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Response to Mark Bowden’s Interview on NPR

Morgen on September 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Given the unexpected timeliness of Mark Bowden’s article in The Atlantic about blogging and journalism (and this blog), and his stature in the journalistic community, I figured he would receive numerous interview requests to discuss this topic. But apparently this interview with NPR from earlier this week is the only one so far. I’ve already responded at length to Bowden’s article here and here. John had a very thoughtful response as well which you can find here. So I don’t really have much to add, but I would like to take issue with a couple of statements Bowden made in the NPR interview.

First, Bowden continues to assert that Sotomayor’s infamous “wise Latina” statement was specifically in reference to a discussion of cases involving racial discrimination. And thus in this full context, it was not controversial in the least for her to assert that as a “wise Latina” she would be in a position to make a “better” decision than a white male judge with regards to these cases.

Look, you can read Sotomayor’s statements for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But it’s not at all clear to me that she was limiting the scope of her statement to include only discrimination cases. In point of fact, she was directly countering a famous quotation from Judge Sandra Day O’Connor who said that she hoped “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases”. Sotomayor obviously disagreed with O’Connor’s re-statement of the commonly accepted ideal that justice should be blind. And the only reason discrimination was even part of the context of this paragraph at all was that Sotomayor was disagreeing with yet another judge who had pointed out to her that prior Supreme Courts composed entirely of white males had made important decision on cases involving the rights of racial minorities. In other words, Sotomayor seems to believe that white males are incapable (or not as capable) of rendering fair decisions.

So frankly, even if I were to accept the premise of Bowden’s argument (and I don’t), I would still find Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” statement to be objectionable. (In my initial post on this, I speculated whether she was actually joking since it seemed so outrageous to me.)

The other item I have to comment on is that in the NPR interview (don’t bother listening to it if you haven’t) Bowden claims that in my initial interview with him I had claimed to be a journalist, or view what I do as journalism. And he goes on to assert that after enlightening John and I regarding what the real motivation and ethics of a journalist should be, we have subsequently backed off this claim.

This is just flat out ridiculous. I’ve already stated that my recollection of what I told Bowden in response to his question on whether I consider myself to be a journalist was to laugh, and say something to the effect that I am probably the definition of an amateur, couch journalist. And I went on to tell him that at the time I had only been blogging for a few months, and that I own a business, and have a family.

I’m a blogger. And a part-time one at that. I posted the information about Sotomayor on a blog – this one. This particular information travelled a long, long way from when I first posted it. To other conservative blogs, talk radio, The New York Times, Fox News, and ultimately every major media outlet in the country. And the White House, and the Senate, and ultimately the confirmation hearings themselves. And finally to Mark Bowden’s article in The Atlantic.

But to impugn my motives and ethics for posting Sotomayor’s own words, along with additional context and links to the original source…when many, many people much more prominent than I am took issue with these statements as well. Well, I just think this is a little unreasonable to say the least. Honestly, I think the overall point of Bowden’s article is a valid one – many elements of the news media have been biased and lazy for a long time. And blogs are not intended and should not be viewed as a substitute for traditional journalism. But even though I personally do not question Bowden’s own bias and motivation, I can see why others have given that he focused exclusively on our blog to make his point. And unfairly at that.

John Adds: After listening to the interview I considered going through the “wise Latina” statement line by line. But the truth is I’ve already said what I have to say about it in other contexts and there is no point in beating a dead horse.

Despite evidence to the contrary, those who supported her nomination are determined to write their version into the history books, i.e. she didn’t mean what she plainly said. Reading someone’s self-serving interpretation of a damaging statement back into the text is wrong. It’s not journalism either. It’s special pleading.

When Mark interviewed me, he asked me if I was interested in a career in journalism. I said that I had recently begun thinking about that, but never claimed to be a journalist and in fact disagreed with his perspective on the ideal journalistic system. He didn’t convince me not to call myself a journalist (since I never had) but he did convince me that it wasn’t something to be wished for. The journalist-as-judge model is too prone to failure.

It’s more than a bit amusing to hear Mark appear on the reliably liberal NPR and talk about the dangers of mixing news gathering with politics. Has he ever listened to the Diane Rehm show? I choose that show in particular because I used to listen to it every day when I lived in the DC area. In the two years I was a regular I never once heard Diane take a conservative approach to anything. In fact, being constantly irritated with her bias is probably one thing that pushed me toward blogging later on.

Diane Rehm is no more unbiased than I am. Slapping the label “journalism” on what she does, doesn’t make it so. In her case, and in many other cases I could name, it’s a shield for deflecting criticism and little more. And yet I’ve heard her say many times that she is criticized by both sides, so that must mean she’s down the middle. Anyone who has heard her show knows what a joke this is, but good luck getting her to take the blinders off. Down the middle is Diane.

Lastly, the article and the interview mention that VS only gets 20-30 readers for an average post. Mark got this from Morgen who said something to that effect when he was interviewed. I’m not sure why, maybe out of a sense of humility? In truth, we were getting 1,000-1,500 hits a day for a year before Morgen joined the blog. That number has more than doubled in the last six months thanks mostly to his efforts. We’re still small-medium in the scheme of things — a Marsupial in the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem last time I checked — but we’ll easily hit 150K hits this month. That puts us roughly on par with the numbers for the Huntington Beach Independent, my local newspaper. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but when was the last time you saw any national news coming from the Huntington Beach Independent?

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