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Watching the watchdogs

COMMENTARY | June 30, 2004

Dan Froomkin keeps an eye on the Internet for watchdog-related items.

Asked this
June 30, 2004

Brad DeLong wrote in a May 21 "Ask This" headlined "Missing the story of structural change," that journalists are missing the defining economic story of the past four years: a boom in the productive potential of the economy.


Now author and columnist Virginia Postrel writes in her influential blog, dynamist.com, that she's done her part to look at one piece of that story: the spreading use of operations research techniques once confined to theory.


Her article, Operation everything, appeared in the June 27 Boston Globe.

"Brad is exactly right that journalists aren't covering this story," she writes in her blog post. But he doesn't offer any reasons why. As a journalist, let me suggest a few:

1)     The productivity story is boring. It isn't really, but editors think it is….

2)     The productivity story isn't political….

3)     The productivity story is too big….

4)     The productivity story is hard to report….

Read more in her blog post.  


White House/media relations

June 30, 2004 


Jay Rosen is the chair of the NYU School of Journalism, and one of the more insightful media bloggers out there.


In a recent post about the White House and the press, Rosen proposed some questions that the press should ask – of Bill Clinton.


  • "Is it true that you read the national newspapers and magazines religiously when you were President, and paid close attention to what journalists were saying, even when you knew more about the issue yourself?  
  • "How about television? Did you make a point of watching the news? Did you get summaries of the Sunday morning talk shows, and did you read them?  
  • "In your book you talk about your frustrations with the press over its scandal coverage. But aside from those episodes, and regardless of whether you agreed with the coverage, did you find that news accounts could be a reality check for you, that the press brought things to your attention that might have been missed? Or was it so unreliable, so clearly biased, that your sense of reality would be stronger without it?

"That is, don't ask him if he liked the press; ask him how he used it. And in particular whether he ever used it to figure out what his staff and instincts weren't telling him."


Rosen's proposed questions are an attempt to support a hypothesis: that the Bush White House's basic disregard for the press is symptomatic of a general disregard for facts that might challenge their thinking.


"It's one thing to mistrust the press because you believe it's biased. It's another thing to detach yourself from it -- psychologically, intellectually, as a governing philosophy, a matter of pride, and as daily practice in the White House."


As for Clinton, ""It would be helpful to know whether the press--which he thought was trying to destroy him at times--ever served as that reality check, or helped sharpen his thinking, or told him what his aides didn't, wouldn't, couldn't."


Amateur Media Critics Aplenty
May 12, 2004

They're getting pretty angry out there in blog land.

Amateur media critics have taken to the blogosphere, as they call it, in droves. And they've joyfully appointed themselves the watchdogs of the watchdogs.

The pre-eminent blogging journalist eviscerator is the incomparable Bob Somerby, a former journalist and stand-up comic, who writes the Daily Howler. Imagine Howard Beale, of the movie "Network," with Internet access.

In a typical daily post, he rails against the "incessant group clowning" of the elite press corps, which he says can't get over its obsession with trivial nonsense to write about anything that's actually important.

And Somerby is far from alone.

In fact David Neiwert, a freelance journalist based in Seattle who writes a blog called Orcinus, recently posted a media revolt "manifesto."

He calls on his fellow bloggers to join in a crusade to expose big media's fixation on the trivial and prurient, and instead encourage more investigative journalism and policy analysis.

So, watchdogs, as you go about your business, know that the bloggers will be watchdogging you.

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