Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Adam Reilly Repeats John Carroll’s Mistake

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Updated below

On the blog-smear front, one of the big stories this week has centered on John Carroll. Appearing on the show Greater Boston on famed PBS station WGBH, Carroll criticized MyDD’s Jerome Armstrong for scurrilous conduct, specifically, posing as different users on his site — the only problem being that Armstrong didn’t do it. Carroll misread a satirical post as serious. Had he bothered to read the comment thread, or contacted Armstrong or anyone else at the blog — y’know, that journalistic verification thing — he’d have caught his mistake. To their credit, Greater Boston issued a correction and apology, as has Carroll.

Considering the dismissive tone of Carroll and his tut-tutting about a lack of professionalism among bloggers, the ridicule and criticism he received from the blogosphere was justified. However, bloggers reported the correction and apology as well. Bloggers also noted that part of Friday’s 12/15 installment of Greater Boston is scheduled to address this entire incident, and were interested as to what would be said.

Of course, that’s not the end of it. As John Amato notes on Crooks and Liars, “Apparently, when we call for good and honest reporting we're hypocrites because we also praise good and honest reporting.” Amato links Adam Reilly of The Phoenix in Boston. For a column on the Carroll affair, Reilly noted Greater Boston’s correction, then wrote:

But the blogosphere (terrible term, but unavoidable here) wasn’t satisfied. Consider this response to Mills’s correction: “The ethics of those working at Greater Boston are now in question.” Or, from a comment on Blue Mass Group: “[H]ow can you blame John Carroll for not knowing that. [H]e is a journalist, and he merely repeated the innuendos and rumors he heard as The Wisdom Received. [H]ow could you expect him to do any better?” All told, the mix-up generated well over 100 comments on Boston-area blogs.

Obviously, Carroll screwed up — and the snarky discussion that followed his story certainly didn’t help matters. But what’s really fascinating about this whole episode is that it reveals the blogosphere’s profound ambivalence about traditional journalists.

Reilly goes on make some disparaging comments about bloggers. But guess what? Reilly repeated Carroll’s mistake! He didn’t bother to read the comment thread carefully and a key aspect of his central accusation is false.

Anyone can cherry-pick comments from a thread on a blog. The real question is how representative a comment is. It’s also been a common mistake of “old media” journalists to conflate blog posts with comments. In the case of Reilly’s piece, his central claim is that commentators were still railing against Carroll, Greater Boston, and WGBH after they issued the correction. However, one of the comments he quotes occurred before the correction, and the other comment occurred in a thread primarily about blogger disclosure issues and the inaccuracy of Carroll’s original report.

The Greater Boston comment thread (linked again here) is confusing to read at first because the post issues a correction while the earlier comments ask for correction as if one hasn’t been issued. It’s natural to wonder what’s going on. It turns out it’s because the actual post has been edited at least twice, as noted by webmaster Frank Capria in this comment. Many commentators take issue with this, noting that instead Capria or someone else should have posted an update to the original post, made a new one, or something similar. Of course this wasn’t a “nefarious” move by Capria, but it was a faux pas, because the earlier comments no longer refer to the displayed post.

John Amato reported Greater Boston’s correction at 12:32pm PST (3:32pm EST) on 12/11. The Blue Mass Group, which may have been the first blog to report on Carroll’s piece here, on 12/9, received the Greater Boston correction from Mark Mills, the Executive Producer of Greater Boston at 2:43pm EST, in the thread of this 12/11 post (and good for him). The first direct mention of the correction in the Greater Boston comment thread comes here at 1:56pm EST 12/11. A commentator asks for a correction as late as 1:45pm, so I’d guess the post itself was updated to print the correction at roughly 1:50pm. (I’m writing WGBH to confirm this, not that the exact minute is crucial.)

Reilly’s first quoted comment was posted at 10:53am on the Greater Boston blog, hours before the correction was issued. His second quoted comment was posted on Blue Mass Group at 12/12, 10:24am, after the correction was issued. However, the post it commented on was about the accuracy of Carroll’s report and blogger disclosure issues, not the correction. I suppose Reilly can lambast “Shai Sachs” for not immediately forgiving Carroll his mistake. However, at that point Carroll had not apologized publicly apart from Greg Sargent’s blog less than two hours earlier and I doubt Shai Sachs knew that. The post itself was about Carroll’s accuracy, not his or Greater Boston’s contrition. Most importantly, this was a comment, not a post, and as a casual read will reveal, Shai Sach’s quick, sarcastic comment was not even representative of the discussion in that thread! (Even if it were, personally I wouldn’t find a problem with it.)

Reilly’s piece was published on 12/13 and probably was written on 12/12. Consequently, he really has no excuse not to catch his error with the first quotation, since the post editing issue was clear in the Greater Boston comment thread by the afternoon of 12/11. The second quotation is just bad judgment on his part (that’s my judgment, anyway).

So, to recap, Adam Reilly chastises bloggers (although he only quotes blog commentators) in one case for not acknowledging a correction that hadn’t been issued yet, and in the other case just cherry-picks (I consider the first quotation something of a cherry-pick as well). Who really has the thin skin here? Irony of ironies. John Carroll slammed a blogger because he misread a blog entry, didn’t bother to read the comments, and didn’t research. Adam Reilly then enters the fray, slamming bloggers in part because he didn’t bother to read all the comments, and didn’t research. Apart from these issues, both seem to have started with their conclusions predetermined. Contrary to Reilly’s claims, as John Amato alludes to, the liberal blogosphere is overwhelmingly concerned with accuracy in the media, not in receiving praise. The reason the Carroll report attracted attention is because it fits a pattern of undue disparagement toward bloggers, and frankly, PBS and NPR typically uphold higher standards. It’s also simply good to be accurate, especially if you’re making a negative claim.

Personally, I love PBS and NPR, and WGBH produces many of PBS’ excellent programs. While I found Carroll’s initial report disappointing and dismissive, I credit WGBH, Greater Boston and Carroll for admitting their mistakes and correcting their errors. That sort of behavior should be encouraged, and assuming they’re more careful in the future, all is well.

As for Adam Reilly — we all make mistakes. However, the condescending tone coupled with a central error doesn’t really help your credibility or your appeal. Let’s see if you can follow Carroll’s example a second time, admit your mistake and apologize.

Updated 12/16/06

To his credit, Adam Reilly has admitted to his error about the first quotation he used. I have a follow-up post with more detail here. Thanks to C&L for the link, and to any readers for stopping by!

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