There are plenty of lessons to be had from observing the meteoric rise and flame-out of Ben Domenech's professional mainstream blogging career. Unfortunately, the people who need to learn those lessons the most -- the goofballs who misrun the Washington Post and its sister website -- seem to have learned the least valuable lessons.
However much the Post may try to disassociate itself from the dotcom (a bit disingenuous, since they tried to do exactly the opposite when the usual 'tards brayed about Dan Froomkin), they at least should share in some responsibility for having failed to properly vet Mental Ben. If a few enterprising bloggers can unearth a half-dozen instances of plagiarism in their spare time, why couldn't a putatively leading bastion of "legitimate" professional journamalism? The mind wobbles.
Worse yet, upon the discovery of his journalistic misdeeds, Domenech instantly and irrevocably went into damage control mode, and tried to put the finger on everyone else. He claimed that his editors had plagiarized Salon for his movie reviews -- a charge that, even if true, would only underscore the impression that he's underqualified as a writer (an impression you could also get by, um, reading his nonsense). He even swiped a couple of Doughy Pantload chestnuts from the National Review. Fergodsake, kid, if you're gonna steal, make it worth your while at least.
The jackass even tried to drag P.J. O'Rourke into his little shitstorm, which blew up in his face.
So we all know what happened by now, anyway. And of course it's the plagiarism, and the lack of heavy vetting, that the Post is apologizing for. Well, that's nice, but that's the least of their problems. The real problem here is that the Post even felt the urge to take on someone with Mental Ben's easily followed track record. This is a guy who famously called Coretta Scott King a communist on the day of her funeral. This is a guy who reflexively red-baits and cheap-shots his ideological opponents with bellicose straw-man arguments and whiny fabulism. This is a guy who spanks his tiny meat to Red Dawn and lectures grown-ups on the sanctity of stayin' God-fearin' and reg'lar marryin', as if he'd figured it all out at the ripe old age of 24.
(Speaking of which, when you try to pass off your serial plagiarism as a youthful indiscretion, and it was only seven years ago, you're either a liar, a moron, or more likely both, because you're actually dumb enough to believe that sensible people will fall for your bullshit explanation.)
So it's really Mental Ben's illustrious body of work, and his obvious family connections (he was a speechwriter for idiot Texas Senator John Cornyn, and his daddy was Jack Abramoff's butt-boy in the Interior Dept.), and the glaring lack of a "Blue America" counterbalance, that Pravda should be apologizing for. That's where they really let their readers down, and no amount of parsing about website versus print edition is going to change that. You put your name on it, folks, it's still your fault if the operation's a bit slipshod.
The thing is, I actually like the Post's site quite a lot, and there's much to recommend it. The problem is of a more institutional nature, and is a classic example of why I bitch about the pernicious corporate media so much. They hired this little prick in the first place to genuflect to conservative readers (or, equally possible, vindictive assholes in the administration who are known for routinely intimidating political enemies) in the usual fake show of "objectivity".
Objectivity is yet another in a long line of words that has been beaten out of its former shape; it now essentially means that if you write a news story, you must present the other side as if it had equal validity, even if it's utterly ridiculous. That's how the "intelligent design" movement picked up so much steam, before a decent judge finally put a bullet in its rabid head. (Don't worry, it'll be back as soon as they market-test a new name for it.)
The LA Times has a pretty good rundown of the situation, and Billmon has a great take on the Post's motives, and the institutionalized cowardliness that has permeated the mainstream media. This is just the latest of many episodes that have served to undermine the media's claims to legitimacy. Every time they get called on it, they whine about the insatiable barbarians of the blogosphere, yet it's precisely those barbarians who end up doing a significant portion of the legwork for them these days. Without the blogosphere, we would have had possibly months or years on end of Domenech's tiresome nonsense; without the bloggers, most people would never have heard of Jeff Gannon™, because the "legitimate" media just wouldn't have gotten around to it, or they'd have been too afraid to step on the wrong toes.
It is a sad state of affairs that the vaunted fourth estate feels the need to bend over backwards for an unpopular preznit, and cater to his minions and flunkies. As always, we should commence a hearing on blogger ethics, post-haste.
Possibly most off-putting was Mental Ben's valedictory, predictably a self-serving diatribe muddled with cheap finger-pointing and partisan whining. He's pretty good at dishing it out; taking it, not so much.
I have heard that phrase and variations of it so many damned times from Bushies that I lost count long ago. They're pathological, these people. Any conservative who supports Bush at this point -- after he's proven himself to be nothing but a big-spending Wilsonian who loves him some Jeebus -- is full of it, pure and simple. They are either social conservatives who don't care what else Bush does as long as he guts Roe v. Wade (which would be Mental Ben there), or they just hate paying taxes (but love being able to use all the services that taxes provide).
This smarmy "I'm not a partisan but I play one on TV" shit just drives me up the damned wall. Look, we get it. You couldn't get laid in college, so you convinced yourself that they were all assholes, and you were the good guys. Really, somebody do society a huge favor and fuck these guys while they're still in school, so they'll leave us all alone in their adult lives.
Lest you get the crazy notion that poor Ben's just a nice who been done wrong, he launches one final, pathetic scud at his tormentors:
Yeah, right back atcha, chump. George W. Bush is not America, and two out of three people who consider themselves Americans (but are apparently not good Americans in the opinion of this callow punk) have had their fill of Bush and his failed policies and his incompetent cronyism. So who's really the one "bashing America", fool?
And as much as he pretends to be gracious to his employers-for-last-week in his Redstate screed, he takes a slightly different tone for the hardcore 'tard crowd:
He's right about that, which brings me back to my main point, the big lesson that should be drawn from this by the big media organizations, but probably won't. The Post really botched this one; after the way they dropped the ball on the Froomkin deal a couple months ago, they have shown themselves to be singularly inept at handling the concerns of their readers, and consistently maintaining the integrity of their news-gathering processes.
Look, folks, quit worrying about trying to be everything to everyone, and just report the damned news, as the facts avail themselves. Don't worry about "Republican" facts, or "Democratic" facts, or "liberal" or "conservative" facts. Just find the facts, leave the lame equivocations and fake objectivity to joke news orgs like Fox, and get back to what's important. As with the Vichy Democrats, the people you are trying to appease are never going to be happy with you. Accept that and move on.