An open letter to David Carr at the New York Times


I have some thoughts about how the media have been covering the blogs lately that I’d like to share with you (and with my readers, hence the public format). First, I should make it clear up front that I understand you are not the author of, nor are you personally responsible for, any of the articles and/or media trends discussed below. However, since I don’t really have a lot of contacts at the Times, and since I’ve known you for awhile now, going back to your days in what we quaintly refer to as the “alternative press” — and more importantly, since blogs and New Media are at least part of your beat at the Times — I’m directing this toward you in the hope that you’ll be receptive to it.

To make a long story short, the mainstream corporate media in general, as well as the Times in particular, are missing the real story about the blogs lately, as everyone focuses on all the awful hate and anger emanating from the left, and specifically, how it’s being directed toward poor ol’ Joe Lieberman. It is true that language has been used on the left wing blogs that would not be appropriate for a polite tea party, or a church social, and I would certainly like to extend my sincere apologies, on behalf of my friends in the liberal blogging community, to those of your colleagues whose response has been a heartfelt “Mercy me!” as they fan themselves and clutch their pearls and wonder what the world is coming to. (Mostly what someone like, say, David Brooks is responding to in this context is probably the phrase “Rape Gurney Joe,” which I believe was coined by Jane Hamsher in response to Joe Lieberman’s suggestion that rape victims unable to receive appropriate medical treatment at a Catholic hospital should simply take a “short hike” to another facility. Personally, I’m more offended by the insensitivity of the Senator toward victims of a brutal and dehumanizing crime — but maybe that’s just me.)

The thing is, David, that while your colleagues focus on the occasional swear word or internecine pissing match on left wing blogs, they mostly ignore what’s happening on the right half of the blogosphere. And it’s a fever swamp over there, it really is. Accusations of treason, made in utter seriousness, are routinely levelled against journalists who have the audacity to report the facts, and against Democratic Senators who have the temerity to oppose the president. To their credit, Newsweek’s Blogwatch column this week notes a prominent right-wing blogger responding to the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision with the comment “Five ropes, five robes, five trees. Some assembly required.” (A similar sentiment, aimed at journalists, can be found on the site of a t-shirt company that frequently advertises on right-wing blogs.) Here’s one question: if such rhetoric can be laughed off by your colleagues as mere hyperbole — particularly when they are frequently the suggested target — why on earth do they get so worked up over a few allegedly foul-mouthed liberals?

One example I’m sure you’re aware of: when the Travel Section of the New York Times published a puff piece about Cheney and Rumsfeld’s vacation homes, the right-wing blogosphere concluded that it was a deliberate attempt to aid an Al Qaeda assassination plot. Starting out from this delusional premise, they decided that the only appropriate response was to seek out and publicize the addresses and home phone numbers of New York Times reporters in retaliation — and started with the unfortunate freelance photographer who shot the article’s accompanying photos with Secret Service permission.

These are not people upon whom reality exerts an undue influence. It would be laughable, if not for the very real possibility that some nutcase out there will take it all a little too seriously.

So how about it? How about writing the story that really needs to be written — the story of major right wing blogs, and the unhinged rhetoric and implied threats they either routinely employ or uncritically link to? I’m sure Glenn Greenwald would be happy to talk to you — he’s been covering this lately with the single-minded focus of a former trial attorney (which he is). For example:

The extremist and increasingly deranged rhetoric and tactics found in the right-wing blogosphere — not only among obscure bloggers but promoted and disseminated by its most-read and influential bloggers — is, indeed, “a very common disease.” When it becomes commonplace to hurl accusations of treason against domestic political opponents, or when calls for imprisonment and/or hanging of journalists and political leaders become the daily fare — all of which is true for the pro-Bush blogosphere — those are serious developments. And they merit discussion and examination by the media.

Instead of yet another story on whether Kos diarists are arguing with each other more than before or whether liberal bloggers curse too much, let us read about the extremist rhetoric, vicious character smears, and deliberate incitement to violence that has become the staple of the largest pro-Bush blogs –Malkin, Powerline, Instapundit and LGF — along with the bloggers whom they tirelessly promote. Hundreds of thousands of people each day, including pundits and television news producers, are reading this material. The journalistic value in examining it and reporting on it ought to be self-evident.

…LGF has a post today entitled “The Media are the Enemy” — a title which really summarizes one of the principal points made on a daily basis by the blogs maintained by Powerline, Instapundit, and Malkin. Today’s treasonous act is that a NYT photographer took photographs of a member of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in combat with American forces. Apparently, taking a photograph of someone engaged in a war is the same as aiding and abetting them and being on their side and rooting for them to win. Hence, photographers who take photographs of the enemy are themselves “the enemy.”

LGF then links to Jeff Goldstein, who — in a post entitled “Sleeping with the Enemy” — declares: “Looks like the NYT has decided to go with neutrality over objectivity—essentially severing ties with their own country in the service of what they believe is a higher journalistic good: Pulitzer Prizes.” He then thanks Michelle Malkin for the tip.Goldstein’s post is then predictably followed by comments such as this:

It is clear (as it has been) that the NYT’s has chosen their side. They should suffer the consequences thereof. I just hope they do.

And this:

Talk of treason is out of fashion for some reason, but I could see some photographer hanged without losing too much sleep over it.

And this:

As i said over at LGF, pity the reporter didn’t catch any return fire.

That’s just from the first few comments I looked at following Goldstein’s Treason Accusation of The Day against the NYT. Undoubtedly, there are scores more like them as his comment thread “evolves.”

That’s just the briefest taste, David. Media Matters has more here. Glenn has more too (this is a particularly good rundown of some appallingly lazy media coverage of the blogs).

As I tried to point out in this cartoon, I don’t know why the mainstream media continue to not only give these right-wing bloggers a pass, but in many cases to actively provide them with a larger platform — because these people despise you. They think you’re the enemy. “Rope, Tree, Journalist” — you think that’s just a wacky harmless joke? They want to publish your home addresses — one right wing blog has published satellite photos of Arthur Sulzburger’s home, for chrissakes. You think they’re encouraging their readers to stop by with unexpected gifts, or maybe pizza and beer? They’re immature children lashing out with threats of implied violence that they probably don’t really ever expect to see carried out — but I’m sure you know as well as I do how many crazy people are out there online. Somebody has to shine a light on this before it gets out of hand, because otherwise, one of these days, we’re going to have another Alan Berg on our hands.

When liberals criticize the media, we do so because we want you to do your job better. When right-wingers criticize the media, they do so because they want to destroy you.

See the difference?

So that’s my pitch. Your colleagues have written enough stories about how left wingers use swear words. It’s time for somebody smart to take a real, in-depth look at how major right wing blogs, some with circulations that are probably higher than you enjoyed as an altweekly editor, are actively inciting violence against politicians and judges and journalists — and to call bullshit on it.

So again: how about it?

Your friend,

Tom Tomorrow