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February 15, 2005

When Blogs Do Bad II

Following up on the Eason Jordon story and the question of whether the ability of blogs to “take down” public figures is a positive development, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the recent unmasking of Jeff Gannon. Gannon was a highly partisan reporter who used a pseudonym and somehow gained a seat in the White House press corp where he asked questions with lots of Republican spin. Gannon may or may not have also been leading a somewhat salacious double life. Salon's coverage. So now we can add Gannongate to Easongate and Rathergate. Salon's “War Room” covers them all with lots of good links to more. As I said before, the ability of blogs to hold public figures accountable is a good thing, but it's one thing to uncover what's hidden, and another to destroy careers or lives. Maybe the destruction follows automatically from the uncovering, and maybe that's not the fault of bloggers. However, when prominent people make questionable statements or do questionable things, wouldn't we be better of as a society if we could learn from their mistakes instead of simply destroying the mistake-maker? UPDATE: See also:

Posted February 15, 2005 07:59 AM | general politics meta-blogging

i have very strong feelings on this subject, and i have tried to hold back for a couple days to see if they would subside. it seems to me that bloggers did not bring down ANYbody, any more than Matt Drudge took down Bill Clinton. these people all -- all -- did it to themselves.

bloggers are only the way that the power of the hive is revealed today -- they are only shinging a light where there used to be no light. the cockroaches scatter when that happens. it seems ridiculously upsidedown to me to say, if you hadn't turned the light on, we wouldn't have known about the cockroaches and therefor you are somehow responsible for revealing them by turning the light on.

i think your question would be better phrased as follows:

are we as a culture reacting in a balanced, thoughful way when we encounter very human mistakes made by people in positions of leadership? why do we so quickly fall back into the knee-jerk binary view of the world (the baddies and the goodies) instead of examining the facts for what they are? why do we feel so satisfied when we can distort a (sub)set of the facts into a trite template-truth, see our leaders as objects to be ridiculed, and dismiss them?


why can't people in leadership admit that there are biases, prejudices, and agendas at work behind the scenes that contradict the overt messages they say they stand for? is it because they think their constituency is so utterly simpleminded? is it because their constituency IS utterly simple minded?

but bloggers really had nothing to do with it. get rid of bloggers and something else will take their place. the truth is going to come out sooner or later.

and i think that is healthy, to be desired, worth fighting for, and absolutely essential to maintaining a free society.

thanks for the soapbox, you can have it back now. ;-)

Posted by: matt at February 15, 2005 11:35 PM

Actually, this is another case of "it's not the mistake, it's the cover up." Jordan made sure his blogosphere conflagration had plenty of oxygen by concealing his comments, waffling about, and searching for every protection he could find. He'd have been much better off just to say, "Wow? Did I say that? How dumb. What I meant was..." That comment to be made on CNN, fifteen seconds after he aired a clip of what he said at Davos and one day after he made the remark.

What the Rather and Jordon scandals have in common is poor media management due to a misunderstanding of how blogs have changed the news cycle. You can't expect things to "go away" anymore just because the Washington Post is ignoring them. I doubt we'll see many more of these resignations, simply because corporate machines will learn damage control eventually.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 16, 2005 12:37 AM

Wow, I agree with A. Rickey.

I watched the Gannon investigation from the beginning and it's distinguishable from Eason/Rather, etc. in one important way. A man from a "news" website established 4 days earlier by GOPUSA, who owed Delaware $20,000 in back taxes and was apparently a prostitute, somehow got a daily press pass into the White House and was given top-secret information concerning the outing of CIA covert agent Valerie Plame who just happened to be the wife of Bush critic Joe Wilson. There's a legitimate security issue here. Any normal background check from the Secret Service would have sent him back to Delaware to pay his taxes. Why was he given access?

Posted by: Steve at February 16, 2005 02:03 AM

Was the only reason he shouldn't been given access because he hadn't paid his taxes?

Posted by: monica at February 16, 2005 06:52 AM

I basically agree with all of you, and thank you for pulling out some of the issues I was merely able to gesture at in my posts. I would never want to get rid of bloggers and, like I said, I think they've begun acting as an important part of the media environment with their ability to put pressure on things that the mainstream or traditional media is ready to ignore or minimize. I think Matt helpfully rephrased my questions, and I could try again by asking: Is there a way for bloggers to perform their critical function in a more socially constructive and less personally destructive way? And the answer to that may be, as you all suggest, that the destructiveness has less to do w/the bloggers and more to do w/the way the people/companies in question responded to the criticism/exposure. I've just seen bloggers on both sides of the aisle crowing about "scalping" people they see as political opponents and gleefully celebrating the demise of these people's careers, and that strikes me as unseemly, juvenile, not really helpful. And yet, I'm just as happy as the next lefty that Jason Gannon won't be lobbing softballs to Bush anymore, so I should probably just shut up.

By the way, while there's plenty of ugliness to go around in connection with these stories, these criticims of Dems pandering to homophobia seem to be especially good examples of the dark consequences of when the critical function veers into witch hunting or naked partisan opportunism. Again, this sort of thing leaves me wishing more bloggers would exercise just a bit more restraint and try to keep their rhetoric constructively critical, rather than destructively so.

Of course, the next time I climb up on my high horse of righteous indignation over some new public outrage from the right, I'm sure all of the above will come and bite me in the ass, so I should probably just stop now.

Posted by: ambimb at February 16, 2005 07:00 AM

No, monica. The point is that there obviously wasn't a background check performed, or if there was, the results were ignored. He couldn't get House or Senate press passes due to the fact that his "news" organization had only existed for four days and his only journalism training was a 2-day seminar at the Leadership Institute, but that was A-OK with the White House Press Office.

Posted by: Steve at February 16, 2005 01:51 PM

Just as a question: I know that the House and Senate have rules for who gets press passes (which are relatively bipartisan because, well, there are always members of both parties in both places). The White House has never, to my knowledge, had the same rules about who gets press passes.

But the security check question: has the White House ever conducted security checks on correspondents? And are back taxes generally considered a disqualifying matter? I'm honestly asking, because I'm not aware of that.

That said, the difference between Gannon and the other big names basically comes down to the size of the victim. I suppose one could say that the Gannon scandal is somehow bigger because it's a security issue--though I've yet to see a non-partisan who cared much--but the real issue is the size of the victim. Jordan is a major executive and Dan Rather is a huge name. Gannon simply isn't.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 16, 2005 05:13 PM


From what I understand, the Senate and House press passes are controlled by the press corp. It's very likely the press there looked at Guckert's credentials and decided he didn't deserve to co-exist with them.

As far as the White House goes, I know that all members of the 3rd Infantry Division undergo the same background check as WH correspondents. That includes a SS# check, including credit reports, which should have revealed that Guckert actually had an outstanding bench warrant from Delaware for his back taxes.

It's likely the background check didn't reveal he was a prostitute, but I have a feeling that was already a known fact.

Posted by: Steve at February 16, 2005 11:50 PM

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