Accuracy in Media

On November 8 Eric Engberg, a retired former correspondent for CBS News, wrote a column on that was highly critical of blogging, a form of do-it-yourself journalism on the Internet.  It was bloggers who first discovered CBS had used faked documents for a “60 Minutes” story that accused President Bush of neglecting his Texas Air National Guard service.  Other mainstream media recognized a good lead when they saw it, and saw that CBS was in the middle of a horrific scandal.  The bloggers had struck gold.

Soon the Washington Post, ABC News and others were after CBS.  CBS initially stonewalled.  Finally, Dan Rather, host of the controversial broadcast, issued a belated mea culpa. An internal investigation is now underway into what happened.  CBS and Rather had been forced into humiliation by people wearing pajamas in front of their computers, which is how a former CBS executive had described bloggers. 

The Engberg piece shows that CBS must still be hurting.  He complains that blog coverage of the election was more reminiscent of that school paper or a “Breaker, breaker 19” gabfest on CB than anything approaching journalism.  His criticism was focused on blogs publishing early exit poll data, which was being collected by mainstream media.  When it comes to correctly interpreting poll data, Engberg said sarcastically, “There is a word for this kind of teamwork and expertise. It’s called ‘journalism.'”  Does anyone really think people go to blogs for a scoop on who’s going to win the presidential election, though?  Some blogs were wrong about the meaning of the exit polls but right about CBS.

Engberg conveniently ignored the fact that the media were wrong about the 2000 election calls.  Jay Evensen, editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page, calls the 2000 election night a “perfect storm.”  “It was when we in the news business had to hunt for the Dramamine because of the motion sickness,” he recalls.  In 2000, they began calling Florida for Al Gore while people still were voting in the portion of the state that is on Central time.  They later recanted and called the state for Bush and then left it in limbo.  Fox News Senior Vice President John Moody told the Washington Post, “We all learned a lesson four years ago.  There will probably be an abundance of caution in most newsrooms.”  Executives at other networks said the same thing.

Engberg would rather talk about blogs.  He says, “The public is now assaulted by news and pretend-news from many directions, thanks to the now infamous ‘information superhighway.'”  Engberg may steadfastly refuse to address the “pretend news” that emanates from what he terms true journalists, but there will still be plenty out there to be exposed.  And much of it will probably be on his old network, CBS.

One wonders what Engberg would say about Cleveland anchor Sharon Reed of WOIO, who decided to go naked for a story in a craven race for ratings during November’s sweeps.  Her news station, Channel 19, says Reed “didn’t just report the story, she became part of it?” Are bloggers supposed to be a step below this kind of thing?  Is Sharon Reed’s nudity supposed to be legitimate journalism?  We’ll take the bloggers any day.

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