October 28, 2005

Forbes’ Indiscriminate Attack on Blogs and Attempt to Rewrite Easongate

Daniel Lyons’ cover story on blogs (requires registration for now, subscription later) is an awful letdown, coming as it does from a magazine that is generally the best in the business at seeing things from a free-market perspective (HT Micropersuasion via Instapundit, though I had to be a subscriber to the magazine be registered to gain access to all content needed to create this post):

Attack of the Blogs

Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo.

Lyons’ main beef is anonymity, but too often he generalizes his complaints to all blogs, whether or not the author(s) tell their readers who they are. He does note that “(mostly anonymous) Attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere,” but then frequently cites both mainstream and transparent blogs throughout his piece.

At first glance, the anonymity gripe has some merit. Someone can attack another person, the victim has no idea where it’s coming from, and, thanks to the anonymous blog platforms, can’t find out. But to me the burden should be on the blog reader to be cautious of those who won’t reveal themselves, especially if the anonymous blogger involved seems to be on an obsessive crusade. In the financial world, as has been the case with chatroom chatter for years, you have to watch for people who stand to make money from pushing a stock price up or down based on what they post. These people can shout all they want from their blogs; if nobody reads or heeds, it doesn’t matter.

While there are people abusing their anonymity, there are plenty of justifiable reasons for remaining anonymous (think China), and the idea of losing the ability to remain unidentifiable is simply unacceptable.

Lyons’ biggest problem is that he fails to distinguish anonymity from whistleblowing, and tries to rewrite the history of a seminal New Media story in the process:

In the case of a CNN executive they didn’t stop until they had claimed a casualty. Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, noted at an off-the-record conference in January that journalists had been killed by U.S. troops. He used a touchy word: “targeted.” A blogger present, Rony Abovitz, ignored the off-the-record ground rule and posted an account. Other bloggers soon piled on. One created a site solely devoted to the topic, easongate.com.

Jordan instantly and repeatedly denied the assertions, but the blog hordes kept wailing away. Jordan resigned in February, engulfed by a concocted controversy. Blogger Michelle Malkin crowed online, praising nine other bloggers and “legions of smaller” ones in the hunt. She wrote that the mainstream media “calls it a lynch mob. I call it a truth squad” and included a warning: “Cue the Carpenters music: We’ve OnlyJust Begun.”

(links within excerpt were added–Ed.)

“Concocted?” This is ridiculous and beyond ironic.

Lyons is absurdly criticizing Abovitz for revealing comments by a guy (Jordan) who was himself irresponsibly abusing his “off the record” anonymity!Targeted” is not a “touchy word.” It’s a very specific word, meaning, in a military context, “to aim at or for”–in other words, to try to kill or wound. Jordan was very clearly slandering US troops by saying that they were (and I suppose in his mind, still are) trying to kill or wound journalists. If Abovitz hadn’t exposed Jordan’s statement, Jordan would still be at CNN, where he proved he doesn’t belong.

Abovitz is a hero for outing a delusional CNN television executive whose track record of poor executive and news judgment goes back to shading the network’s coverage of Saddam’s Hussein’s horror show in Iraq to maintain its precious “access,” and only confessing to it after Saddam was deposed.

Lyons’ reportage here is very incomplete. Jordan may have “instantly and repeatedly” denied the assertions, but unfortunately for Jordan his presentation was videotaped. If released, the video could have cleared him and made a lot of people, including Michelle and The Captain, look like blubbering fools. The world never got to see the tape; CNN did but wouldn’t release it, and Jordan resigned. Earth to Mr. Lyons: Two plus two still equals four.

Forbes has now joined The Wall Street Journal as MSM apologists and (at least I would have thought this just a year ago) unlikely critics of a new medium that has driven some of the most important stories of past few years, stories that would not have played out the same way and would likely have turned out far short of truthful if the Mainstream Media still had its death grip on the news.

Indiscriminate blog attackers like Forbes and The Journal are, whether intentionally or not, creating collateral damage by playing into the hands of people who want to “regulate” blogs and other New Media outlets and stifle free speech. Unfortunately, there are people, like some members of the Federal Election Commission, who appear ready, willing, and able to do just that.

It’s a bitter disappointment to see this in the magazine run by Steve Forbes, someone who, last time I checked, was a big believer in free markets and the free flow of ideas.
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UPDATE: They brought it on themselves. ForbesSucks.blogspot.com is up.

UPDATE 2: According to a commenter at the ForbesSucks blog: “Lyons is an idiot hack who’s had his arse handed to him by the Groklaw blog several times over his shilling for SCO via Forbes. So the article is a personal vendetta.” If true (emphasis on “if”), it was a pretty poor judgment on Forbes’ part to hand Lyons a cover story on this topic.

UPDATE 3: Other takes: Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, LaShawn Barber, and TechDirt.
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Oct. 28: Outside the Beltway Jammer.

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