A backward glance

The professional association of newspaper editorial writers is the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Its quarterly publication is The Masthead, whose editor this year is Arizona Republic editorial writer and columnist Douglas MacEachern. At the end of last year Doug invited me to submit a column reflecting on our experience covering the political scene on Power Line last year as part of a bloggers’ symposium for Masthead’s forthcoming (Spring) issue.
I just received the issue in the mail yesterday and it is terrific. Unfortunately, the issue is not available online. The other contributors to the symposium on bloggers are Phil Boas, deputy editor of the Arizona Republic’s editorial page (I’m asking Doug’s permission to get access to Boas’s column for Power Line); Tom Bevan and John McIntyre of RealClearPolitics; blogger/columnist Austin Bay of Austin Bay; and Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos. (Note to Doug: I want to post the RCP guys’ column and Bay’s column here as well). Their contributions are uniformly thoughtful and excellent.
Intended for an audience of editorial writers and incorporating our brief New York Times election-day retrospective, here is the column I submitted to Masthead on behalf of Power Line:

I write for the Power Line blog together with two other like-minded, politically conservative attorneys. Our site features commmentary and analysis that applies a gimlet eye to the mainstream media’s coverage of politics. (By “mainstream media” I mean the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the broadcast networks. Because two of the three Power Line contributors are based in Minneapolis, we also pay special attention to the parodic emulation by the Minneapolis Star Tribune of its elite exemplars.)
The lameness of the mainstream media’s coverage this year kept us busy. As Newsweek’s Evan Thomas famously remarked: “Let’s talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win. . . . They’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there’s going to be this glow about them . . . that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.” We sought to serve as a counterweight that injected an element of fairness into the coverage.
We were originally struck by the mainstream media’s attempt to ignore the issues raised by John O’Neill and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth regarding John Kerry’s military service and antiwar activities. Only when the Kerry campaign itself chose to respond, and then only in the most selective fashion, did the mainstream media find the Swift Boat Vets worthy of coverage.
We thought otherwise, and covered their emergence with great interest. We looked into their exposure of the story of John Kerry’s oft-told but bogus tale of a secret Christmas mission to Cambodia in 1968. We found the story to be remarkable. Although the Minneapolis Star Tribune promptly published our column telling the story, the deputy editor of the editorial page thanked us for our efforts by condemning us as “smear artists” engaged in “immorality” and “fraudulence” in a column the paper ran the following Sunday.
Virtually every mainstream media news story recounting the role played by Swift Boat Veterans in the past campaign refers to them as “discredited” or the like. Readers who confine their consumption of news to mainstream media news outlets are unlikely to know that some hundred pages of Kerry’s military records remain unreleased to this day because Kerry refused to sign a release authorizing their disclosure. Might we be forgiven for concluding that it was the mainstream media rather than the Swift Boat Vets that were discredited in the past campaign?
At Power Line, our most most important contribution to counterbalancing the partisanship of the mainstream media was our role in the exposure of the fake documents publicized by “60 Minutes” in its September 8 report on President Bush’s Air National Guard service. We participated in this exposure by focusing attention on the documents themselves in CBS’s online version of the story and by quoting Buckhead’s now famous observation regarding the documents’ apparent inauthenticity in a post titled “The Sixty-first Minute” that I published on our site on the morning of September 9. As we were inundated with additional information from readers and fellow bloggers that morning and through the rest of the day, we culled, organized, and posted the best of it in updates to our “Sixty-first Minute” post minutes quickly after receiving it. The information addressed topics including typewriters of the early 1970’s and arcane points of military protocol in the same era.
Within 12 hours of our original post, more than 500 other Web sites had linked to ours, millions of people were aware of the serious questions that had been raised about CBS’s documents, and CBS News executives were on the defensive. When it became clear within a few days that the documents were indeed fake, the role played by the blogs in their exposure was widely recognized as a watershed of some kind. We hope the event signifies that in the future the mainstream media will not be able to dictate the flow of information to the American people.

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