Two Way Street
Today's LA Times has a front page article on the efforts of Josh Marshall and the TPM crew to bring the story of the firing of the US attorneys to the fore. But beyond the remarkable story of the impressive journalism involved, the article's author — Terry McDermott — has a really good grasp of how they did it, and how the interactive nature of the blogosphere can work in such stories. It's something I'm always trying to explain to traditional journalists and they always have a hard time understanding, and I think the description here is quite good:
Blogs can top the presses
Talking Points Memo drove the U.S. attorrneys story, proof that Web writers with input from devoted readers can reshape journalism.
The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.
In December, Josh Marshall, who owns and runs TPM , posted a short item linking to a news report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the firing of the U.S. attorney for that state. Marshall later followed up, adding that several U.S. attorneys were apparently being replaced and asked his 100,000 or so daily readers to write in if they knew anything about U.S. attorneys being fired in their areas.
For the two months that followed, Talking Points Memo and one of its sister sites, TPM Muckraker, accumulated evidence from around the country on who the axed prosecutors were, and why politics might be behind the firings. The cause was taken up among Democrats in Congress. One senior Justice Department official has resigned, and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales is now in the media crosshairs.
The participation of readers was also critical to the Democratic cat herding that TPM did during BushCo's push to loot Social Security. Josh is extremely good at spotting a promising story and being able to exert pressure in just the right spot, as well as enfranchising other blogs into the effort. I'm happy to see the TPM folks get the credit they deserve, but also delighted that the myth of DFHs in their bathrobes spouting two-bit opinions is being exploded. The US attorneys story seems to be turning into some sort of tipping point for the administration, the scandal that finally caused public disgust to reach critical mass. It's rather fitting that it be as a result of a blog-forged story that this happens, considering the fact that the blogosphere has kept the light shining during some very dark times.
As Digby says:
If the press can get past their loathing of the dirty hippies for five minutes they will see that not only have we been right, we have been flogging some amazingly good stories for the past six years that had they bothered to report them would have been journalistic coups. We really aren't that nuts — and the Bush administration really is that bad.
They aren't there yet, but a few of them look to be headed in that direction, and that is a very good thing.