BOB GARFIELD: In other incendiary anti-Semitism news, the world of American journalism and its blogging subculture were stunned a little more than a week ago when Gregg Easterbrook, blogging on the New Republic magazine's internet site about Hollywood violence, invoked images of money-grubbing Jews. A few days later, Easterbrook apologized for "mangling words" in what he maintained was an otherwise defensible argument, but it was too late. At least too late to avoid getting fired from his gig on ESPN and to prevent being forever linked with blogging irresponsibility in the absence of an editorial safety net. Joining me now to discuss the dangers of premature sendulation is Mickey Kaus, author of Kausfiles on Slate.com. Mickey, welcome back to OTM.
MICKEY KAUS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: So about a week ago, Gregg Easterbrook pressed the send button, and thus commenced a nightmare. Tell me about the blogger's life and the meaning of that send button.
MICKEY KAUS: It means you're talking to the whole world. When we do that in print, there's usually an editor there to prevent us from saying anything really dumb, and when you blog, there's not.
BOB GARFIELD: So what mechanism do you, as a blogger, use to protect yourself and the world against the ill-considered thought, against the incorrect statement of fact, against the gross offense to an entire religion and culture.
MICKEY KAUS: There are two mechanisms. One is internal censorship, and number two is instant reader feedback and instant correction, and many bloggers feel that Gregg's mistake was he didn't correct it quickly enough. I mean that's the virtue of blogging over print and over talking on national television, is that you can change things very quickly. And if Gregg had said wait, that doesn't make sense, that's not what I meant to say, this whole thing never would have erupted. He took three of four days before he posted an apology, and that's -- in blogging terms, that's a long time.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. Now, the wrinkle in all of this is that in Gregg Easterbrook's case, he was not just a blogger, but he was a blogger whose blog appears on the New Republic web site. It is, in effect a column, authorized and brought to you by the New Republic, and yet, unedited by the editors at the New Republic. Is he a blogger or is he a columnist who needs an editor?
MICKEY KAUS: Well he's, he's sui generis. He, he is what he is. He is a blogger, writing on the New Republic web site. Obviously the editors of the New Republic can't be responsible for everything he says the way they are responsible if they edit his column. So the, the responsibility logically flows from the actual process by which it's written. I don't think lawyers will be satisfied for that explanation. I think as far as legal liability for libel, for example, they would still hold the New Republic editors responsible, and I think once the lawyers get into this whole process, everybody will have an editor.
BOB GARFIELD:Well, putting aside for a moment legal liability, let's just talk about journalistic ethics. Is there not an ethical responsibility for a publication to take responsibility for that which it publishes, at a minimum by reading it in advance?
MICKEY KAUS: I don't see why. I mean the New Republic took responsibility after the fact here, and they apologized. Why can't the New Republic say look, Gregg Easterbrook's a smart guy. We're going to let him blog on our site. They let him go on national television and talk representing the New Republic. Publications do that all the time. People go on live TV and talk. Why shouldn't they have to be censored too? So, I don't accept that.
BOB GARFIELD:Orville Schell, who is the dean of the Journalism School at University of California at Berkeley, said that, quote, "An edited blog is a contradiction in terms." Is that right? Once you become part of the editorial apparatus of the hosting organization, do you cease to be a blogger and mutate into some other entity?
MICKEY KAUS: Well an edited blog is an edited blog. It doesn't have the same immediacy and spontaneity as an unedited blog. It could still be really good. It could still be much faster than a printed column where you have to wait for the presses to run, and you can't change things after the fact. So I don't think it's in any way sort of an untenable form. It's a perfectly valid form, but my point is only that an unedited blog is a perfectly valid form too.
BOB GARFIELD:Tell me for a moment about the community of bloggers. You know, obviously we're asking these questions, but I'm sure the e-mails and the blog entries were flying back and forth fast and furious in the past week or two because of the Easterbrook incident. Is there a consensus building about what this has done to the landscape?
MICKEY KAUS: I haven't seen it. I-- There hasn't been a lot of talk about, oh, this shows we have to change our ways. Bloggers are, are naturally supportive of each other, in part because it's a new medium and there's a lot of blogger triumphalism around about how the landscape of the First Amendment is changing and we're taking on the established powers, etc, etc. --in part because bloggers have an interest to be nice to each other because we send readers to each other, so the ecology of blogging is sort of back-scratching as opposed to hostile.
BOB GARFIELD:We know, since you mentioned the blogging universe's sense of mission and purpose and historical significance, it strikes me sometimes that it's almost messianic, and we get a lot of e-mail from bloggers who for-- You know, I think if Dan Rather did the CBS Evening News tonight in women's clothing and we reported on it this weekend, on Monday we'd get e-mails that said sure, Dan Rather cross-dressed on the evening news, but why didn't you do something about blogs? Has this deflated what seems to be a sometimes overblown sense of self-importance among those in the blogosphere?
MICKEY KAUS: It's helped deflate it. Blogger triumphalism sort of deflated by itself a bit. I mean there are some bloggers like Virginia Postrel who've been campaigning against blogging hubris for months or even years, but I have not seen any great handwringing debate in the blogosphere. Maybe there's been too little, but I haven't seen a lot of it.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Mickey, as always, thanks very much.
MICKEY KAUS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Mickey Kaus is the author of Kaus Files which you can unedited and unbowed on Slate.com. Coming up, where advertising intrudes on programming, and where it abandons it. This is On the Media, from NPR.