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Accountable bloggers and journalists

[Note 1.5 hrs after posting this: Ethan Zuckerman has just put up a superb post on this topic. I suggest you read that instead of this.]

Jillian York of the Berkman Center explains the current confusion about the NY Times’ rather casual suggestion (in a blog post) , based on an accusation in a tweet from Omid Habibinia, that Hossein Derakhshan (aka Hoder) has been an agent for the Iranian government, basically ratting out pro-democracy bloggers. The NY Times has now gone meta on the accusation, saying it only reported it because it’s a sign of the discord and distrust, etc., etc. But it’s still a dangerous charge to propagate. Jillian wants to know why we’re blaming the NY Times blogger and not Habibinia.

I’ve got enough blame in my backpack for both. But I do think that since the NY Times trades on its credibility, it has a greater responsibility. When the NY Times reports a rumor, it not only amplifies the rumor, it inevitably adds credibility to it. That’s just the way it is, and, it’s also how the NY Times wants it.

(I wish I could track down the article I read today about the difficult the human brain has in unlearning bad info even after it’s been shown to be bad. The article talked about the increase in the belief that Iraq had WMDs after it was shown that it did not.)

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4 Responses to “Accountable bloggers and journalists”

  1. You and Ethan both make excellent points as to why more blame is owed Mackey…Realizing how much better Global Voices is doing at The Lede’s job (namely, choosing authors/bloggers who actually know something about the subject on which they’re espousing) has certainly strengthened my anger.

  2. I posted a longer response on Mr. Zuckerman’s blog, and won’t repeat my points here, but I want register this objection: that I think you have completely misread my post as a suggestion that I have endorsed what I called a “rumor,” and that you have wrongly stated that I tried to justify mentioning that an Iranian blogger had written about this rumor by then adding an explanation that it was only reported “because it’s a sign of the discord and distrust, etc., etc.” In fact the context in which I brought up the rumor about Mr. Derakhshan was that it was the kind of thing Iranian bloggers were saying to each other as fear and paranoia about the government set in. That is, I did not ‘go meta’ as part of a post-facto justification for blogging about this rumor — the original post mentioned the rumor as a sign of the paranoia and fear Iranian bloggers understandably feel these days. I’d add that the blog post was written not by “The Times” but by an individual blogger with a track record of responsible blogging. By reading only this one part of one long blog post about Iran, and attempting to explain it as an action taken by “The Times” you completely ignore the wider context of the work I have been doing to follow the debate and discussion on the Web about the election in Iran for weeks — and the blogging I have done on other matters in previous months and years. Hence you skip away from the efforts I’ve made, live on the Web, to filter and pass on information about Iran in real time on the blog, and any consideration of the issues involved in doing that on a news blog, and start talking about WMD in Iraq, something I had no role in.

  3. Simpler concern: I don’t see how the NYT reported “a rumor.” As I understand itm Habibinia’s Tweet is a fact, not a rumor, and if it was dealt with in context of charge/countercharge/discord/etc it seems wholly apporpriate.

  4. Robert, thanks for replying. And I appreciate your conversation with my friend Ethan Zuckerman at his blog, where I think you and he have aired the issues well.

    Four points in response.

    First, yes, my post ignored the context of the rest of your work. I didn’t intend to criticize anything except this one choice you made. I don’t see anything in what I posted that implies a wider criticism. If it’s there, it’s bad writing on my part and I apologize.

    Second, I echo Ethan’s recognition of the difficulty of trying to make sense of rapidly unfolding events occurring far away in a highly censored country. My disagreeing with your choice in this one case doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the difficulty of your task and your skill at accomplishing it.

    Third, I still think you’ve given credence to an accusation by repeating it, and that the logo at the top of your blog puts a heavier burden on you than it does on others. I agree with what you and Ethan seem to agree on — that this is uncharted territory and we’re all pretty much making it up as we go along — but in this case, I think you’re underestimating the claim on our credibility your logo both makes and trades on.

    Fourth, I agree that it was sloppy of me to refer to what you’ve written as “The NY Times … (in a blog post),” although, in my defense, the line between an institution and bloggers blogging under its logo is a smudgy one. I probably wouldn’t have said “The NY Times (in an op-ed),” so I shouldn’t have said the same about your blog. But I’m not even sure how you would have positioned the relationship. Uncharted territory.

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