Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Should Bloggers Police Their Own Ranks? 

Anyone who has been reading me for any length of time knows I often criticize the mainstream media for failing to adhere to professional standards of reporting. I cannot understand how any group of people can demand to be taken seriously unless they have a well thought out code of ethics and enforce it evenhandedly.

What you may not know is that I have also called on several occasions for bloggers to be more vigilant in policing their own ranks. My readers can attest that I have often objected to the incivility we show, not only to the media, but to each other. It does little good to object to toffee-nosed putdowns from the likes of Jonathan Klein when we routinely condone rude, crude, and uncivilized behavior within our own community.

The recent orchestrated attacks on Kate O'Beirne's Amazon review site and the WaPo's Deborah Howell illustrate what's wrong with the idea that anything goes in the blogosphere. I thought a lot about this last night, and I truly believe this is an area where the Left and Right sides of the blogosphere should present a united front. Surely we are better than this?

Sadly, since the particular sites involved in these incidents were left-leaning, any criticism of their behavior is certain to be interpreted as partisan in nature. But I ask liberal readers and bloggers to search their hearts and answer this question: is this kind of orchestrated attack what the online community wants to become known for? Do we really want to be nothing more than a faceless mob that drags down anyone who disagrees with us and buries them in an avalanche of filth?

Or do we want to be the marketplace of ideas? What, I wonder, is the reason we are here?

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

You don't win the war of ideas by calling your opponent a mean-spirited poopy-head, or by snatching his book off the shelves or sabotaging his Amazon review page. You win it, if your ideas can stand the light of serious scrutiny, by putting forth a logical, coherent, and bullet-proof argument that is irrefutable and enhances your standing in the eyes of the intellectual community.

Not by flinging mud at your opponent and delighting in the damage you have caused to her reputation or her pocketbook. I can only repeat, we are supposed to be better than this.

As people. As women. As writers. Irrespective of our political beliefs.

Aren't we? If not, why are we here?

Think about it. Take it back to your readers.

And reflect for a moment the next time you have the urge to orchestrate a blogswarm.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jan 25, 12:40:00 PM:

I agree wholeheartedly. Except of course in the case of the TigerHawk campaign to get Princeton's football coach fired. Which campaign, I admit, hasn't gotten a lot of traction.

I actually do think that -- at the moment -- most of these blogswarms come from the left (although not all), and I think this is because the lefty 'sphere is more partisan. If you compare the leading lefty blogs to their closest righty analogy, I think that is undeniable (Atrios v. Instapundit, for example). They are trying to achieve a result in the political sphere, as opposed to a more open-ended inquiry.

However, I do not think that this is inherent in leftists, but rather derives from the fact that blogging emerged during a period when the Democrats were almost entirely shut out of power. Not surprisingly, the right can afford lofty discussion of policy options, while the left can't really do that until it gets back some measure of power.

Put differently, had blogging emerged in 1992 instead of 2002, I think the right blogosphere might have been much more partisan than the left.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see whether people moderate themselves as the medium matures, and whether some of the tendencies that seem to dominate the left drift to the right once power shifts again in Washington (as it inevitably will).  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 12:52:00 PM:

I'm curious about that as well, TH. You may well be right - there was some pretty ignorant behavior during Clinton's presidency as I recall.

I was trying to be fair about it (which is always hard to know, since we're all partial to our own side) and so I tried to think of an example where a righty blogger had orchestrated something like this. I couldn't, but the only thing that did come to mind was the type of thing you hear about like that nutjob Fred Phelps who hates gays (though he's not a blogger, but that's an example of someone who - rightly or wrongly - people think of being a right-winger just because he's religious, organizing against another group of people).

I do see groups of bloggers getting in flame wars all the time and I never have understood it. It all seems so counterproductive.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jan 25, 01:06:00 PM:

I think that righties (myself included) tend to be a bit harsh on the journalists. Even I, the soul of fairness, tend to ascribe nefarious motives to a lot of left-wing journalistic asshattery, when I think that the more plausible explanation in many cases is that they just do not have enough exposure to differing views in their private lives even to think about them. They're ideologically parochial, not intentionally misleading, but righty bloggers suggest otherwise because it is more fun to take the point of view that they are evil. I mean, was it really worth trashing Eason Jordan's career over one crummy remark that did nothing more than parrot the nonsense that pervades the lefty cocktail circuit? I certainly thought that his alleged comment was asinine, but it was also off-the-cuff. Sheesh, if I were held to the standard we set for Eason Jordan -- and I say "we" since I hammered away on the story as well -- I wouldn't hold a job more than ten minutes. I'm not saying this to defend what he said, but I also wonder in retrospect whether the blogswarm that drown him was fair.  

By Anonymous Joshua, at Wed Jan 25, 01:16:00 PM:

You don't win the war of ideas by calling your opponent a mean-spirited poopy-head, or by snatching his book off the shelves or sabotaging his Amazon review page. (Or, one might add, by dismissing his ideas as "racist," "homophobic," "Islamophobic" or what have you. -- Joshua) You win it, if your ideas can stand the light of serious scrutiny, by putting forth a logical, coherent, and bullet-proof argument that is irrefutable and enhances your standing in the eyes of the intellectual community.

The thing is, there was a time, not so long ago, when such denigration and intimidation tactics did work. My guess is that (1) it just hasn't sunk in with certain people that that time is long past, (2) even among those that do get it, old habits die hard, and (3) some people just feel compelled to counter-counterattack when their original attempts to slime the opposition backfire, as a perverse way of trying to save face.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Jan 25, 01:44:00 PM:

The issue is certainly complicated by perception. the left would almost certainly characterize what happened in 2004 to Dan Rather and 60 minutes II as a right-wing blogswarm, while others would characterize it as the truth.

In any event, there is really no excuse for lack of civility in any of these matters. Unfortunately, lack of civility is not in any way limited to the blogosphere. It has become a hallmark of American culture, such that it is. I support your efforts and try to maintain my own standards (even when responding to Screwie). But for things to really change on-line, things will have to change "out there," and I don't have a lot of confidence in that happening any time soon.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Wed Jan 25, 02:11:00 PM:

First of all, I'll say again that, aside from CardinalPark, everyone at this blog has been unendingly civil to me. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back. Thanks for that.

I think that Hawk is, in part, correct. Democrats, shut out of power, have had to be very resourceful in how to influence the national conversation. When the powers that be are quick to Swiftboat opponents, to insinuate that they support the terrorists, or to question their American bonafides, then it's hard for me to swallow the idea that the lefty sphere is in some way breaking new ground by altering the review ratings on some woman's book.

Freeping polls? The term Freep does not come from Kos. The Amazon.com strategy was originally a righty concoction.

I think that the blogosphere is wide, broad, and deep. Different concentric circles within it will behave differently. Follow your own set of rules. It's a free country after all, eh?

I don't feel the need to create a set of blogger standards, which, by its very nature, would create a bureaucracy out of the freest medium in the world. If you like what a blog is doing, read it. If you don't, don't. If you want to disparage another blog for it's bloghavior, go for it.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 02:22:00 PM:

TH knows what I think on this issue.

No set of standards will ever be enforceable, but I really believe that the blogosphere ought to have some sort of code for what is, and is not, acceptable behavior. Because the sad truth is that many people just don't know anymore. People DO need rules Screwy. We can't beat them over the head, but most people really are good, and will try to live up to a standard if someone shows them the right way.

And also, if their peers at least try to engage when someone steps out of line. Somehow that idea has fallen into disrepute, and you do need to be careful that it doesn't turn into bullying, but that is another beauty of having some sort of rules. They're not arbitrary.

I'm not talking formal bureaucracy. I'm talking voluntary standards.

And Screwy, using the term "Swiftboat" is something of an incitement, yet you keep doing it. You might want to think that one over a bit. I'd be happy to disccuss it offline, but I grind my teeth each and every time you do it. My father in law is (or very likely would have been, except he's dead now) one of those "Swift boat" people you like to point at.

There's just one crucial difference between him and Kerry. He served out his full tour and volunteered for another. He didn't leave his men. But then that's what good officers do.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 02:27:00 PM:

Actually though I have to note the difference between the Dan Rather thing and what happened to O'Beirne and Howell.

It's one thing for bloggers to write a lot of posts that are critical of the way a person does his job.

It's entirely another for bloggers to leave their sites and travel to the site of another person for the express purpose of defacing it with ad hominem attacks. Is that what the Right bloggers did to Dan Rather? I don't think so.

It's like the difference between criticizing someone else's behavior in YOUR living room and going to THEIR HOUSE and calling them names and flinging mud all over the place.

Two entirely different things, one far, far worse than the other.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Wed Jan 25, 04:03:00 PM:

The term "Swiftboating" refers to the tearing down of an opponent's military service. This method, popularized by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has become a common feature of Rovian political strategy - see John Murtha and Paul Hackett.

I wonder, Cass, what righty behaviors you have had problems with. So far, only lefties...

Voluntary standards of blogging could evolve through the use of something in a Guild format, whereby bloggers could join if they were willing to adhere to those standards. But, in the end, it'll still come down to what people like...

And, lastly, I think you bunch (with the exception of CardinalPark) are the bees knees of right leaning blogistan.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 04:47:00 PM:

I don't particularly care for it when far-righties try to impose their religious or moral preferences on others (one example would be gay rights: while I will defend to the death a religious person's right to believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, I will not countenance personal rudeness or ugliness towards any of my gay friends). That said, I run a right-wing blog and have several gay friends and readers who don't seem to have been attacked even though I have several readers who feel - quite strongly - that homosexuality is very very wrong. But they are respectful in their demeanor and polite during debate, and that is all I ask for. Smart people (as well as Christians who genuinely follow the teachings of Christ) hate what they perceive to be the sin, not the sinner.

I don't like when some righties lump all Muslims into the Islamist category. But then I really, really detest it when Lefties lump all conservatives into the KKK category or call us bigots, so I don't see that as so much a righty- or lefty thing as an asshat thing :)

But righties definitely do it.

I don't like name calling when anyone does it.

I don't like deliberate provocation during an argument that is beside the point - I don't see the benefit. And on your Swiftboat thing, you should read John Donovan's Kerry v. Murtha thing I linked today. His Dad served too and he did an excellent job of explaining what military folks object to about Kerry.

Military service isn't some sacrosanct thing, Screwy. It's a job. Like any other job.

Kerry tried to turn it into a campaign platform, right on the backs of the men he deserted in 'Nam. He tried to make it into an impenetrable shield he could hide behind, where no one could ever criticize him just because he served. That's unmitigated garbage and military folks - the ones who served their ENTIRE TOURS - have a perfect right to call BS on him.

Now the difference with Murtha is that he has never made his service an issue. Now I personally think there is no reason to question his medals, if that's what you're referring to. However, I also think that his service *in and of itself* is not a shield that should protect him from being called an asshat if he says something stupid or unpatriotic. It doesn't grant him immunity from the slings and arrows of free speech.

I have never questioned the honor of his service. I DID question the honor of his words, and I will continue to do so. But that is my right as a citizen.

The Swifties had legitimate questions about Kerry's record. They were never answered. If Kerry himself had never made his record part of his campaign, they would never have come forward.

He brought it on himself with his actions and his own words and he has no one to blame but himself. Kerry made his record an issue, and when you raise an issue, you must be prepared to defend it. Kerry demanded the right to raise an issue but not be questioned on it.

That's garbage and you know it. And now maybe you can explain to me why Kerry has promised twice now to release his records on Meet the Press and he STILL HAS NOT DONE SO????

How much contempt does this man have for American voters that he keeps promising on national TV to do something and then he refuses to follow through?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jan 25, 05:09:00 PM:

The funny thing is, CardinalPark is friendlier in person than either me or the 'Villain! :) He had more friends at his birthday party than I have in the entire world.

Let's see, bad things that the right does...

I think that the most intemperate righties often mirror the most intemperate lefties. So, for example, the most intemperate American righties can be down right xenophobic. This is the mirror-image of those on the American left who seem to give particular weight to foreign opinions about the United States. This xenophobia, by the way, has been part of the Republican Party since its founding in 1856 or so -- the ante-bellum "Know Nothings" were one of the GOP's antecedents. This xenophobia can turn very nasty in the blogosphere.

Righties sometimes go over the top in the emphasis that they place on the personal morality, as defined by them, of public figures. This is the flip-side of the absurd left-wing obsession with minor financial conflicts of interest. That is, righties go wild if somebody slept with somebody else's wife, lefties go wild if a politician's golfing buddy is on the board of a company that theoretically makes money from that politician's decision. In both cases, the reactions are often over the top.

There are other examples, I'm sure.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Wed Jan 25, 05:25:00 PM:

Thanks for those examples. I think your notion of asshats v. partisan examples of poor behavior is spot-on.

I'm not going to go into a long defense of Kerry here, nor into a long diatribe about Regnery Publishing and its willingness to play loose with the truth. I don't care enough about Kerry to do so, but the tactic of calling into question a veteran's military service simply because he is an opponent is reprehensible. Especially when so many of the people in leadership positions avoided military service altogether.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 05:42:00 PM:

I agree that Kerry's service (or Bush's) in particular really ought to be beside the point.

Kerry (as I pointed out in a post shortly after I started blogging) took fellow Dem and Vietnam vet and amputee Kerrey to task for making Vietnam service an issue in front of the whole Senate when he did it to Bill Clinton

And then he proceeded to make his own service an issue during the last election.

Huge double standard. What you (and so many others) don't understand is that Kerry's service wasn't called into question because he was an opponent.

It was called into question because he:

1. Stood on the Senate floor and question the service of his fellow soldiers in 1971.

2. Surrounded himself with uniformed troops during the Presidential campaign and not only that, used photos of the Swift Vets to imply they endorsed his candidacy when they most emphatically did not. THEY HAD TO FILE A CEASE AND DESIST ORDER TO GET HIM TO STOP.

Funny - these aren't "simply because he was an opponent" matters Screwy - they are SUBSTANTIVE acts that entitled people to call him out. And it's dishonest for him to pretend otherwise.

You may or may not be up on all of the details, but I assure you I followed it extremely closely for more than two years. He was the wrong candidate, and believe me that was the wrong thing to emphasize.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 25, 05:44:00 PM:

I think that the most intemperate righties often mirror the most intemperate lefties.

TH nailed it. The far Right is preoccupied with controlling sex and the far Left is preoccupied with controlling money. Both IMO a massive waste of time and energy.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jan 25, 10:04:00 PM:

Me, I'm for unlimited sex and money.

That is what Cass meant, I think!  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Jan 26, 01:00:00 PM:

Putting down the 10-foot pole and backing away slooooooowly....  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Jan 26, 01:01:00 PM:

IOW, this is why there are so many RINO's running around?  

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