September 15, 2004

The Economic Side of RaTHergate

If I have been silent on Rathergate of late, it is a complete admission of my being outclassed. The documents are phony, CBS's reputation will depend on its actions and whether other events push this story off A10 (where this story ran in the WaPo), Senator Kerry's campaign will at the very least, lose some news cycles, and possibly become completely enmeshed in this imbroglio. Pat Caddell says "Game Over."

I'm not writing 'cause I am reading. This baby has reached critical mass, vaulting the blogosphere into recognition. Brit Hume did a great interview the other day with Charles Johnson, exposing the "pajamahadeen" (props to Jim Geraghty for the term) as the lawyers, law professors and professional journalists they are.

Carroll Andrew Morse at TCS pens an interesting perspective. In What Dan Rather and the Carter Center Need to Learn, Morse points out that a minimal cost distribution mechanism now allows primary data to be shared with information consumers. And that this has enabled the blogosphere to examine the CBS memos and Venezuelan election results.

Until the Internet was established, the dissemination of primary information usually involved paper and ink -- commodities that cost money. It was economically impossible to provide everyone with every detail of every story. Editors were charged with making a trade-off. They had to decide which details were important enough to fit into the limited space they were allocated. Not all of the information could make the cut. In the Internet age, economic justifications for not releasing as much detail as possible are weaker. Very little production cost is involved is releasing primary source information in electronic format.

Given access to primary information, people like Rigobon, Hausmann and Johnson began to ask some detailed questions. They tried starting a conversation, not just in the blogosphere, but in a wider civicsphere -- a place where people can come together and share information and ideas, using any media format available. Unfortunately, big media and elite NGOs are not used to holding conversations. They had become too used to giving lectures instead. The Carter Center, attempting to declare any questions about the recall closed after a single, controversial audit, tried to stop the conservation before it started. CBS basically told the bloggers to shut up and go away.

Of course, I think there are some moral lessons that President Carter and Mr. Rather might consider learning as well. Rather may have one coming up here pretty soon.

Posted by jk at September 15, 2004 10:58 AM

My all time favorite comment on this whole story is Robert Novak's demand that CBS identify its source for the memo. Sure Bob, just like you revealed the source of Valarie Plame's name. Hey kettle, this is pot, you're black.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at September 15, 2004 12:55 PM

I have no love for the task of defending Mr. Novak. But I do see a difference when the documents are proven false. Novak is indeed premature as long as CBS stands by the docs.

Protecting a journalistic source has some merit, protecting a forger does not.

Posted by: jk at September 15, 2004 02:42 PM

Bingo. Novak's source is telling a fact. Rather's source wove a tale. Rather is under no moral or ethical obligation to protect them. He got snookered... by someone.
So burn them.
Unless the flame will get too close, of course.

Posted by: AlexC at September 15, 2004 09:21 PM

Ah, there's the rub.

I don't know if anyone's made this point publicly or not, but this story is the latest example of how the established media continues to drift closer and closer to the method of Michael Moore: Contempt for facts and reasoning. In Moore's case, said contempt is openly expressed. The once respected news organizations, established in the tradition of Edwin R. Murrow, must hide their contempt for the facts lest their credibility go the way of Michael Moore's... or Dan Rather's.

Posted by: johngalt at September 16, 2004 07:56 AM

Much easier when you don't have to hide your contempt like right wing commentators.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at September 16, 2004 08:46 AM

Silence -- you're comparing right wing "commentators" to left wing "news-men."

JG's point is the convergence of Rather with Michael Moore. I'll admit that Brit Hume on Fox approaches stories from the right -- but I do not see his morphing into Ann Coulter.

Posted by: jk at September 16, 2004 09:10 AM

More importantly, the contempt I referred to was "contempt for facts and reasoning." (And this is being exhibited, as JK observes, by "NEWS" men!) The contempt on the right that Silence cites is "Contempt for those with contempt for facts and reasoning." To NOT hold such persons in contempt would be... ridiculous.

Posted by: johngalt at September 16, 2004 10:21 AM

That's the point, news men are acting like commentators, and commentators are acting like news men. Look at several of the stories that have broken recently in the blogosphere and on commentary shows, these folks are getting in the business of reporting. At the same time the reporting folks I believe are being forced by ratings into a tabloid style. Joe Friday's old "just the facts ma'm" is not considered riveting enough. I stopped watching local TV news years ago. When they got to using the weather as a teaser, "Could be big weather changes for us, tune in at ten" they lost me as a viewer.

But by all means, lets have a congressional investigation. 9/11, Abu Graib, KBR overcharges for support services don't rush to investigate those, but this, oh man they better get on it fast. National securty and financial oversight nah, but sex and lies, that we gotta tackle. Maybe this is just the "tabloidization" of Congress.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at September 16, 2004 11:20 AM

Well, commentators are acting like news men because news men are not doing their job -- commenting, as it were, on their omissions. I am cool with that.

I am less cool with news men commentating. Bias? I always love to flip the coin as a letter writer to Instapundit has done here:

"What if the Swift Boat Vets had manufactured documents that proved John Kerry did not deserve his Silver Star? And they leaked them to Brit Hume at Fox News who rushed them on the air as part of an expose which included an extended interview with John O'Neill. And what if the left wing bloggers proved the documents to be false? And finally, what if Brit stubbornly stuck to his original story about the Silver Star and said, 'The documents don't have to be real because they accurately reflect the truth.'

"How long do you think Brit would have kept his job?"

Posted by: jk at September 16, 2004 11:51 AM

AND -- I *NEVER* called for Congressional investigations. Bad idea. Stupid gradstanding. And it would backfire politically. I have great respect for Rep Chris Cox, but he is off his nutter here.

No, the media old + new is policing itself here pretty well.

Were actual election fraud documented. I might soften a little but we are far from that.

Posted by: jk at September 16, 2004 11:55 AM
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