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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ex-CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg compares blogs to CB radio and to ticks on a dog

I was fully prepared to lather myself up into a full-blown rant over ex-CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg's provocative op-ed entitled "Blogging As Typing, Not Journalism."  But after re-reading his piece a couple of times, I'm only half lathered, and half bemused. Mr. Engberg is a self-described "retired mainstream media ('MSM') journalist — and thus a double-dinosaur." His op-ed certainly shows that even old-media dinosaurs can snark it up with the best bloggers, however, and it's a lively read. His lede:

As the election campaign unfolded, operators of some of the internet’s politics-oriented blogs, no doubt high on the perfume of many "hits" and their own developing sense of community, envisioned a future when they would diminish then replace the traditional media as the nation’s primary source of political news and commentary....

Big plans and big claims are to be expected from folks — pajama-clad or not — who are dabbling with new technology and new modalities of public expression.... But I worked on a school paper when I was a kid and I owned a CB radio when I lived in Texas. And what I saw in the blogosphere on Nov. 2 was more reminiscent of that school paper or a "Breaker, breaker 19" gabfest on CB than anything approaching journalism.

Let's give Mr. Engberg a pass on his CB faux pas — any self-respecting Texas CB user would know that's supposed to be "Breaker one-nine," but perhaps he's the victim of an editor who over-zealously applied some stylebook rules and accidentally garbled the CB jargon.  Ditto for Mr. Engberg's op-ed's headline — "keyboarding" being the current word I think he was looking for, as my sixteen-year-old son recently corrected me when I asked him whether he was benefiting much from his "typing class."


I must, however, give Mr. Engberg credit for picking an easy target of blogospheric hubris (Andrew Sullivan) for quotes to set up his straw man, and then for choosing an excellent factual example (election coverage and, in particular, the promulgation of badly misleading exit poll leaks) to knock the strawman back down.  I don't know of any serious person, however, much less a serious and respected blogger — including Andrew Sullivan (whom I think Mr. Engberg has quoted out of context) — who expects bloggers to wholly "replace the traditional media as the nation’s primary source of political news."  Diminish, yes; augment and supplement, absolutely.  But not replace.  That's just rhetorical overkill.

As a trial lawyer, my particular profession gives me a considerably more potent set of tools to develop factual information than Mr. Engberg or his mainstream media colleagues can even dream of — chief among them the ability to subpoena witnesses, compel their production of documentary and other types of evidence, and cross-examine them in front of a videographer and court reporter, on penalty of going to jail for contempt of court if they refuse to cooperate, or to prison for perjury if they deliberately lie. But although my professional experience and training certainly aid and influence my blogging substance and style, nevertheless, when I'm blogging, I'm pursuing an avocation, a hobby. As a blogger, I'm keenly aware not only that I have to leave the pointy parts of my professional toolbox behind, but also that I lack the access that politicians and other newsmakers routinely — eagerly — grant to professional journalists. BeldarBlog can (and did) rant and rave and thunder about Sen. Kerry's stonewalling on his military records; Sen. Kerry can (and did) ignore me. And since I must doff my pajamas and pursue my day job from time to time, and lack the financial and logistical resources to hang around "the action" (wherever that may be for a given story), I'm pretty much dependent on other sources — sometimes other bloggers, sometimes a non-media knowledgeable professional, but yes, mostly members of the mainstream media — to gather the facts and quotes that can't be found online.

But there are abundant recent examples of bloggers offering news analysis who themselves have "PhD-style expertise" that professional journalists lack. The lawyer-bloggers —  including yours truly —  who helped expose CBS News' Rathergate fraud, for example, deal with document authentication (and other experts in that particular field), chain of custody, and bias on a day-to-day basis. Other bloggers brought their own substantial technical expertise on computer fonts and printing to bear as well. I respectfully submit that in writing an op-ed about the just-past election season without ever mentioning that tawdry episode, Mr. Engberg has shown that he has brontosaurus-sized testicles — and mole-like vision. 

Likewise, when it comes to doing "background" factual research, savvy bloggers using Google (and for some of us, Lexis/Nexis and other online databases) have found quotes and other pertinent facts that mainstream media reporters flat out missed and sometimes — for example, in the cases of Sen. Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" seared memories, or his Belodeau Eulogy (both from the Congressional Record) — shamefully continued to largely ignore.

Commentary, of course, is another matter altogether, and Mr. Engberg badly errs in lumping both it and news analysis in with news reporting. It's not a coincidence that Glenn Reynolds' blog is called "InstaPundit" instead of "InstaReporter." And the election season just past has proved in spades that new media (blogs, talk radio, cable TV) have already dramatically "diminish[ed] ... the traditional media as the nation’s primary source of political ... commentary." Walter Cronkite could almost single-handedly prompt a reshaping of American public opinion about the Vietnam War when he changed, and expressed, his own opinion after the Tet Offensive. But no mainstream media source — nor all of them put together — will ever have that much practical power again. If Mr. Engberg doesn't recognize that, he's not just a "double-dinosaur," or even a fossil — he's the Piltdown Man.


I agree with quite a bit of what Mr. Engberg wrote about the blogosphere's propagation of misleading exit poll data. He writes, for example, that

[w]hile out on the campaign trail covering candidates, my own network’s political unit would not even give me exit poll information on election days because it was thought to be too tricky for a common reporter to comprehend. If you are standing in the main election night studio when your network’s polling experts start discussing the significance of a particular state poll, you the reporter will hear about three words out of one hundred that you will understand. These polls occur in the realm of statistics and probability. They require PhD-style expertise to understand. The people who analyze them for news organizations, like the legendary Warren Mitofsky and Martin Plissner at CBS News — have trade associations like doctors do to certify their work.

But as he himself points out (while seeming to miss the point), the folks at Slate.com who contributed to the spread of misleading exit poll information on Nov. 2 actually are professional journalists. And it's a safe bet that the ultimate sources of the raw exit poll data leaked to the amateur bloggers Mr. Engberg criticized are almost certainly also professional journalists. Mr. Engberg retired two years ago; it's a pity, then, that he's already forgotten the absolute dog's breakfast his own network and the rest of the mainstream media made of their over-reliance on exit poll data in the 2000 election, when their premature and inaccurate projections and flip-flops almost certainly influenced hundreds of thousands of votes. Apparently Mr. Engberg has retired now to a subterranean bunker in lovely Palmetto, Florida, and he's forgotten all about the shattered glass house (a/k/a Black Rock) from which he previously plied his profession.


Thus, I can't take too much serious offense at Mr. Engberg's snarky hyperbole when he concludes:

The public is now assaulted by news and pretend-news from many directions, thanks to the now infamous "information superhighway." But the ability to transmit words, we learned during the Citizens Band radio fad of the 70’s, does not mean that any knowledge is being passed along. One of the verdicts rendered by election night 2004 is that, given their lack of expertise, standards and, yes, humility, the chances of the bloggers replacing mainstream journalism are about as good as the parasite replacing the dog it fastens on.

My CB radio actually did pass along quite a bit of useful knowledge back in the 1970s — mostly about speed trap locations — and I never imagined that I was Edward R. Murrow when I used it. Nor do I mistake myself for Dan Rather now that I'm blogging. I'd actually much rather be compared to a flea or a tick, and my own loyal and well-tempered dog deserves better than being compared to Dan Rather.

Posted by Beldar at 09:23 PM in Mainstream Media, Weblogs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Ex-CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg compares blogs to CB radio and to ticks on a dog and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» The Thursday Morning Politics Roundup from Notes from the (Legal) Underground

Tracked on Nov 11, 2004 6:26:31 AM


(1) Jerry made the following comment | Nov 9, 2004 9:36:25 PM | Permalink

Well, this POV may be valid. But in the absence of actual journalism, typing may have to do.

(2) Tau made the following comment | Nov 9, 2004 9:47:21 PM | Permalink

Well Beldar, it seems the denizens of 'dino-media' have been roused by the blogosphere...Ah--democracy in action--I love it!

(3) Charlie made the following comment | Nov 9, 2004 11:03:18 PM | Permalink

Thanks again for another great analysis piece. I must say that the Rathergate incident did cause me to become a voracious blog reader, and your site is one of my favorites.

As a parent of a future lawyer (applying to law schools now) I apprciate that you continue to show me that not all lawyers are slime (which of course I knew before).

(4) Thomas J. Jackson made the following comment | Nov 9, 2004 11:43:57 PM | Permalink

Great article. Any comparison between the MSM and blogs is insulting and demeaning to bloggers. This election demonstrated cooncretely how completely the MSM has sold its soul and abandoned any pretense of professionalism, not to mention integrity.

(5) Whigfarmer made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 12:12:09 AM | Permalink

An interesting thing I have noticed is that ethical bloggers always try to give factual information backed up by several links to their sources. When MSM uses anonymous sources the reader has no way to verify what was said or speculated and therefore has to trust in the reporter or editor that the information is truly factual, bloggers never have that luxury. I really belive that bloggers (especialy good ones like Beldar) do a great service in keeping the MSM honest, or at least pointing out when they are not. Rathergate is a great example.
Thanks. Whigfarmer.

(6) Assistant Village Idiot made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 7:52:19 AM | Permalink

Reporters are still superior at getting the news. That's not the fun part, however. What the blogosphere is taking from them is the cool stuff, where you get to tell everyone what it means (or at least might mean). In this aspect of the job the online community has rapidly shown itself to be far superior. The MSM guys are being sent back to be newsbeat or cub reporters and they don't like it.

(7) Warrior made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 8:42:20 AM | Permalink

I remember watching (briefly) CNN at 12 noon the day AFTER the election. They were still calling it close and agonizing over provisional ballots in Ohio. No, Beldar is absolutely right. The MSM have shown themselves for what they are - partisan harpies with little self-restraint and no integrity. When W was being grilled at his post-election news conference about what he intended to do to heal the nation's "division", he rightly suggested that the MSM had contributed to it for fun and profit. Immediately afterwards, Prima Donna Jennings comes on and proclaims, "I think what the President meant was, you can't always get your own way in a nation with a free press." Even with practically his entire viewership having just watched and heard the President's words, Jennings has the unmitigated gall to give his sophomoric and self-righteous spin to them. Talk about hubris. What people have to realize is that these people are not experts on anything, except perhaps blowdrying techniques. Their job is simply to report the news. We really don't need their Manhatten cocktail circuit drivel to interpret what we see. It's just like liberal judges rewriting the Constitution. It's not written in hieroglyphics, we can read it and understand it just fine. We certainly don't need a bunch J-school graduates interpreting the news of the day for us. Keep up the good work Beldar.

(8) PKillur made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 10:34:35 AM | Permalink

Yeah, sure. That's why most journalists now have their own blogs. Take for example the very lefty cracknut site dailykos.com, run by Markos Moulitsas. This guy has a degree in journalism, and to my knowledge, has contracted pieces out to The Guardian. Now, in my eyes, that's like contracting something out to the Weekly World News. However, he did a lot of really hard work to denigrate his country in whose army he served in a foreign newspaper. I won't say that it's without merit, I will say it is without a lot of merit.

However, much like talk radio has kept the MSM (MainStream Media) in check, the lefty controlled majority now has to at least think twice before publishing. Now, much like many conservative writers, speakers, businessmen before them (them being the MSM left), they are not without accountability. Now they are grumpy, that once again, they see much of their hedged bets being blown to bits by us "pajama-cladden fruitcakes". It's amazing to me how many people have asked me if I blog in my PJ's. I think I might just to fit in their little brain.

So, I salute you Beldar, and salute us all who are striving to hold people in MSM accountable and trustworthy. At times I feel like I might perhaps need a typewriter in Montana, but blogging is obviously making a dent.

(9) SemiPundit made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 10:53:12 AM | Permalink

I live in the same town as Instapundit, who is practically unknown among the general public here. Once in a while there will be an article about him in the News-Sentinel, and occasionally he will be mentioned in a TV news item. As far as I know, his most substantial appearance was on one of the local TV stations throughout election night. The first time I heard of him was when Brian Lamb (CSPAN, Washington Journal) spoke with him by phone on the program about a year and a half ago.

My work puts me in contact with a lot of people, and the subject of politics and social issues comes up often. I only rarely encounter anyone who has the remotest idea of what a blog is, and when I do, it is always a young person in his or her mid-twenties, who is internet-savvy, and has little or no interest in politics.

(10) SemiPundit made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 11:00:59 AM | Permalink


How does one tell the difference between a conservative and a liberal judge? Do we need judges at all if their only function is to look up a punishment on a chart?

Also, I would bet that more people listen to Peter Jennings and evaluate what he has said than do those who listen to Brit Hume.

(11) Allan Yackey made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 11:30:43 AM | Permalink

For Semi Pundit

There was a poll taken of the MSM that asked how many of the participants personally knew someone who was openly gay. Virtually all said yes. Another question asked how many of them knew personally someone who called themselves a "Born Again Christian". Only a tiny portion answered yes to that. I would point you to the study, but I have lost track of it.

Depending on how you count, gays are somewhere between 5% and 15% of the population. Various counts put right wing Christians at anywhere from 20% to 40% of the population. If you don't know one of either of these two groups it is hard to write with much insight about one.

The point I am making is that you only know the people you know. I am a Viet Nam Veteran who served in Viet Nam in 1967-1968, (one of John Kerry's worst nighmares during this election).

Unlike you, almost all the people I know who are aware of the Blogs are people my age, largely veterans. A few of my professional contacts (not veterans), also in my age group are even left wingers, whom I have sent to DailyKOS as a site that they would like.

I became aware of the BLOGS during the election cycle after being sent to rathergate.com via a Swift Boat Veteran search. I have shared my discovery with everyone I know from coast to coast.

I also count myself as one of the people who now get virtually all of my first news reports from the BLOGS or related sites.

I find myself generally 24 to 48 hours ahead of the MSM reporting.

The MSM is reacting in fear to this medium, because there is much here for them to fear. If these BLOGS were really comparable to CB radio they would not find it necessary to say so. When was the last time anyone in the MSM made a comment about the irrelevance of CB?

(12) Warrior made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 12:09:47 PM | Permalink

Semi Pundit

Do you have a point in any of that mess?

(13) Lee made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 12:39:31 PM | Permalink

What does the blogosphere mean to the future of societal knowledge?
Bloggers as a mass have the ability of a "hive mind" to rapidly research arcane information which doesn't fit in the MSM's news cycle. The virtual fact-checking population means that we are more likely to have the truth available to all who are interested in knowing it.
On the other hand, although bloggers can uncover information that is already published in some form or another, they do not have the ability to find "new" knowledge. They will not replace the individual researcher or team of scientists who are looking for a cure for AIDS or an application for stem cell research. More troublesome, they may actually confuse the picture. An example was the kerfuffle concerning anthrax vaccinations in the military back before 9/11. Many who were active in opposing the protection of our troops were getting their facts from the web and scientific journals such as Vanity Fair. The problem was there was no quality control on the information available. All that was necessary was a compelling story that coincided with the paranoid mind-set of the reader. And all you needed to publish as an "expert" was a dial-up connection.
In the end, the MSM will continue to exist because we need someone to "put the ball in play." They will find or create the stories that we discuss. It will fall to the blogs to keep them honest. And the combination of the two is good for all of us.

(14) Michael B made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 1:10:45 PM | Permalink

After reading Engberg's piece I felt something that is more akin to pity than being challenged to any type of serious response. The strawman arguments, the pious arrogations and pronouncements, the tone that implied he is somehow deigning to even broach the subject. Puhleez. Who is he attempting to convince, his readers? Or is this an effort to reassure himself and gratify stalwarts among the MSM's hierarchies?

Engberg betrays a Wylie E. Coyote persona striking out at blogdom's Road Runners. Serious criticism can, obviously enough, be leveled at the product produced by both journalists and bloggers. But such criticism, if it is in fact to be taken seriously, requires discernment and the application of critical criteria that is thoughtfully explicated both within the milieu of media itself and the broader social/political fabric. Engberg's failure exemplifies an unserious and largely reactionary performance, one that is almost prissy.

By contrast, a Martha Gellhorn quote provides some perspective: "Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader."

(15) Ann_Observer made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 3:51:36 PM | Permalink

Engberg's laudatory mention of Warren Mitofsky is deliciously ironic, since it was Mitofsky's company, Mitofsky International, that was chiefly responsible for the incompetent exit-polling that caused such confusion on election day.

One wonders how long it's going to be before this front page disappears from public view, leaving behind only its grin-provoking Google cache version.

(16) heather made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 3:55:11 PM | Permalink

I am waiting for a serious study of the MSM's effect on the 2004 election - the misinformation propagated by those organizations (eg, on events on the ground in Iraq, as opposed to Abu Ghraib and body counting; the Swift Boat allegations; the fact that Bush DID sign the form 180, while Kerry has not; and the issue of jobs; and etc and etc) must have made several percentage points of difference in the Election.

This is serious business, the MSM being in the tank for the Democrats. In Canada, for example, the MSM (in our case in the tank for the Liberal Party) never made any issue over the fact that Prime Minister Chretien and his family and friends had a personal, financial stake in keeping Saddam Hussein in power (it was, in fact, all about oil!) - thus making it OK for most Canadians when we did not support the US on this issue (and we will be real surprised when there is blowback on this, given that some 85% of our exports go to the USA)

The other real problem with this Journalism school education is that reporters have little real knowledge of important issues. The MSM is outrageously ignorant of the simplest of military facts, to the point that it swallowed that story of American soldiers raping Middle eastern women - when the 'proof' for the story was a pornographic video in which the 'soldiers' were NOT in the correct American uniforms. The "milblogs" are rife with such observations - the MSM simply does not know what it is talking about, and therefore misses whole aspects of the War.

One can only hope that more and more people take to the Web for their information - yes, INFORMATION, from people who know that they are talking about.
eg, Beldar's knowledge of the law; Horserace Blog's information as to making a political campaign work; Belmont Club's military knowledge; Hugh Hewitt's and Power Line's interest in the South Dakota race; Roger Simon's "coffee shop" of commentators... let alone referrals to the international world via Instapundit and Europundit!!
It is a wonderful world, now, and may it continue to bloom!

(17) lyle made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 5:49:31 PM | Permalink

The vast worldwide network of blogs, expanding and deepening every day, moves more information more efficiently than any system yet devised. The humble fact that blogs started as online diaries shouldn't blind us to their world-changing potential.

No buildings, no parking lots, no bureaucracy, no business staff, no advertising and circulation departments, no printing presses, no labor unions, no trucks, no licenses, no fees... just information and the talent to process it.

Original reporting remains in the sometimes-adequate hands of the mainstream media. It will stay that way forever - if the blogosphere stops developing this very minute.

Why should it? It is an embryonic system, growing exponentially. Is it impossible to imagine that someday there will be internet news services subscribed to and subsidized by the blogosphere?

We are at the beginning of something entirely new in human history. Let irrelevancies like Enberg imagine that the current limitations are permanent and irreducible, if it makes him feel smug. I believe he will be proved utterly, laughably wrong.

(18) Deb S. made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 8:44:24 PM | Permalink

I remember CB radio as well. As a city kid, I used it mostly for entertainment-type purposes and to keep up with friends that lived too far to walk over and visit. It also had it's useful function when most of us joined up with REACT.

I would just like to say this one little thing - Eric *who?* Never heard of him.

(19) matador made the following comment | Nov 10, 2004 10:10:05 PM | Permalink

In the unlikely event that Mr. Engberg may read BeldarBlog, I shall pose a few direct questions for him:

1. Why do you think most people look to multiple sources to acquire news and analysis?

2. When time is short and a news consumer wants to get some dependable insights, which outlet will he/she likely turn to FIRST, the one that has repeatedly demonstrated a high degree of sound reporting and analysis or the one who’s message is almost always suspect and often even insults the intelligence of the consumer with Baghdad-Bob-style assertions?

3. And lastly, is journalism a true profession? That is, like law, accounting, and the medical fields? I mean, in the name of protecting consumers, unscrupulous doctors convicted of malpractice generally lose their license to practice medicine for life; don’t they?

Now, tell me, what fate do unscrupulous “journalists” face? Don’t they usually go on to become anchors of the network’s nightly news?

(20) craig mclaughlin made the following comment | Nov 11, 2004 12:03:55 AM | Permalink

Eric Engberg is a horse's ass. I'm glad he's retired, we can do without him.


(21) Dimsdale made the following comment | Nov 11, 2004 8:16:40 AM | Permalink

The beauty of the blogs, right or wrong, liberal or conservative, written by experts or not, is that it will train readers to actually examine the news rather (no pun intended..well, okay maybe!) than swallow it whole.

Much as the nation and the press learned the fine art of parsing a sentence from Clinton, we are learning to be skeptics of the MSM, examining their perspective, their own history or reporting, checking other sources, and comparing one's opinion with that of others in a world wide discussion.

The only advatages the press has is access to events and people, and a public broadcast forum. We have essentially taken away the latter, and are gaining on the former, simply by total mass (someone is usually at the "scene of the crime" no matter where it occurs).

The MSM is not filled with experts, as Rathergate demonstrated. I would pit my Ph.D. or Beldar's law degree against Rather's God knows what degree. I would say that either of us would be more practiced at rooting out real data. And they are just as quick to put out unfounded yet sensational stories as Beldar pointed out and as the "Iraqi explosives" story showed.

Most importantly, the Swiftee controversy demonstrated that their partisanship will permit them to selectively suppress stories and emphasize others as suits their bias. This the the BIG story, and certainly, the beginning of their demise.

(22) SemiPundit made the following comment | Nov 11, 2004 10:11:16 AM | Permalink


I was relating my personal experience. No doubt in time they will become more prominent, aggregating in clusters around mainstream bloggers.

On the matter of judges, shouldn't we be presenting a better example before a world we are trying to transform than the concept of assuring how a judge will rule before he or she sits down to hear a case?

Hasn't a judge failed when he or she acquires a reputation of leaning either way?

Also, I'm in over my head on this point, but I think I would like to see Supreme Court judges somehow chosen by the people through popular vote from a pool of, say, federal judges, who have satisfied a minimum number of years of experience with a clear, open, public record. Hopefully, the extremists would become known and would fall off the ends of the spectrum.

(23) Rhod made the following comment | Nov 11, 2004 4:06:18 PM | Permalink

Heather has made an excellent side point. Information is not the same is knowledge, in the same way that opinions don't always rise to the level of belief.

Engberg seems to be making the case that the information imparted by the MSM is so complete and flawless that it leaps into the realm of settled fact (knowledge in other words)...and that impertinent bloggers are mired in subjectivity, amateurism and dependence.

What more do we need to know about Engberg? Craig is right. Engberg's a horse's ass.

(24) David Foster made the following comment | Nov 12, 2004 4:51:29 PM | Permalink

The "CB radio" comparison is an interesting one.

About 7 years ago, a former CEO of AT&T compared the Internet to CB radio (or maybe it was ham radio.) I don't think it was meant as a compliment.

AT&T's market cap today is a lot lower than it was then....

(25) drjohn made the following comment | Nov 13, 2004 11:15:48 AM | Permalink

That would be the same Eric Engberg who, in a serious "report," actually called a Newt Gingrich proposal "goofy" within his broadcast. He is one who never hestitated to editorialize on-air.

Engberg is a moron who hates that the light of truth is now shining on him.

(26) Rhod made the following comment | Nov 14, 2004 6:57:20 AM | Permalink

David Foster is right. CB radio types are thought of as the cultural descendants of kids who built crystal sets. Stereotypes. Friendless, skinny and otherwise unattractive young men with no social lives.

(27) Ann_Observer made the following comment | Nov 16, 2004 6:51:38 PM | Permalink

Here's a follow-up link to a story which will amplify my earlier post on this thread about Warren Mitofsky's exit-polling incompetence:

More Mitofsky mischief

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