The Huffington Post, an Internet blog that debuted May 9 after a campaign that would have delighted P.T. Barnum, makes me nostalgic for the good old days of journalism.
It isn't that its founder, Arianna Huffington (who named it for herself in true Hollywood "enough about me, not what do YOU think about me" fashion) doesn't have every right to join the increasingly clogged blog superhighway. Rather, this blog has an agenda and speaks mostly to people who already believe what most of its writers say.
Increasingly, we are surrounded by people who write and speak to a single constituency - their own. The left is now trying to gin-up the same level of anger the right has used to propel itself into political power and media heaven by its dominance of talk radio and much of cable TV. It is failing, though, because the left continues to have numerous mainstream outlets for its ideas. The left's problem is that people are familiar with those ideas and they are rejecting them.
In The Huffington Post, the musical genius Quincy Jones explains that Michael Jackson's problem is too much fame and too little of God. But director Mike Nichols writes that the Bible is nothing but metaphors and is not to be taken seriously as "fundamentalists" do (Quincy, please call Mike).
Gary Hart(pence) continues his endless campaign to be taken seriously since his alliance on the deliciously named yacht, "Monkey Business." Hart contributes an essay that asks if the U.S. is building permanent military bases in Iraq. If so, he says, that means we do not intend to withdraw all our troops. Profound, Gary.
Other certified lefties, like Walter Cronkite, Larry David, Democrat Sen. John Corzine of New Jersey, and an occasional right-winger like John Fund of The Wall Street Journal and Joe Scarborough of the low-rated MSNBC, contribute, but most of the blog is leftist and secular.
Director and former "Meathead" Rob Reiner thinks the press is doing a lousy job by not exposing Bush Administration scandals. "Where Have You Gone Woodward and Bernstein?" he asks. To the bank, Rob. They sold their Watergate papers for big bucks to the University of Texas.
The problem with blogs like The Huffington Post is that they divert our attention from real and serious journalism. OK, there hasn't been much serious journalism for at least 20 years as real journalists have died or gone on to other rewards and the networks have been taken over by people who care only about the bottom line and little about covering news that matters.
When I started in journalism, my superior at NBC told me I would need a college degree and a minimum of five years' writing experience at a newspaper or wire service to be considered for on-air work. At NBC in those years, every reporter and many producers met or exceeded those requirements. Virtually every journalist wrote his own copy.
Now, none of those things seem to matter. As the quality of stories has diminished and we now fixate on runaway brides, car chases, celebrity trials and other sideshows, serious subjects such as the war and coming conflicts with China and possibly Russia take a back seat.
If the public is unprepared for new threats and challenges, it will largely be the big media's fault for failing to prepare them. The public will share the blame for fixating on blogs.
Blogs have their place. They played an important role in the last presidential election by contributing to the debate over John Kerry's experience in Vietnam and George Bush's National Guard records. But if they replace solid journalistic principles and practices, the public will be ill-served and the profession may suffer a mortal wound from which it might not recover.
With blogs, we do not know if what we read is true. For most blogs, no editor checks for factual errors and no one is restrained from editorializing. The Big Media sometime are guilty of these same shortcomings, but at least with them there is a presumption in favor of accuracy and fairness, plus there's a way to shame them and occasionally force a correction if they mess up. Blogs have no checks and balances.
I suspect - and hope - that once the bloom is off the blogs, serious people (and they seem to be an endangered species) might still crave real journalism and be able to remember what it looked and sounded like.
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