When did reporting become trolling?

posted at 5:01 pm on September 9, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

Before diving into this I just wanted to say that I generally enjoy reading the work of Dave Weigel. He does a very solid job and interacts with his readers a lot in social media. But after the DNC wrapped up this week, he left me scratching my head when he took to the pages of Slate and described the conservative coverage of the Democrats’ platform debacle as “trolling.” (Sort of, anyway.)

“This time yesterday,” said the strategist, “I was sitting in my office and asking: Are we really talking about this? Are people really covering this? It’s over, I guess, but how stupid was that?”

Whatever lessons the Democrats take from Charlotte, whatever it did for the president or for the ambitious senators and governors who stalked delegate breakfasts and whispered “2016,” this is a fact: The convention was successfully trolled.

What he’s talking about is Jeff Dunetz blogging about the removal of the Jerusalem language from the DNC platform. After that it migrated to the Weekly Standard, Fox and CNN. Dave takes some time out to explain that it’s not, you know… trolling trolling here, but some new kind of trolling.

I don’t use troll in the pejorative sense. Actually, I may be trying to craft a neutral meaning of troll where none previously existed. The term, in its modern Internet usage, refers to people who want to start fights online to bring the universe into an argument on their terms. It comes not from Grimm literature, but from a fishing technique in which multiple lines are baited and dragged to haul in the maximum amount of cold-bloods.

Um… OK. But I’m still not clear on what the baseline complaint is here. Are you saying that nobody should have reported it? That it was somehow not newsworthy? Or are you implying that since the original reporting of the story took place on a blog, it somehow immediately disqualifies it as “news” in the eyes of the gatekeepers?

This is what I mean: We live in the age of trolling. Any comment made online, if it’s given the right forum, is as relevant as any comment made by some media gatekeeper. Think about a politician or a journalist on Twitter, and what he sees. If a colleague wants to tell him something, it appears in his feed with an @ symbol. If someone who just logged on and wants to bait a nerd logs on, he will send a message that appears with an @ symbol. Both are equally valid, at least in how they appear on-screen or on a phone. There is no ghetto-izing of comments into the bottom of a page, or into media that you don’t pay attention to.

And a small band of happy saboteurs took advantage of that. In Tampa, for the Republican convention, the Weekly Standard and the Washington Examiner, both owned by Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media, had teamed up for a daily mini-magazine of happy-friendly-witty convention stories. A typical headline was “The Pride of New Jersey: Chris Christie, by Those Who Know Him Best.” In Charlotte, a team of four Washington Times reports dropped cluster bombs on the DNC opera, with stories like the platform series and “Another Dem. Compares Republicans to Nazis.”

Weigel even goes on to say that John McCormack wrote to him to say that “reporting” would be a better word than “trolling” in this case, and Dave agreed with him. But if you agree, then what was the point of the column in the first place? Dave stated that there were probably 15,000 reporters in Charlotte, “of whom maybe 14,980 could have given a damn about the party platform.”

I’m sorry, Dave, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t your argument have been that 14,980 of those reporters are drawing too large of a paycheck because they’re simply not doing their jobs? The article goes on to note how much time was spent at the RNC talking about the abortion plank in the platform, so clearly the details of the party platforms are not only fair game, but newsworthy in their own right. Yet while the abortion brouhaha was apparently “news” being handled by reporters, the people covering the Israel and God language changes in the Democrats’ documents were “a small band of happy saboteurs” for some reason.

This makes no sense.


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