This Howard Fineman piece
, which seems to have caused so much spontaneous ejaculation in the right wing of the blogosphere, has more wrong with it than the self-impaling logic implied by Fineman's assertion that "[i]t's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility"---which sounds somewhat like the famous Cretan paradox, only much less worth meditating over.
OTOH, Fineman raises some interesting and important questions (not on purpose) that the Koufax blogosphere hasn't addressed and has, in fact, so far been unable to come to grips with.
But first the problems with Fineman. For starters, there's something both hilarious and vaguely sinister about his detached approbation for people whose only source of news is blogs, and in this case, only right-wing blogs. Why hilarious? Because Instapundit and Powerline would have absolutely nothing* to talk about if the "MSM" suddenly declared an Atlas Shrugged-style strike of the talented and shut down their bureaus everywhere.
*Nothing unless they wanted to make shit up wholecloth, which I would not put past them.
Why vaguely sinister? Because there are significant numbers of people whose first criterion for news consumption is the news provider's equation of the Republican party with the nation and whose second criterion is the extent to which a story reflects well on the Republican party. If, by some disaster, Glenn Reynolds and Scott Johnson replaced the New York Times
Washington Bureau, we'd be hearing an awful lot of good news, which might or might not have anything to do with what's actually happening in the world.
Since Fineman doesn't get that much, I don't think it's an accident that he chooses to frame the media's role in bringing down the Nixon administration and hastening the end of the Vietnam War as "crusades" that "seemed like a good idea at the time." This is one of several locutions that had me scratching my head wondering, could Fineman possibly mean what he seems to be saying? Because if they only "seemed like a good idea at the time," then logically, in retrospect, the media should have ignored Richard Nixon's attempts to subvert the Constitution as well as the dozens and dozens of egregious lies which bipartisan American governments used to support the Big Lie that the Vietnam War had anything to do with protecting freedom and stopping the spread of tyranny in the first place. (Question for Fineman: It's 1965. You're the editor of the Washington Post
. You hold definitive evidence that the Gulf of Tonkin "crisis" was simply a fantasy concocted by the Johnson administration. Do you a) report what you know because it's your duty as a journalist and as a loyal citizen, or b) sit on it, because some very unsophisticated people who would have made better Soviet than American citizens are going to accuse you of treason? If b), my dear Howard, you don't deserve to get another byline as long as you live.)
Fineman's preposterous suggestion that the media reporting real, true, and accurate facts, in the case of Watergate and Vietnam, amounts to a "crusade" obscures what I think is the most important point to be made about the right-wing of the blogosphere (and the left wing as well, though as Matt Yglesias would say, there is a pronounced hack gap), which is that for the most part, it resembles talk radio more than any other medium. Its purpose---the purpose of Glenn Reynolds, Hugh Hewitt, the Powerliners, the Cornerites---is not to get at truth, but to advance a partisan agenda. If they do occasionally discover a truth, it's not because they set out to do so. Now, clearly, the Dan Rather case is one of partisan politics getting in the way of the search for truth, but for the most part, such bias as actually exists in the derided "MSM" resides in many spectra orthogonal to the crassly partisan one. Furthermore, the difference between involving oneself in journalism-like activities explicitly in order to advance a political cause, versus journalism that seeks to paint an accurate portrait of the world but is informed---how could it not be?---by underlying bias, is the difference between night and day. I can't say it's surprising that Glenn Reynolds and Hugh Hewitt are incapable of registering that point, but so what. Journalism is older than Instapundit.com, and it can and should survive the advent of instapunditry as well.
What else to say? If Howard Fineman thinks it's impossible to discern credible journalists from the non-credible, just because Dan Rather is a buffoon (and was a buffoon when he started in the biz), or because Scott Johnson is capable of raising a fuss any time true but unflattering things are said about his Fearless Leader, then he needs to find a new line of work ASAP. Such a pathetic profile in cowardice has no business helping to craft the CW of any particular moment, as Fineman, unfortunately for the rest of us, surely does.
But I said earlier that Fineman's piece at least unintentionally gets at issues that are problematic for lefty bloggers. To be sure, the disdain the left blogosphere has shown for the right's triumphalism was justified, but I fear that a lot of it was a simple knee-jerk reaction to whatever the other side happened to be saying. Getting involved in blogging---whether in terms of writing or reading---necessarily commits one (I think) to a position on the legitimacy of the blogosphere as a medium. It can be a powerful tool for worthier causes than undermining John Kerry's military record, but it won't be if we on the left bank of cyberspace box ourselves into the self-defeating position of arguing against the value of anything that comes out of the blogosphere.
UPDATE: Okay, one last point about Howard Fineman and not getting it
. I think it was highly unwise of him to choose Vietnam and Watergate as his examples of media crusades, and not just because the analogy doesn't work
even remotely. Some significant proportion of the American population has a stab-in-the-back theory to explain what went on in the late sixties and early seventies. It's impossible for them to accept as fact the proposition that the President of the United States betrayed his oath of office and tried to subvert constitutional government, ditto with the lies and misdeeds of American officialdom in Vietnam. No amount of confirmatory evidence will convince them otherwise, and the media are a particularly appealing scapegoat. There's no intelligible understanding of the dynamics of American politics over the last thirty years that doesn't take this into account (nor any intelligible understanding of the 2004 presidential election). Fortunately, this phenomenon is mostly restricted to citizens above a certain age, so there will probably come a point when we've ridden it out and a forward-looking politics will again be possible.
Until then, there is a great deal of political mileage to be gained through the demonization of those predictably accused of being internal enemies. There may be no precise quantification of just how much Fox News, talk radio, and the right-wing blogosphere trade on festering resentment of those people
who betrayed their president and their country in a time of war, but it's certainly the case that such resentment and the epistemic subjectivism Bush Republicanism thrives on fuel each other mutually in a positive feedback loop.