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Wednesday, November 21: Time political columnist Joe Klein accuses the Democrats of being soft on terror surveillance in a short article for the magazine.
That same day: Salon political blogger and former lawyer Glenn Greenwald points out that Klein's reading of FISA legislation is absolutely, totally, inarguably wrong.
Later that day: Klein responds to Greenwald on Time's political blog while simultaneously pretending Greenwald doesn't exist.
Also on the 21st: Wired's Ryan Singel, on the invaluable privacy/security blog Threat Level, totally dismembers Klein's "argument."
Sunday, November 25: Klein kind of acknowledges his mistake, while simultaneously denying that he made a mistake. The online version of the original story remains uncorrected.
Monday, November 26: Klein writes a masterpiece of incomprehensible dissemblage, which includes the absolutely jaw-dropping line "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right (ADD: about this minor detail of a bill that will never find its way out of the Congress)." Or: sorry I said it mattered and that I was doing my job when I wasn't, please leave me alone. Better: backsies!
Tuesday, November 27: Jane Hamsher of the widely-read blog Firedoglake tracks down Klein's editor, Priscilla Painton, who dismisses Hamsher and hangs up the phone.
Later that same day: Time "corrects" the article: "In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't." Which doesn't even go as far as Klein already has in addressing its flaws. If you're not familiar with the highly technical language of political journalism, that correction really means Fuck Off.
Wednesday, November 28: The Chicago Tribune--one week after the original article ran and after any reasonable observer will conclude that it was terrible, terrible journalism, something that anyone who even pays a moderate amount of attention to some of the most prominent political bloggers on the Internet would have noticed--publishes a straight excerpt from the article, sans correction. (UPDATE: Huzzah! The Trib corrects, and does a much, much better job of it than Time. WTG journalism!)
You may assume that I, as a blogger for an alternative paper, have an ax to grind about mainstream/corporate/big/whatever media. This is not true. I actually interned at the Tribune, enjoyed it, and am grateful for having done so and grateful to them for taking me in. Despite some crippling flaws (Q, the real estate section, 75% of their editorials, Metromix), it's still an invaluable local paper and they have some real reporters who are doing the Lord's work. It should be better, but so should everything, including me (disorganized, a spendthrift), the tea I'm drinking (not strong enough, but that's probably what I get for drinking chamomile), and the keyboard I'm using (battery-powered, which isn't good for the environment).
But: journalistic institutions like Time and the Tribune really have to stop living in fear of bloggers. Maybe it's the term: Glenn Greenwald is a daily political columnist and trained lawyer, so let's just call him that. Duncan Black, aka Atrios, is an economist (just like Paul Krugman!). They're smart people, and, whether or not it should matter, they're smart in totally Establishment ways with real resumes and everything.
Most journalists have a reading list that they go through on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. If you're writing in Chicago about news and politics of various kinds, you should probably read the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the NYT, the Washington Post, and other big publications every day. Checking in on WBEZ, WGN, NPR news, and the suburban dailies is also smart. The Chicago Reporter is a must-read, as is Crain's, and Chicago has good profile journalism, even if they hide it behind lifestyle features. Oh, and you should read us too.
But a lot of journalists, I fear, don't read blogs, at least habitually. They should.
First, they should read them conceptually. Bloggers have been great innovators in--forgive me for using this word--remixing existing news so that it's much more comprehensible for the average reader. Using context, history, multiple sources (newspapers like to pretend their competitors don't exist, a bizarre kabuki ritual I'll never understand), bloggers are simply incredibly efficient at enriching the news with available information. Ignore the content for a while and just read blogs structurally, and you'll find there's a lot to learn.
Second, they're doing actual work. Powerline famously brought down Dan Rather, but it wasn't an isolated incident. Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo kept pushing the U.S. attorney firing story, in part through actual reporting, in part through recontextualizing bits of info from papers around the country, especially from second- and third-tier dailies that most people don't read outside of their respective cities, when major news sources were dismissive. Now his publication may have doomed Mitt Romney over Mitt's fear of an Islamic cabinet.
Since it's a new medium, it's an evolving beast and tough to stay on top of, but it's an increasing necessity. Joe Klein, his editor, and the editor of Time.com managed to turn a significant but not uncommon error into a giant clusterfuck by adopting a siege mentality about the medium and its most respected practitioners. And I suspect that it wouldn't have been a problem if any of them were willing to give Glenn Greenwald, a highly accomplished man writing about his area of expertise for one of the longest-running Web-only publications around, any of the respect they'd give to a similarly accomplished writer whose words were typeset on tree pulp. It's not much of a leap to make, and ten years from now it will make just as much sense--more, actually--than reading David Brooks. People who want whatever jobs are left at that point should start making a blogroll.