Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Of Looking Glasses, Lynch Mobs and Eason Jordan 

Well, Jordan took himself out of the picture and the speculations and recriminations flew. Quite a few have openly wondered why he resigned, given that there was no clear commonly agreed upon smoking gun driving him to do so. Others looked upon the event as just another sign of the latest manifestation of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, aka the Lynch Mob of Conservative Blogs.

As to why he left, I believe I can sum that up in two words: plausible deniability. In the intelligence gathering business (and I'm sure it has its analog in law) there is considerable effort spent in establishing cover stories that impart plausible deniability. "No, I wasn't taking pictures of the security measures of your secret facility, I'm just a tourist who is a military nut and have taken pictures all over the world. Just look at my home page where I've got pictures of UK, US, Russian facilities and dozens of others." As many have pointed out, the most likely effect of continued coverage and speculation on Eason's comments was the eventual compelled release of the Davos video. The main thing missing at the time he resigned was a major news organization officially making the request and, as much as the MSM often sticks up for itself, he simply could not rely upon perpetual stone walling. He rode it out waiting to see if it would blow over, but it did not. By removing himself from the issue it becomes old news, and reduces the likelihood anyone with muscle will start asking for that tape. Without the video evidence he maintains his plausible deniability, always able to peddle his story that he was mischaracterized, misquoted and generally abused by the "conservative blogs." Give him a year or two, but I would almost be willing to bet a paycheck that he'll be back in the news business sometime in the future. After all, his future employer has only to reference this plausible deniability in order to "give him the benefit of the doubt" while most likely that damning video will have been long since lost, erased or destroyed.

This silliness about the Lynch Mob of Conservative Blogs (LMCB for short) is as much sour grapes as it is fear. I will largely ignore the hyperbolic terminology, as Eugene Volokh decisively devastates this meme by ably pointing out that in these terms Jordan's resignation constitutes a suicide rather than a lynching since the LMCB really exercised no power at all over either CNN or Jordan. When Steve Lovelady of the CJR Daily refers to the "salivating morons who make up the lynch mob" or responds to Will Collier's commenters in his "take my ball and go home" best by characterizing his foray in the land of the LMCB as "sort of like Alice slipping through the mirror into Wonderland. At first, all you see seems strange and wondrous, upside down, backwards, inside out" though, understanding the emotional motivation behind such vitriol and contempt requires understanding the target. While most have looked upon this reaction as self-preservation fear ("who will the LMCB come after next?"), I see more an issue of frustration and, frankly, envy.

Without a doubt, the high water mark for American Journalism with a capital "J" came in the early '70s, when the pen proved mightier than the sword and the press toppled a man who would be king. The only evidence required that the press itself recognizes this is the glee with which they append the suffix "-gate" onto any silly word possible to elevate even the most minor of incidents to the pantheon of scandals to rival Tammany Hall. Currently, though, they've been busy chasing their own white rabbits and collectively coming up empty. On the face of it, the very idea of a major and respected news organization using obviously fabricated documents to support a story, regardless of how much they believe it, is scandalous behavior of which all journalists should innately be interested. That they, themselves, have invested so much personal and emotional capital into the same story, though, blinds them to the fact that they're just chasing rabbits.

Every single article I've seen bemoaning the way either Rather or Jordan was treated make a point of specifically highlighting that it was "conservative" blogs. Is this because "liberal" blogs do not engage in pointing out what they see as significant issues? Especially in light of the blog raping given former Talon reporter Gannon at the hand of well-known and "respected" left-leaning blogs, anyone familiar with the blogosphere would dismiss this assertion out of hand. Perhaps a reason for this emphasis that is closer to the truth relies upon a critical evaluation of the effectiveness of such criticism. While mainstream "liberal" blogs are still trotting the worn-out 911 conspiracy theories or lamenting Bush's National Guard service or performing the great public service of forcing a conservative "journalist" to give up the pen by dragging his private life through the public mud, the mainstream "conservative" blogs are identifying issue of substance that do not rely upon baseless innuendo or anonymous stories or fanciful scenarios to support the known facts. Perhaps the threat felt by many MSM reporters and pundits is that the LMCB is doing a better job of processing, assimilating and integrating multiple sources of data into a single logical picture and deriving sound conclusions and follow-up questions than they are either capable of doing or willing to do.

In Dance of Electricity, Laurie Anderson tells a charming story about Nikolai Tesla and Thomas Edison and their rivalry. Edison was the prototypical American inventor, disheveled, often dirty and sweaty, always with his sleeves rolled up working hard. Tesla, on the other hand, was always proper, reporting to work in formal atire, long coat, tie, top hat and gloves. According to Anderson, the main crux of Edison's enmity with Tesla derived not only from Tesla's dress, but more so from the fact that he was able to invent so many wonderful things while dressed that way. Draw your own parallel.

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