Sunday, August 19, 2007

Josh Marshall Doesn't Fact Check? Who Checked That "Fact?"

I am posting this because a lot of folks who follow Political Animal might not have seen the latest development in the back story to Kevin Drum's post entitled "Facts On The Ground." If you haven't you are either going to be shocked or you are going to be laughing your head off.

Let me recap. This morning the Los Angeles Times published the Op-Ed of a man named Michael Skube. Mr. Skube claims to be a journalism school professor. That fact is not really substantiated. And as will become apparent, one has to wonder if somebody shouldn't check.

The Op-Ed entitled Blogs: All the noise that fits examined the possibility that because of the blogs we are suffering from entirely too much information.

Bloggers now are everywhere among us, and no one asks if we don't need more full-throated advocacy on the Internet. The blogosphere is the loudest corner of the Internet, noisy with disputation, manifesto-like postings and an unbecoming hatred of enemies real and imagined.

And to think most bloggers are doing all this on the side. "No man but a blockhead," the stubbornly sensible Samuel Johnson said, "ever wrote but for money." Yet here are people, whole brigades of them, happy to write for free. And not just write. Many of the most active bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, Joshua Micah Marshall and the contributors to the Huffington Post -- are insistent partisans in political debate. Some reject the label "journalist," associating it with what they contemptuously call MSM (mainstream media); just as many, if not more, consider themselves a new kind of "citizen journalist" dedicated to broader democratization.
He complains loudly that bloggers are claiming all of the "rights" of journalists with few of the obligations.

Ok, I can see why some print journalism school professor might insist that bloggers aspire to traditional journalistic standards. We should be expected to check our facts. We should be expected to be careful not to jump to conclusions. We should try to learn something about the topic at hand before we write. If we want to be treated like journalists, even citizen journalists, we need to act like journalists.

Kevin pointed out that
these four examples, the first three are all professional writers and the fourth is a venture-funded site with a paid staff. If you're going to extol "thorough fact-checking and verification" over the blogosphere's "potpourri of opinion," you really ought to fact-check your assertions first. Otherwise you're just making things too easy for us.
A nice day was spent over at Political Animal examining all the various aspects of the post. It generated one of the better comment threads in months. A good time was had by all.

While we spent an afternoon and evening exchanging opinions, Josh Marshall was engaged in journalism. Guess what he was told by Mr. Skube in an email.
"I didn't put your name into the piece and haven't spent any time on your site. So to that extent I'm happy to give you benefit of the doubt ..."
Josh "followed up noting my surprise that he didn't seem to remember what he'd written in his own opinion column on the very day it appeared and that in any case it cut against his credibility somewhat that he wrote about sites he admits he'd never read."

Skube replied
"I said I did not refer to you in the original. Your name was inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples ... "
Think about what Skube, who fancies himself the very model of a modern journalism professor, just said. It is bad enough that he allowed an editor to insert unsubstantiated "facts" in a piece critical of bloggers for not fact checking, but he admits that he doesn't know much about Josh Marshall. How can anybody claiming to be a journalism professor in 2007 not know about the pioneering work Josh Marshall is doing at TPM? Marshall and his crew are on the cutting edge of journalism in the post-television age.

For all you journalism professors out there who haven't heard of Josh Marshall, go over to his "blog" and take a look. You will find a newspaper sans newsprint. I will grant you that Marshall writes from a political point of view, but I would submit that historically many, if not most, newspapers were written from a particular political point of view. They still are. They are all held to same journalistic standards, standards Marshall and his team of professional journalists clearly try to meet.

So there you have it, Skube is a fact free opinionated ignoramus who, without checking his facts, wrote an op-ed calling his betters fact free opinionated ignoramuses who don't check their facts.

The alternative story is that he allowed an equally ignorant editor at the LA Times to insert "facts" into his piece without doing the most cursory examination of the inserted "facts."

What a waste of ink. I hope his dean calls him in for a chat tomorrow. Maybe he and the dean could spend some time reading the PA comments thread. They might learn something.