Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Blogging is Not Journalism

The last time I wrote about one of Larisa Alexandrovna's posts to her Huffington Post blog, I called the post "fascinating and provocative." The text of my own post made it quickly clear that my connotation for both of these adjectives was positive. This morning she has a post that probably deserves the same adjectives, but this time around my own connotation is unabashedly negative. Basically, she has put together an argument that an opinion piece that Alan Dershowitz wrote for The Wall Street Journal reveals that he endorses the practices of torture that the Nazis applied to members of the French Resistance during the Second World War. It has not taken long for Alexandrovna's post to be greeted by a flood of supportive comments, almost all of which indicate that she has incited a crowd to hang Alan Dershowitz from a sour apple tree (right next to Henry Drummond, for those who are familiar with the film of Inherit the Wind).

The only good news to come out of this is that Alexandrovna was kind enough to provide a hyperlink to the Dershowitz piece. This source text reveals that the major sin that Dershowitz committed is his failure to recognize the reading habits that have emerged in the world the Internet has made: He has written a long and complex analysis of the issue of torture. This is the sort of text that brings out at least two seriously bad reading habits that appear to receive far little attention than they used to in the days before we tried to use the blogosphere as a source of information:

  1. The confusion of analysis and advocacy. The best part of the Dershowitz piece is the way in which he tried to "review the bidding," taking stock of all those different points of view that are so incompatible with each other. One cannot read such a summary and assume that he subscribes to any of those points of view. The nature of his own opinion is only revealed by the entirety of his text.
  2. The assumption that one can make one's point by cherry-picking a few sentences. This is actually a corollary of the first point. Anyone who reads the entire Dershowitz piece will quickly see how far out of context the "evidence" that Alexandrovna provides to warrant her claim of his endorsement of Nazi torture actually is.

What I find particularly disturbing about Alexandrovna's shoddy logic is that it appears to have been invoked to rouse once again the rabble against the threat of anti-Semitism. I say "once again" because exactly the same practices of bad reading have been applied by those who have hurled charges of anti-Semitism against Mearsheimer and Walt for their analysis of Israel's lobbying practices (with a focus on the activities of AIPAC), without bothering to read the actual analysis. At a time when just about any effort to engage in reflective political discourse is blown out of the water by deliberately inflammatory rhetoric, Dershowitz has tried to pour oil on troubled waters; and Alexandrovna's response was to ignite the oil.

This takes us to why I chose my title. One of the first comments to respond to her post (submitted by "ScooterLiddy") recommended that she submit her post to The New York Times. Perhaps this would be a good way to see if, in the wake of its many recent blunders, the Times is still capable of the editorial practices we used to associate with quality journalism. Any editor worth his/her salt would send this draft back to the author for rewrite, generously marking out all its defects far more thoroughly than I have done here. Meanwhile, since I have neither affiliation nor influence with the Times, I might offer the modest proposal that The Huffington Post change its subtitle text from "Top News and Opinion" to "Caveat Lector!"

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