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January 15, 2005


In a somewhat misguided reaction to the twin financial scandals currently roiling the Net's opinion pool (the pay-for-play opinions of Armstrong Williams on the one hand, and the Howard Dean hiring of bloggers on the other, for those of you who spent last week on a desert island), Jeffrey Dubner of The American Prospect has written and taken a purity oath for bloggers and journalists. It's proved fairly popular, though bloggers being bloggers it gets tweaked a bit now and then.

I swear that I have never taken money -- whether directly nor indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

There are even more restrictive ones, such as this one from a person who has apparently never used the US Postal system.

I swear that I have never taken money or received services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

The problem with the oath as I see it is two-fold. One, as Functional Ambivalent points out, there's nothing keeping a dishonest blogger or journalist from taking the pledge and then ignoring it. Also, though this is a bit of a niggle on my part, there's nothing in the pledge that states "Nor will I ever do so in the future," a dodge I can guarantee will be used if a blogger who does take the pledge today becomes embroiled in some future version of the Kos/Armstrong Williams controversy.

Second, it's typical media self-centeredness, one of the few qualities of the mainstream media that many bloggers are perfectly happy to embrace. The oath attempts to reassure the reader that the author is trustworthy, rather than teaching that everything a person encounters in the media should be viewed with a jaundiced eye.

What the blogosphere needs isn't a pledge, it's a warning.

Caution! Readers should assume upon encountering this site that the author has been financially reimbursed by interested parties for the production of the words therein. If what the author has written favors one political party or another, the reader should consider that said party greased the author's palm as a matter of course in return for the favorable light in which they have been cast.

Should the author appear favorably disposed towards a family member, relative, or friend, the reader should assume that the individual mentioned either paid for or rendered equivalent service to the author in return for said mention. Should the author not be favorably disposed to the individual in question, the reader should assume that an enemy of the subject did the same.

In the absence of any other evidence, the reader should regard the author's works in the same light as the personal ads in the Singles Seeking Singles section of the National Enquirer--though to be fair, the reader should also hold this attitude while reading or viewing all other media products, up to and including network and cable newscasts, movie and television documentaries, newspapers, magazines, fortune cookies, astrology charts, infomercials, commercials and road signs.

Purity oaths may make a person feel all warm and cuddly inside, but they do nothing when it comes to sharpening the critical faculties of media consumers--something that is, frankly, desperately needed, as well as far more important than wrestling with one another over the relative pristineness of souls that are all charcoal gray to begin with.

Update: Anna of NcFocus points out that her pledge--which I poked fun at above--is in regard to services she would have received in exchange for service she would have performed in her as a blogger/jourmalist. I misread it, probably because I was in such a rush to make a joke about it. My bad.

Posted by Bigwig at January 15, 2005 11:40 AM | TrackBack
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A very good piece, Bigwig. A we live our lives, we acquire bias,even though it can be almost imperceptible. It would be well if readers - especially on the net - kept their BS detectors firmly in the "on" position.

Unfortunately - for academia as well as for general intelligence - a lot of people don't even question the expertise, bias or truthfulness of net sources.

A lot of times I've shied away from commenting on a big expose because jumping on it did not seem like the right thing to do. Often, those very stories have been debunked within a day or two.

The internet should make us more - not less - cautious about information.

Posted by: Scorpio at January 15, 2005 02:51 PM

I'm with Scorpio on that. I've also ignored a number of 'big news' items because they didn't seem quite right.

Btw. I tried to trackback you on this one but it doesn't seem to have gone through.

Posted by: Kathy K at January 15, 2005 08:16 PM

"There are even more restrictive ones, such as this one from a person who has apparently never used the US Postal system."

and here I thought I was the only one who ever shot my mouth off without reading to the end of the sentence...which ends with "in exchange for any service performed in my job as a [whatever]."

it's true that I have received services from the P.O., but not in exchange for saying anything nice about them.

"nothing keeping a dishonest blogger or journalist from taking the pledge and then ignoring it."

are you the one I had this argument with, over at Ed Cone's?
if so: sorry, I won it. Look up two words in your wikipedia: "heuristic" and "accountability". Then look up "Karen Ryan" and "I did nothing wrong".
or not...

"Also, though this is a bit of a niggle on my part, there's nothing in the pledge that states "Nor will I ever do so in the future,""

Good point. Part of the pledge should be "if I start doing so in future, I will disclose it forthwith"
I will add it, forthwith. Or maybe tomorrow.

(just for the record - we are so grovelingly unpopular that we are grateful for the link. thank you.)

Posted by: Anna at January 22, 2005 02:30 AM

My bad. That'll teach me to skim. Not that I'll stop,of course. There's
something about a computer screen that begs the eye to slide.

And no, I don't think I was the person you got in an argment with at Ed's.
I visit, but I rarely it ever comment.

Posted by: bigwig at January 22, 2005 08:48 AM
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