This morning my personal news-reading habits were hit by the full force of Internet speed, leaving me with a strong first-hand appreciation of "slow journalism." The episode began with the following item on Truthdig:
An unfortunate coincidence has emerged from the New Hampshire primary results that is at least worth noting, if only for the sake of trivia (or democracy): Hillary Clinton performed better, and Barack Obama worse, in counties where votes were counted using Diebold machines. Whether you call it sour grapes or citizen journalism, the Brad Blog has the details.
We have absolutely no idea how someone might have pulled something like this off, and we certainly don’t want to suggest that it is in the character of the candidate or her campaign to do so. The point is this: Voting machine security is essential to our democratic process, and remains a problem that has not been resolved.
As long as these devices have serious vulnerabilities, doubt is possible, and a healthy democracy cannot function effectively in the shadows.
This introduction was then followed by most of the Brad Blog post, which included two paragraphs marked as updates. By the time I read this, four comments had already been published, all full of righteous indignation at such a blatant affront to our democratic processes. However, I decided to click on the "Read More" link that follows any reproduced content on Truthdig before deciding whether or not to add my own voice to this crowd.
I was very glad I did this, because, while Brad's text had been reproduced almost in its entirety, the hyperlinks had been removed. Brad was actually reporting on what he had read at another source, Ben Moseley's blog, The Contrarian. I was particularly taken with Brad's praise of the responsibility with which Moseley made his case. Also, the formatting on Brad's own site made it clearer (to me at least) that the updates were Moseley's, rather than Brad's (although one could have realized this by a close reading of the Truthdig version). That sense of responsibility was affirmed in the cautious, yet critical, use of language in Moseley's conclusion to his second update:
Again, I'm not explicitly stating there has been fraud, but in a supposed democracy such as ours, skepticism is a virtue and necessity.
This was followed by a nice coda that Truthdig decided to omit (probably out of a decision to stick to the substance without dwelling on the style):
"In a supposed democracy such as ours, skepticism is a virtue and necessity."
Bless you, Mr. Moseley. For that, and for your good work on the numbers, you win the BRAD BLOG Patriot of the Week Award (if we had one.)
There are more folks pouring over the numbers, and we'll shout if we find anything else interesting. Though having ballots that were actually counted by someone, would be the most interesting thing of all.
All this left me with a desire to check out Moseley's original post. It was not that I did not trust Brad's excerpting but that, like Brad, I found that I was really enjoying reading his stuff and wanted more. It was only by doing this that I discovered that early this morning Moseley had dispatched a follow-up post with an irresistible title: "Final NH Democratic Primary Results Fraud Analysis Update: DEBUNCKED." Say it ain't so, Ben! True to the discipline of the political science student that he is in "real life," Ben continued to look at the numbers, comparing them against other sources, particularly the massive Web page of CNN exit polls broken down by all sorts of different demographic categories. This analysis led to an argument from which he could draw the following conclusion:
While I'm glad voters are interested in this and continue to be skeptical, it appears that their has been little evidence of fraud (at least on the Democratic side).
This drew a comment from Zee with an interesting beginning:
We'll see if Brad Blog front pages this.
Then we can see whether or not this subsequent analysis reflects back to Truthdig!
This all takes us back to the theme of "slow journalism" with which I began. Ever since I saw All The President's Men when it was first released, I have appreciated the extent to which the most important thing an editor can do is to ask, "Really?" in response to any copy handed to him/her. Moseley had enough discipline to put that question to himself (but not before he had released his first post). Brad, on the other hand, seems to prefer the world of the blogosphere to the world of journalism. Truthdig has at least some of its roots in journalistic tradition, though. However, this particular article was released in their "Ear to the Ground" department and can be taken as an account of "what is out there" with a caveat lector attached. At the very least, it was released with that disclaimer that the content could just as easily be sour grapes as "citizen journalism!"
My own coda is that this whole chain of events amounts to a good-news-bad-news story. The bad news is that Internet speed is still with us to enough of an extent that "citizen journalism" will continue to be a misnomer for the blogosphere. The good news is that the Internet allows us, as readers, to do more than beware; we can, as I have demonstrated in a previous post, actively follow up on what we read. If we cannot do it by tracking down hyperlinks, we can usually do it with currently available search tools. The Internet can inform us; all we need is "world enough and time" to make sure that the "information" really is signal, rather than noise!