Friday, January 28, 2005

Clash of the 'Titans'

I'm scoring the brawl between bloggers Eric Alterman and Jeff Jarvis. The point of conflict is Alterman's suggestion that there are ties between pro-American Iraqi bloggers and the CIA, made while he was a guest on MSNBC Wednesday night. While speculative, the charge that the government might consider greasing Iraqi palms to shill for the occupation is not beyond bounds. Though, it would have been nice of Alterman to have backed up his comment with specific facts. He did not.

Jarvis, also a guest on the broadcast, took great offense at Alterman's suggestion. After all, it was Jarvis who has written glowing accounts about Ali and Mohammed -- the two bloggers at issue -- and their occupation-friendly blog, IraqThe Model. He called Alterman's comment "irresponsible and dangerous." Later in a posting on Buzzmachine, Jarvis wrote: "That's the worst of tabloid, tin-hat, anti-intellectual, ammoral [sic] rumor-mongering. That's Eric, the rumor monger. What he did was, let me repeat, not journalistic."

I'm Shocked, Shocked!
Jarvis has fashioned himself as the patron saint of Iraqi Bloggers, recently skewering the New York Times' Sarah Boxer for an admittedly sloppy piece on the same two pro-American Iraqi bloggers. In the article Boxer speculates that the blogging duo were CIA operatives. A deeply shocked Jarvis called Boxer's article, "irresponsible, sloppy, lazy, inaccurate, incomplete, exploitive, biased, and -- worst of all -- dangerous, putting the lives of its subjects at risk."

Through it all, Jarvis fails to weigh the consequences of another event: Prior to Boxer's story, the bloggers in question received an invitation to come to America and meet President Bush at the White House -- a friendly encounter that was widely covered in mainstream press -- which likely did much more to imperil the pair than anything written in The New York Times.

Back to Alterman. I've been in the same room when someone questioned his journalistic chops -- something that seems to occur every time I mention Eric's name -- and his response was not pretty. My theory: the shrillness of the defense is proportional to the accuracy of the charge. Alterman's reporting seems too closely in step with the DNC agenda now being championed by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, where -- surprise, surprise -- he serves as a Senior Fellow.

On the other hand, Jarvis seems to fancy himself as the fresh prince of blogdom, routinely boasting of his various media appearances via his best-selling blog Buzzmachine.

Blogger Pundits Grapple for Dominance
Too often, mainstream media draw from a shallow well (a short list of bloggers which includes Jarvis, Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox, Andrew Sullivan and Alterman) when booking talent for their ubiquitous talking-pundit formats. They've been called upon so frequently that the intense heat of the kliegs is starting to swell some heads.

As evidence of this, take note of the grappling between these two 'Titans' of the ring. I'm scoring it as Jarvis: 3, Alterman: 2 -- using the FILA standard for Greco-Roman wrestling, of course.

4 comments:

Tom said...

What's interesting is that I wonder what the next "salvo" will bring - one could argue that Jarvis' reach is "bigger" than Alterman's, even though I would assume more people are checking out his columns than Jarvis' blog. (Though I could be totally off on this)

I think you may have found part of the issue going on. Just as big media chooses the same pundits to be on their "roll call" on a regular basis - which probably has some merits - they are choosing the same batch of folks from the world of blogs, unfortunately creating more of these de facto "battles" in their programming. So while it's good for ratings, I guess, does it really add any progress to the building blocks between the media and the bloggers, or are we in a just another brick in the wall situation?

Matthew said...
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Matthew said...
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Matthew said...

Hello Tim,

Good post on the Jeff Jarvis Alter-cation.

I like the way you provide some context as to how the actors find themselves confronting each other on national TV.

I would like to offer a criticism, however.

I think you may be somewhat missing the point of Jeff's outrage. You write:

While speculative, the charge that the government might consider greasing Iraqi palms to shill for the occupation is not beyond bounds. Though, it would have been nice of Alterman to have backed up his comment with specific facts.

It's not so much that Alterman doesn't use specific evidence, although that is definitely a big part of Jeff's critique. And it's not that the charge is beyond bounds, exactly.

The charge is not beyond bounds in the sense that it is impossible, implausible, or even not very likely. It is beyond bounds in the specific sense that making such a charge publicly in a high-profile venue such as the New York Times or an MSNBC show is dangerous to the objects of such speculation.

How dangerous is it?

One of Jeff's readers left a comment that makes a good analogy:

A cigarette in a car is unlikely to cause a fire. A cigarette thrown out the window is unlikely to cause a fire. A cigarette thrown out the window when the wind is blowing is unlikely to cause a fire. A cigarette thrown out the window when the wind is blowing and the forests are parched because it hasn't rained in months has a pretty damn good chance of burning many square miles to ashes...

Posted by keeping it simple (for simple minds) at January 27, 2005 10:15 P.M.

The source of Jeff's outrage is that speculation about CIA plants, even if it could be or actually is true, could result in good, brave Iraqi bloggers getting kidnapped, tortured, and killed. For Alterman to speculate publicly despite the danger is a grave mistake, an irrresponsibly selfish attack on bloggers' security.

You point out that meeting with President Bush was even more dangerous for Iraq the Model. I'm not sure that that is true, but assuming that it is true, it does not justify Mr. Alterman's speculation.

Iraq the Model met with the president entirely voluntarily. It was a decision they had to make, and their judgement was that the benefits outweighed the risks so much as to make the audience with the president worthwhile.

Mr. Alterman, on the other hand, did something that was more or less gratuitous, for his own benefit, and potentially to the grave detriment of worthy people he has never met. I condemn it as a most shameful act.