In 1997, ABC “reporter” Cokie Roberts blasted the Internet in a column she wrote with her husband, Steve. Among other things they complained about was that (surprise) the Internet didn’t allow for any mediation of views by responsible folks.
To us it [unmediated web communication] sounds like no more deliberation, no more consideration of an issue over a long period of time, no more balancing of regional and ethnic interests, no more protection of minority views.
Jon Katz, who at the time was writing for HotWired, turned around and ripped on the Roberts’s saying,
The column serves as a window into the dark and disconnected heart of Washington journalism, a culture that fiercely defends its own freedom but has mixed feelings about everyone else’s.
Katz was certainly right, but on the other hand a very popular web site Katz now writes for on occasion, Slashdot, seems intent on proving Cokie and Steve Roberts main contention correct.
This morning, for example, Slashdot posted an item titled Microsoft Fakes Citizen Letters of Support. As is typical with Slashdot, they post an excerpt from a user who first submitted the story to the site.
According to this Seattle Times article, Microsoft is sending letters to Utah’s Attorney General in support of the company, but with fake signatures of citizens (some of whom are dead!). The article says: “Letters sent in the last month are on personalized stationery using different wording, color and typefaces, details that distinguish Microsoft’s efforts from lobbying tactics that go on in politics every day. State law-enforcement officials became suspicious after noticing that the same sentences appear in the letters and that some return addresses appeared invalid.””
This is where I start to get really angry. If you actually go read the Seattle Times story, Lobbyists Tied to Microsoft Wrote Citizens’ Letters, it bears little resemblance to this summary.
Is Microsoft making up letters, signing dead people’s names to them, and then sending those letters to Utah’s Attorney General? Of course not.
What actually happened here was a number of pro-Microsoft lobbying groups conducted telephone surveys about the MS antitrust case. People who indicated they opposed the antitrust case were sent a package including an already prepared letter opposing the antitrust case that they could sign and mail to their state’s attorney general.
So where do the dead people come in? According to the Seattle Times,
Utah officials found that two prefab letters from Citizens Against Government Waste bore the typed names of dead people. Those names had been crossed out by family members who signed for them. And another letter came from “Tucson, Utah,” a city that doesn’t exist.
It is reprehensible for Slashdot to claim that, “Microsoft is sending letters to Utah’s Attorney General in support of the company, but with fake signatures of citizens (some of whom are dead!).”
This from the same site where editors and readers go ballistic because the film Swordfish‘s portrayal of hacking, and specifically computer encryption, was beyond laughable. But at least everyone seeing it new that Swordfish was a piece of fiction, while Slashdot continues to engage in such shoddy practices and pass them off as fact. And, of course, almost never makes any sort of corrections or retraction notices.
And personally I just don’t get it. Here’s my favorite story about Cokie Roberts: she’s a liar as well. Roberts was almost fired by ABC for an incident involving faked “live” coverage outside the White House. Basically, ABC ran footage showing Roberts reporting live from the White House, but in fact the footage was actually shot on a sound stage in front of a blue screen with the White House added in later.
That was extremely shoddy journalism, and at the moment Slashdot is not a whole lot better.
I guess I really don’t understand why anyone would want to put out such a shoddy product. I mean, I understand why traditional news agencies often get burned — incredible deadline and economic pressures — but I don’t see how independent web sites are doing anybody a favor by repeating the same mistakes of traditional media.