When the White House wanted to get its latest message out to Black communities, it didn't call a press conference. Its spokespeople didn't turn to BET or Black radio. They called in Black bloggers, most of them not even remotely political, and few if any working journalists. What the White House hoped to accomplish was crystal clear --- to use them the manner corrupt and lazy reporters are used, to seduce them with the illusion of “privileged access” in return for the ability to plant anonymous stories and gossip as “news” items.
“Real journalists would have laughed those anonymous spokesperson and “off the record” requirements right out of the room. Ethical journalists only grant anonymity to sources like whistle blowers with well-founded fears of retaliation.”In the words of I.F. Stone, one of the 20th century's great investigative journalists, “Governments lie. All governments lie.” Stone's words are as true now as they were when he uttered them more than half a century ago.
When the White House invited black bloggers in for a Columbus Day meeting, they were told they could print anything they heard in the first half of the meeting, but that they could attribute none of it to any White House spokesperson by name, while the second half of their meeting would be completely “off the record.” Fortunately, or perhaps by design, none of the invited bloggers were actually journalists. They hailed mostly from celebrity gossip sites like ConcreteLoop, and Young, Black and Fabulous, from BET, Essence magazine, from BlackSingles.Com.
Real journalists would have laughed those anonymous spokesperson and “off the record” requirements right out of the room. Ethical journalists only grant anonymity to sources like whistle blowers with well-founded fears of retaliation, not to police to mayors or to prosecutors, not to military or civilian government officials. The only reason for representatives of these powerful institutions to speak to reporters, or bloggers “off the record” is to lie to them with the expectation that they will pass untraceable falsehoods on to the public as news, or in the case of Young, Black and Fabulous, celebrity gossip.
Sure enough, cell phone video of the president dropping in to briefly address the bloggers hit the internet the very next day, prompting the Atlantic's token Black commentator Ta Nehisi Coates to grouse about colored folks who didn't understand what “off the record” meant, as if being the covert mouthpieces of the powerful were something they really should strive to be.
“Black Agenda Report was not invited to the White House briefing, and that's perfectly OK with us.“
One of the invitees was a friend and colleague of ours, Ms. Leutisha Stills, now at Jack and Jill Politics. Observing that the White House hadn't called Black bloggers in since the 2008 presidential campaign, she opined that the bloggers were being, as she put it, “pimped.” We think Ms. Stills was correct, but for the wrong reasons. To be “pimped” is to be manipulated for some underhanded and shameful purpose. Whether bloggers, or journalists are shamefully used once every couple years, or three times every week is a difference only in the frequency of the act, not in the roles of the players or of the played.
Thus when Keli Goff, a Huffington Post and theLoop21.com blogger, called the White House briefing “a good first date,” she was publicly signaling her willingness to be used any way, any time by the powerful. There's a word for people who play that role, and that word is not “journalist.”
In his long career, the great investigative reporter I.F. Stone broke scores of original stories about war, peace and corruption. He never asked for, and he never got the privileged and “off the record” access to the powerful, which Ta Nehisi Coates imagines Black reporters should aspire to, the private interviews with mayors, admirals and presidents, who would have been much too afraid of his direct and probing questions anyway. Stone got his stories the old fashioned way, with diligent research.
Black Agenda Report was not invited to the White House briefing, and that's perfectly OK with us. We understand that reporters and bloggers too, who subsist on privileged access to the powerful in return for passing their anonymous tidbits to the public as news, that such people are being pimped. Which makes them.... well.... you know....
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web every Wednesday at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce makes some great points in his commentary. There are just two points that I'd like to make.
- First, the White House wanted to get their message out to a wide audience in the Black community. As we know from the Villager's Black Blog Rankings that I maintained for a couple of years ... gossip blogs have remarkably large audiences. That factoid seems to be the most important metric in the equation for the White House peeps.
- Second, bloggers are (for the most part) not journalists. We don't have journalistic training ... we don't have the budgets that many journalists have to travel ... we are simply bloggers. As such, to hold bloggers (for the most part) to the same standards as journalists isn't realistic.
What say u?