The "incivility" in public discourse, that is. Last week, I had the pleasure of being a guest at a very large gathering of lawyers, at which keynote speaker Tim Russert blamed "bloggers" for warping the courtroom-like sense of "civility" into the screamfest that is partisan discussion today.
[Note: I'm working from notes and memory; the event was not covered by the press. Only the words in quotation marks are direct quotes from Mr. Russert, not that he said anything particularly enlightening or inflammatory.]
"Bloggers," said Russert, "all force candidates to accept a position, to play a[n adversarial] role," and "puts pressure on those of us in the mainstream media [if we're not] sufficiently adversarial. It doesn't work that way." Actually, it seems to me that Russert sees journalism as being, by definition, adversarial. He asserts that the news media must "represent both sides of the issue," apparently (this is just me talking) even when there isn't another realistic side, e.g. scientific issues. Of course, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the question of WMDs, how much MSM coverage was there of "both sides of the issue"? Did the American public get to hear the arguments of former Marine and weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who said that Iraq didn't have WMDs and warned against the invasion?
My dinner companions, noting my eye-rolling reactions to the speech, expressed a higher opinion of Russert. OK, I asked at a subsequent reception, how well have Russert and the MSM kept you informed? Russert's analysis on TV that day on the story about the firing of eight federal attorneys was strictly about the machinations between Congress and the White House. His audience, my lawyer buddies, had no idea that the story had been uncovered by a blog, TPMmucker, or of the legal issues involved. Just regular consumers, not news junkies, these folks hadn't even heard of the Downing Street Memos revealed nearly two years ago.
I don't know if Mr. Russert has heard of them, either. In his speech, he did admit to "our failure to focus" on the "colossal intelligence failure" that led to war. I'm sure he was oblivious to the irony of his statement.