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Bad Behavior by CBS? Good Sign for Bloggers?

RatherBiased.com reports that

The owner of Nonviolence.org, Martin Kelley, said . . . 'Yesterday I got a call from a publicist for CBS News's 60 Minutes. They're running a story tonight on 'Deserters,' U.S. military personnel who have fled to Canada rather than serve in Iraq. She was requesting that I talk up the program on Nonviolence. In nine years of publishing the peace site, I can't remember ever getting a call from a publicist before. I've talked to reporters from major news networks and papers, and I've talked a booking agent or two to arranging appearances on radio shows, but never a publicist.

InstaPundit also links to this.

My first reaction: Sound slimy that a news outlet is trying to get people on one side of the aisle to talk up its news story. My second reaction: Why should this be slimy? They're trying to get more people to watch their story — which they presumably think is valuable and accurate — and of course they're e-mailing those people who seem inclined to promote it favorably rather than those who seem less inclined to promote it or more inclined to criticize. (Of course, it's possible they also tried to approach some conservative bloggers, too.)

My third reaction: It's pretty cool that some mainstream media publicists think enough of blogs that they want to promote their tens-of-millions-of-viewers broadcasts there. My fourth reaction: Three reactions are enough.

In the spirit of Orin's recent successful experiment with comments, I'll turn on comments for this thread. No, it's not something I'm likely to do more often. [But you just said that you're doing this because it has just been done. Doesn't that mean that once it's been done twice, you're likely to do it again.-ed. Nah, slippery slopes are just a myth, long debunked by serious scholars.] Nor do I promise to read all of them in a timely fashion, or edit them to remove trolls, spam, repetitions, folly, etc. I'm trusting in everyone's forbearance and politeness here, always a winning strategy in this, the best of all possible worlds.

Crime & Federalism (mail) (www):
I just received a couple of complimentary books directly related to my status as a blogger. Granted, they're not from Time Warner Press, but they're from a publisher we'd all recognize.

The whole RNC/DNC convention things, Rathergate, and law.com are brining bloggers legitimacy. Though I am surprised that MSM would want to legitimize blogs. It seems their intersts would be best preserved by keeping blogs on the outside.

Then again, there is a new generation (like me) that obtains all of its news from the internet. Maybe legitimizing bloggers is the type of marketing MSM should do to get folks like me watching 60 Minutes. Chances are, if I saw something mentioned at the VC, I'd at least check the program out.

I would like to have been at at the round table session when CBS was discussing whether to publicize their material to bloggers.
12.8.2004 6:28pm
Wwren (mail):
Wrong issue to experiment with.
12.8.2004 6:39pm
Jennifer (mail) (www):
I think the objection many bloggers have to the MSM bias is just that the MSM pretends it isn't there. If CBS would just admit that it is biased, people could make more informed choices about watching it, and understand that the reporting, while it may be factual, is coming from a particular slant. Along those lines, I don't see it as troubling when MSM promotes its reports on blogs. They don't have to do what the networks say, after all -- and while some bloggers will inevitably become network tools, others will still be free to criticize.

Unrelated: Keep nitpicking on Slate. They can handle it. The fun of blogging is that you can nitpick about whatever you are interested in nitpicking.
12.8.2004 6:40pm
Teresa (mail) (www):
On reading the opening, my first reaction was the same as yours. But on thinking it over, I suppose they have the right to advertise where they feel they will reach the most viewers. Blogs are just another medium to get the word out. Just because I don't like what they have to say, doesn't mean they can't say it.

Also, if they feel they will pick up more viewers at certain types of web sites, as opposed to others, that's certainly reasonable too. For instance they probably have certain radio stations and newspapers they will use to advertise, and others where it would make no sense to use advertising dollars. I really don't see a difference.

It is amazing though to think how much CBS has annoyed people with their biased reporting, that the first reaction is one of "oh how slimy".
12.8.2004 6:46pm
OrinKerr:
I suspect that in a few years the category "blogger" will no longer make sense, and maybe this is a step in that direction. At bottom, a blogger is someone who posts to a frequently-updated website. If lots of people visit your website and trust its content, a publicist should be interested in getting you to advertise their program regardless of whether you can be categorized as a "blogger." What we know today as the blogosphere may end up in 10 years being just the world of online news analysis and commentary.
12.8.2004 7:08pm
david blue (mail) (www):
"Nah, slippery slopes are just a myth, long debunked by serious scholars"

Well, maybe not "long" debunked, but certainly "at length"!
12.8.2004 7:12pm
Paul Sturm (mail):
If it is substantially similar to "astroturfing", then it should be opposed for the same reasons one might oppose astroturfing.

If the various bloggers say, "so-and-so from CBS asked me to mention such-and-such story tonight," then everything is out in the open and on the up-and-up.

If the publicists are hoping/expecting/implying that the various bloggers ought to misrepresent the origins of the opinions expressed, then such behaviour should rightly be opposed.
12.8.2004 8:18pm
NahnCee:
What this says to me is that like BBC, NY Times, LA Times, and all the alphabet news programs, 60 Minutes is acknowledging a drastic decline in viewership. AND, like the Democratic Party, they think if they just get the (same old) message out to enough people, their ratings will come back up again. I'm positively positive this will not work, their ratings will stay low and down, but at least they're trying New Stuff. Also remember that Dan Rather is soon to return to 60 Minutes, and wouldn't it be a hoot if his first story was an expose of blogging, and why the blogosphere was all wrong about him?
12.8.2004 8:55pm
rosignol (mail):
On reading the opening, my first reaction was the same as yours. But on thinking it over, I suppose they have the right to advertise where they feel they will reach the most viewers. Blogs are just another medium to get the word out. Just because I don't like what they have to say, doesn't mean they can't say it.

Well, how they do it matters. Buying a banner on the site to promote a show is one thing- it's clearly a sponsored ad by someone promoting something, nothing at all wrong with that- but asking the person running the site to talk it up smells a little off without some disclosure as to what's going on.

ps: the preview button brings up a 'script not found' error. can 'guests' preview?

pps: the comment didn't appear when I posted as a guest, so I registered. Sorry if it double-posts.
12.8.2004 9:16pm
Neo-Libertarian (mail) (www):
My only beef with this is that in a million years they'd probably never admit that it was slanted to one side or the other. Did they ask pro-war bloggers and websites to advertise the piece? No, they ask anti-war people because it appeals to anti-war types.

I have no problem with this except that the bias is not open. Once it's open and admitted we can garner our information from different sources, realizing that they may provide incomplete or slanted reporting of the facts. This encourages people to seek out alternate views on a subject instead of blindly following one or the other as though all the networks and news sources offer the same coverages - or even the same stories.

The original freedom of the press protected pamphleteers and those writing partisan newsletters. I mean, Paine's Common Sense is probably the best example of someone using free press to push his opinion through open discussion. That's all. It's not just hearing the news, it's hearing views and opinions.

The networks are afraid of it for two reasons - they don't want to threaten their base viewers, a collection of left-leaners who don't think the news has to change much and older people who don't want it to change out of habit. Second, the Progressive tradition from the 1920s and 1920s when news became a sort of calling to provide objective, unbiased reporting of objective fact, a rejection of the yellow press. Of course, most of us realize that it's nearly impossible to get fully non-biased reporting.

Admitting your bias is all I ask. It's the mark of genuine truth in reporting. That's why I like bloggers, I can go back and read their stuff and see how they think before deciding how I take their latest observations.
12.8.2004 9:44pm
Jack (mail) (www):
I am going to have to go with the odd-numbered reactions: it is slimy and may indicate the growing importance of blogs. As to the right of CBS to promote their story on sites where they can expect a favorable response: I don't think that is the source of the sliminess. The problem is that CBS has semi-officially discounted bloggers as unreliable amateurs. To take advantage of a source of publicity which you publicly repudiate smacks of hypocrisy, even if it is not technically unethical.
12.8.2004 10:25pm
Patterico (mail) (www):
To me, this is merely a further acknowledgement of the concept of bloggers as citizen journalists. Publicists try to play mainstream journalists all the time. Sometimes it works; usually, if the journalist is savvy and experienced, it doesn't.

Bloggers, with their relatively smaller voice, are probably easier targets for publicists. The blogger will likely be flattered by the contact, and thus more likely to fall for the bait. Bloggers' reputations may suffer accordingly.

As for the propriety of publicists' actions in doing this . . . it makes for an interesting question in theory, but I doubt that our moral disapproval is going to affect any publicist's actions in the slightest.
12.8.2004 10:35pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
Media is a business which depends on ad revenues, which follow viewers/readers. So until we decide to have the government fund all media, get used to media acting like a business, because that's what it is.

Would you be offended if CBS Sports contacted a sports blogger and told her that a World Cup race would be broadcast that weekend? I don't think so. Or at least I would hope not.

It's business. Nothing personal. Just business.
12.8.2004 11:07pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
Well I can't see my comment so I apologize if this appears twice:

Media is business and the publicist is trying to snag eyeballs so that the network can sell ads. Let's not everyone think that the media world revolves around advancing political views (even Rupert Murdoch's); it's just business.
12.8.2004 11:12pm
UMNlawstudent (mail):
I know this is off-topic, but I'd like to know what the Conspirators think about Senator Reid's comments about Justice Thomas. Perhaps you are all worried about your future judicial nomination hearings, but I'd be very interested in your serious thoughts.
12.9.2004 3:30am
Chris H.:
Yep, it's off-topic.

Getting back on-topic:

I wonder if CBS is somehow trying to evaluate just how effective a marketing tool this "blog" thingy can be, so they e-mail some blogs to push the show. But I have no idea what kind of traffic these particular anti-war sites see typically, so I can't really judge their strategy.

My "Spidey sense" is still tingling, though: how do you trust these jokers after the horrid reporting and outright bias they have displayed? Especially (as pointed out at RatherBiased.com) that CBS accuses others of subversively using blogs to get their political messages out. So subversive sdvertising is OK, but subversive political advertising is bad? Not buying it.
12.9.2004 9:35am
Chris H.:
Yep, it's off-topic.

Getting back on-topic:

I wonder if CBS is somehow trying to evaluate just how effective a marketing tool this "blog" thingy can be, so they e-mail some blogs to push the show. But I have no idea what kind of traffic these particular anti-war sites see typically, so I can't really judge their strategy.

My "Spidey sense" is still tingling, though: how do you trust these jokers after the horrid reporting and outright bias they have displayed? Especially when (as pointed out at RatherBiased.com) CBS is accusing others of subversively using blogs to get out their political messages. So subversive newsmagazine advertising is OK, but subversive political advertising is not? Not buying it.
12.9.2004 9:38am
cloquet:
This is regarding the following post.

For some of us, a select group of females, it is more important that Eugene Volokh be totally amusing, than that he be totally accurate.

Plus, he did not give us the correct etymology, which is totally deficient in all hipness.
12.9.2004 2:37pm