Jay Rosen, Micah Sifry apologize to Bob Woodward

techPresident | Jay Rosen | GigaOm | Reason

“The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet,” Bob Woodward said recently. He was telling a story about how a Yale journalism class put too much faith in the Web's free-information DNA. He asked them how they'd report out Watergate today. As Dan Zak reported:

I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”

Micah Sifry thought there was no way the story was true, and while reporting out his suspicions, accidentally published his draft. "I have egg on my face," Sifry wrote. In the draft, he included NYU professor Jay Rosen's speculation, which he published on his Facebook page as well, that Woodward's recollections sounded "made-up or very, very distorted from something one of them wrote."

Sifry talked to Steven Brill, who taught the class at which Woodward spoke. "Woodward's characterizations of their papers is totally accurate," Brill told Sifry, who published his finished account Tuesday. "It blows our minds every year."

Woodward told Sifry Rosen "ought to be ashamed and retire. That he would say that about somebody without checking. Someone who teaches students to think and weigh evidence, just at random says this? ... This only increases my distress about the Internet, and this rush to say anything."

Rosen, as per Internet tradition, wrote a piece flagellating himself. "There is no defense," he wrote. "I apologize to Mr. Woodward. I'm sorry I wrote that, Bob. I was wrong. Full stop."

Perhaps doomed to be lost among the mea culpas is some of the other criticism of Woodward's views that arose. Woodward's outlook is "romantic" and "serves the purposes of journalists who see themselves as a special breed, with special powers that normal mortals don’t possess," Mathew Ingram wrote on Friday, "and it serves the purposes of newspapers and other traditional media entities, who would like to be the sole source of all value in the media ecosystem."

Matt Welch wasn't specifically reacting to Woodward, but he echoed Ingram when he wrote Monday that the "superpower-focused view" of media history obscures the real tale, that of its market-driven evolution. "The most important fact of our modern media world, the engine of such unprecedented creativity and anxiety-inducing destruction, is that the customer is no longer captive. People create their own media, for the sheer bloody hell of it, and no longer adhere permanently to one of a handful of legacy brands."

It's worth aggregating back to February here, because Jack Shafer, who also writes for the Internet, wrote a column about how Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, may have played Woodward like a violin.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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