Dave has been tracking the traditional media’s belated discovery of the blog phenomenon. He quotes FT as saying “With no editors to tame their writing, many of the ‘thinking’ bloggers have a
tendency to self-indulgence, ranting and wavering off track. Yet at their best,
bloggers bring a fresh, raw quality to their work. Ignoring, or ignorant of,
stultifying style guides, they aim to ‘tell it like it is.'”

This comment, in my opinion, demonstrates how threatened traditional journalists are feeling about the changing nature of information. And it’s not just about blogs, although blogs are a part of it — people today can bypass the vaunted metropolitan journalist and go straight to the source to get complete perspectives on any story. Why read FT’s opinions on Levantine politics when you can go straight to Haaretz and the Palestinian Authority websites? Unfortunately, the only thing of real value that the newspapers provide is the fact-gathering done by reporters pounding the pavement, and most papers don’t even do that for themselves anymore. In the past two decades, traditional media have shifted heavily to op-ed, without thinking too much about how to differentiate their opinoins as opposed to opinions from people who actually know something about the topics being covered.

And in fact, it seems that papers today are spending a lot of effort publishing opinions that are meant to bolster their own credibility. Just to prove the FT wrong about the supposed steadying influence of an editor, read this current piece from MSNBC. It’s certainly more putrid, confused, and insulting than anything I’ve read on blogs in the last seven days, and an editor approved it. In this article, Howard Fineman promises to give us an introduction to the complexities of middle-eastern politics, and then tells us nothing at all about the nuances. Levantine politics are undoubtedly complex, but Fineman doesn’t seem to be able to explain why, let alone explain much at all. The closest thing to a “complex nuance” that he mentions is the fact that most American presidents don’t get involved in the Middle East except when elections are not at risk. His other big revelation is that “But if [Bush] had known the region better, he would have realized that it was
unrealistic to expect Arabs and Muslims to separate the war on terrorism from the fight in Palestine.” Common sense would say that Bush (like anyone else) didn’t expect the Arabs and Muslims to separate the two issues, but he didn’t care. Common sense would also say that Bush is aware of the re-election risks of touching Middle-east issues, but he doesn’t care. In Fineman’s mind, only an ignoramus would ignore things like selfish re-election politics and appeasement or religious dictatorships when pursuing a policy.

Apart from the lame attempts by Fineman to be a Levantine scholar, he does offer some advice on why you should regard him as a credible source of opinions. The basic thesis of his article comes down to this: “Principled judgement is for simpletons, and the wise man understands that life is about ambiguity, equivocation, and duplicity.” This is really a lovely philosophy of life, because it takes all of the hard work out of getting chicks. All you need to do is find a position that seems self-evident to most people, and then say the opposite. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” becomes, “A foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of self-declared big minds”. In this spirit of knee-jerk “foolish inconsistency”, Michael Lerner is still yammering on with no coherent or consistent position on any of the issues that he promises to tackle. If ambiguity is intellectual, this guy is a genius.

And when you think about it, both the FT article and the Fineman tripe use the same thesis – “All y’all readin’ blogs and listenin’ to Bush must really appreciate the sincere, raw, down-home voices you hear. But when you have your fill of those plain-spoken simpletons, we know you’ll want to come back to be mystified by the powerful intellects of our paper.”