Why the Rove story mattered

With blogs under scrutiny as a political force, faulty reporting invites the mainstream media to marginalize blogs and online journalism.

Published June 14, 2006 4:25PM (EDT)

Several readers have raised questions about War Room's focus on Truthout's Rove reporting, suggesting that we're in a "pissing contest" or some sort of "internecine" blogger feud. We understand why it may look that way from the outside, but we'd like to explain how it looks from here.

There are two reasons we've devoted as many words as we have to the Truthout reporting. First, we know that many of our readers are keenly interested in the Valerie Plame case. We also know that too-good-to-be-true stories like Truthout's report of Rove's supposed indictment spread like wildfire on message boards, in comments, on talk radio and in some blogs. We think it's both legitimate and appropriate to provide readers with the tools to assess the credibility of such reports -- especially when there are reasons to believe that they're not credible. A certain amount of what we do in War Room involves fact checking and press criticism, and our work on Truthout's reporting has been a subset, or at least a variation, of that.

Second, at the very moment that blogs are coming under scrutiny as a political force, the Truthout reports have all but invited the mainstream media to discredit blogs and online journalism more generally. The Wall Street Journal took the invitation when Truthout's story first appeared. The New York Times did it again Tuesday night, reporting in its Rove piece that "the liberal blogosphere" had been wrongly predicting "an imminent indictment, based in part on a recent report in Truthout.org." Neither hit was particularly fair; as we wrote when the Journal's story appeared, many liberal bloggers cast a wary eye at or steered clear of Truthout's "Rove indicted" story from the very beginning. And to its credit, the Times has now revised its story, substituting "liberal bloggers" for "the liberal blogosphere"; maybe an editor didn't like the word "blogosphere," or maybe someone realized that the blog community isn't quite as monolithic as "the liberal blogosphere" might suggest.

In any event, we'd submit that bloggers accomplish two things when we subject something like Truthout's reporting to the same sort of scrutiny we'd apply to the work of a Bob Woodward or Viveca Novak or Judy Miller or Elisabeth Bumiller: We make it clear that we expect just as much (or more) from Internet reporters as we do from their print counterparts, and we try to dispel (or at least not encourage) the false notion that bloggers and their readers are all conspiracy-theorizing know-nothings. As DailyKos' Markos Moulitsas Zuniga said Tuesday in a warning about quoting "crap internet sources" simply because they "write what you want to hear," the liberal blogs should aim to be "the reality-based community, not the 'make up your own reality' community."

All that having been said, it's unlikely that you'll see much more about this episode in War Room. We'll check back again if Truthout corrects or retracts its story -- or if it turns out to have been right! Otherwise, we think we've said everything that needs to be said about the issue for now. And that's a point on which we can probably all agree.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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