ttlb accepting new community requests

As part of the new release, I’ve made sure that TTLB’s infrastructure is ready to handle an influx of new blog class=”textlink”>Communities — and as a result, I’m now accepting requests for new ones.
Communities are simply groups of blogs related by common interests, beliefs, or other characteristics, so if you and fellow bloggers would like to start one, and get your own Community page at TTLB, sign up using the form above and I’ll get you set up. We’ve already had quite a few new requests come in from the backlog, and I’ll be posting further today to highlight the new arrivals…

it’s all in the mix

Where’s class=”textlink”>Wilford Brimley* when you need him?
So ABC runs a story that says Dennis Hastert is “in the mix” in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress.
Do they provide context of what being “in the mix” might mean, as opposed to, hypothetically, being “under investigation”?
They do not.
But now, after a rather flat denial from the Justice department (“Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.”), ABC is standing by its story — sort of:
Despite a flat denial from the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement sources tonight said ABC News accurately reported that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is “in the mix” in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress….ABC’s law enforcement sources said the Justice Department denial was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal “target” or “subject” of the investigation.
One of ABC’s rather helpful sources goes even further, complimenting ABC for their careful wording:
“You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,” a senior official said.
Well, they say if you can make one person happy, then you’ve accomplished something.
So here’s a few questions for our intrepid colleagues at ABC:
1) Why didn’t ABC provide any explanation or context in the original story for the rather bizarre phrasing “in the mix” ? Did they ask their source if Hastert was an actual target or subject of an investigation? If yes, what did the source say? If no, why the heck not?
2) At least two (ABC specifes sources, plural) officials are leaking** like a sieve on this story. Why? In ABC’s opinion, what is their motivation? Disclosing details of an investigation in progress is a bit of a big deal, last I checked. So why are these sources doing it? And why wasn’t some explanation of ABC’s perspective on their motivations included in the story?
3) It would be nice if ABC could help me understand the following:
Law enforcement sources told ABC News that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has provided information to the FBI about Hastert and a number of other members of Congress that have broadened the scope of the investigation. Sources would not divulge details of the Abramoff’s information.
“You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,” a senior official said.
One focus involves a letter Hastert wrote in 2003 urging the Secretary of the Interior to block an Indian casino that would have competed with tribes represented by Abramoff.

Emphasis mine. So help me out here: your sources “would not divulge details”, but two paragraphs later, you’re specifying the exact area of focus that is zeroing in on Hastert. Sounds pretty detailed to me. So while we’re doing details, what about this question: “a number of other members” could mean one. It could mean 434. Which is it? Or at least, which one is it closer to? What did your source say when you asked them? And why isn’t that answer worth publishing? (It’s the Internet: the bits are cheap).
In conclusion: yes, I know you want to play Woodward in the garage with your source(s), keeping them all mysterious and such (it’s fun!), and sparing the ignorant masses the details of the messy sausage-making that goes into producing a news story. But with a piece like this, the way you got the information is just as important as the information itself — sometimes more. A good blogger would never have run this story without some context on how and, in their judgment, why they got the information — and a good professional journalist shouldn’t have either.
Update: Oh, it gets better and better! Hugh Hewitt points out something I missed: that it would appear that ABC News has changed the text of the story currently on their web site since its original publication!
So here’s the first paragraphs as they appear right now (8:41pm PDT):
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.
Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

But Hugh indicates that “Hastert’s office” provided a different version. Which reminded me that I received the story, in email, from a Republican Senator’s office at 3:49pm. Here’s the first paragraphs of that version:
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level government sources.
Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.”

Pretty important difference! So I’ll add #4 to my list of questions: is it the policy of ABC news to make substantive changes to high-profile news stories without acknowledging them as corrections?
Update Again: I went looking for a cached version of the original ABC News story, with no luck. But I got the next best thing, just in case anyone’s feeling conspiracy minded and doesn’t believe that ABC actually ran with the stronger-worded version.
Check out this screen capture of Memeorandum from just a few moments ago:

Continue reading “it’s all in the mix”

White House “reaches out to the base”…

…and thwacks it over the head with a two-by-four. Just got the following in my Inbox from the White House Communications folks:
Setting The Record Straight: Heritage Foundation Report Overestimates Legal Immigration Increase Under Senate Immigration Bill
A Heritage Foundation Report Claims The Hagel-Martinez Senate Immigration Bill (S. 2611) Would Lead To An Additional 84 Million New Legal Immigrants Over 20 Years. (Robert Rector, “Senate Immigration Bill Would Allow 100 Million New Legal Immigrants Over the Next Twenty Years,” Heritage Foundation, 5/15/06)
But A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Analysis Of The Hagel-Martinez Bill Found It Would Increase The U.S. Population By 8 Million People Over The First 10 Years – A Fraction Of The Heritage Report’s Claim.

The email, about a page long, goes right into a series of bullet points that address and reject many of Heritage’s claims. (Full text is included at the bottom of this post in the extended entry).
Now, I don’t have a dog in this fight — I frankly have no clue whether Heritage or the White House has the better set of facts here. But it strikes me that there is some feedback to be given to the White House on their communication style, and it is a particularly relevant moment to deliver it with with Tony Snow coming into play class=”textlink”>and making some rather encouraging noises about engaging with the blogosphere.
Recognizing that the White House is not a blog, I think it can be informative to read their email as if it were a blog post, and judge it by the same standards we would apply to a blogger’s work. And by those standards, it falls rather short.
First, a key rule I try to apply in blogging is “don’t be a jerk.” In the way it presented this email, the White House was, frankly, being a jerk: the email seems to give Heritage no credit at all for their efforts; there’s nothing along the lines of “we appreciate Heritage’s focus on this critical issue but differ with their conclusions”; not even a nod of acknowledgement that Heritage does some mighty fine work in general and oh, by the way, represents a core constituency that the administration is trying not to piss off too mightily at the moment. Now, my rule does have a qualifier, which is, “unless it serves my purposes to be a jerk.” But I just don’t see much purpose or upside for the White House in being jerk-y towards a conservative group like Heritage.
Second, if you’re going to write a blog post White House email which advances a set of arguments contradicting the facts and conclusions of a report like Heritage’s, you darned well better include some links to your sources in it. The White House email included a total of four hyperlinks: all of which simply point at the Heritage report. The email mentions a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis — with no link. It mentions a National Research Council analysis — with no link. Why not? Show your sources, and the credibility of your argument is immediately enhanced — not to mention giving the reader the opportunity to actually check them and form their own judgment.
Lastly, a point of style, which perhaps might be a bit unfair (and might also fall under the jerkyness critique in point one above). The White House email presents itself as fact, unassailable and unquestionable: “Heritage Foundation Report Overestimates Legal Immigration”. Is the truth in this matter really that black and white? Heritage is simply 100%, utterly wrong, with no possibility of any honest debate or differing interpretations? What would be lost by presenting these same points of argument in a less commanding, confrontational style?
On some issues, the White House’s “Setting the Record Straight” emails should rightfully declare genuinely incorrect statements of fact as exactly that. But on a subject like this — prediciting the future impact of a Senate bill that has yet to even be passed — it seems to me that nobody can possibly know with certainty where “straight” is, or whether the record is indeed properly aligned to it or not. In these cases, a tone of engagement; of constructive disagreement, and of conversation with Heritage — and the bloggers to which this email was sent — would seem to be a far more appropriate, and productive approach.
All of this is even more important given Heritage’s positioning squarely within the conservative base. But the lessons apply regardless of the source which the White House seeks to correct. Advance the argument; but do so with respect for those you are disagreeing with, and for your reader (links!).
And try not to be a jerk…

Continue reading “White House “reaches out to the base”…”

special coverage: President Bush’s immigration speech

I’ll be providing special coverage tonight for President Bush’s immigration speech with a dedicated tracking page showing all the bloggers who are liveblogging or reacting to the speech.
The page is here, and includes a quick form for bloggers to sign up and let me know that you’ll be covering the event.
Be sure to also tune in to Hugh Hewitt’s show tonight, as he’ll be doing an extended edition to cover the speech, and I’ll be helping him out in covering blogosphere reactions.

the new ttlb

It’s a big day here at TTLB: Welcome to the new release!
Let’s cut right to the chase. Here are just some of the goodies you’ll now see around the site:

  • Topics, topics, topics: TTLB’s topic-tracking functionality has been completely overhauled, and is now focused laserbeam-like on all the most interesting subjects being discussed in the blogosphere. Check the top of the front page for the at-a-glance view, or view the full topics page for history graphs on all the latest topics.
  • Search: Don’t like the topics TTLB is tracking? Use the search function and make your own topic page. If you’ve signed up for a free account, you can even save your search to your very own ‘My Topics’ page for future reference.
  • Blog Details: The blog details page has been expanded with completely new functionality, including a Metrics tab showing how a blog is doing in terms of traffic and links compared to its historical average (is this a “hot” day or a “cold” day?) and new spiral graphs which show which blogs are linking to the tracked blog — and which ones it is linking to.
  • New Design: With the help of the talented Karl Egenberger, we also have a new look to go with all the new features. Karl enhanced the existing bear logo, added a spiffy (and far more accurate) new portrait of the lovely Lady M, and helped clean up the graphics and styles throughout the site.

While the new release has been in testing for quite some time, there are sure to be glitches, so please bear with me in these first days as we shake them out. In particular, be aware that Ecosystem rankings and link-counts are in flux due to some of the work around the release, but will stabilize back to normal over the next few weeks. (So no “why did my ranking drop???” queries for at least a little while, please.)
Much effort has gone into this launch, and so I’d definitely welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions. Take a look around, get to know the new look, and please — let me know what you think!
N.Z. Bear
Update 8:28pm PDT: Ah, nothing like an Instalanche to provide some nice performance/load testing! One feature — the spiral Inbound/Outbound links graphs on the blog details pages — appears to be causing performance problems. I’ve disabled it for now whilie I work on a fix…