How blogs are shattering the arrogance of the Columbia Journalism Review and why that's good for journalism
Joseph Newcomer had never heard of the Columbia Journalism Review, the magazine of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, before friends told him to check out what CJR said about him in the January/February 2005 issue. Newcomer, a Microsoft programming teacher who has studied typesetting for decades, suspected the hubbub was about his recent assertions that CBS's 1972-73 memos on President Bush's National Guard service were fakes.
Sure enough, "Blog-Gate," by Corey Pein, a CJR assistant editor, said Newcomer was a "self-proclaimed" expert whose r/sum/ "seemed" impressive. His conclusions were "bold bordering on hyperbolic." Newcomer's font analysis, posted on his Web site, www.flounder. com., was "long and technical, discouraging close examination."
Then, without asking Newcomer for help on those long, technical parts, Pein concluded that Newcomer's ability to replicate the CBS memos with Microsoft Word (not available in 1972) proved nothing. Blogs had not been instrumental in exposing CBS and, through it all, "liberals and their fellow travelers were outed like witches in Salem, while Bush's defenders forged ahead, their affinities and possible motives largely unexamined."
Newcomer, who voted for Sen. John Kerry in November, was baffled. When I spoke with him recently, he told me that The New Yorker once called his wife, a botanical illustration expert, to ask whether a certain plant could grow in a certain area, because a fiction writer had mentioned it in a piece. That was fact-checking. CJR "did not do any fact-checking," he says. Pein did spend weeks researching his story, even traveling to Texas to report it. He wrote that CBS screwed up. But the suggestion that blogs were "guilty of many of the very same sins" that CBS committed, and that Newcomer did not know what he was talking about, set the blogosphere howling. More than 40,000 people read Pein's article the first week it was online (CJR's circulation is 22,000); CJR received over 100 letters. Many featured the same theme: "This was spin-doctoring, not media criticism," says Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the right-leaning Media Research Center. Pein received nasty letters noting his youth and his politics (he graduated from Washington's Evergreen State College, known for its lefty bent, in 2003).