Are bloggers journalists? Sure, when they do journalism, and Ed Morrissey, “Captain Ed” at the Web log called Captain’s Quarters, sure was doing journalism when he blew open a Canadian corruption scandal that was under a judicial publication ban in Canada.
There’s been hardly any coverage of what the Canadians call “AdScam” in the U.S. press, although something that could cause the Canadian government to fall ought to be of interest to that country’s southern neighbor, but here’s Morrissey’s brief summary from April 2:
“For the last two years, Canadian politics has been gripped by the so-called ‘sponsorship scandal’ _ tens of millions of dollars in government contracts which were funneled into advertising firms closely connected with the Liberal government for little or no work, but with shadowy rumors that much of the money found its way back into Liberal coffers” (www.captainsquartersblog.com; search the April archives for his continuing coverage).
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed a commission, headed by Justice John Gomery, to investigate the sponsorship program, which eventually spent some $200 million (U.S.), in theory to make Quebec happier about being part of Canada. The commission’s meetings are public _ if you happen to be there _ but Gomery imposed a ban on reporting testimony of three key witnesses, for the not totally implausible reason that one of them was soon to be on trial and news coverage could influence the jury.
Maybe so, but in the United States, where prior restraint on publication is barred by the First Amendment, the justice system manages to cope with pre-trial publicity. O.J. Simpson was acquitted, after all. But Canada doesn’t have the same constitutional protection for free speech, so the ban effectively silenced the Canadian media.
At least one Canadian, though, believed that it was important for Canadians to know what their government was up to, and sent the information to Morrissey. “Bear in mind that this comes from a single source, so while I have confidence in the information, you should consider the sourcing carefully,” he warned and then he let fly.
While the ban was in effect, there was even a question about whether Canadian newspapers and broadcasters could tell their readers about Morrissey’s posts; one official said the commission was considering whether to prosecute a Canadian Web site that linked to Captain’s Quarters. Either the official is hopelessly naive, Morrissey said, “or he gets the Captain Louis Renault award for being shocked, (ital) shocked (endital) that free speech goes on in a democracy.”
Well, the witness’ trial was postponed and most of the publication ban was lifted, although it no longer served any purpose anyway. The accuracy of Morrissey’s source was confirmed, and he has continued to follow the story (and a couple of other Canadian outrages too). But he now has the company of Canadian media _ check out Google News, if you’re interested in the latest developments.
I call that journalism, and we can only hope that Canadian bloggers will perform a similar service during our elections, when politically active American organizations (although not established media) are muzzled by the detestable McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law.
You’d think journalists would recognize journalism no matter who is doing it and in what media, but that’s by no means a universal reaction. Jonathan Klein, at the time a CBS vice president who oversaw the “60 Minutes Wednesday” debacle of the fabricated Bush National Guard documents, famously declared, in the program’s defense, “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”
Actually, he was correct about the contrast; CBS was gulled, and the bloggers were right. But he was wrong about the pajamas. Earlier this month, when I was visiting my son in Minnesota, we had dinner with Captain Ed, his wife the First Mate and their colleague Mitch Berg (whose blog is www.shotinthedark.info). They were all wearing perfectly normal daytime clothes.
Isn’t it interesting how impersonal a medium as the Internet leads people to try to get together in person? We arranged the dinner date even before I knew Morrissey was going to be firing broadsides at the Canadian government.
If you’re interested in the relationship between blogging and what some bloggers call “the mainstream media,” or MSM, or even more derisively, “the legacy media,” hop on over to Jay Rosen’s blog, PressThink (journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2005/04/21/nol_stnd.html), for a summary, rich with links. He notes that Chris Nolan, a journalist and author, coined the term “stand-alone journalism” for what bloggers do.
Morrissey, commenting on Rosen’s post, suggested that the label may be best applied to particular posts, rather than to blogs as a whole.
“There are times when I perform stand-alone journalism; other times, I’m a self-published pundit; the small amount left amounts to a very poorly secured diary. The revolution in newsroom thinking won’t be an acknowledgement that a handful of bloggers are stand-alone journalists. It will come when people finally realize that all bloggers can be stand-alone journalists if and when they choose to be.”
I think he’s got that right.
(Contact Linda Seebach of the Rocky Mountain News at http://www.rockymountainnews.com.)