June 15, 2003

Belgravia Dispatch in the Press

Belgravia Dispatch in the Press

Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times (UK) has a piece in the Times today on the entire Wolfowitz/Guardian/oil imbroglio. Here's a sample:

"The Wolfowitz story was too good to be true and too good to check. A freelance at The Guardian was so delighted with it that he went to the trouble of translating Wolfowitz from German into English, when he had spoken in English in the first place. And the German story was wrong anyway. No matter: another journalist turned it into the splash.

I’m told senior editors at The Guardian were too busy with exciting news about Tony Blair’s leadership pact with Gordon Brown at the Granita restaurant in Islington nine years ago to notice there had been a “massive cock-up”.

Emily Bell, managing editor of Guardian Online, said the mistake had nothing to do with the anti- war stance of the paper or many of its staff: “I don’t know what the politics of my writers or editors are.” But it is hard to resist the conclusion that the fallacy crept in because it fitted a pre-existing mindset about the war.

Gregory Djerejian, 30, is an American blogger (web logger) in London who runs a site called Belgravia Dispatch. A current affairs junkie, he took only minutes to do The Guardian’s job for it. “When I saw the headline, my first reaction was Paul Wolfowitz is too smart to say anything like that, so I did a quick Google search.”

Wolfowitz had in fact drawn a comparison between North Korea, teetering on the edge of economic collapse — which he described as “a major point of leverage” over its weapons programme — and Iraq. “The primary difference ... is that we had virtually no economic options in Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.” At no point did he state or imply that the war was a grab for oil.

A correction was up and running on Belgravia Dispatch hours before The Guardian got around to its own. “I don’t have a political agenda,” said Djerejian, “but I get a little offended by the constant conspiratorial agenda about the Americans.”

My feelings entirely. The National Museum of Baghdad is to reopen this week with almost all of its treasures intact. Yet western academics and commentators rushed to blame the Americans for the worst vandalism since the invasion of the Mongols."

First time readers coming via the Times can catch my original scoop here. If you're interested in the Pravda angle (detailed elsewhere in Baxter's piece) go here.

Please note too that Baxter's piece was less on bloggers per se than the rush to judgment of left-leaning media outlets like the Guardian. She therefore omitted parts of her interview with me where I detailed the role of mega-bloggers like Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit) and Andrew Sullivan in helping to get the story out. If they hadn't blogged about the Belgravia Dispatch's take on the Guardian's Wolfowitz piece it would have likely taken a lot longer for the Guardian to get around to putting up a correction.

Why? Because as the Guardian itself pointed out (in their second, mea culpa-style correction) the erroneous story came to their attention because they were receiving a veritable deluge of E-mail (mostly from the States) alerting them to how grossly distorted their Wolfowitz piece was. The vast majority of these chagrined E-mailers were doubtless readers of blogs like Sullivan's.

Or take the Pravda distortion of Wolfowitz's comments. Reynolds and Sullivan, for instance, never blogged on that aspect of the Wolfowitz/oil story. Less trafficked blogs like Innocents Abroad and Oxblog (the last run by a group of Rhodes Scholars at Oxford that is enjoying a steadily rising readership) did.

But there was never a Guardian-like outcry in the blogosphere that might have contributed to a similar deluge of emails being sent to Pravda editors perhaps compelling (or shaming) them into surmounting Soviet-era editorial standards and putting up a correction. This is partly because people like Reynolds, at the end of the day, probably don't hold Pravda to Western journalistic standards (and rightly so, it appears) and so weren't as shocked by its distortion as they were by the Guardian's.

But an alternate explanation that is perhaps equally plausible is the rapid-fire "news-cycle" of the blogosphere. Recall that attention was already turning towards Burma in the blogosphere and the Guardian/Wolfy story had, to some extent, become yesterday's news.

Note, however, as Reynolds himself has pointed out previously, that the blog medium does allow a blogger to really focus on one story with a monomaniacal-like intensity. (Though MaDo and Krugman of the NYT seem to pull off such monomania (their seemingly endless anti-Bush screeds) in the conventional paper press too).

Regardless, here's hoping American policymakers in locales like Afghanistan and Iraq will prove to have longer attention spans!

Posted by Gregory at June 15, 2003 05:29 AM

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Posted by: Inkjet Cartridges at October 15, 2004 03:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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