Blogs break news… kinda

Following his response to President Obama’s address before Congress Tuesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was accused of lying about his stated involvement in the Katrina recovery efforts. Here is the address:

The story begins at 2:45 into the video, when he begins recanting a story about a visit with Sheriff Harry Lee. But liberal blog DailyKos claimed to have found some holes in Jindal’s story. They were able to piece together news reports from the days following Katrina and track where Jindal had been reported to be speaking from.

Similarly liberal blog TPMMuckraker put together a similar effort, pointing out the holes in Jindal’s story, most notably that Sherriff Lee told Larry King that he found out a week later “one of the reason boats couldn’t get in was they didn’t have enough life preservers and some of them didn’t have proof of insurance.”

These revelations were enough to get the Jindal team on the defensive, contacting Politico’s Ben Smith several times to respond to the allegations, saying the governor never said the story took place in the days immediately after Katrina, and offered a video of Lee endorsing Jindal for governor in 2007.

Given the blogs’ idealogical bents, it would be easy to summarily dismiss these as nitpicking a political opponent. However, they were able to put Jindal on the defensive, at least to Politico. So why have they yet to make a bigger splash with traditional media?

There are several possibilities. To begin – and at the risk of sounding like Jindal’s team – he never did state exactly when the conversation in question took place. As such, it’s impossible to call it an outright lie and what’s left is, at the worst, a politician stretching the truth. Hardly groundbreaking.

But perhaps a larger underlying problem is the quality of the journalism done by these blogs. While piecing together old news reports to form a coherent picture is no easy task, they really did little to prove one way or another what really happened. They rely on reports which were done in a time of crisis, and crisis-time reporting has time and again been shown to be less reliable due to the lack of immediately available reliable information and states of mind of all parties involved (see also 9/11 stories). Neither blog is able to speak directly to any party involved directly or indirectly, though TPMMuckraker claims to have put in an (unreturned) call to Jindal’s office.

Furthermore, the crux of the DailyKos argument seems to be that Jindal is repeatedly quoted from Baton Rouge, meaning the then-Congressman could obviously not be in New Orleans. Which is true: if you are in one place you cannot be in another. However, this ignores a very real possibility: Jindal went to New Orleans and came back to Baton Rouge in the course of the day. The two cities are separated by 82 miles, making it about an hour and a half drive or probably a quicker helicopter ride. So establishing that Jindal was in Baton Rouge for several news reports proves nothing as to the veracity of the story you are attacking.

The inability of these blogs to make much of a national impact is unfortunate. As we have seen so far, there are many more examples of blogs acting as little more than soundings boards; a place to give thoughts on the work of others. However, the should be lauded for attempting to expose a political leader.


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