Rolling back with Rosen and Bay
[Note: I've posted an update to this article here.]
Jay Rosen and Austin Bay have recently posted an interesting exchange of ideas about Bush and the press. You can find it here on Rosen's blog, and here on Austin Bay's blog.
It began with a question Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU and a press critic and reviewer, posed to Bay: whether the Bush administration is essentially stonewalling the press (Rosen calls the process "rollback") by giving it as little information and cooperation as possible; and furthermore, if so, whether this policy is wise or necessary.
Austin Bay answers in his usual insightful, straightforward, and thorough manner, and then Rosen responds to Bay.
I'm not going to enter into a discussion of the issues myself, since they've been well-aired by both Bay and Rosen, and in the voluminous comments on both blogs. Instead, I want to discuss Rosen's reaction to the discussion that ensued in the comments section of his own blog.
Many of the commenters there were about as fed up with the MSM as any you'll find anywhere, the consensus being that whatever "rollback" has occurred on Bush's part was a justifiable reaction to press bias and distortion. Here is Rosen's response:
This is depressing. Austin and I had hoped that perhaps we'd move the dialogue a tiny bit with this.
I'll let it go for a day or so, and see if anything changes. If not, PressThink will go on full vacation mode, and comments will shut down. Cheers, everyone.
Understand that the comments section on the thread had not degenerated into the sort of overwhelmingly vicious nastiness that sometimes occurs on so many blogs. Nor was it filled with bad language or racial insults or spambots any of the usual reasons bloggers might have for deleting comments; not at all. In fact, in general, the tone was unusually refined--at least, as blog comments sections go--rather than lowdown and dirty. Yes, some of the comments may have overstated the case (on either side), and the comments were certainly polarized. But that's hardly remarkable in a comments section; in fact, it is to be expected. On the other hand, many of the commenters made some excellent points. And yes, many accused the press of bias, but this would hardly seem to be off-topic in the discussion at hand, whether or not Rosen disagrees with the accusation.
I'm not exactly inexperienced in this arena; after all, I moderate a comments section myself that features a certain amount of lively argument, and plenty of commenters with whom I disagree. Rosen's response on his blog made me wonder what might move me to close down comments on a thread. Suffice to say it would have to be something a great deal worse than what Jay was experiencing (and please, commenters, don't take that as a challenge!).
It's Rosen's blog, so he of course is allowed to do whatever he wants with his comments section, including closing it down, either in a single thread or completely (so far, by the way, he has allowed the comments to remain open).
From later remarks Rosen made on the same thread, it appears that he is upset with the comments to the post in question because he thinks the claims and accusations of press bias are too extreme. But even if that were true, would the proper remedy be to shut comments off? Wouldn't it be to refute them himself--or to let other commenters refute them--with facts, argument, and logic?
I found Rosen's threat to close down comments disturbing, especially in someone who is dedicated--as I believe he would say he is--to the free and open exchange of ideas. I've read Rosen with interest every now and then, and I must say I've never seen this particular side of him before. He's always seemed relatively evenhanded to me--although he is upfront about his own liberal orientation--and he is certainly not above criticizing the press himself (remember, his bio bills him as a "press critic"). So something about this thread seems to have pressed his buttons--"big time," as Dick Cheney would say.
I hope I'm not being too harsh in stating that Rosen's reaction reminded me of some of my grade school teachers who would open a topic up for discussion and then, if the responses weren't to their liking for whatever reason, would purse their lips and tap their feet in exasperation, waiting for the right answer--the one that agreed with their own point of view.
What is most strange about this reaction of Rosen's is that his post contains a critique of the Bush administration for supposedly shutting off the flow of information to the press in retaliation for what it perceives as press bias against it. But in the very same thread Rosen threatens to close his own comments section for engaging in free speech that doesn't quite suit him, apparently because it doesn't go in the direction in which he wants it to go. There's a certain fearful symmetry there.