‘That Distinction Doesn’t Really Count for Shit Anymore’

I am buried in work this week, just buried. I would have missed this entirely but apparently I’ve trained you all so well that you find me things I like on your own. Pretty soon this blog will be irrelevant and we can just set up one big crack van where you all say much smarter things to each other than I could ever come up with. Leinie sends this one along.


But when you shine a light on Zero Hedge, you’re taking the lightoffthe
people he’s focusing on. That’s the primary problem with this kind of
activity, and one of the reasons you often see this tactic employed
against an uncomfortable news-breaker. I’m not saying that was Hagan’s
intention — in fact I don’t think it was — but this kind of story can
immediately have the effect of shifting the geography of the
conversation, from Goldman’s backyard to Zero Hedge’s. I’d expect that
from other quarters, but coming from Hagan I’m a little confused by it.

Moreover there are lots of ways to write about a guy like Zero Hedge
that will tend to make it look like his reporting is baseless and
hysterical, and you can achieve this without even having to prove that
he’s even once been wrong about anything.

You can say, for instance, that his tone is conspiratorial, which it
is. You can say that people will want to believe his conspiratorial
view of things, whether it is true or not, because they are frustrated
over losing money and power to Wall Street. And that’s true. You can
say that his stories sound overblown and his interpretations of recent
financial history sound fantastical, likeStar Trekplots —
they do. (If you don’t mention that reality itself is that fantastic of
late, this can be a damning criticism). You can describe his campaigns
on various issues as “crusades,” which in a way they are. And you can
say he has an “agenda,” and wonder aloud what that might be.

I’m really not sure any of that matters. The only thing that matters with a guy like Zero Hedge is, is he right or not?

Every story about “those crazy bloggers” who uncover some scandal, in other words, is a story that’s not about what they uncovered. And to me it’s just enraging because that kind of starfucking nonsense is why many bloggers exist in the first place. They didn’t start working 5-9 on the Internets for free to make themselves famous, a lot of them who are still at it did it to yell as loud as they could “HEY HEY OVER HERE THIS IS FUCKED UP, LOOK AT THIS IT’S BROKEN FIX IT PLEASE FIX IT HEY OVER HERE.”

During the early days post-Katrina when Scout was scouring the NOLA blogs and they were posting stuff up that just made me want to bang my head against a wall, it was all too familiar a story: Local reporters/journalists/bloggers uncover something scandalous, put it out there, and … GIANT BLACK HOLE OF NOTHINGNESS. The national media proceeded to cluck over the Interwebs, snooze and/or spend six hours on TV talking about a politician who used the wrong mustard on a sandwich or fucked some lady who wasn’t his wife and got the skank pregnant and then made six other dick moves. This pattern remains essentially unchanged, despite a self-professed hunger for real solid reporting that is going to die with newspapers don’tcha know?

(Yes, I’m annoyed about the John Edwards coverage of last week. Has he done something he should be proud of? Absolutely not. But he has done nothing that is even a tenth as horrible as letting grandmothers drown while chained to their hospital beds in a hurricane, so spare me the need to make him our whipping boy. Republicans do far more evil, slimy shit all the damn time and the reason they get away with it is that nobody gives a fuck. IOKIYAR, and all that. Don’t make Edwards right, does make the coverage a monumental load of moralizing horseshit which sucked time from a million other more worthy things. Ahem.)

Actual wrongdoing is boring, and everything can be turned into a celebrity story if you can just find some weirdo to hang a graphic and a theme song on. But it’s the work that really counts. It’s the work that should be judged, I used to argue back in the early days of blogging in 2003 or so when dinosaurs walked the earth. Who’s a journalist? Look at the work. Is the work journalism? Then the person doing it is a journalist. It’s not as easy as looking at someone’s name tag, but it’s the way things have to be now. Bloggers ain’t going anywhere no matter how many crazy jealous old assholes write wankeriffic Romenesko letters about the death of true authority.

The key distinction used to be that mainstream reporters vetted and
fact-checked their material before they put it out in public. But the
only media outlets that dependably do that anymore, at least in my
experience, are feature magazines like Hagan’s.

Daily newspapers are crap for fact-checking now, even theNew York Times(hello,
Jayson Blair). TV stations, especially the cable news channels, are
often even worse than bloggers, because there we’re often dealing with
some chattering numbskull like Maria Bartiromo who is literally
ad-libbing her “reporting” live and on-air. Bloggers at least have a
neurological weigh station or two between their brains and their hands.

Some journo and ex-journo friends on Saturday were talking about the way newspapers abdicated their authority by trying to be what people wanted (or said they wanted) instead of being what they were already good at being. Whenever I hear some journalistic panel wittering on about how newspapers dying means no more investigative reporting I want to scream “YOU WANT INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING JUST GO DO IT JESUS GOD.” And journalism academics are quick to decry the academizing of journalism, and talk about how journalism was good before everybody got college degrees and decent paychecks and shit. Journalism got crappy not when journalists got credentialed and rich but when they got stupid, when they decided they’d rather be loved than hated:

Journalists aresupposedto be assholes. The system does not work, in fact, if society’s journalists are all nice, kind, friendly, rational people.

You want a good percentage of them to be inconsolably crazy. You
want them to be jealous of everything and everyone and to have heaps of
personal hangups and flaws. That way they will always be motivated to
punch holes in things.

If I was the sort of person to talk shit about places I used to work, I could tell tales of the personal flaws and hangups and problems of the people I worked with, everything from massive substance abuse to paranoid delusions to ordinary run-of-the-mill assholia. I’ll tell on myself: I was not exactly little Mary Sunshine when I was working 90 hours a week in the grips of something like religious fervor. If you met me back then you wouldn’t throw a rope to me if I was drowning; sometimes I have no idea how I’m not friendless and disowned. And this isn’t to say skill at a trade excuses untreated mental illness — I hate that trope — but I would much, much, much rather too confrontational and bombastic an attitude than the most perfectly polite cocktail party society, because it is beneficial in a line of work which requires you to walk up to important people and call them liars.

Nurturing a culture where it has become rude and detrimental to do so has done more harm to journalism than a billion bloggers ever could.


4 thoughts on “‘That Distinction Doesn’t Really Count for Shit Anymore’

  1. Deflecting attention from a story to the one who brought it up is a trick as old as time. If the internet and blogs didn’t provide the excuse for people to yell J’ACCUSE! BLAGUEUR!!!, something else would be invented in its stead.

  2. Some of the best journalists who I worked with and for in journalism school, both students and professors, were obsessive at best and batshit-crazy at worst. But they all channeled the crazy into one mission: speaking truth to power. Today’s TV and print media darlings don’t want to do that; they want to be one of the “Kool Kids.” Well, fuck that. I never once met a decent journalist who could even get through the front door of the elite’s clubhouses. That used to be the fucking point!

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