Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

What would Robert Heinlein say about Blogs?

I've recently been reminded again how important the books of Robert Heinlein were in my formative years. So when I came across this quote, it seemed quite appropriate to blogging. More on this below.

The frontier-libertopianism in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress ("There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.") helped set me on the path to a generally libertarian political philosophy. The character of Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love helped shape my idea of what it means to be a man ("A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.").

So, I was all set to write a post about blogging based on this quote: "It's an indulgence to sit in a room and discuss your beliefs as if they were a juicy piece of gossip." -- attributed to Heinlein not only here, but here, here, and here -- just to name a few. But when I ran a google search, a number of sites instead attributed the post to a playwright named Lilian Hellman.

I believe the crucial site is this one -- where the quote appears immediately following an actual Heinlein quote ("Belief gets in the way of learning.") -- with "Robert A. Heinlein" sandwiched in between them, so that it isn't obvious which quote is being attributed to which author, at first glance.

A good reminder that not everything you read on the internet is reliable.

So, since he probably never said that... what would Robert Heinlein say about Blogs, if he were alive today to be asked?

Perhaps, this:

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."
"A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits."


(Both quotes from Time Enough for Love.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Death of Investigative Journalism?

Could it be that the hype surrounding Woodward and Bernstein's investigative of Watergate has over the years led directly to the decline in actual investigative reporting?

Don't get me wrong. I think what they actually did was a fine piece of investigative journalism complete with lots of hard 'legwork', an editor demanding confirmation and a lot of serious thought. The hype, however, has always surrounded the mysterious "Deep Throat" (who may have unmasked himself last week, as you've probably heard) --- perhaps leading to a belief in having "inside sources" (a.k.a. Washington gossip) as the gold standard of investigative journalism.

Thus, we come to the recent Newsweek scandal over a putative holy-text-in-toilet incident. Here, the authors met this new gold standard -- they had a confidential inside source who told them something; and they indirectly cobbled together a confirming second source, pro forma. What they didn't do was to actually investigate anything -- for example, find out the name of the soldier who supposedly mishandled the Word of Allah, and ask his side of the story; or call up anyone at Gitmo or the Pentagon to directly ask questions; or ... anything at all beyond hearing a juicy piece of gossip and then telling us about it.

Someone needs to tell Washington's press corps: passing on anonymous gossip can be fun, and can sell papers, but it isn't journalism. And we really need good journalism.