Blogger Influence Raises Ethical Questions
Fri Jan 21, 2:39 PM ET
By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
NEW YORK - When Jerome Armstrong began consulting for Howard Dean (news - web sites)'s presidential campaign, he thought the ethical thing to do was to suspend the Web journal where he opined on politics.
But to suggest others do the same with their journals, otherwise known as blogs? No way.
"If I'm getting paid by a client, I don't blog about it. That's my personal set of standards," Armstrong said. "I'm not going to hold anybody else to my personal standards. I'm not going to make that universal."
The growing influence of blogs such as his is raising questions about whether they are becoming a new form of journalism and in need of more formal ethical guidelines or codes of conduct.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 27 percent of adults who go online in the United States read blogs. And blogs have greater impact because their readers tend to be policy makers and other influencers of public opinion, media experts say.
So far, many bloggers resist any notion of ethical standards, saying individuals ought to decide what's right for them. After all, they say, blog topics range from trying to sway your presidential vote to simply talking about the day's lunch.
Blogging is more like a conversation, and "you can't develop a code of ethics for conversations," said David Weinberger, a prominent blogger and research fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "A conversation with your best friend would become stilted and alienating."
Others, however, have pushed written guidelines.
Jonathan Dube, managing producer at MSNBC.com and publisher of CyberJournalist.net, modified the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics and urged fellow bloggers to adopt it. The principles: Be honest and fair. Minimize harm. Be accountable.
Longtime blogger Rebecca Blood circulated guidelines that call for disclosing any conflicts of interest, publicly correcting any misinformation and linking to any source materials referenced in postings.
"It seems pretty clear to me that having some kind of standard contributes to an individual blogger's own credibility," she said.
Yet Blood knows of fewer than 10 bloggers who have adopted her guidelines by linking to the document.
How bloggers handle matters of ethics and disclosure vary greatly.
While Armstrong suspended his blog, a partner in his political consulting firm, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, kept his going and instead posted a disclosure about the payment. The Dean campaign had paid the pair $3,000 a month for technical consulting services.
Others saw no need to disclose at all. In South Dakota, blogger Jon Lauck said many people knew he was a paid consultant to John Thune's Senate campaign, but Lauck didn't believe he had to post any "flashing banner" on his site.
He said that unlike mainstream news organization, blogs like his never claim to be objective, and anyone reading a few posts would quickly know he was pro-Thune — with or without disclosure.
Beyond politics, marketers have turned to blogs as well.
A company called Marqui is paying about 20 bloggers $800 a month to write about the company and its products for managing marketing campaigns. Marqui says negative reviews are OK, and bloggers are permitted to disclose the payments.
Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc. took a similar tactic when it launched a new flavored milk drink called Raging Cow.
Many news organizations have formal guidelines separating editorial and business operations, and journalism schools and professional societies try to teach good practices.
Bloggers, though, tend to shudder at being called journalists, even as lines between the two blur.
When Apple Computer Inc. got court orders allowing it to subpoena bloggers for the identities of people who had leaked company secrets, two of the bloggers responded by claiming they were entitled to protect confidential sources the way traditional journalists do.
And in Cambridge, Mass., Friday and Saturday, a conference called "Blogging, Journalism and Credibility" explored the evolution of blogging and journalism and the influences of one on the other.
Many bloggers believe standards of practices are inevitable, even if they aren't something formalized in writing.
Zephyr Teachout, who was Dean's director of online organizing, likens it to crafting a constitution — not necessarily written as a formal code of conduct, but as a set of accepted norms.
"Do you do it through a code of ethics? Do you do it by just talking to a lot of people about it? I don't know," she said.
Teachout has been thinking about such issues for about a year, she said, and is "constantly changing my mind."
"Now, to some degree, bloggers are going through the same stages that professional journalism went through at the beginning of the 20th century," said Jay Rosen, a blogger and professor of journalism at New York University. That was when newspapers started becoming independent and severed ties with political parties.
In some sense, bloggers already have informally adopted norms that go beyond what traditional journalists do, Rosen said. For instance, bloggers who don't link to source materials aren't taken seriously, while traditional news organizations have no such policies.
Dan Gillmor, a former newspaper columnist now studying citizen-driven journalism through blogging, said bloggers who want an audience will voluntarily adopt principles of fairness, thoroughness, accuracy and transparency.
"No one's bound by these rules," Gillmor said, "but I think some norms will emerge for people who want to be taken seriously."
Bill's Comment: I do this for fun. This gives me a chance to talk about things that interest me, and share them with those that read this, whether it is an original thought by me, or things I find on the internet.
We have enough micromangement in life these days by control-freak baby boomers, as well as the media on the left. You folks always cry First Amendment Freedom Of The Press. This is our forum. If you do not like it, too bad, and move on (especially if you are a member of the moveon.org crowd).
Take care till next time!
Friday, January 21, 2005
Blogger Influence Raises Ethical Questions
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/21/2005 07:36:00 PM
Bill's Comment: I did not know that. Then again, I never did any illegal drugs.
Wed Jan 19, 8:40 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - The makers of the handy spray lubricant WD-40 proudly list 2,000 uses for their product, from unsticking rusty screws or squeaky bicycle chains to polishing frying pans.
But British police have found another -- keeping the public from snorting cocaine off toilet lids in bars.
Police in the English city of Bristol said Tuesday they have been advising pub and nightclub owners to spray the colorless lubricant on toilet seats and other flat surfaces in the lavatory that customers often use to snort drugs.
Apparently, cocaine and spray lube don't mix.
"A chemical reaction takes place with the cocaine that causes it to congeal and become a mess so it's unusable," a police spokesman said. "It's one very small, very cheap way in which you can very seriously restrict the amount of drug use in your premises."
Constable Graham Pease, a liquor licensing officer, said he discovered the trick a few years ago while discussing with pub owners how to reduce drug use on their premises.
"We were discussing with licensees how we could keep cocaine from being snorted from surfaces," he told Reuters. "It came about that we wanted to spray something on surfaces that cocaine would stick to. And somebody mentioned WD-40."
The new use seems to have taken its makers by surprise.
"Its not meant to be ingested. It says so clearly on the can so we wouldn't advocate it for that purpose. But people will use it how they will," said a British spokeswoman for the San Diego, Calif-based WD-40 Co.
At Bar Excellence in Bristol, deputy manager Julian Barraud said it was part of the drug fighting arsenal.
"It does work. It's one of the tricks that we've got to try and tackle the problem," he said.
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/21/2005 07:31:00 PM
Monday, January 17, 2005
LIAR, LIAR, NOW YOU'RE FIRED
Thu Jan 13, 6:21 PM ET
By Ann Coulter
If CNN doesn't hire them, Dan Rather and his producers can always get a job teaching at the Columbia School of Journalism. The Columbia Journalism Review recently defended the CBS report on George Bush (news - web sites) using forged National Guard documents with the Tawana Brawley excuse: The documents might be "fake but accurate."
Dan Rather and his crack investigative producer Mary Mapes are still not admitting the documents were fakes. Of course, Dan Rather is still not admitting Kerry lost the election or that a woman named Juanita Broaddrick credibly accused Bill Clinton (news - web sites) of rape.
Responding to Bill O'Reilly's question in a May 15, 2001, interview on "The O'Reilly Factor" about why CBS News had mentioned crack-pot rumors of George Bush's drug use on air seven times, but the name "Juanita Broaddrick" had never crossed Dan Rather's lips (and was only mentioned twice on all of CBS News), Rather replied: "Juanita Broaddrick, to be perfectly honest, I don't remember all the details of Juanita Broaddrick. But I will say that -- and you can castigate me if you like. When the charge has something to do with somebody's private sex life, I would prefer not to run any of it."
If only the press had extended that same courtesy to Mike Tyson! Rape has as much to do with "somebody's private sex life" as Bush's National Guard service does.
Admittedly, Juanita Broaddrick's charge against Clinton -- that Bill Clinton raped her so brutally that her clothing was torn and her lip was swollen and bleeding, hence his parting words of "you'd better put some ice on that" -- was not a story on the order of Augusta National Golf Course's exclusion of women members. But, unlike the Bush drug-use charge, which remains unsupported to this day, Broaddrick's allegations had been fully corroborated by NBC News -- which then refused to air Lisa Myers' report until after Clinton's acquittal in the Senate.
Fortunately for Ms. Mapes, Rather also described Bill Clinton as "honest," explaining to O'Reilly, "I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things." This must have come as great comfort to Mapes, as she based an entire story about Bush's outrageous behavior in the National Guard on one Lt. Col. Bill Burkett.
Among the issues that might have raised questions about relying on Burkett as your source before accusing a sitting president of having disobeyed direct military orders are:
- Burkett had a long-standing grudge against the National Guard for failing to pay for his medical treatment for a rare tropical disease he claims he contracted during Guard service in Panama.
- He blamed Bush, who was governor at the time, for the Guard's denial of medical benefits because, as everyone knows, the Texas governor's main job is processing medical claims from former National Guard members.
- After leaving the Guard, Burkett suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for depression.
- At the meeting where he was supposed to give Mapes the National Guard documents, Burkett brought "two binders full of depositions and other documents that were apparently from his litigation with the National Guard over health benefits" -- apparently he forgot the two shoeboxes full of UFO photos he'd collected over the years.
- He had compared Bush to Hitler -- which admittedly could have been just his way of establishing his bona fides to Democrats.
- He had told a number of stories over the years about Bush's National Guard service, all of which had collapsed under conflicting evidence and even his own contradictory accounts -- which is to say the stories were both made up and inaccurate.
- In exchange for the National Guard documents, Burkett demanded money, "relocation assistance" if the story put him or his family in danger (perhaps ocean-front property for a quick getaway) and direct contact with the Kerry campaign.
Even before the story aired, Burkett's description of his own source for the documents kept changing. He said he received the documents anonymously in the mail. He said he was given the documents by someone who would "know what to do with (the documents) better than" he would. He said his source was Chief Warrant Officer George Conn -- amid copious warnings that CBS "should not call Chief Warrant Officer Conn because he would deny it" and further that "Conn was on active duty and could not be reached at his Dallas home."
Burkett needn't have worried about crack investigator Mary Mapes getting in touch with his alleged source. Even though a three-second search on Google would have revealed that (1) Burkett was crazy, and (2) he had tried to use Conn as a source before and Conn had vehemently denied Burkett's claims, Mapes told the investigating committee "she did not consider Chief Warrant Officer Conn's denial to be reliable."
It seems Burkett had told Mapes that "Conn was still in the military and that his wife threatened to leave him if he spoke out against President Bush (news - web sites)." That was good enough for Mapes. She concluded that Conn -- the only person who could have corroborated Burkett's story -- was not to be trusted. Instead, Mapes placed all her faith in the disgruntled, paranoid nut with a vendetta against Bush, an extensive psychiatric history and an ever-growing enemies list. I'm referring to Bill Burkett here, not Dan Rather.
Finally, Burkett claimed a woman named Lucy Ramirez had passed the documents to him at a livestock show in Houston. It is believed that this account marks the exact day that Burkett's lithium prescription ran out. Despite the fact that no one at CBS was able to locate Ramirez, CBS stuck to the story.
This isn't a lack of "rigor" in fact-checking, as the CBS report suggests. It's a total absence of fact-checking. CBS found somebody who told the story they wanted told -- and they ran with it, wholly disregarding the facts.
Curiously, though Mapes trusted Burkett implicitly, she was very careful not to reveal his name to anyone at CBS, probably because she would have been laughed out of the room.
Instead, Mapes described Burkett in the abstract as: "solid," "without bias," "credible," "a Texas Republican of a different chromosome," a "John McCain supporter," "reliable" and "a maverick" -- leaving out only "Burkett is convinced he can communicate with caterpillars" and "his best friend is a coffee table." His name was not important. It's not as if he was the sole source for a highly damaging story about the president eight weeks before the election or anything. Oh wait ...
At a meeting with CBS lawyers the day the story would air, Mapes "did not reveal the source's name or anything negative about the source," but "expressed 'enormous confidence' in her source's reliability and said that he was solid with no bias or credibility issues." She described Burkett as a "moralistic stickler." The subject of UFOs simply never came up.
Mapes trusted Burkett on the basis of the following:
- "Mapes told the panel that she spoke to a mainstream media reporter, who had known Lt. Col. Burkett since 2001, and she stated that he viewed Lt. Col. Burkett as reliable." At least it wasn't one of those unreliable bloggers throwing anything up on the Net and ruining reputations!
- "Mapes told the panel that she informed the Burketts that she was worried the documents might be a 'political dirty trick.' Mapes said that the Burketts appeared 'genuinely shocked' at the suggestion and this reaction gave her comfort." (You could tell they were really shocked because they had the same look on their faces that Condi Rice had when Richard Clarke first told her about al-Qaida.)
- Mapes really hated George Bush and would do anything to make him lose the election.
Actually, Mapes did not put her last reason in writing, which created a real mystery for the CBS investigating committee. Proving once again how useless "moderate Republicans" are, The CBS Report -- co-authored by moderate Republican Dick Thornburgh -- found no evidence of political bias at CBS.
If Fox News had come out with a defamatory story about Kerry based on forged documents, liberals would be demanding we cut power to the place. (Fortunately, the real documents on Kerry were enough to do the trick.) But the outside investigators hired by CBS could find no political agenda at CBS.
By contrast, the report did not hesitate to accuse the bloggers who exposed the truth about the documents of having "a conservative agenda." As with liberal attacks on Fox's "fair and balanced" motto, it is now simply taken for granted that "conservative bias" means "the truth."
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/17/2005 11:49:00 PM