Back in the day, before I was a high school physics teacher, I was a newspaper reporter for two smallish dailies. So I have more than a passing familiarity with the journalistic trade. Blogging, technically speaking, is not reporting, since it frequently includes commentary by the writer/editor/publisher of the blog. Reporters are supposed to leave personal bias out of their work.
While blogging is not reporting, it is a form of journalism, and should observe the same ethics that professional journalists follow. When bloggers cross the line of ethical behavior, they demean this vibrant new medium.
Michelle Malkin is a conservative pundit with an eponymous website/blog. Like fellow commentators Ann Coulter and Debbie Schlussel, Malkin revels in using biting invective, making extremist pronouncements, and being a loud anti-liberal, anti-Democrat gadfly. Malkin, Coulter and Schlussel have adoring fans who eat up their brand of commentary like some audiences love Jerry Springer’s show.
Recently, a group of students planned to protest the appearance of military recruiters at the University of California-Santa Cruz. The students sent out a press release about the protest, unwisely including their personal contact information. Malkin blogged about the protest, slinging the predictable extremist invective about the unAmerican activities of these liberal fifth-columnists, and published the students’ contact information on her blog.
Her acolytes responded by flooding the students with hateful and threatening e-mails and phone messages. Word got out, and soon supporters of the students were sending hateful and threatening e-mails to Malkin. (She wisely does not publicize neither her phone number nor her physical address.) Malkin of course used these e-mails as ammunition on her blog, saying her rights were being infringed, etc., etc.
The UCSC students requested that she remove their contact information from her site. She not only refused — she reposted the same information on her blog!
Malkin is no journalist, though she used to work for newspapers. Or perhaps I should qualify that statement and say she is not an ethical journalist, nor an ethical blogger. There was no good reportorial reason to publish the contact information of the student protesters, since those details do not “make the story.” She posted the contact info only to appeal to the baser instincts of her already rabid readership. If her blog were a TV show, she’d be rabble-rousing to boost her ratings.
Perhaps I am an idealist (well, I know I am, actually), but I would expect even the right wing blogosphere to think before acting irrationally in public. Judging from the blogs of Malkin, Schlussel and Coulter, they are just demogogues like their male counterpart, Rush Limbaugh. Normally, we can ignore their pretentious bluster, but not when it endangers the health and welfare of our fellow citizens.
If you want more details about the whole affair, The Daily Kos has an even-handed review, with several links to pertinent stories and blog entries.