Watching those that write recklessly

As conservative columnist/uber-hack Bill Kristol's one-year contract with the New York Times is coming to an end, there's been rampant speculation about whether the Times should bring him back, or regain some credibility and wish him goodbye.

Kristol's work has been savaged by bloggers left and right on an almost weekly basis. It got to the point where some writers simply gave up on criticizing the work, mostly because it just got old and tiresome. Daniel Drezner wrote an interesting piece on the role of the blogosphere in watchdogging op-ed columnists:

"A key point I’ve been that blogs can function as an informal “peer review” system to fact-check, logic-check, and style-check more prominent PIs...[i]t’s not that bloggers are smarter or sharper than other writers — they’re just willing to be more blunt in print.

Agreed. I'd go even further and point out a couple other aspects that make blogs an even more powerful fact-checking force.

First, in addition to providing news content and perspective, blogs in some sense serve as a network that connects people from all over the world, and can tap into those people's expertise and efforts to provide even better coverage. Talking Points Memo, easily one of the best blogs in the business, routinely asks its readers to be on the lookout for events, incidents, etc., and let them know. Had one of their readers not sent them a clipping from a San Diego newspaper's real estate section and said "there's an interesting property sale you might want to look into", the whole Duke Cunningham scandal might never have been unearthed.

The other aspect is, by and large, the major bloggers are either independent, or work for an outlet that allows them a greater latitude of speech than the typical print organization. If Josh Marshall (or Kos, or Matthew Yglesias) makes a statement or conclusion, they are almost 100% responsible for those statements and the consequences that result from those statements. On the other hand, someone who writes at the Times or the Washington Post has to deal with editors, publishers, and now stock holders, in addition to preserving their own reputation.

Consequently, blog writers tend to be blunter and willing to speak more freely, because they don't have the corporate bureaucracy to answer to that other journalists may have to deal with. And maybe we are smarter than writers - after all, we figured out how to speak our minds more freely than they can.

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