Mainstream vs. Bloggers

July 1, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Socioblog is pleased that the New York Times picked up on yesterday’s blog post and ran with its own horror story about private health insurance (in this case, Aetna). The Times also quotes from Wendell Potter, the former Cigna exec who testified before Congress a week ago about private health care insurance.

How do the mainstream media decide what is news and what isn’t? The Times did not see fit to cover Potter’s testimony when it was news. But why was it not fit to print? Potter was a former insider telling several inconvenient truths about insurance companies. He was making accusations in point-blank terms. Yet when I searched Lexis-Nexis, I found only two newspapers that gave ink to the story – the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. A few others (e.g., WSJ, Hartford Courant) had the story on line. The AP put Potter at the end of a short item (621 words) about insurers using a “flawed database.” No TV networks covered it.

But several blogs had the story.

The disparity reminded me of the old days and I.F. Stone’s Newsletter.* After he was blacklisted, and most Washington insiders avoided him, Stone made a virtue of necessity. While most reporters avoided the boring stuff of actual legislation and got their stories from government insiders, Stone made a careful reading of transcripts of Congressional hearings. When it came to foreign affairs, especially the Vietnam war, he didn’t much bother with the press briefings from the White House or Pentagon, but he did look closely at non-US sources like Agence France Presse. It was like finding out inconvenient truths by going through the garbage people threw out. It was out there and public, though most reporters ignored it, and it often didn't smell very good.

I know that a lot of dubious material floats around the blogosphere, but the medium has allowed a thousand I.F. Stones to blossom. (Well, maybe not a thousand, but there are dozens of good ones.)

* Update, July 2: I am, it turns out, far from alone noticing the resemblance. According to a recent article in the L.A. Times by Stone’s biographer D.D. Guttenplan, “many contemporary observers” have dubbed Stone “the first blogger.”

There may be at least one difference between Stone and contemporary bloggers. Stone was meticulous about copy. His daughter says that he once told her, “Typos are worse than fascism.”

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