This is the obligatory post on Joseph Rago’s column in the Wall Street Journal today, in which he borrows a phrase about newspapers to dismiss blogs as “written by fools to be read by imbeciles.” Rago defends the MSM on the grounds that its ”institutional culture… screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness.” Which is ironic, because his piece lacks two of the three.
1. Originality. Rago hasn’t said anything about the state of the political blogosphere that Matt Welch didn’t already cover in his April 2006 article “Farewell to Warblogging.” And Welch actually knows whereof he speaks.
2. Expertise. If Rago knows enough about blogs to condemn them as sweepingly as he has here, then it isn’t evident from reading his piece. No one who’s familiar with the commentary of Ed Morrissey, the reporting of Michael Yon or the humor of Scott Ott could write that bloggers “promote intellectual disingenuousness” and ”produce minimal reportage,” “with irony present only in its conspicuous absence” without admitting a few exceptions for these guys and a few dozen other blogospheric talents. And once those exceptions are allowed, doesn’t the whole exercise of bashing blogs become kind of pointless? As Mark Coffey at Decision 08 points out, “Are most blogs awful? Indeed, they are. So is most of what passes for entertainment on, say, television. But the price is right, and there are some jewels among the dreck.”
In almost any human activity there are a few who excel and a lot who are average and a few who are pretty terrible. The best bloggers are the ones who seek to both complement and counter the MSM by adding reporting where it’s lacking, checking reporting when it doesn’t add up or just offering an interesting take on the news. Others act as editors of their own online journals, linking to a wide variety of newspaper articles, magazine pieces, studies, reports, and other blog entries. This is not an attempt at MSM-replacement. It’s just a new kind of media activity.
Rago follows a depressingly well-worn path: He starts from the (false) premise that bloggers are out to replace the MSM, points out their inability to do what the MSM does, throws in some sneering riffs about how bad most of them are, and concludes that the MSM, despite all of its faults, is far superior.
He’s wrong. Do we really have to explain why? Again?
UPDATE: Another annoying aspect of Rago’s piece: His intentionally insulting tone ensured a reaction that would appear to support his “mob” thesis. Witness the pile-on.