Friday, October 28, 2005

Forbes' blogger-bashing cover story is a model of hypocrisy

Forbes cover story for its Nov. 14 issue is entitled Attack of the Blogs!. I'm having a hard time coming up with the best way to describe the piece without falling into the same trap that swallowed the article's writer, Daniel Lyons -- namely, that of hypocrisy. So I'm going to try my best to focus my criticism not on my former employer (as tempting as it is) but on Lyons' article.

The summary deck describes blogs thusly:

"Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective."

I can't imagine how Lyons managed to lift the amazingly broad brush he needed to paint this picture of the entire blogosphere, which reportedly includes tens of millions of blogs.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here are a few excerpt from the article (with interspersed commentary):

"Blogs started a few years ago as a simple way for people to keep online diaries. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It's not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can't even figure out who his attacker is."

Excuse me, Mr. Lyons, but could you tell us what percentage of the tens of millions of bloggers concentrate their efforts on such despicable content? And how does that number compare to journalists in the mainstream media? I'm just curious.

"Google and other services operate with government-sanctioned impunity, protected from any liability for anything posted on the blogs they host. Thus they serve up vitriolic "content" without bearing any legal responsibility for ensuring it is fair or accurate; at times they even sell ads alongside the diatribes."

Oh so the solution is prior restraint. I know -- let's also set up a system for licensing publishers before they are allowed to publish. That sounds like a capital 21st century idea.

"Dry treatises on patent law and trade policy don't drive traffic (or ad sales) for bloggers and hosts; blood sport does."

Exactly why doesn't this apply as much if not more to the mainstream media?

"Bloggers linked to one another's sites and posted on Brill's blog and elsewhere, creating an echo chamber in which, through repetition, the scandal began to seem genuine."

Because this never happens in the mainstream media....

"Microsoft's p.r. people have added blog-monitoring to their list of duties. The company also fields its own blog posse. Some 2,000 Microsofties publish individual blogs, adding a Microsoft voice to the town square."

Combatting speech with more speech... I think I've heard someone suggest this before...

"But if blogging is journalism, then some of its practitioners seem to have learned the trade from Jayson Blair."

Wait -- who did he work for again?

"Once blogger attacks begin, victims can resort to libel and defamation lawsuits, but "filing a libel lawsuit, the way you would against a newspaper, is like using 18th-century battlefield tactics to counter guerrilla warfare," says David Potts, a Toronto lawyer who is writing a book on cyberlibel. "You'll accomplish nothing and just get more ridicule." He tells clients to find a third party to bash the bloggers.

What? The law is lagging behind technological development? You want large corporations who are the target of many of the blog attacks you cite to use the legal system to fight back? How ridiculous!

"Halpern has had less luck getting anyone in Congress to listen to his (sic) plaint. He says that may change if a few politicians get a taste of what he has gone through. "Wait until the next election rolls around and these bloggers start smearing people who are up for reelection,"Halpern says. "Maybe then things will start to happen."

Of course... Because bloggers never attack politicians.