When WSJ Flunks Internet History, Blogs Step In To Educate

from the but-we-need-to-support-newspapers dept

We hear over and over again from traditional reporters how we need to "protect" newspapers and how, as newspapers fail, no one can step in and replace them -- especially not "new media" like blogs. In fact, we're told how newspapers are "trustworthy," but blogs are "amateurish" and prone to hyperbole and errors. It's a common story told over and over again -- especially by those supporting the idea of paywalls and the like. In fact, we wrote about yet another such example just recently. And yet... it seems that we just as frequently hear about newspapers making big mistakes, and blogs stepping in to correct them.

Today's example involves the supposedly venerable Wall Street Journal, who posted a column by former publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, trying to claim that the internet was really invented by private companies, without much government support. Except, of course, that's false. Ridiculously false. Thankfully, we had blogs to step in and debunk many of the factual errors made by Crovitz. Quickly into the breach stepped Steve Wildstrom at Tecpinions, who pointed out that Crovitz's version of history was way off and then Tim Lee at Ars Technica, who went even deeper in showing how Crovitz mangled the history.

Among the many, many errors in Crovitz's piece were the claims that Tim Berners-Lee (no relation to Tim Lee above) "invented hyperlinks." He did no such thing. He invented the web, which came long after hypertext and hyperlinks were well known and well-established. He also tries to downplay Arpanet, and worst of all pretends that because Vint Cerf (with Bob Kahn) invented TCP/IP, that it shows it was done without the government's help. He, of course, leaves out that both were employed... by the government. It also plays up the importance of ethernet, invented at Xerox PARC. This was a big deal (and I even have a photo of the first ethernet connection that I recently took on a tour of PARC), but that was for local networks and not "the internet."

To be fair, this is the opinion pages, not the reporting pages, but the WSJ is supposed to have a pretty high bar for getting facts right, isn't it? And I would assume that applies to the opinion pages as well. Of course, what's interesting is that Crovitz has a history of this kind of thing. A couple years ago, we wrote about another piece by him which misattributed a quote of mine to someone else's and then took three days or so to post a correction. This Crovitz piece has added one correction at the time of my writing this, but only for (another) misattributed quote (Crovitz apparently didn't realize that he was quoting a blog post by Tyler Cowen quoting someone else and attributed it to Cowen). Everything else is still in there.

Of course, even more ironic in all of this is that Crovitz helped found Journalism Online -- one of the leading companies pushing newspapers to set up paywalls, arguing that newspapers need people to pay, or all good reporting will go away. Everyone makes mistakes. It's not limited to either newspapers or blogs. I don't mean to pick on Crovitz or the WSJ in particular here (even though the mistakes in his piece were both plentiful and easily cross checked). It's just that the idea that newspapers have some sort of "lock" on factual, objective reporting -- whereas newfangled "blogs" are chock full of misinformation -- is an inaccurate position. Yes, there's plenty of misinformation spread on various sites, but the same thing shows up in "traditional" media too. The point is that the wider ecosystem seems to be pretty damn good at highlighting those mistakes (even if the WSJ is then very slow to correct them).


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    jakerome (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:34pm

    Opinion journal is a wholly separate operation

    To be fair, this is the opinion pages, not the reporting pages, but the WSJ is supposed to have a pretty high bar for getting facts right, isn't it? And I would assume that applies to the opinion pages as well.

    It's just not true. The WSJ opinion pages are in line with the Washington Times and the very worst of the reactionary wing of the Republican Party. It's as bad as the WSJ news pages are good.

     

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  2.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    The Weekly World News, a traditional dead-tree newspaper, is where I go for all MY carefully researched facts.

    http://weeklyworldnews.com/

     

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  3.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:41pm

    "In fact, we're told how newspapers are "trustworthy," but blogs are "amateurish" and prone to hyperbole and errors"

    Who ever said that has never read the Daily Mail (a UK paper).

    There should never be any protection for any business or industry. Businesses should be allowed to fail when they can no longer sustain themselves and new businesses should be able to step up and take their place.

     

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  4.  
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    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:47pm

    They're all wrong!

    Al Gore invented it all...and built it so it would run on recycled peanut oil...and generate oxygen as a side effect of the process!

     

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  5.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:49pm

    Well you are right that we do make mistakes. As a writer, I occasionally make mistakes when I write and I'm working on improving the quality of my work by doing my research and brushing up on my grammar. Granted even if I improve, I will make some mistakes and I am willing to improve on them.

    What baffles me is that even if Crovitz believes in the whole "newspapers are professional, blogs are amateurs," wouldn't it hurt to open up the search engine of his choice and type in "history of the Internet?" I checked Google, Bing and Yahoo and found plenty of sites that provides some information on the history of the Internet. So let me guess here: is it...

    1) he was on a deadline to not do the research,
    2) a little (or too) lazy to put some effort into the research,
    3) didn't want to put any effort in his search,
    4) actually did some research but got a wrong source, or
    5) any combination of the above.

    My money's on Option 5.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Aliasundercover, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:51pm

    Easy to Understand

    There is a reason why the Wall Street Journal has come more and more to resemble Fox News and it is Rupert Murdoch.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    That's FOX STREET JOURNAL to you, Mike.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    Re:

    6) "Never let facts get in the way of a good story".

     

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  9.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    Re: They're all wrong!

    Best....avatar....EVAR!!!!

     

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  10.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    The other point

    The other point that I felt this article could have emphasized better is that it isn't just true that traditional media outlets spread misinformation, but that often the outlets that set the record straight are new media like blogs.

     

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  11.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:04pm

    The real reason.

    7) Never let the facts get in the way of the propaganda message you want to push.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re: They're all wrong!

    One bed thing about text mode browsers is that I can't see the best avatar ever.

    Tell me...is it everything I deamed it would be?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re: They're all wrong!

    avatar? Isn't that those annoying blue things with tails in that scifi movie? :O)

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: They're all wrong!

    No thems is islams

     

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  15.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:07pm

    Re: The other point

    That dovetails quite nicely into the real reason that old school Journalism is failing. It sucks and we know it. We can share information between ourselves and do our own research and quickly find out when a journalist is full of sh*t.

    It also doesn't help that the quality of journalism has degraded at exactly the same time.

    Murrow would be embarrassed.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:10pm

    Re:

    I think the answer is much simpler than that. Look at the first paragraph of the article.

    I think he started with the premise of, "my conservative dogma dictates that Obama must be wrong about everything and my corporate overlords insist I push this narrative, therefore I will find a way to refute his statements!"

    And he just went from there, doing shoddy research to find any work on something networking related (even if only peripherally related to the actual internet) that wasn't expressly done by someone in the government.

    And if you read through the comments on the article, you'll find his intended audience piping up with their two minutes hate against the object of their hatred, Emmanuel Goldst...I mean, Barack Obama. He didn't write the article for anyone who actually knew anything about the origins of the internet, much less people who knew the difference between the internet and the world wide web. Some of them are probably the same people who thought AOL was the internet.

     

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  17.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: They're all wrong!

    It's pretty damned solid, sort of like Professor Fred from DOTT....

     

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  18.  
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    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:19pm

    "The" Arpanet

    By the way the noun was "the arpanet" not "arpanet". There were arpanet protocols like NCP (replaced later with IP, TCP and UDP) just as there are internet protocols, but they were/are used with the arpanet and the Internet.

    FWIW, since most of us used case-insenstive systems, and frequently uppercase defaults, capitalization isn't really a big deal: ARPANET, arpanet, ARPAnet...unlike the Internet, which is the mongo big internet of them all.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    More wsj bs - IGNORE IT

    That wsj "opinion" piece is just a another typical wsj political hit piece aimed at the president.

    File under pure bs.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    6) Never let progess get in the way of profit

     

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  21.  
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    DOlz, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 2:57pm

    Another reason old media is failing

    A recent TYT had a sobering story on another reason not to listen to old media anymore.

    Reporters Muzzled by Campaigns
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfmJ-ju6Y3E&feature=g-u-u

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 3:00pm

    Hey WSJ, look up "ARPAnet", then try to tell us the government didn't have a part.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 3:13pm

    Re:

    Never let facts get in the way of prophet

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Tunnen (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 4:54pm

    Fact checking? What do you think the WSJ is? A Blog?

    =P

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 6:10pm

    Re: The real reason.

    8) Rupert told them to write it that way.

     

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  26.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 7:03pm

    Re:

    MIB reference?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:11pm

    What do you expect?

    The WSJ is now owned by News Gorp, a Rupert Murdock shill. So, if you expect them to apply any sort of editorial scrutiny to their contributors, I have a bridge in Brooklyn New York you may be interested in acquiring some futures on...

     

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  28.  
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    VMax, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:13pm

    What gets me

    Even when I try to be objective I'm still colored by my perceptions of the world. I accept and recognize this. I can't make a simple comment without adding my experiences to it. As much as I try I always put my own spin on things. I do this without being paid. Journalists are hired optimally to report facts, but they put emphasis on their view. They end up getting hired by someone who figures "they're in 'our' camp." They move up, they recognize that their slant pleases their employers. At a point, the facts stop meaning anything, they see it as an opportunity to push their agenda, and possibly to move up. This is what I see as the problem with journalism.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2012 @ 10:39pm

    I know that my local papers never give me important news. I get the typical cat in a tree news. Nothing IMPORTANT. That is why I use online News(BECAUSE IT IS NEWS), Not who won the local 4-H pig championships. How many trees are killed each year for Crap Reporting, By socalled MEDIA. I already find it more difficult to breath. shut this Printed Waste of a Resource's down before we all LOOSE.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jul 24th, 2012 @ 1:46am

    Re:

    Thank you for remi9ndding me of the dreck that is the UK Tabloid papers, which are less newsworthy then The National Enquirer after a bad acid trip.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Paul Horne, Jul 24th, 2012 @ 9:20am

    WSJ

    Is now owned by Rupert Murdock, who seems to have a penchant for telling lies over truth anytime. Need anyone say more?

     

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  32.  
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    tennised (profile), Jul 24th, 2012 @ 10:33am

    And you don't mention that Tim Berners-Lee first got the idea for the web while a contractor at CERN and then implemented it a few years later when he went back to CERN as a fellow. CERN, of course, being not just THE GOVERNMENT, but an entiity of supposedly those socialist, anti-free market EU governments. Oh dear!

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    PT, Jul 24th, 2012 @ 11:26am

    Re: Opinion journal is a wholly separate operation

    How true. Unfortunately, the notoriety of the Opinion pages taints everything else the WSJ prints, especially now it's a Murdoch paper. Murdoch has never been known for respecting his reporters' independence.

     

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  34.  
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    DanZee (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 11:29am

    Opinion piece

    Most of the commenters above are correct, however, it is an opinion piece, and it's a time-honored tradition of opinion pieces to inspire rebuttals and letters to the editors saying that the writer didn't know what he was talking about. Opinion pieces have never been held to the same standard as news articles, although I would have thought the editor should have done some research and rejected the piece if the fact were too far afield.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:39am

    The WSJ opinion pages are a protusion from a parallel universe. Where they are our equivalent of comics.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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