Mike Shear of The Washington Post, the final speaker at the Va. blogger conference, said we probably wouldn’t agree with anything he had to say. Then he sought to provoke with his basic message that bloggers irresponsibly truck in rumor, gossip and basically are pretty lax on the fact checking. If we don’t know it to be true, we shouldn’t say it.
He also said that the difference between bloggers and newspapers is that journalists “attempt always to make sure that what we have written is true.” While he equivocated, he seemed pretty sure he was on higher ground. He even quoted the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics. It is an “optional code,” I might add.
I also think it’s irresponsible for a newspaper to report that, say, a presidential candidate did not deserve medals he received while a soldier, when in fact, as the paper reported a week or so after the Swift Boat Veterans attacks on John Kerry, that the charges were not true. Yet, The Post reported the story before checking to see if it was true, and once it found otherwise, kept repeating the story.
When asked about the contradiction, Shear, to his credit, said it’s “a hard charge to deny.” But he tried to defend papers by saying that they try to find out the truth whereas bloggers rarely do.
That’s too broad a charge and too weak a defense of papers who report rumor or charges if they echo long enough on Fox News or other pseudo news media. In other words, they adopt the lowest standards of truth and decency. That that is better than no standard is higher ground only in a relative sense, and not a place I’d anchor my moral superiority.