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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Note to Professor Hanson: Are Any so Blind as The Academic MSMer Who Will Not See?

What kind of purposeful blindness is required to make this statement found in The Washington Post's Outlook Section today about Rathergate:

"Conservative bloggers pounced quickly to discredit the documents then-CBS anchor Dan Rather relied on last fall in his infamous report about President Bush's National Guard performance. Cyber-debate then moved on briskly to other things. Many people think the documents were proven to be forgeries and the gist of the report false. But in reality, no one has demonstrated conclusively whether the documents are fake, or whether or not Bush disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged."

Or this statement about Easongate:

"Bloggers also set the pace when CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan came under fire last year for allegedly asserting, at a conference not covered by the news media, that U.S. soldiers had deliberately shot journalists in Iraq. Jordan insisted he had meant only that soldiers had been reckless, shooting at targets they did not know were journalists. But outrage spread so quickly over the net that Jordan resigned -- and the top story moved on -- before anyone could verify exactly what he had said. There were plenty of eyewitnesses with different versions of what he said, but there was no transcript, and to this day the issue remains murky."

Given those two examples of refusing to see the facts in front of your face, there is no surprise to find this stirring declaration of faith at the end of the same Post piece:

"We reach so many of our judgments in fog and depend on journalists like my old colleague Isikoff to help us see more clearly. So take your lumps, Mike, then go back out and nail this story down."

Professor Chris Hanson of the University of Maryland's Phillip Merrill School of Journalism is the author is these statements, which provide such a vivid demonstration of the truth of the maxim that there is none so blind as he who will not see. Hanson's Outlook piece also suggests why the MSM is probably wholly incapable of arresting its two-decade slide from one of America's most respected instutitions to one of its most discredited, or of even grasping the reasons underlying that slide.

Hanson is a former reporter for The Washington Star, Reuters and Hearst Newspapers. Maryland's j-school has a mostly deserved reputation as one of the nation's best.

The statements above are contained in an article that opens with some observations about the parallels between the Sepoy Rebellion in British India in 1859 and the deadly riots that followed Newsweek's more recent retraction of its brief Periscope column note about U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing a Koran down the toilet. Both incidents involved allegedly false allegations of actions that were especially offensive to Muslims (and in the Sepoy affair, also to Hindus). For Hanson, the crucial difference between the incidents was the speed with which the offending allegations were communicated and thus how long before the ensuing violence erupted.

Despite the differences in time and technology, Hanson notes that "given the staggering advances in communications technology since the Indian mutiny, it's sobering to realize how difficult it remains to cut through rumor with steely, unswerving fact."

And where are we most likely to find the means of cutting through to the steely, unswerving facts? Well, Hanson's next sentence is that stirring declaration of faith that Newsweek reporter Isikoff will "take your lumps, Mike, then go back out and nail this story down."

There is so much that could be said about Hanson's utter faith in a failing institution, but just consider for the moment these "steely, unswerving facts:"

It appears Hanson and former CBS producer Mary Mapes are last two people on earth who still believe those documents at the heart of Rathergate are genuine. Certainly no one who has actually read the Thornburgh-Boccardi report commissioned by CBS believes the Killian documents aren't fakes. Professor Hanson, you can read that report here and I hope you will before you again endeavour to say something about Rathergate.

On Easongate, during a presentation to a European panel, former CNN executive Eason Jordan made a concrete assertion that U.S. troops targeted journalists during combat in Iraq. His statement was circulated to the world by an eyewitness. Soon similar statements by Jordan on previous occasions were unearthed by bloggers and MSMers. Despite having repeated opportunities to do so, Jordan has never offered a shred of evidence for his assertion. Given that the scandal cost him his job and a large measure of his credibility, it seems fair to conclude he has no such evidence.

But for Hanson, the problem is not that Rather, Jordan and Newsweek relied upon highly questionable evidence (or apparently no evidence at all in Jordan's case), but rather than bloggers with political agendas reacted and critiqued those pillars of the MSM so quickly. Things were so much easier for folks like Professor Hanson when Americans had to depend on the elite media to tell them what was news!

Here's a prediction: When Hanson is retired and sitting on the front porch reminiscing about the good old days of the MSM, the professor will still be insisting that any day now Isikoff will nail down that flushed Koran story and Americans will again turn to the long-defunct MSM giants like CBS and Newsweek for those steely, unswerving facts about the news of the day.

REAX:

The Warden asks a logical question of Hanson: "If the speed of information is what's causing so many mistakes in the media, why is Hanson getting it wrong on stories that are months old?" Go here for the rest of The Warden's excellent post on Hanson.

And Powerline's Paul Mirengoff wonders this about Hanson's teaching: "I wonder whether Hanson teaches his journalism students that Watergate and the role of journalists in that affair are still open issues because no one ever proved conclusively that Rosemary Woods didn't erase the famous tape by accident."

Mirengoff's Powerline colleague, John Hindraker, emailed Hanson and asked about his assertion that questions remain about whether President Bush properly fulfilled his service obligations as a National Guard pilot:

"As to your assertion that President Bush may, indeed, have 'disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged' in early May 1972, how do you reconcile that statement with the fact that Lt. Bush's evaluation dated May 26, 1972 said in part: 'Lt Bush is an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer. He eagerly participates in scheduled unit activities. During the past year he participated in several target force deployments and an F-102 aircraft element deployment in Canada. His conduct and professional approach to the mission were clearly exemplary and apparent to observers. His skills as an interceptor pilot enabled him to complete all his ADC intercept missions during the Canadian deployment with ease'?"

The Zoo has a lengthy email exchange with Hanson in which the Maryland journalism prof observes that "it is likely to me that the documents are fraudulent, but the best way to determine that would be to find out who was pushing them." Does this mean Hanson would accept fake documents from a source he considers credible? And did the professor conclude the documents are fraudulent before or after writing his Post piece? What is clear is that Hanson's piece offered absolutely no reason to think Hanson considered the documents fraudulent.

Do not miss Tigerhawk's take on a new Pew study of the impact of bloggers on the MSM's reporting agenda. Citing the Blogosphere's speed reaction to the Hanson piece, Tigerhawk offers this interesting assessment:

"I think this is as decent a metaphor as I have seen. Bloggers as a group combine two attributes -- the ability to assemble expertise on almost any topic at extreme speed, and the propensity to write at very high velocity. This combination of expertise and velocity comes at the cost, perhaps, of sobriety (there's the tavern metaphor) and deliberation. However, the competing tendency of bloggers to edit each other, also at high velocity, limits the potential damage of errors of fact."