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They say that journalism is “instant history.” And if journalism is instant history, then blogging is instant history coupled with gut reactions.

And if “instant history” must be revised and/or retracted from time to time, just imagine the complications when it comes to blog-like gut reactions.

And if you can’t imagine it read THIS POST which discusses Capitol Hill Blue‘s retraction of a highly controversial post blasting Republican “maverick” Ron Paul.

In fact, Capitol Hill Blue top Editor Doug Thompson has emailed us that he didn’t know this piece had been posted by an overzealous editor, he subsequently had that editor move in a new direction to spend more time with his family (not the words he used) and he has since apologized to Capitol Hill Blue‘s readers (see below) in a post on his site.

But first, some background on a fascinating New Media story, in case you’re coming in late:

Yesterday we ran THIS POST on GOPer Ron Paul having more cash on hand than Arizona Senator John McCain — who you may see one day soon standing on a street corner asking: “Do you have any change?” McCain has been walking a tightrope for more than a year and has fallen off. He’ll hit the ground any second now…

And Paul? Our post noted all the big bucks Paul is collecting from little contributors on the Internet and elsewhere.

Paul is also getting such boffo ratings on videos related to him on You Tube that any day now NBC will probably sign him to his own show.

Or maybe CBS will sign him to replace Katie Couric.

In our post, we used an angry quote from Capitol Hill Blue that was the kind of quote we journalistic types love to use after running positive info about someone because it shows that not every person on the face of the earth is in X person’s fan club. I call it the “counter quote.” In that quote we used, among other things the Capitol Hill Blue writer accused Ron Paul of anti-Semitism. It would be clear to even a head of lettuce on a shelf at Ralph’s Grocery Store in San Diego that the writer of the CHB piece had a problem with Paul.

The charge of anti-Semitism (a bogus issue to Paul’s supporters) has been discussed before on the Internet. (You can sift through the various articles yourself).

But the bottom line is that Capitol Hill Blue has now retracted that post and several others that were deemed much too biased. Here’s some of what Thompson wrote:

Because I went without sleep for most of last weekend when we moved the site to new servers, I took a break from editing Blue during the 4th of July week (although I did write a couple of columns).

It seems that three articles were posted about the Ron Paul campaign that were not what I would have written (or approved) and some felt were my work. One of our editors incorrectly assumed that my lack of support for Ron Paul meant he could declare open season on that candidate. He was wrong and I apologize for his misuse of this web site. The articles posted have been removed as have been my earlier columns which apparently led to the conclusion that we were singling out the Paul campaign for special attention.

Longtime readers of this site know I always sign anything that I write and if it doesn’t have my name on it, I didn’t write it. Just because I don’t like a particular candidate or their past or positions is no excuse to use this web site to declare war on that candidate and apply different standards on how we cover that campaign.

A lot of volunteers put in a lot of time and effort helping keep Blue up and running and I sometimes have to step in and bring things back under control. I admire their enthusiasm even if I have to sometimes curb it.

Be sure to read his entire post.

In my newspaper career, I saw “the system” break down on newspapers where editors let something slip by and to their horror saw it in the paper the next day. Or they only later realized it was totally wrong and had to run a retraction. Or it was so inaccurate they had to do a follow up piece that disguised what really was a retraction.

Weblogs and internet news outlets are particularly vulnerable to slips, since it’s not a matter of writing and preparing a piece and waiting a day or a few hours until it’s in print. All someone has to do is to press a button — and it’s out there…in a second.

Weblogs and weblog-like news sites don’t always function like newspapers where an all-knowing editor scrutinizes each golden word. You assume your associates are as responsible as a) you first assumed yourself b) they present themselves to be.

But remember the old cliche that “Assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'”

And because weblogs and weblog-like news sites DO offer news coupled with analysis and opinion, the danger for error is even greater if people throw out allegations that aren’t accurate or are highly controversial but really reflect them LASHING OUT at someone (a problem on weblogs in both posts and comments).

Labels like “anti-Semitic…racist…liar…cowards…racist” or “Amway salesman” are easy to throw around (UH, OH…here come all the emails demanding we praise Amway: OK we have used and loved your toilet paper and soap).

But they’re too easy to throw around.

The lesson for journalists, bloggers and people in comments is that it’s best to spell out what you don’t like about someone giving specific examples.

If you detail you don’t like such and such people can then debate you on the specifics — on the ISSUES and not on personal dislike.

Just writing something that shows you don’t like someone and are going after them doesn’t change minds or influence readers who seek to learn more (rather than read what they already believe).

Labels are fun, unless someone calls you on it and insists you prove that the label is true. And sometimes it isn’t always a matter of black and white but sometimes it involves that dreaded quality called…nuance.

And then it’s in the eye — and political biases — of each worked-up beholder.

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • Great post. I was curious how all of this came about the last few days. I often find myself restraining myself on posts on my own site and I can’t bring myself to link to others who are irresponsible. Even if they do have some valid points it takes something away from me by having ‘endorsed’ the entire post by linking to it.

  • Mike P.

    I’m surprised it wasn’t having called him a “John Bircher” that got the editor in trouble. That at least was a new accusation! But maybe people just don’t remember them as much these days.

    Anyway, you do nail the “moral of the story,” and I’m sure many of the commenters here (certainly me) as well as some of the bloggers have paid a price for hitting send before fully engaging brain.

  • Mike P.,

    I actually saw a John Birch Society bumper sticker the other day. Shouldn’t have been surprised considering where I live, didn’t think it was an organization that had much following or power anymore though. Maybe they are making a come back?

  • Joe Liberty

    Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate I would even consider voting for.

  • mw

    Doug Thompson and CHB have zero credibility and any blogger that ever quotes anything they say, whether a story or even a subsequent retraction risks being tainted by the association. This particular story is not unique. Thompson frequently apologizes for , corrects, or simply disappears stories he presents at CHB as facts, usually blaming co-workers or untraceable sources. Eric at Classical Values did a great series on Doug Thompson and CHB a year ago, concluding:

    “I’m getting a bit tired of Capitol Hill Blue. It’s an unreliable web site which I’d never read before July 16, and I think it’s staffed by sock puppets… is it possible that reasonable people might be able to agree that regardless of who or what it is, or how, or why it originated, Capitol Hill Blue has been so thoroughly discredited, that it should not be relied on by anyone, anywhere, ever again?”

    It is a great read.

    I am speaking from experience, as I quoted DT in a post where he claims that GWB said the Constitution was “A god damn piece of paper” in a meeting. CHB has subsequently retracted, “disappeared”, and restored that story on their site. I corrected my piece but left it out there with the correction and links to Eric’s story as a cautionary tale for other bloggers.

    CHB is a very odd duck, made worse by their claims to be a journalistic site and a higher standard than a blog.

  • We have people all the time email us that if we DARE quote Daily Kos or DARE quote Michelle Malkin we are tainted and they will never visit us again. We hate to lose readers but we haven’t selected new editors. If we see a compelling quote in a story or post we quote from it. If we listened to people and relied on the links they sent me from various sites saying how bad x and y and z sites and writers are and how because we dare quote from them and link to them we have no credibility we would have few sites to quote who expressed opinions or took positions. Except from the ones they agree with. We quote and link from a lot of sources and if we see something compelling, we will continue to do so. Also: every newspaper has made mistakes including huge ones and run corrections. Most blogs and internet news websites don’t usually run corrections but in this case CHB did. YES I remember well the story linked above as well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t revisit that or any site if they’re writing on a topic and take a stand that reflects a differing viewpoint that readers might want to see so they realize not everyone feels the same way about a given candidate.

  • mw

    Look Joe. I was not/did not say you should “DARE” not use CHB. I said that if you use them, you risk being tainted by them. That’s it.

    I got burned a year ago and I’m still pissed about it. So… like you say, thats my “blog-like gut reaction.” I am a small time blogger and don’t claim to be anything else. If DT and CHB were just another popular blog like Kos or Malkin, fine. But they claim to be something else, they claim to hold themselves to a higher journalistic standard and they fail spectacularly by the standards they claim for themselves. That makes them different (another “blog-like gut reaction” on my part). In fact, it is so odd, so weird, and so blatant that I have wondered whether the whole site is some sort of elaborate practical joke, or maybe some kind of social experiment conducted by academics that will be revealed in a PHD dissertation some day. Thompson is a really good writer though. That is what makes the site seductive and quoteable. Anyway, I just think that anytime that site is referenced, readers should be made aware of its questionable history.

  • Rudi

    I used to be a regular read of CHB and followed Thompson. He has a history of being a “Yellow journalist”, but is an interesting read. Prior to W’s administration, he was DEEPLY critical of the Clinton administration. He is an iconoclast and muck racker. A year and a half ago he left the CHB, which he founded.

    THOMPSON LEAVES CAPITOL HILL BLUE
    Monday, February 06, 2006 – FreeMarketNews.com

    Capitol Hill Blue announced Saturday that its founder, Doug Thompson, has decided to leave the Internet site, where he covered politics among other things, in favor of local journalism. According to the website’s own account, the site and its management will now be in the hands of “a consortium of Washington-based journalists who will publish Capitol Hill Blue in addition to their regular jobs with mainstream print publications and broadcast media.”
    http://www.freemarketnews.com/WorldNews.asp?nid=6960
    It named Theresa Hampton, who has twice served as editor in the past, as the new editor/publisher. Thompson, himself, wrote a farewell, although he did leave room for a possible return to writing about politics in the future. In his apparently final “rant,” he noted the need for “a break” noting that “I’m tired and this tilting at windmills business is exhausting.”

    My impression at the time was that this wasn’t entirety a voluntary move. At that time I drifted away from the CHB, I didn’t even know that DT returned.

  • Rudi

    I went over to CHB and the Rants archive, a funny thing is missing – Thompson’s farwell column from February 2006 isn’t in the archive. There is an “18 minute” gap “ala” Tricky Dick Nixon. As I stated above, I used to be a fan of the Rant, but this “scrubbing” smells more tahn the latest episode of DT soap opera.
    October 30, 2006 – 8:52am.
    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/cont/node/2205

    February 10, 2006 – 2:56pm.
    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/cont/node/32
    Doug must have channeled Rose Mary Woods – LOL,

  • Following this whole thread has been informative. I think the lesson to take away is: be sure your source is credible before quoting or linking to them. Not just generally, but on the specific topic of the moment. Basic journalism, whether you do news, opinion or both.

  • Also, own up to it if you screw up.

  • mw

    “I used to be a fan of the Rant, but this “scrubbing” smells more than the latest episode of DT soap opera.” – rudi
    Yeah. That is exactly my point. DT’s writing is compelling, but – articles appear, disappear, get revised and reappear regularly. His invokes “sources” for years like “George Harleigh” and “Terry Wilkinson”, and then suddenly claims he was duped by the sources and erases and/or modifies old “investigative” stories that reference them. Then there are his co-workers at CHB: William McTavish, Sandra Riley and Teresa Hampton, who have been firing each other, working for each other, buying and selling CHB to one another for years, none of whom appear to actually exist outside of the cyber “second-life” world of CHB. It is all so freaking weird that you almost have to just sit back and admire it. It has got to be joke or an experiment , to see how far they can push this nonsense and still have people take them seriously. Apparently you really can fool some of the people all of the time.

  • mickrussom

    I say this with all seriousness. The country will probably disintegrate and be carved up the Chinese if Ron Paul does not win. It will take time, but we are on the road to perdition.

    America needs Ron Paul more than ever, and everyone who supports Ron Paul loves him as he is the closest thing to family we have ever seen in government.

    Ron Paul, for what is just, what is right, and what is our Nation’s root modus, the Constitution and Freedom and Liberty for All.