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Serious errors by the mainstream media are breaches of trust

Posner calls serious errors by the mainstream media as breaches of trust:

Inaccuracies in blogs are less pernicious than inaccuracies in the mainstream media even apart from the superior opportunity for prompt correction of bloggers' errors. The reason is that bloggers are known not to employ fact checkers or editors; there is no pretense that they have the resources to eliminate all errors in their postings. The mainstream media, in contrast, represent to their public that they endeavor assiduously to prevent errors from finding their way into articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to repose trust in them. Bloggers do not. That is why serious errors by the mainstream media are played as scandals; they are not merely mistakes--they are breaches of trust.

I couldn't agree more!
Update: Derek Rose disagrees as he thinks that bloggers should be responsible for what they write and should be held accountable. My response is that bloggers present themselves as a network. The debate conducted by bloggers through the network of posts linking to each other as a whole makes more sense than a single post on its own. This is unlike newspaper articles which generally stand on their own and the sources cited (case in point, the Newsweek's article about Kuran abuse). This is an important difference. I haven't seen many cases where inaccuracies in any newspaper article were exposed by another newspaper. But in case of bloggers it is routine to comment and debate among each other.


derek rose

Asish, I don't think it's rare for newspapers to take on their rivals. Here's a story from today's Times taking on an article in the Independent, a U.K. paper.

More importantly: I've been in the newspaper business for 10 years, and I don't think anyone in the industry would assert that we have "the resources to eliminate all errors" (an absurd claim). To err is human, and all that. What we try to do is be conscientious, be responsible, and be very careful about allegations that would damage someone's reputation. (Despite all that, though, errors are still going to slip by)

But why shouldn't we expect that same due diligence from bloggers -- at least from bloggers who are taking on serious topics, and who endeavor to be taken seriously?

You write that for bloggers, "it is routine to comment and debate among each other." But what difference does that make? Why should that excuse sloppiness, carelessness, or scurrilous allegations not supported by the evidence?

Every day, it seems like, there's some blogger making allegations against a member of the mainstream press. Some of them are true and justified, but others are grossly irresponsible -- and sometimes very very serious, as with the charges that an AP photographer was guilty of "felony murder" in Iraq, or that Giuliana Sgrena faked her own kidnapping.

Maybe the people making these kind of charges agree with you, Posner and Glenn Reynolds -- that errors by bloggers aren't all that serious. That as long as they issue a retraction when proven wrong, they have license to make any kind of charge they want.

But what's happened with Mary Mapes, Jeff Gannon/Guckert and Eason Jordan shows that blogs have a lot of power and influence. And with that power comes responsibility, as Spidey would say.

As a reporter, I think bloggers have every right to hold big media accountable. Newspapers like the Times are big, powerful institutions, and they need watchdogs. But it's pathetic that so many bloggers don't seem to realize that accountability is a two-way street.


If Judge Posner did that, someone would ask him to address Clinton's sale of the W-88 nuclear warhead technology to China, and Clinton's ordering of the sale to them, by Raytheon, of the guidance technology to enable the Chinese to send the W-88's back. And then, we'd lose the whole thread.


Can you please send me the screen shot of the page that you received when trying to comment on Becker-Posner blog site? I would like to give it publicity if authentic!


I am the commenter to whom Richard Posner has responded on his site. Contrary to Posner's assertion that "We 'enable' (as the blogging expression has it) all comments; we engage in no censorship," I am now blocked from posting to But because Posner publicly made a personal response to me, here is my reply would have been were I not now permenantly censored from civilly posting on his public blog.

Judge Posner:

According to you, "The comment takes Becker and me to task for not responding to all the comments (on our postings) that are criticial of us. By thus not responding, we are said by the commenter to be shutting off debate."

For a man of your intelligence, this must be purposely inaccurate.

First, you conflated two distinct arguments I made. One is that sometimes when you reply to reader postings you ignore comments that you find irrelevant (i.e., you do not correct the reader). Another is that you did not reply to "The Sexual Revolution" postings at all (rendering impossible correction of reader errors). If your theory is that blogs correct erroneous impressions more often and more quickly than newspapers, it seems odd that there are specific instances on your own blog disproving this theory. Neither of these two arguments has anything to do with reader/poster criticism of you. They deal only with webmaster failure to correct errors.

Second, I neither said that you nor Becker stifled your critics. I stated that you shut down a debate on "The Sexual Revolution." That is true. Anonymous commenters were blocked from contributing to that topic once the quantity of anonymous malicious comments became overwhelming. The "debate" that was shut down was between Poster A to the site and Poster B to the site -- not between Posner and the Posters.

Third, I never suggested that you should respond to all of the comments on your site. By contrast, I suggested that you should have responded to at least one comment regarding "The Sexual Revolution" post. There was no reply to ANY of the comments, unlike every other topic that is archived on your blog.

Fourth, you also ignore the other side of your claims. Despite noting that bloggers have a "superior opportunity" for correction of errors, you fail to discuss the fact that bloggers are often in the business of partisan advocacy. Many of the errors and omissions are not in fact true errors, but attempts to spread disinformation, misinformation, and libel. While it is true that bloggers do not claim to be a professional class -- as journalists do -- bloggers do in many cases claim to have superior access to specialized knowledge and less corporatist bias. That is an explicit claim of trustworthiness also.

Fifth, your statement that "There is nothing to prevent the commenter fronm [sic] creating his own "anti-Becker-Posner" blog devoted to correcting our mistakes and omissions!" seems rather beside the point. Why would you, a self-termed "public intellectual" alongside a Nobel-prize winner, start a blog unless you sought freely to discuss ideas? Why would you insist that a dissenter exit the Becker-Posner community rather than remain and exercise voice? This attack is rather like telling an antiwar protester to pack his bags and flee to Canada. Besides, setting up an anti-Becker-Posner site would be disrespectful; intellectually challenging a public intellectual one respects in a public forum, I had thought, is quite certainly not.


It's too bad Judge Posner failed to address mistakes that the Bush Administration has committed and call them breaches of the public trust.

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