Bloggers don’t get much respect. At least, until you get linked to by Drudge Report, or take down a US Senate candidate’s campaign. It’s taken Bearing Drift a decade to gain the reputation we’ve gained as Virginia’s leading conservative blog, and we’ve had plenty of missteps along the way. One thing we have tried to do, though, is lead the way when it comes to ethical and responsible blogging.
Note I said “blogging” here and not “reporting.” We’re not reporters. Political blogging is not generally a journalistic endeavor. We’re a mashup of commentary, news, analysis, with some snark thrown in for good measure. But, at a minimum, if we put something on this site, we want our readers to know that we’ve done our best to make sure that it’s accurate, that we’ve evaluated “pitched” stories from sources before we’ve run with them, that our posts are about something that is actually newsworthy or worth commenting on, and often – on the more controversial stuff – we’ve discussed things internally before we’ve chosen to run a story.
We are certainly not perfect here, but we’ve made it a priority to correct our mistakes and to take our lumps.
Unfortunately, we are a rarity in the Virginia blogosphere. On both sides of the aisle, you’ll find some pretty shoddy blogging. Since they don’t listen to me anyway, I won’t bother pointing out how bad some of the stuff you see on the Democratic sites is. But what I find frustrating is when Republican blogs engage in irresponsible blogging and laugh off the criticism. Yet it’s exactly that kind of behavior that destroys the credibility of blogs and bloggers everywhere.
Take for example this piece over at the Bull Elephant (they can thank me later for quadrupling their readership). Jeanine Martin lives in Lovettsville, in western Loudoun County near West Virginia. Not Prince William. She is not involved in Prince William politics, so whatever information she is getting is second hand, at best. The post here she’s written essentially says, in the headline, that seven members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors have been implicated in corruption. How have they been implicated? By an anonymous tip to an FBI “Tip Line” email address made almost a month ago. Where did she get the email from? Apparently she got it from the comments of another blog, as the formatting is exactly the same and the comment was made two days before her post.
A blogger wrote an email accusing politicians of corruption, put it in the comments on another blog, and that became a blog post with an “important story.” Call the Pulitzer committee! It’s Watergate Part II!
And, what’s worse, the tip just includes a rundown of complaints about a number of PWC supervisors that other bloggers have been making for nearly three years now. These same complaints have resulted in no charges to any of the folks named.
This is a joke, right? It reminds me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.” Where’s the news? Well, there isn’t any. Unless somebody getting up one morning and sending a complaint to the FBI anonymously has become news, in which case we’re going to flooded with Bigfoot sightings and complaints about somebody stealing Jell-o from the break room.
And when I called them on it in the comments, I’m told that the FBI has confirmed they are “ramping up public corruption investigations in Northern Virginia” (which is true, but has nothing to do with political corruption – see press release, which references well known stories about an ID ring and theft of public property from warehouses), and then they say that other bloggers have also confirmed the FBI’s investigation, which is odd considering that the FBI rarely comments on on-going investigations, even to acknowledge whether they even exist. On the FBI page itself linked it read “The FBI does not comment on all current, ongoing cases.”
A few hours later, there’s an “update” to the story. That “update” goes to a story at Virginia Virtucon. The Virginia Virtucon post is even worse. Not only is it written by pseudonymous blogger, that post quotes another pseudonymous blogger (or bloggers), who hasn’t written on this aspect of the “story” on their own site (and even says, in a recent post, that much of what they are complaining about “is technically legal”). It also tries to link the claims made against the PWC supervisors to the arrest and resignation of Charlotte, North Carolina’s mayor, which has nothing to do with the PWC claims. And then the Virtucon post links BACK to the Bull Elephant piece on the anonymous tip.
Anonymous claims written by anonymous people, quoted by others with no actual knowledge, posting allegations of illegal activity against elected officials and claiming unconfirmed investigations. That’s what we have here. And it’s been going on for three years on a variety of sites. And in an attempt to lend credibility, each of the blogs links back and forth to the other over and over again to make it look like there’s some fire.
When some bloggers engage in this kind of behavior, short on facts and long on speculation and innuendo, all bloggers get painted as being irresponsible, rumor reporting muckrakers.
If the folks at the Bull Elephant and the other blogs want to be taken seriously, they need to start naming names, citing actual sources, actually talking to someone at the FBI, and some of them need to start posting under their real names so people can evaluate their credibility. This kind of thing harms the entire blogosphere, especially when they treat valid criticism of their bad blogging like it’s a joke.
I have no idea whether any of what they’re claiming is true. But regardless of whether the allegations are true, the way these blogs have reported these stories is simply irresponsible.