I have a confession to make. I am not a blog virgin. My first blog was with a site called True/ Slant. I was one of a handful of people who helped start a site that was considered by many to be “ground-breaking” both in the diversity of voices presented and the freedom given to writers to say what they wanted in a way that they wanted.
True/Slant was eventually successful in terms of attracting readers and advertisers. But its biggest success happened this past summer when Forbes bought it. Apparently Forbes has an aging audience of readers and so they thought they’d blog-i-fy themselves since nothing says “old” like journalism and nothing says “young” like blogs.
All seemed like a match made in heaven. Forbes even offered many of us True/Slanters a chance to blog for them. And True/Slant bloggers offered Forbes content that was a lot less stodgy.
But then something went wrong. Forbes decided to publish a cover story by uber-conservative Dinesh D’Souza, and the story has put Forbes and the True/Slant folks into the middle of a firestorm that brings into focus the difficulty of maintaining any claim to “objective reporting” in an age when many journalists are willing to wear their opinions on their sleeve.
D’Souza’s piece was a paranoid polemic that accused President Obama of being an enemy to the free-market because of anti-colonial beliefs inherited from his decidedly foreign father. According to D’Souza:
“It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father’s position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America’s power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe’s resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet. …
Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father’s dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.”
Newt Gingrich described the piece as “incredibly insightful” but over at the Columbia Journalism Review it was ranked “the worst kind of smear journalism.”
But what is most interesting to me as a blogger is this piece is being blamed by mainstream media on the True/Slant folks, even though it was not a blog piece, but a front-page story and thus went through the usual channels of journalistic editorial review.
Why would journalists blame bloggers for “smear journalism”? The answer is simple. Because American journalism (unlike much of journalism elsewhere) has long tried to claim that it is just reporting the facts in as objective a manner as possible. This 20th-century corrective to the “yellow journalism” of the 19th century is the real problem, not blogs.
If D’Souza wasn’t supposed to be representing the facts without a point of view, then his piece could have been read for what it is: neo-conservative and neo-liberal anxieties over the collapse of the American market. D’Souza’s “facts” may have been accurate or inaccurate, but the story he constructed from them was anything but objective. And the truth is, no stories are objective. Just the very act of deciding to write about certain things and not others is the result of ideological and editorial and corporate decisions about what matters and what doesn’t and what will sell and what won’t.
The “problem” with American journalism is not the blogs nor the bloggers, but the claim by many journalists that they write the truth and nothing but the truth. D’Souza’s theories are not the truth, but rather the truth of Neoliberalism’s insecurity. Despite what post-publication fact-checking might reveal, there is no way to fact check an ideological claim (that Obama is motivated by anti-colonialism).
But even if D’Souza’s ideological claim wasn’t as obvious, even it were “just” a report on “drugs’ or “crime” or “gay marriage,” all stories represent a world view. The sooner we know the world view of the people we’re reading, the sooner something like information exchange among engaged citizens can happen.