential treatment to gain entrance to the Texas Air National Guard and that he may not have fulfilled all of the requirements -- has not been substantially challenged.
Off topic once again. "Please, please look over here, never mind that man behind the curtain."
CBS News will make every effort to resolve the contradictions and answer the unanswered questions about the documents and will continue to report on all aspects of the story.
I'm not holding my breath, considering the dissembling, stonewalling, hunkered down effort CBS has taken so far. An aggressive investigation might salvage some reputations at CBS, but CBS has demonstrated nothing like that so far.

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September 15, 2004

Where is the Transparency? - Crisis of Integrity Continues at CBS

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Posted by Ernest Miller

According to the Drudge Report, the following is a statement by the President of CBS News, Andrew Heyward:

We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate [not "authentic"] or we would not have put them on television. There was a great deal of coroborating [sic] evidence from people in a position to know. Having said that, given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions, so that's what we are doing. [emphasis added]
Redouble what efforts? I thought CBS was standing by their story? Is CBS News launching an internal investigation? CBS has not identified what, exactly, they are looking into. Are they looking into the typographical questions? Are they reconfirming with those people who vouched for the documents? What are they doing? Most importantly, where is the transparency?

There is still no word on who the "expert" document examiners were who authenticated the documents. Guess we'll just have to take CBS's word that they exist.

There has still been no release of high quality copies of the documents, though CBS claims to have them. And what the heck did they send to their "experts"?

Dan Rather has apparently (according to a report by Howard Kurtz) interviewed Killian's secretary who claims the documents are fakes but represent the gist of contemporaneous conversations. See the Dallas Morning News (reg. req.), which engaged in actual journalism (Ex-aide disavows Bush Guard memos).

This would be the same secretary whose interview CBS has already responded to, according to the Seattle Times (Ex-Guard typist recalls memos on Bush):

CBS officials appeared jubilant over Knox's revelations. "While we do not believe that she is a documents expert," CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said, "it is exceptionally noteworthy that she supports the content of our story." [emphasis added]
One might wonder why CBS is going to ask someone they "do not believe ... is a documents expert" about the authenticity of the documents, especially when they have ignored responding to or talking with other experts who have raised legitimate concerns about the memos.

In any case, if she basically reiterates what she has told numerous other news organizations, CBS will do what, exactly? Continue to stonewall? You might also wonder why CBS doesn't believe the reporting of other news organizations about what the former secretary said. Are they not as trustworthy as Dan Rather?

As long as this fig leaf of "responsible journalism" is allowed to stand, this remains a Crisis in Journalism. Correction: CBS's response is an embarrasment to fig leaves.

For a humorous note, see the top ten statements CBS was considering: Top Ten CBS Statements Planned for Today.

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Rather Shows He is Unfit for Journalism

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Posted by Ernest Miller

We don't really know yet if a denouement to the CBS memo crisis is nigh or whether it will come at all. What we do know is that CBS News anchor Dan Rather is acting with an arrogance that is unbecoming journalism. I hope if there is ever an investigation, Rather's responses to those who question his reporting is dealt with indepth.

Although Rather cannot be bothered to name the "experts" who "authenticated" the documents, or provide good quality copies to outside experts, he has plenty of time for an interview with the NY Observer regarding the ongoing scandal. Read and be amazed at conceit (Dan Rather To Bush: ‘Answer The Questions’). Indeed, if there will be a denouement, it may this interview that is responsible for it.

"With respect: answer the questions," said Dan Rather, the CBS News anchor. He was asking a direct question to President George W. Bush, his re-election campaign and his political allies in the press and on the Web. "We’ve heard what you have to say about the documents and what you’ve said and what your surrogates have said, but for the moment, answer the questions.

"I say that with respect," he added. "They’d be a lot stronger in their campaign if they did do that."

And why won't you answer many of the key questions from your critics, Rather? Your responses have been pathetic at best. I once asked with respect. Now I ask with contempt. I expect the answer is arrogance. What other reason could there be for not naming the experts consulted, or providing high quality copies of the documents, such as the copies sent to the "experts."
....Mr. Rather asserted that the lack of denial was itself evidence of the essential truth of his findings. The questions raised by his reporting, he said, have remained unanswered by the Bush administration: Did Mr. Bush get preferential treatment for the Texas Air National Guard? Was then-Lieutenant Bush suspended for failing to perform up to Texas and Air Guard standards? Did then-Lieutenant Bush refuse a direct order from his military superior to take a required examination?
Here is another question: how have you verified that the documents are authentic, in detail?

Whether or not a major news organization offered forged documents as a central element of their confirmation of allegations against the president is a legitimate and important question. Surely, any true journalist can see that. However, Rather essentially ignores these concerns.

Furthermore, the White House's silence on the documents may be some evidence of the underlying truth of the contents of the memos, but it is no proof at all that the documents are authentic, which is the point at issue. Of course, if you follow Rather's logic, then CBS's weak defense of the document's authenticity is evidence that they are not.

"It’s never been fully, completely denied by the Bush-Cheney campaign or even the White House that he was suspended for meeting the standards of the Air Force or that he didn’t show up for a physical," he said. "The longer we go without a denial of such things—this story is true."
Hmmm...the longer we go without knowing the names of CBS's experts then we can assume they don't exist?
On Friday, Sept. 10, Mr. Rather said on the CBS Evening News that he believed that some of the criticism came from people who were "partisan political operatives," implying that right-wing elements have managed to turn the story into a referendum on the story itself—and thus on Mr. Rather, a longtime target of conservative critics.

Mr. Rather said that the focus on questions over the veracity of the memos was a smoke screen perpetrated by right-wing allies of the Bush administration.

"I think the public, even decent people who may be well-disposed toward President Bush, understand that powerful and extremely well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the documents because they can’t deny the fundamental truth of the story," he said. "If you can’t deny the information, then attack and seek to destroy the credibility of the messenger, the bearer of the information. And in this case, it’s change the subject from the truth of the information to the truth of the documents.

"This is your basic fogging machine, which is set up to cloud the issue, to obscure the truth," he said.

This is really the key element of the interview with regard to Rather's unsuitability to remain a journalist for a major news organization. Not only does he ignore valid and credible concerns that undermine his "reporting," he attacks his critics as partisan dupes. This is clear evidence that Rather is no longer able to weigh evidence objectively.

Strangely, Rather is accusing those who have concerns about his story of attacking the messenger. Yet, here is Rather attacking the messenger. I'll leave the psychology here to experts.

Mr. Rather said that he and his longtime CBS producer, Mary Mapes, had investigated the story for nearly five years, finally convincing a source to give them the National Guard documents. He did not reveal the name of the source, but Mr. Rather said he was a man who had been reluctant to come forth with them because he’d been harassed by political operatives. "Whether one believes it or not, this person believed that he and his family had been harassed and even threatened," he said. "We were not able to confirm that, but his fear was that what had already been threats, intimidation, if he gave up the documents, could get worse—maybe a lot worse." [emphasis added]
Professional courtesy from one paranoid to another, I guess.
....The story has fallen into a wormhole of seemingly unanswerable questions: Could an IBM Composer, Selectra or Executive have created the superscripts and proportional spacing? Would the Texas Air National Guard have had such expensive models? Was Killian the type to … type?

The responses have mostly depended on who you asked, although a large number of analysts have cast serious doubt on the documents, with CBS’s experts being the conspicuous exceptions.

What experts? If they existed, wouldn't CBS have named them by now? (Seriously. I think there are more experts. Why CBS hasn't named them, I don't know. Maybe because everytime they become public, they recant.)
If Mr. Rather’s defense sounded like a shout of "vast right-wing conspiracy," in this election year it was no longer as crazy as it sounded—particularly during a week when the Republican National Committee had already beat him to the conspiracy-mongering. When the Democratic National Committee launched a TV ad called "Fortunate Son" on Tuesday, Sept. 14, using a clip of Mr. Rather’s 60 Minutes sit-down with the former Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Ben Barnes, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee released a statement saying that "the video the Democrats released today is as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS."
Beat him to the conspiracy mongering? Dan Rather began the conspiracy mongering last Friday, when his CBS Evening News report accused critics of the documents to be "partisan political operatives," something that the author of this article reported a few paragraphs above. Consistent much? And what the heck is particularly conspiratorial about a spokesman for the RNC attacking a DNC ad? Um, isn't that politics as usual?
...."There are people who believe that there are little green folks in the center of the earth," he said. "I don’t believe that. It’s possible, but I don’t believe it." [said Rather]
Um, no, it isn't possible.
Mr. Rather said that it would require an exceptional amount of knowledge to craft a forgery—and not just the typographical kind. "You’d have to have an in-depth knowledge of Air Force manuals from 1971," he said. "You’d have to have Bush’s service record, you’d have to have the Air Force regulations from 1971, you’d have to know nearly all of the people involved directly at that time, including the squadron commander, who was Bush’s immediate superior, and his attitude at the time—you’d have to know all those things and weave all those things in."
Well, a number of experts consulted by major media organizations that are reputable dispute that the memos are consistent in those things. In any case, it would be nice if the experts CBS consulted would debate these other experts. Oh, that's right, they don't exist.
Mr. Rather said he was well aware of reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post that had finely detailed examinations of inconsistencies in the memos. And he said he took those reports seriously and appreciated the "competitive response" of other news organizations. But despite a number of experts calling the memos forgeries, he said that "the truth of these documents lies in the signatures and in the content, not just the typeface and the font-style. Let me emphasize once again, these are not exact sciences. Not like DNA or fingerprints."
Um, Dan, you do realize that experts hired by these other organizations, as well as experts hired by your organization dispute the signatures. Moreover, because you don't actually have access to the originals, you do realize that you cannot conclusively authenticate the signatures, don't you, Dan? If not, incompetence would be another reason Rather should no longer be a journalist for a major media organization.
That was why, he said, half of the experts agreed and the other half didn’t. That supposed stalemate left nothing but the truth at the center of the documents.
Where are these experts that agree? That typewriter repair guy? The software consultant who doesn't know how to use Word?
"In terms of the experts, you’re going to find an equal number of experts on the authenticity arguments," he said. "I don’t think that’s going to resolve the argument. The core truth of the reporting, I think it’s already clear that it’s true. And I think as time goes along, it will become even more apparent."
Hello, Earth to Dan. Earth to Dan. Come in, please. The core truth that is becoming more apparent is that the documents are forgeries and CBS is covering up its errors. This is clearly an example of poor observational and judgement skills. Again, not something you want in a journalist for a major news organization.
What about the Washington Post story of Sept. 14? The story pointed to discrepancies in military language, between the way Killian usually signed his letters and his signature on the memos CBS put on the air. And what about Mr. Bush’s address on one memo, "5000 Longmont #8, Houston," where he apparently no longer lived in 1972?

"Both of the allegations are wrong," he said. "I feel confident in saying that."

But when asked to offer a specific rebuttal to the observation about the address, Mr. Rather didn’t have one, saying only: "It’s our position, and I believe we demonstrated it …. The address doesn’t match the Bush service time frame—that’s their basic allegation? We think that’s wrong. We took a look at this, and we just think they’re wrong about it."

Blind assertions. That's good journalism. Yep.
Mr. Rather brought up Mr. Hodges, the former National Guard major who CBS News relied on to verify the contents of Killian’s memo. Mr. Hodges, a Bush supporter, had since declared the documents forgeries. "He doesn’t think the documents are real," said Mr. Rather. "As far as I can tell, he didn’t deny that they sounded familiar to him. If he did, he didn’t confirm it to The New York Times."
So, the claim isn't that Hodges verified the documents, but that they sounded familiar. Okay. How different is that from, something along the lines of (not actual quote) "if he wrote it, then that is the way he must have felt." Perhaps Rather would discuss the point of not showing the memos to Hodges, or mentioning that some experts by CBS had concerns about their authenticity. Not to mention Hodges' claim that CBS said the memos were in Killian's own handwriting, which might prejudice a witness just a bit.
And what if it was discovered that the documents were indeed forged?

"If," said Mr. Rather, reiterating "if," "if at any time we’re able to come up with information that demonstrates that we’re wrong, we’ll report it. We won’t wait. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. The story is true."

If I had been holding my breathe, I would have been dead days ago.
Mr. Rather said that he and Ms. Mapes had heard about the National Guard memos as long ago as 1999.

"We eventually came in contact with somebody who said he knew about the documents, and it took a while to get in contact with the man who was supposed to have had the documents," he said. "It took a long time for us to create a reportorial relationship with him in which he trusted us, and at the same time we were checking him out to see if he was a trustworthy person."

While Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes were able to glean the contents of the memos before they actually acquired them, and while they worked to convince the source to hand over the memos, he said they tried to verify the facts in them so they could be sure they were on the right trail.

"Within the last few months," he said, "we got a look at the documents, and we said we’d like to have a copy of the documents."

He said they met the source in a "remote location." "[The source] said they were copies of the documents, and he told us some of the history of where they came from and how they came to him," Mr. Rather said.

Shades of Woodward and Bernstein. How excited Rather must have been. Mysterious sources meeting in a remote location. The documents had to be authentic! And, what a great scene it would make in the movie.
Finally, after showing the reporting to CBS News president Andrew Hayward, senior vice president Betsy West and 60 Minutes Wednesday executive producer Josh Howard, Mr. Rather said he went to officials at the White House.
Ah, responsibility of the higher-ups. Though I doubt they will actually accept any.
"Look, we have accumulated a body of information based on some long reporting that lays out a different picture of then-Lieutenant Bush’s service," he said, "and we now have documents which to our own satisfaction we believe to be authentic, we believe to be true …. These are unpleasant truths. But they are truths. There was and is no joy in reporting them. But part of what reporters are supposed to do is ask questions, dig for facts and, when truths are found, share them with the public and, when called upon to do so, speak truth to power. This we did."
Hah, hah, hah. "Speak truth to power." Hah, hah. When will someone go to Rather and explain the "unpleasant truths" to him?
In the last week, a Newsweek report suggested that the CBS source was Bill Burkett, a former National Guard employee who, since the late 1990’s, has claimed to have overheard a conversation in which Mr. Bush’s records were to be "cleansed" and who also claimed to have seen the files in a trash can. It has been established that Ms. Mapes spoke with Mr. Burkett for the 60 Minutes story. Mr. Burkett, who lives in Abilene, Tex., has been called a "discredited source" by the Bush White House. Mr. Rather wouldn’t comment on Mr. Burkett as the source, but in an interview, Mr. Howard, the executive producer, seemed aware of Mr. Burkett’s reaction to the Newsweek allegations.

"I know that Burkett is talking about at least having his lawyer call and discuss this with them," he said.

Mr. Burkett could not be reached for comment.

How about that. His lawyer has been reached, however, and did not issue a denial. Guess that means it is true, right Dan?
...But inside the West 57th Street offices of CBS News, some staffers felt the organization had acted like a ponderous sloth batting away a swarm of flies. They think the network had already lost.

"I think it’s too late to make a difference," said one angry CBS News staffer. "These guys lost the debate last week by taking a beating for 48 hours on Web and cable before making feeble attempts to defend themselves." The 60 Minutes defense, said the staffer, "should have been on last week and should have been much better illustrated." [italics in original]

Did Mr. Rather worry that the current scandal would tarnish his reputation, especially in the twilight of his career? Yes, said Mr. Rather, he did worry—but he also seemed to worry for his colleagues in the press.

"I certainly care about it," he said. "To me, even people who aren’t inclined for one reason or another to like me know I’m a lifetime reporter trying to be independent and to report without fear or favor, to be an honest broker of information. On the times when I’ve failed, either because I didn’t ask enough of the right questions, or didn’t ask the right questions, I, and almost every other journalist, have taken a fair enough criticism for, in many people’s judgments, not asking the right questions, or not asking the right questions strong enough, long enough in the time preceding the war. And I think some of that criticism is justified. I do not except myself in that criticism."

Mr. Rather said that he was sure that the credibility of CBS News would hold up after the memo scandal had passed.

"I think over the long haul, this will be consistent with our history and our traditions and reputation," he said. "We took heat during the McCarthy time, during Vietnam, during civil rights, during Watergate. We haven’t always been right, but our record is damn good."

Yes, what a wonderful legacy you are pissing away ... and I wouldn't be so sure about the credibility part.

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Crisis in Journalism

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Posted by Ernest Miller

As I noted yesterday (CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els), I've been closely following the ongoing controversy regarding the CBS memos. I think it is a very interesting and informative example of the development of new media. I also thought it fairly entertaining.

I no longer think it is entertaining.

ABC News has reported that CBS ignored the reservations and concerns of experts it hired to authenticate the challenged memos (Document Analysts: CBS News Ignored Concerns About Disputed Bush Military Records). One of the experts claims to have explicitly warned CBS not to use the documents and that they would be challenged. Another refused to authenticate. CBS never mentioned these reservations in their initial report or subsequently.

CBS continues to stand by the documents' authenticity, relying, among other things, on experts who have remained unnamed for 6 days.

This has entered the realm of absurdity, but I find it difficult to see the humor of the situation. It is comparable to the New York Times standing behind Jayson Blair or The New Republic standing behind Stephen Glass, long after their frauds had been exposed.

The credibility and integrity of anyone directly involved in this CBS story is lost, I believe. They have been complicit in the stonewall as well as tarring the integrity of those who pointed out discrepancies in their reporting. The "experts" they've put forth in their defense wouldn't pass muster at a high school newspaper.

Furthermore, the credibility and integrity of every other journalist at CBS News is in question.

At what point do the members of a news organization have an ethical duty or responsibility to speak out against their own organization? Shouldn't those who claim to be journalists and reporters hold themselves to a higher standard? Shouldn't they demand the same of the organization to which they belong? Reporters rely on ethical individuals in other institutions to blow the whistle when there are critical lapses in those organizations. Where are the journalistic whistleblowers at CBS? What CBS reporter has the courage to say that their organization is engaged in an ongoing violation of basic journalistic ethics? What are we to say about those reporters who simply do nothing?

Moreover, the entire journalistic profession is threatened by the actions of a rogue CBS. Many, such as ABC, the Washington Post and the Dallas Morning News, have done good work. Still, now that CBS continues to engage in ongoing violations of basic journalistic ethics, what will other major media organizations do? Their credibility is not entirely separate from CBS's.

I am serious when I say that this has become a crisis for journalism.

Mainstream media plays an important role in our society. It will and should continue to play an important role. I know we would all be poorer without major news organizations gathering and disseminating information.

The actions of CBS threaten more than CBS.


The Los Angeles Times (reg. req.) demonstrates that CBS News has every intention of continuing this journalistic charade. The article also demonstrates how sone news organizations are prepared to follow CBS's lead (Rather Rides Out Latest Partisan Storm)

CBS News' Dan Rather has famously tangled with Republicans since Richard Nixon was president. Now the anchor finds himself in the midst of another major partisan storm, accused of airing forged documents to support a report on President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service in the early 1970s.
This is quite insulting, actually. Apparently, I'm a partisan because I think it likely that the documents are forgeries. Gee, thanks LA Times. This might not be a credibility storm?

In any case, CBS News is prepared to go down with the credibility ship, dragging the rest of the media with it:

Rather said he has no intention of giving in to those pressures. "Say what you want to about me, I keep my word," Rather said. "No, I'm not going to reveal my source."

"I think we've gone out of our way to reveal more of the process than most journalists do," [CBS News President] Heyward said. "We're going to have to take the criticism."

In the end, both Rather and Heyward said, the issue may never be solved, with dueling rosters of document authenticators lining up in equal measure to proclaim them both real and fake.

"If you report this kind of story, you have to know everybody is not going to like you or how you did it," Rather said, adding "the documents may be a `he said, she said,' but the story will stand up."

UPDATE 2 2200 PT

Jay Rosen has an excellent piece about the role of the media in the election (Stark Message for the Legacy Media). Good stuff. Unfortunately, as I note in the comments, none of this will matter if CBS gets a pass from the MSM for its blatant lack of transparency and accountability. Most press releases demonstrate more integrity than CBS has so far. And, if press releases have as much integrity as CBS, who will be to blame if people come to prefer them?

By the way, snarky editorials are giving a "pass." From the LA Times (A Black Eye for CBS News):

Whatever the truth, CBS' real error was trying to prove a point that didn't really need to be proved.

If the documents are forgeries and CBS had evidence that they disregarded and CBS subsequently stonewalled any investigation, casting aspersions on those who questioned the documents, that is not as bad as choosing to pursue a story aiming to prove certain allegations about Bush's service in the National Guard?

There truly is a crisis in journalism.

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September 14, 2004

CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've been following the debate concerning the CBS memos because I believe it has a lot to teach about the future of media, authority, journalism and blogging. It is also a fascinating story in its own right. In any case, there are worse places to start reading about the beginning of the controversy than ABC News' The Note (The Note: Sep. 10, 2004). Of course, the most recent Washington Post (reg. req.) article on the issues will get you up to speed quicker (Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers). See also, Seth Finkelstein (CBS (60 Minutes) Forged Memos Comparison Evidence and More concerning story that 60 Minutes documents on Bush may be fake).

In any case, despite mounting evidence that the memos are unlikely to have been created in the early 1970s, CBS News continues to defend the story vigorously, if not very successfully. For example, last evening's defense of the CBS memos is, once again, quite problematic. On September 13th, the CBS Evening News included a report where they introduced two new experts who claim to find that the memos are consistent with memos of the early 1970s. One of these new experts is a software designer who claims that the documents use a lower case "L" in place of a numeric one. From the transcript:

DAN RATHER: Richard Katz, a software designer found other indications in the documents. He noticed the lower case "L" is used in documents instead of the actual numeral one. That would be difficult to reproduce on the computer today.

RICHARD KATZ (Software Designer): If you were doing this a week ago or a month ago on a normal laser jet printer, it wouldn't work. The font wouldn't be available to you.

This brief exchange isn't quite clear, but I think what Katz is getting at is that many typewriters of the era "cheated" by having people use a lowercase "L" in place of a numeric one. There was no key for a numeric one on many typewriters of the day. Katz claims that a numeric one isn't being used in the documents, but a lower case "L" is. This would be evidence that the documents were written on a typewriter. At least, I think that is what the argument is.

However, it is not only wrong, it actually contradicts the claim that the documents were typewritten on a proportionally spaced typewriter. Why? Glad you asked.

First, I have no idea how Katz can claim to distinguish between a numeric one and a lowercase "L" on these documents. They look exceedingly similar to me. Given the degradation of the copies CBS has deigned to let us see, how can Katz be so sure?

For example, let's take a look at lowercase "L" and numeric one in Microsoft Word's Times New Roman. I've provided examples in both 48pt type and 12pt type:

There are subtle differences between the shapes of the two characters, but I doubt highly that one could easily distinguish them in 12pt type on a poor copy. The most important distinction between the two characters is their spacing. The numeric one has space on either side so that it is the same size as other numbers (in other words, all the numbers are monospaced). This makes numbers line up in nice columns. The lowercase "L" on the other hand, is proportionally spaced so that it is quite narrow. The difference in spacing is subtle but can be seen in the documents provided.

To see the distinction, consider this line (which was highlighted in the CBS Evening News report) from one of the CBS memos (Bush National Guard Memo August 18, 1973 [PDF]). I've extracted the line that was partially highlighted in the report. The comparison text is 12pt Times New Roman from Microsoft Word. The text has been reduced in size to 96% of the original in order to match the CBS memos.

The first line is Microsoft Word text using both numeric one and lowercase "l" as appropriate. It matches quite nicely with the memo's text, which is on the second line. The third line is what happens when you use lowercase "L" as numeric one in "l87". The difference is quite clear:


In this second example, the first and second lines are the same. In the third line, I've used lowercase "L" followed by a space such as "l_87". The difference is more subtle but it is still rather clear, given the degradation of memo CBS has allowed to be made public:

From the above two examples I conclude that it is most likely that the device which produced these documents had both a numeric one and lowercase "L" and that the typist actually used them as appropriate, in general.

Finally, another comparison from the typed letterhead of one of the other memos (Bush National Guard Memo May 4, 1972 [PDF]). The first line is what happens when you use all lowercase "L"s. Clearly, that is not what happened. The second line uses numeric ones, the third is from the memo, and the fourth is lowercase "L" with spaces between letters. Althought the difference is quite subtle, to my eye the numeric one is a closer match:

However, this image is really to make another point. The reason many typewriters "cheated" in not having a numeric one and only had a lowercase "L" was because they were monotype. The shape of the characters was extremely similar, and in monospaced type the spacing was identical. So, it made sense to have a cheat. However, in proportionate spaced type, lowercase "L" and numeric one have very distinct spacing and lowercase "L"s look odd in many cases when used as "ones." And, if you were typing some columns of numbers, the use of proportionately spaced lowercase "L" would really mess up the alignment. Thus, though I am no expert, I would imagine that most proportionate spaced typewriters would have distinct characters for numeric one and lowercase "L". Of course, one might argue that the typewriter used for these memos, although proportionately spaced, did not have separate characters for numeric one and lowercase "L". I consider that improbable, but if there is evidence that proportionate spaced typewriters continued to leave out numeric ones, I would be interested in seeing it.

Of course, if proportionate spacing typewriters had both "1"s and "l"s, why would the typist only use lowercase "L"? After all, the typist of the memos was clever enough to insert a superscript special character (the infamous "th") and do some really nice center aligning. Why wouldn't the typist have used both numeric one and lowercase "L"?

Thus, I conclude and assert that Katz really doesn't know what he is talking about and his defense of the authenticity of the memos is really quite weak.

Btw, this is a tentative conclusion. I'm no expert and the documents provided by CBS are quite poor quality though they claim, according to the Mercury News (reg. req.), that they have first-generation copies (CBS stands by story on Bush's service, defends memos' authenticity):

CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said Monday that the network possesses what it believes to be so-called first generation copies duplicated directly from the original documents.

But the copies posted on its Web site are somewhat blurred and speckled, suggesting repeated copying.

Genelius said she could not explain why the versions posted on the CBS Web site appear to have been repeatedly copied, while the copies the network relied on for its reporting were not.

Sure would be nice if CBS would make high quality scans of the documents available. Might help CBS' case.

Nevertheless, I believe my demonstration here casts serious doubt on Katz's claim.

UPDATE 0930 Pacific Time

More detailed "1" vs. "l" analysis by Joseph Newcomer here: The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries!.

Scroll down to "Additional Update 13-Sep-04 - The L with it!"

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August 30, 2004

The Great Wikipedia Authority Debate

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Last Wednesday, the Syracuse Post-Standard published an article lambasting the authority of Wikipedia because it is user-edited and anyone can make a change to its content (Librarian: Don't use Wikipedia as source).

Techdirt took the article to task for misunderstanding how Wikipedia works (Misunderstanding Wikipedia)

There's just something that seems to freak people out about Wikipedia, when they can't fathom the idea that "the masses" could produce something of value by simply being able to correct each other, allowing them to build something much more beneficial and much more useful than an expensive encyclopedia edited by just a few people. The columnist ends his piece by stating: "you need to be careful about trusting what you read," while taking this email from a random librarian completely at face value.
Techdirt then contacted the author of the offending newspaper article with more information about how projects like Wikipedia work and why they can be authoritative. However, that exercise apparently collapsed into sheer invective on the part of the newspaper writer. This seems odd since the author of the original piece, Al Fasoldt, is a long-time tech reporter. In any case, see Techdirt's version of the exchange (Who Do You Trust, The Wiki Or The Reporter?).

Joi Ito has chimed in with one explanation of Wikipedia's resilience (Wikipedia attacked by ignorant reporter):

The fact that anyone can edit the pages appears to be why people like Mr. Fasoldt question its authority, but that is that exact reason that it has authority. Any comments that are extreme or not true just do not survive on Wikipedia. In fact, on very heated topics, you can see the back and forth negotiation of wordings by people with different views on a topic until, in many cases, a neutral and mutually agreeable wording is put in place and all parties are satisfied. Tradition authority is gained through a combination of talent, hard work and politics. Wikipedia and many open source projects gain their authority through the collective scrutiny of thousands of people. Although it depends a bit on the field, the question is whether something is more likely to be true coming from a source whose resume sounds authoritative or a source that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people (with the ability to comment) and has survived.
Speaking of which, Techdirt challenged Fasoldt to make some factual changes to the Wikipedia and see how long untruths could survive. Fasoldt has not taken the challenge, but Alex Halavais, an Assistant Professor of Communication and the Director of the Masters in Informatics program within the School of Informatics at the University at Buffalo, has (The Isuzu Experiment):
No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, this sounds like an interesting experiment. So, I have made not one, but 13 changes to the wikipedia site. I will leave them there for a bit (probably two weeks) to see how quickly they get cleaned up. I’ll report the results here, and repair any damage I’ve done after the period is complete. My hypothesis is that most of the errors will remain intact.
Nope. According to Halavais "all [the changes] were identified and removed within a couple of hours. I could have been a bit trickier in how I made changes; nonethess, I am impressed." There are also some great comments on the ethics of the experiment as well as suggestions for future experiments.

One place this debate has been discussed with great insight is Corante's own Many 2 Many which also provides a wealth of linkage (Wikipedia Reputation and the Wemedia Project). In addition to the insight, there is announcement of a cool new project for journalism schools and media centers

Which brings me to an lingering thought — that explicitly codifying reputation introduces a cost which can constrain commons-based peer production. Wikipedia was never supposed to work, somehow does because of good club theory and transaction costs, and has gained a reputation as a resource. Introducing reputation for contributors or articles is the greatest risk to the Wikipedia community. Getting a base study on factual accuracy can help inform this decision as well as educate the public on how to use and participate with this commons resource.

I’ve been quitely forming a group of journalism schools, media centers and experts to engage in the Wemedia Project, which begins with a formal Wikipedia Article fact checking excercise and publishing findings. The USC Annenberg Center has already announced their support and next month we will begin the collaborative research process within a Socialtext Workspace. Without getting into defining truth, you can separate issue of fact, value or policy. The approach is to apply a formal fact checking process to a sample of articles to gain a baseline measure of factual accuracy and explore issues of reputation. [links in original]

Read the whole thing.

Teleread also some interesting thoughts on the issue, though reputational changes are going to be tough ones to figure out (Wikipedia vs. bashers).

One aspect of this that is interesting to me, is the distinction between the authority of a relatively anonymous collective in contrast to the authority of named bloggers. For example, Dana Blankenhorn argues that transparency is a key element to the authority of bloggers (Transparency Makes Blogs Believable):

This transparent relationship is at the heart of blogging credibility. J.D. Lasica tried to explain this to the "media industry" in a recent OJR piece...
  • Transparency of motives
  • Transparency of process
  • Transparency of expertise, and
  • Transparency on mistakes are all keys to success, he writes.
Absolutely. Transparency is also critical in Wikipedia, but the emphasis is different. Process and mistakes (I would call it "corrections") are emphasized, rather than motives or expertise.

Finally, Mary Hodder, who is now working like a demon for Technorati, has an intriguing post that unintentionally ties these two concepts (blog authority and wikipedia authority) together (Digital Ethics II.. and the New Commodity In Online Media). Her thread regards a debate about digital ethics, which is worth following as well.

Fascinating reading, all of it.

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August 04, 2004

"We the Media" Book Review

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Posted by Ernest Miller

My book review of Dan Gillmor's We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People is available on Slashdot: Book Review: We the Media. If you're reading this blog regularly, you probably should read Gillmor's book.

Download the Creative Commons-licensed work here: Open Book Content: We the Media. Read the We the Media Blog.

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August 02, 2004

The Presidential Election, Copyright, INDUCE Act (IICA) and Tech Policy

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Teleread has been relentlessly requesting information about copyright and tech policy from the Kerry/Edwards campaign for months now (back when it was just Kerry). See, for example, this post from the end of June: Still wanted: Copyright answers from John Kerry's policy people in photo below. Teleread's most recent post on the issue looks at the tiny tidbit of innovation policy in Kerry's acceptance speech (John Kerry's chip against high tech):

Think about the copyright-related implications that Kerry unwittingly raised in his speech:
A young generation of entrepreneurs asked, what if we could take all the information in a library and put it on a little chip the size of a fingernail? We did and that too changed the world forever.
Hmm. Dream on, John. The biggest obstacle isn't the tech; it's campaign contributors. How fascinating that you talked about a library on a chip -- the very stuff gives copyright holders nightmares! And yet your policy advisors blew me off when I tried to educate them about Bono and also interest them in innovative ways of paying content-providers. Of course, the real action isn't in libraries on a chip. It's in networked libraries. [emphasis, links in original]
C|Net News's Declan McCullagh now weighs in on Kerry's tech policy (John Kerry's real tech agenda). McCullagh does a good job summarizing Kerry's position's on tech from his Senate votes and statements. The record is definitely not positive when it comes to copyright:
A careful review of Kerry's history in the Senate shows that his record on technology is mixed. The Massachusetts Democrat frequently sought to levy intrusive new restrictions on technology businesses that could harm the U.S. economy. He was no friend of privacy and sided with Hollywood over Silicon Valley in the copyright wars.
I've blogged about Timothy Wu, professor of law at Univ. of Virginia's School of Law, before (It's All About the Distribution - Free Speech, Telecomm and Copyright). He is one of the most important new voices in information law, but more about that in another post. Anyway, he is guest blogging on Larry Lessig's blog and one of his first posts asks whether a Kerry administration would veto the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act) (The Question). There is some good discussion and information in the comments.

My take on this? Well, you're reading aren't you?

First, this is a non-partisan question. We should be asking both the Bush and Kerry people what their position on INDUCE is, especially as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wants to pass the bill during the current term. Who really cares whether Kerry would veto it if Bush signs it into law? Indeed, if Bush spoke out against it, I highly doubt it would pass anytime soon.

Second, unfortunately, I doubt we will get much of an answer from either camp. The copyfight movement is simply too small and there are other issues that are much more important. Leftist copyfighters are unlikely to switch votes because Bush promises to stick it to Hollywood, and conservative copyfighters are unlikely to switch if Kerry turns on his Hollywood money donation machine. In such a situation, why should a politician stake out a clear position? Kerry will likely talk about protecting and promoting innovation, while protecting the rights of copyright holders and creative artists.

These are important issues, of course, but that doesn't mean they will be treated as important. Certainly, the copyfight won't be treated as important this election cycle. But that doesn't mean we should stop talking about these issues and pressing the campaigns on them.

However, Dave Winer's idea is probably not the best way to go about it (What the bloggers should have done at the Democratic Convention). Winer proposes that bloggers at the conventions lobby on behalf of the copyfight. However, that mistakes the purpose of conventions. They aren't there for lobbying. Moreover, that would be the fastest way to get disinvited to the next convention. Why would either party invite self-described lobbyists and, if they did, who would choose which lobbyists they should invite?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Copyright | INDUCE Act

July 25, 2004

Department of Pretentious Bullshit

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Posted by Ernest Miller

ChangeThis is a going to be (it launches mid-August) an online magazine that will publish long-form articles that make a non-partisan case about particular issues.

My normal response to such an effort would be: "Cool. More power to you. It's going to be tough; garnering attention isn't easy. However, if you publish quality material (also not easy), eventually you will grow an audience and, maybe, even a community (at least that's what I tell my ego when I spend inordinate amounts of time blogging). The New Republic had to start somewhere too. Good luck."

My actual response to this particular online magazine is "what a bunch of pretentious, condescending idiots." You see, this isn't simply an online magazine. Oh no, that would be too mundane. It turns out that all other media is a wasteland, but a handful of interns have figured out how to provide the public with the rich, deep, fact-based lectures that we, the people, are so desperately denied.

The initial "manifesto" (article is such a mundane word) claims that (ChangeThis Manifesto):

Sometimes it seems as though our disagreements over everything—from politics to business to the designated hitter rule—are more serious and more divisive than ever before. People are making emotional, knee-jerk decisions, then standing by them, sometimes fighting to the death to defend their position.
To the death! Somehow I must have missed the bloodshed over the designated hitter rule. Anyway, who knew that the solution to this rising trend of violence-laden arguments was an online magazine that publishes landscape-formatted PDFs? With pull-quotes!

I'd fisk the thing, but why bother? Read the initial manifesto yourself. It's only 9 pages with lots (and lots) of off-white whitespace. Through it you will: learn how the internet has reduced your ability to make rational decisions; be made aware that human beings are susceptible to charismatic leadership; have explained that a persuasive argument can change minds; and, most importantly, be enlightened about the fact that the problems in modern discourse are the media's fault. Heck, it practically fisks itself.

For more fun with the "manifesto," feel free to check out Clay Shirky's pre-launch vivisection (Change This) or Jeff Jarvis pointing out that ChangeThis seems determined to change media to an older model (Change for the sake of ChangeThis). Oh, yeah, ChangeThis has a blog that posts the newest entries at the bottom of the page (Read and Pass).

In related pretentious news, the Washington Post (annoying reg. req.) Outlook section has a yet another article bemoaning the fact that Americans are not reading "serious" literature and instead waste our time with television, movies, and trashy bestsellers (As I Live And Read). The author, a book reviewer, points his finger at youth: "Who among the young aspires to be cultivated and learned, which takes discipline, rather than breezily provocative, wise-crackingly 'edgy'?"

Strangely, however, the author engages in some breezily provocative wise-cracking himself. Great books leave us "shaken and stirred." Like James Bond's favorite vodka martini? The relationship between book and reader is too "often a wrestling match. No pain, no gain." Wraslin' - now that's sumthin' Amuricans'll unnerstand. And poetry is like a Spaghetti Western hero: "poetry stands quietly in the dusty street, as cool and self-contained as a lone gunfighter with his serape flapping in the wind." Make my day.

Here's an idea. Instead of telling us what a tragedy it is that we're not reading good literature. Why don't you pick a piece of good literature and explain why we should engage with it. This essay is about as useful and relevant to people reading good literature as those leatherbound classics you can buy in bulk.

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July 21, 2004

Technorati Goes to the Democratic National Convention

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Mary Hodder has just announced that Technorati will be assisting CNN cover the Democratic National Convention (Technorati is Going to The Demo Convention with CNN):

CNN just announced that Technorati will joining them at the Democratic National Convention next week (I'll have a CNN press release to link to soon). Dave Sifry and I will be on-site in CNN’s convention broadcast center, where Dave will provide regular on-air commentary on what bloggers are saying about politics and the convention (thousands of them, not just A-listers or convention credentialed bloggers). We are also going live with a politics site. Our new site will make it easier for people to see what political bloggers are saying about the convention and will link to this site, and we’ll be updating the CNN site with the latest. [link in original]
It is still unclear just how bloggers (both credentialed and outside) will change convention coverage, if at all, but this is a smart move by CNN to take as much advantage of the opportunity as possible.

Congratulations to Mary and the Technorati team. Good luck!

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July 18, 2004

Mernit on Improving Online News Coverage - Some Responses and the Citizens' Media Press Pool Fund

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Digital Media Consultant Susan Mernit has put together a list of things she would like to see news organizations do (2004 Election coverage--What I'd like to see). The list offers up some very interesting improvements, many of which I think would be good ideas, but might be more difficult to implement than is readily considered. I also believe that Google (or a similar company) has quite an opportunity to shake up news media. Read on...

...continue reading.

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July 17, 2004

The Next Generation of Journalists Will Start as Bloggers

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Denise Howell, of Bag and Baggage fame, went to the Always On Conference in Stanford and blogged it. Her latest post is on the bloggers vs. big media panel (AlwaysOn: Bloggers vs. "Big" Media Competition).

"Bloggers vs. Big Media." Sigh. Look, when are the people who put together these panels going to figure out that it is "Bloggers & Big Media?" They're not in competition, they're symbiotic. But that is not what I want to talk about right now. I'll leave that discussion to the most excellent Mary Hodder, who wasn't on the panel but should have been (It's a Form of Social Media: Blogging AND Journalism). And while I'm mentioning the divine Miss H, a recent article in WIRED has gotten a lot of attention recently, as it discusses why the NY Times' policy of putting content behind a subscription wall after seven days has rendered the venerable Times all but invisible to Google (Searching for The New York Times). Miss Hodder was discussing this months ago and with more insight (Why News and Technical DRM Don't Mix: Linking and Linking Expression are Key). But I digress.

Why don't we take a look at the future of journalism and blogging a few years down the road? Where will the next generation of journalists be learning their craft and filing their first stories? I think an awful lot of them will learn through the process of blogging. Often, the people who become journalists do so because they like to learn about new things, they like to find stories, and they like to write and pass those stories on. If journalism is in their blood at a young age, they're going to start blogging long before they set foot in a J-School. School newspapers are passé, school blogs are cool.

Heck, I expect that in a couple of years or so those who hire novice journalists are going to want to see what sort of blogging experience they have. Nothing says, "I'm a good, disciplined writer" better than several years of good, disciplined writing, such as on a blog.

Of course, this means that these novice journalists are going to enter the profession with habits, both good and bad, as well as certain expectations. Tyro journalists who are used to blogging are going to expect to be able to link. They're going to expect trackbacks and conversations. They're not going to want to state the same facts that everyone else has stated ad nauseum, but only those elements that they can add to the conversation. Because of this, I believe that ultimately, bloggers will change the profession of big media journalism from within to work more cooperatively with blogging.

So, one of the reasons we shouldn't be talking about bloggers vs. journalism is because, eventually, some of the bloggers of today will be the journalists of tomorrow.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

July 15, 2004

On Reporting Press Releases, Statements, Etc.

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This week while blogging, I was frustrated a bit by my inability to get ahold of some primary documents easily. In Outfoxed Rope-a-Dope Begins? news reports referred to a statement that Fox News had distributed at a press conference for the new documentary OutFOXed. One report paraphrased parts of the statement and another had some quotes.

In The Excessively Annotated RIAA Letter on the INDUCE Act (IICA), I had some difficulty getting a copy of a letter that the RIAA had sent to all 100 senators. I called the RIAA, of course, and they promised that they would either get me a copy or call me to tell me I couldn't have one. Of course, they did neither. Unlike the coalition opposing the Inducing Infringment of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act), which made their letter to the Senators public (Letter to Senator Hatch, Re: S. 2560, the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004"), the RIAA doesn't want the public to know the arguments they are making to our representatives (Letter to Senators from Mitch Bainwol, Re: INDUCE Act).

Nevertheless, the letter was reported by some members of the press. Unfortunately, the reports were, of necessity, paraphrases and quotes from the 5-page missive. But that is what frustrates me. I couldn't read the whole letter myself. Ultimately, after sending out numerous feelers, I was able to get ahold of a copy. But why was it so difficult? Why don't news organizations post these primary documents on their website?

In the print realm, of course you usually don't have room to put every document into the publication. In any case, it is a reporters job to take information, put it in context, highlight it, get reactions, do reporting. That's usually all most people really want. They have neither the desire nor the time to read the primary documents. But not always. For most stories there is a small core of readers who want more information, who want to read the primary documents and get more from the story.

So why don't news organizations post these documents on their websites, where file size is not really an issue? Why can't you have a story about the RIAA's letter and a link to the letter if you care to read it yourself? Why shouldn't we be able to read Fox News' statement for ourselves? Why should publications passively (tacitly?) acquiesce in the RIAA's desire to obscure its communications with our representatives?

Dan Gillmor is very smart when it comes to these things. As Denise Howell, who is blogging the Always On Conference, paraphrases Gillmor (AlwaysOn: Joe Trippi And Dan Gillmor):

Dan says one thing you learn if you cover technology in Silicon Valley is that other people know way more than you do, and it's to your and your readers' benefit to capture and disseminate that knowledge. Journalism is really moving from this lecture mode of the last few decades to something closer to a conversation; a seminar or something like it.
Indeed. And part of this has to be opening up the documents that a reporter builds a story from. Disseminate the documents, don't hide them.

Ok. Rant over.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

July 13, 2004

24/7 Internet Coverage of Political Conventions

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Posted by Ernest Miller

A little over a week ago, I noted that the broadcast networks were cutting back campaign convention coverage and that the parties were "plead[ing]" for more coverage (Major Broadcast Networks to Decrease Convention Coverage - Author Experiences Schadenfreude). However, while broadcast television cuts back on coverage, internet coverage is going to be 24/7, according to CBS Marketwatch (Web's convention plans top TV Nets):

  • AOL's broadband subscribers can get live gavel-to-gavel coverage and express opinions on convention issues via online InstaPolls, the unit of Time Warner said.
  • ABC-TV's Peter Jennings will anchor convention sessions on, the 24/7 streaming news channel operated by the Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, available through America Online and the RealNetworks content subscription service.
  • CBS plans free coverage of the sessions on, plus on-demand clips and news reports. (Viacom, the parent of CBS, is an investor in MarketWatch, the publisher of this report.)
[links omitted]
Hmmm, perhaps politicians should work towards increasing the availability of broadband and broadcatching if they want Americans to actually see the conventions. Nah, pleading with networks for more coverage probably suits them better.

via Scripting News

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July 09, 2004

FCC Chairman Powell Has a Blog - No, Seriously

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Posted by Ernest Miller

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has launched a blog [As Dave Barry would say: I'm not making this up] (Michael Powell Joins the Blogosphere). So what does the chairman have to say in his first post? Well, he reiterates his commitment to deregulation, that is, when it doesn't upset entrenched interests too much.

Our struggle to define appropriate regulatory regimes to promote innovation is not limited to the telephone sector. The Commission's digital television transition is yet another example of how difficult the struggle can be.
Yeah, the broadcast flag is really going to promote innovation. Why, just think of the useless technology developed because television was an open platform! To borrow some concepts from Prof. Frink, "I predict that, if the FCC were in charge of developing the VCR, that within 100 years a VCR will record twice as much programming, be 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest moguls in Hollywood will own them."
For example, I need to hear from the tech community as we transition to digital television. It may be possible to deploy innovative wireless services in the unused spectrum between broadcast stations (for example, there is no channel 3 or channel 6 here in San Francisco)...Broadcasters, however, claim these unused channels as "their" spectrum. Yet a public policy that favors innovation and experimentation would seek to open these unused channels to develop new wireless services…just look at how much value has been created in the sliver of spectrum that has become Wi-Fi! If the high-tech community believes that new digital technologies will enable this kind of new thinking about and use of spectrum, then I need to know that.
*ahem* Chairman Powell, it may be possible to deploy innovative television services based upon an open television platform. Broadcasters, however, claim that they must control and direct development of a closed platform, that the platform is "theirs" and requires a "broadcast flag." Yet a public policy that favors innovation and experimentation would seek to open the platform to develop new services…just look at how much value has been created in the open analog television platform! Many in the high-tech community believe that new digital technologies will enable this kind of new thinking about and use of an open television platform. *ahem*
Regulated interests have about an 80 year head start on the entrepreneurial tech community when it comes to informing regulators what they want and need, but if anyone can make up for that, Silicon Valley can. This is important not just for Silicon Valley—it's essential to insure that America has the best, most innovate communications infrastructure.
You know, unless it upsets Hollywood. Because Hollywood will ensure that America has the best, most innovative communications infrastructure.

via JD Lasica

Jeff Jarvis has some harsh words for Powell's "blog" (Daily Stern - July 9, 2004).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Broadcast Flag | News | Telecomm

July 07, 2004

Rosen and Hodder on Blogging, Political Conventions, and Journalism

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I've written a couple of pieces on bloggers at the political conventions (Blogging the Political Conventions and Major Broadcast Networks to Decrease Convention Coverage - Author Experiences Schadenfreude). I still stand by my conclusion that:

Blogs at conventions might be as dull and un-newsworthy as the mainstream press at a convention, but it would be hard for them to be worse. We will have to see whether blogs can avoid the pitfalls of the mainstream media, the jury is out.
However, to really get a much deeper understanding of what the political conventions are, why they are that way, and how the mass media and political parties have gotten themselves into their current mess, you really must read Jay Rosen's definitive exploration of these issues on PressThink (Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Credentials). Here is but a taste (read the whole thing):
No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webbloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing. The blogs come at this fresh. I'm going.
Although it isn't directly about the conventions, Mary Hodder has more insightful things to say about the relationship between blogging and journalism on Napsterization (It's a Form of Social Media: Blogging AND Journalism). She's right, as usual.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

June 21, 2004

Blogging the Political Conventions

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Posted by Ernest Miller

WIRED is carrying an AP wirestory on the Democrats' decision to permit bloggers at their upcoming national convention (Blogs Welcome at Dems' Convention). Only a certain number of bloggers will be credentialed and the official selection process sounds like it can hide a fair amount of subjectivity:

More than 50 bloggers met last Tuesday's deadline to apply for the Democratic National Convention credentials, of which an undetermined number will be selected based on originality, readership level and professionalism, said convention spokeswoman Lina Garcia.

But wait, Dave Winer says, this (This AP article about bloggers):
should disgust anyone who believes in the First Amendment, and by the way, it probably strongly indicates why no news ever comes from either of the major conventions. They only want bloggers who will carry the party's message.

Robert Heverly on Displacement of Concepts claims something similar if only using more temperate language (Blogs and Politics):
In other words, [Democrat Party officials will] check out the applicants, and pick the ones most likely to be nice to them. Why wouldn't the Republicans do the same?

Well, I suspect that both Heverly and Winer are right; the Democrats are likely to only select bloggers who will, more or less, blog in the party's interests. However, I can't seem to muster any surprise or interest in this story, which I wouldn't even care about except for Heverly and Winer's comments on it. Read on...

...continue reading.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

June 08, 2004


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Posted by Ernest Miller

BlogOn: The Business of Social Media - a conference at UC Berkeley's business school in late July. More on the conference by one of its organizers (Mary Hodder) via Napsterization (BlogOn -- A Conf I'm Organizing at UCB).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism

March 22, 2004

Copyfight - The Remix

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Donna Wentworth has made her blog, Copyfight, a must-read since its beginning. That is why I am honored to join her and some most excellent colleagues in continuing Copyfight as a group blog. I will be posting along with Elizabeth Rader, Jason Schultz, Aaron Swartz, and Wendy Seltzer. Read the greeting message: Copyfight--the Expanded Edition. The blog description:

Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development and technological innovation that creates--and will recreate--the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

I'll continue to post here, of course, especially my longer pieces.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Broadcast Flag | Civil Liberties | Copyright | Digital Millennium Copyright Act | Digital Rights Management | Internet | News | Trademark

March 15, 2004


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Posted by Ernest Miller

The New York Times (reg. req.) reports on an amazing research finding - those who buy highly partisan books are likely to buy more highly partisan books! At least that is all I was able to get out of the article which hypes a rather pedestrian study (Study Finds a Nation of Polarized Readers). The article reports on a recent study by social networking guru Valdis Krebs. The study can be found here: Divided We Stand... Still. Would it kill the NY Times to include a link or URL? This study is a followup on an earlier report (Divided We Stand???) as well as a white paper on book networks (The Social Life of Books). From the study the NY Times is referring to:

From the New York Times Bestseller List, I selected political books as starting points for 'snowball sampling'. Two books are linked in the network if they were purchased by the same person -- "Customers who bought this book also bought: ". Many of the books have changed from last year but the overall pattern is the same. The pattern reveals two distinct clusters with dense internal ties. These political books are preaching to the converted. The extreme book titles on both sides reveal a focus on hate, instead of debate.

While interesting, just how surprising is this finding? First, the political books are selected from the New York Times Bestseller List. Not to knock bestseller lists, but what sort of books make it to the top? I doubt that audience-challenging, even-handed books of any complexity are likely to compete with simple-minded polemics that cater to existing prejudices.

Of course, if you are in market for buying partisan polemics, are you really interested in even-handed books? I would think it is sort of a self-selecting sample. That isn't the way Krebs looks at it though:

(Of course, it is always possible, he [Krebs] concedes, that undecided voters aren't reading political books at all, that they simply "can't stomach either side.")

My centrist political views may not be the norm, but I'm certainly not unique. I'm interested in real debate about issues, not simply confirmation of my own point of view. Consequently, I will no more spend money on Dude, Where's My Country? then on Deliver Us From Evil. Let's face it, most of these books are crap. All the rhetorical fallacies are there: straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, and the ever-popular argumentum ad odium (argument directed to hatred), among others. Why would someone who is interested in honest debate be interested in these books? Maybe undecided voters are reading political books that, while less popular, are not partisan polemics.

Speaking of rhetorical fallacies ...

Mr. Krebs, who got similar results when he conducted the same experiment last year, calls this pattern the "echo chamber" effect: for the most part, he found, buyers of liberal books buy only other liberal books, while buyers of conservative books buy only other conservative books. This finding appears to buttress the argument made by Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, in his influential study "" (Princeton University Press, 2001) that contemporary media and the Internet have abetted a culture of polarization, in which people primarily seek out points of view to which they already subscribe.

Does this study really buttress the argument of Cass Sunstein in I don't think so. Sunstein was complaining about the potential of too much personalizing of sources of information through the internet, such as a "daily me" newspaper. His concern was with new technologies, in particular, their potential for individual customization. I don't really recall Sunstein concerned about dead tree media. Now, it may be that internet polarization (even assuming such a thing) is increasing polarization in other media, but this study provides absolutely no evidence of this fact. Call me crazy, but I rather suspect that partisan political polemics through the ages have mostly appealed to partisans and were seldom purchased by the partisans on the other side of the argument. For example, I don't think that many copies of the abolitionist The Liberator sold in the antebellum South.

Unfortunately, we don't have Amazon's databases for much of our history. If similar databases do exist it would be interesting to see if they show a similar pattern. I, for one, would be most surprised if they showed that McGovernites were frequent purchasers of Nixonian apologias.

Of course, if the study does support Sunstein's argument, perhaps we should extend his call to have links to dissenting viewpoints not only the internet, but in books. Perhaps Michael Moore's publisher could include blurbs for Bill O'Reilly's books in Moore's latest. Or perhaps Sunstein's publisher's page of reviews for could include some reviews that might have disagreed with Sunstein's conclusions? Now that would be an unplanned encounter.

via Furdlog (but don't read him, because he and I agree frequently)

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Culture | Freedom of Expression

March 10, 2004

BitTorrent, RSS and Broadcatching, Catching On

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Bad pun, I know. So sue me.

Today I've come across a couple of posts relating to the revolutionary idea of Broadcatching, that is, using RSS and BitTorrent as a new distribution channel.

A new blog, Outside the System, authored by an indie media producer, discusses in detail how broadcatching could be an alternate distribution channel for movies (BitTorrent + RSS = Broadcatching):

These margins and the edges of cost and value are a hamper on the real blossoming of video distribution on the Web, and can only be aggregated so far out of the way. P2P swarming technology is the only current viable route to break that stalemate by spreading at least part of the costs away from your own bandwidth pipe, but under a system like BitTorrent that's only really useful if there are a lot of people with fully download copies to swarm from (so you have a classic tipping point model of efficiency.) Promotion preceeds adoption preceeds efficiency.
The brilliance of an RSS approach, though, is that it builds in at least two important features that BitTorrent alone doesn't address. First, it provides a method of propogation through editorial filters -- a successful editor picking new BitTorrent works could help create an instant rush to the tipping point, in the process decreasing the cost of bandwidth on each copy. Second, it turns BitTorrent into a subscription system, one where your system automatically collects new content of a large size overnight (for example.)

Read the post for a concrete example of how expensive traditional internet distribution is and how broadcatching can alleviate this problem.

The film used as an example, because the author of the post executive produced it, is Nothing So Strange , which documents the aftermath of the assassination of Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates on December 2, 1999. Bonus cool factor: Bill Gates Assassination Film Goes "Open Source," Releases "Evidence" DVD:

"Nothing So Strange" will be released under a license that allows all of the "source" footage of the movie to be used without restriction, in personal or commercial projects, but keeps the actual film as created by the filmmaker under copyright. "You have free access to all the parts of the movie," said Flemming. "But you can't just copy our version of it--you have to make your own original work with the various parts." pointed me to a collection of links to blogs that post MP3 files (mp3 blogs/rotation etc.). For example:

Could it be more obvious that MP3 blogs would benefit from broadcatching?

For more information on Broadcatching, see also:
BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast
Broadcatching - Not Broadcasting
Broadcatching - The Early Days
RSS + BitTorrent Announcement Soon?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Broadcatching/Podcasting | File Sharing | RSS

March 04, 2004

New Hacking Blog

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Ed Felten writes about the Freedom to Tinker, "the right of technologists and citizens to tinker with technological devices." Anyone who has ever pulled something apart and tried, successfully or not, to put it back together understands the freedom Felten is talking about. While Felten focuses mainly on the legal and policy issues, there is now a blog (not associated with Felten) dedicated to practical examples of the "Freedom to Tinker," though Felten might not like the name too much.

mehack describes itself thus:

extend, personalise, break, poke, peek, learn. hacking hacking hacking. ever had that desire to pop open your tivo, your xbox, cell phone, or your car? ever wanted to know what the hardware and software hackers are up to? this is what mehack is all about.
we all know the frustration in discovering that there isn't something out there that does exactly what you want it to do. we've all fantasized about doing it ourselves, or taking something off the shelf and modding it. we're going to be tracking people, projects that are doing both -- we're interested in those that take the "hell with it, i'll just build it" attitude, and we're interested in those that buy those things off the shelf and pop them open to coerce them into doing what they want. and we're interested in the tools they use too.
our agenda is simple -- we want to learn from others. we're not interested in doing anything destructive. and we're not interested in piracy. we just want things that we can hack on. and most of all, we want to make it simple for people like you to start building.

There are already some good posts on the hecklebot, audiotron api, and playing with linksys access points upping the firmware.

Add it to your RSS feed when adding the new gadget blog, engadget.

via PVR Blog

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | News | Tools

February 11, 2004

RSS for TV, Music

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Andrew Grumet is developing a very interesting TiVo hack (RSSTV: Syndication for your PVR). Basically the idea is to share PVR program recording information via RSS. So, when you subscribed to an RSSTV feed, your PVR would record the shows in the feed. Friends and bloggers could easily suggest shows to each other and even create their own virtual networks. Channels would no longer manner; we would watch Mary TV, or the Felten tech channel, based off these RSSTV feeds. Goodbye NBC, CBS, and ABC. Hello, Balkin's Pop Culture for Constitutional Scholars TV.

Of course, another thing I would really be interested in is a nice RSS feed for music. Programming playlists is too much work, and I like the structured serendipity of a good radio show. Why not RSS feeds for music that my MP3 player would synch with? It would be great if it would download stuff I didn't already have, but even without that, it would be pretty darn nice.

via David Galbraith

Comments (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | File Sharing | Open Standards | Tools

January 27, 2004

Balkin on Sunstein, Blogging and Democracy

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Prof. Jack Balkin has made a couple of good posts about freedom of speech, democracy and blogging (What I learned about blogging in a year and Political Organization and Political Discussion on the Internet). The posts are mostly in response to Cass Sunstein's wildly overblown fears of internet-facilitated cultural isolation in and a recent article in the New York Times that has a similar thesis (Politics of the Web: Meet, Greet, Segregate, Meet Again).

Frankly, I've never really understood Sunstein's fears. It seems to me that we have far more to fear from the mass media, whether that mass media was the Catholic Church prior to the 95 Thesis or that mass media epitomized in The Triumph of the Will. I think the major conceptual problem with Sunstein's thesis is that he seems to assume that people are mostly passive consumers of information. This is one of the critical elements of the traditional mass media model. In the past, mass media has generally been dependent on top-down control of the means of production and distribution to fill the minds of passive consumers. Today's internet media doesn't eliminate the traditional model directly, but provides a competing means for bottom-up production and distribution that assumes active participation and production by people who aren't merely passive consumers.

In many ways, actually, the top-down and bottom-up means of production and distribution are complimentary, which is why Sunstein's calls for some sort of top-down control over the bottom-up internet strike me as so odd. Sunstein's thesis makes sense only to the extent that the public cannot be trusted (whether for social, technical, economic or legal reasons) to be both consumer and producer, recipient and distributer. If there are problems, the solution seems to be to give more capability to consumers to produce and distribute, rather than attempt to replicate mass media controls.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Culture | Freedom of Expression

December 18, 2003

Napsterization: The Blog, Debuts

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Nap·ster·i·za·tion n. The disruption by new technologies and digital media of old economy institutions and analog frameworks.

Mary Hodder, of the bIPlog, has started a new blog dedicated to the process of Napsterization. The mission of the blog is described as follows: blog focuses on positive, fair-use and legal examples of peer-to-peer file sharing of works approved by their creators for sharing, helpful in learning about works that are then lawfully purchased, or otherwise considered fair use under the "fair use doctrine" in American copyright law or the copyright laws of other countries.

The blog also gives examples of digital expresssions of disruptive technologies effects and old analog systems and institutions, as well as analysis and opinion of the effects of distruption.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Copyright | File Sharing

November 07, 2003

Who is John Simpson? Journalism, Lawyers and Blogging

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There has been an interesting discussion on the bIPlog regarding Mary Hodder's posting of news regarding the status of the Online Policy Group v. Diebold, Inc. case. The original post is here: Diebold Case Gets Accelerated by Judge. The comments are here: Comments: Diebold Case Gets Accelerated by Judge.

The interesting discussion starts with a "John Simpson" pointing out that while the case was accelerated, the request for a temporary restraining order was denied:

You, like everyone else in the "blogosphere" that I've seen, fails to note that the judge DENIED THE TRO!!!! That's the story, certainly more than the fact that the case was "accelerated."

A valid and worthwhile point. Probably all would have been fine if John had stopped there. Unfortunately, John begins to go off the track when he continues:

So much for Berkeley's journalism school.

...continue reading.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | E-Voting

October 29, 2003

Blogger Fired for Security Violation

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Posted by Ernest Miller

According to his blog, until this past Monday, Michael Hanscom was a temporary employee in Microsoft's Copy/Print shop, reporting to a Xerox supervisor. Michael worked there until he was fired for a security violation for a blog post (Of blogging and unemployment). The original blog post that resulted in the firing contains a photo of a number of Power Mac G5s being unloaded from a truck at the receiving dock on the Microsoft facility in Redmond (Even Microsoft wants G5s).

I've only had the chance to read one side of the story (and I doubt MS Security will comment), but it seems to me that Microsoft has overreacted (though it is within their rights to fire). Couldn't this have been handled with a discussion and some more training about security issues? Is the employee manual so clear on security issues? I'm also sort of curious as to how this came to Microsoft's attention. Do they monitor employee's private websites?

What this does show, however, is that companies probably should add an "acceptable blogging policy" regarding company-related posts to their employee manuals.

via Metafilter

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression | Security

October 28, 2003

Swarthmore's Professor Burke on the Diebold/Swarthmore Scandal

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Prof. Timothy Burke of Swarthmore's History Department has a thoughtful post on the Swarthmore/Diebold scandal (Caveat Emptor). While appalled by Diebold's actions and proud of the students who have revealed the mendacity of Diebold, he finds fault with some of the students' tactics and defends Swarthmore's response. Much of his argument is well-taken and provides good guidance for civil protests on college campuses (such as, don't ask /. readers to email the Dean en masse).

However, I do take exception to the claim that I and others "[repeat] what they’re finding at the Why War? website as if it’s the absolute gospel truth, and [exhibit] zero curiosity about the totality of the story." I do not believe that accurately characterizes my following of the story. For example, in this post (Swarthmore Crackdown on Protesting Students Reaches New Low), I am clearly skeptical of the claims of the Why War? website:

Now, Swarthmore is allegedly terminating the internet connection of any student who links to the Why War? website .... If the allegations are true, this is a tremendous violation of freedom of expression and academic freedom. [emphasis added]

In accordance with my skepticism, I actually tracked down, telephoned, and spoke with two principles of the story, a student whose website was shut down and a member of Swarthmore's IT department. I hardly think making phone calls to confirm the posting is "exhibiting zero curiosity."

I'll also note that as a followup, I spoke with a member of Swarthmore's IT department again yesterday. The linking policy is, as of last night and according to this individual, unchanged. Students may have a text-based link to the Why War? site, but not an active HTML link to the site.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Civil Liberties | Copyright | Digital Millennium Copyright Act | E-Voting | Freedom of Expression

Volokh on Blogging and Libel

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Eugene Volokh of the eponymous Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting and brief comments on the differences in liability for libel between bloggers and other forms of journalism (Mickey Kaus on blogging, writing, speaking, and editing).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Freedom of Expression

October 22, 2003

Camera Phone Backlash

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Posted by Ernest Miller

CNETAsia has an interesting artice on the backlash towards camera phones (Ban camera-phones in workplaces: Analyst). The analyst in question is Jack Gold, of the META Group, and he seems to be a bit reactionary. Certainly banning all camera phones is going to become difficult when all phones will soon have cameras (see, Nokia's All Seeing Eye(s)).

The article does point out some other interesting news as well. For example, Iceberg Systems is testing technology ("Safe Haven") that will disable camera phones in particular locations. Also, Korea's legislature is considering requiring camera phones to make a loud noise when a photo is taken. Perhaps the two aspects could be combined ... cameras would have to emit a loud noise when a photo is taken in a particular location.

via Techdirt


On the other hand Jeff Jarvis is celebrating The all-in-one, super-duper, deluxe everything citizens' reporting machine.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Privacy