On Skepticism

Today on our very special tour of all things that make Athenae say oh fer chrissakes:

Readers routinely call or write to cite stories they’ve seen blazing the Web but that are missing or downplayed on the newspaper’s news pages. Many of those readers blame a right-wing or left-wing conspiracy. But whether those stories gain traction in the news pages of The Oregonian often depends on whether wire services, including those of the major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post or Los Angeles Times, report on them.

The gap goes to the heart of what is journalism. Opinions, commentary or simply rumors dominate many of the blogs. Yet blogs also can break legitimate stories, such as the one that led to the downfall of Dan Rather. Newspaper and wire-service journalists grapple with distinguishing between the rants and the real news, and must confirm the information using standards of accuracy and verification rarely applied to blogs.

It’s actually not a bad piece, a lot less clueless and hysterical than most of the press carping aboug Gannon, Jordan, blogs and journalists. But what I take issue with is the notion that blogs in particular and the Internet in general require a sort of special skepticism that nothing else does.

I don’t tar all journalists with the same brush. I don’t think everything that appears in the Times and the Post has an agenda. If they tell me a house caught fire at Such and Such Street, I believe them. If they tell me that Bob Dylan is going to be playing at a club, I show up (and fawn shamelessly).

But analysis, commentary, color … all those things are indeed subjective, and I feel free to disagree with a reporter’s interpretation or a columnist’s assertion. And I read those pages, those pieces, that coverage, with a critical eye, same as I apply to everything else I read, see or hear. I develop an idea of who is and is not a reputable source, based on how much of what they told me later turned out to be true.

A particular medium shouldn’t be subject to a presumption of belief; just because it’s newsprint doesn’t mean it isn’t crap. The free press is open to all who can pay for it; that includes some pretty sorry characters. Rupert Murdoch comes to mind. Neither should a medium be subject to a presumption of disbelief. James Guckert solicited clients for sex; online or on a street corner, doesn’t make the act any less real.