The New (more gullible) Media

Times media columnist James Rainey wrote over the weekend about how political pros love one unintended consequence of the wane of mainstream news outlets and the rise of blogs — it's much easier to co-opt and spin the newbies. But there's a danger in having all that gullibility in play.

One operative told me this week about planting attacks on opponents in partisan blogs, knowing the stories could bleed into mainstream news outlets, without leaving any incriminating fingerprints. Another described how he got green reporters to write stories (no campaign cash wasted!) on ads that the candidate had no intention of ever paying to put on TV.

"They don't know any better," the consultant chuckled. "So we can get away with that one again."

The political pros I interviewed talked about stories missed and questions not asked. But they were not entirely gleeful. These are consultants who care about more than just winning. (Hard to believe, but it's true.)

They know better than anyone what happens when the gatekeepers go missing.

"Imagine driving along [Interstate] 5. There used to be a couple highway patrolmen to keep people in line. Now they're gone and everyone knows it," said Chris Lehane, a veteran Democratic consultant. "It can devolve into a Mad Max situation pretty quickly."

Part of the changed landscape is that the reporters who do cover campaigns for newspapers and other old media now also tend to be closer to rookie status than to journalistic stardom (by the way, a recurring criticism aimed at the Times these days.) Rainey:

One political consultant told me he regularly encounters less-experienced (and more easily bamboozled) reporters when he works on state and congressional campaigns. He was the one who told me the newbies often didn't bother to check whether ads were really going to have any serious presence on television. The net effect: He got thousands of dollars worth of "free" media, exposing the public to ads the politician would never pay to put on the air.

It's all too much for Marc Cooper, who oversaw the amateur journalist effort at the Huffington Post during last year's presidential campaign and thinks bloggers can do fine as watchdogs. He posted a video response to Rainey. Personally, I think they're both right.

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