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Gentleman Jockeys Win the Derby

A look at the credentials of the amatuer journalists whom the grown-ups at the Wall Street Journal so disdain.

11:00 PM, Feb 16, 2005 • By HUGH HEWITT
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EAGER TO DIVERT ATTENTION from the incredible incompetence displayed in the handling of Eason Jordan's remarks before the Davos audience (and Jordan's November 2004 accusation that the U.S. military was torturing journalists), a number of voices within the mainstream media have argued that the credentials of bloggers are suspect and that in their amateurism there lays a danger to the public discussion. The most surprising of these attacks came in an unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal chose to ignore Jordan's November 2004 accusation about the American military torturing journalists, and pronounced the Davos pratfall as less than a "hanging offense." That's a fair opinion, though one with which many reasonably disagree.

But the Journal also uncharacteristically slashed at the new media as "amateurs" from the "Internet and talk-show crew," and contrasted "the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs." The writer also asserted that those within the Journal's walls "make grown-up decisions" which, he believes, bloggers don't.

When I interviewed the Journal's always cheerful John Fund--the only member of the editorial board who agreed to come on my radio program on Monday or Tuesday--he insisted that the paper had in mind only a couple of bloggers who had gone on a vendetta. Perhaps. But because no names were named--lousy "journalism," that--the impression was communicated that this senior voice of the center-right had sided with Eason Jordan and CNN against the populism of the new media. Perhaps the editors did not intend to give such a slight to the amateurs. But if they did intend their slight, they may want to consider some of the credentials of those amateurs before they try to dismiss their opinions again. Another Journal writer, Bret Stephens, has specifically criticized Captain's Quarters, Dinocrat, and Easongate as blogs that have unfairly attacked him, and worries that the "amateurs" have no standards they have to meet as do the professionals.

The Eason Jordan double slander was aimed at the military. So it was no surprise that it struck nerves among veterans who are also bloggers. Given their varied military experience, these bloggers brought quite a bit to the table.

Let's start with three of the contributors to the Easongate blog that sprang up to follow the course of the Jordan affair:

Contributor Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail enlisted in the Army in January of 1991 during Desert Storm. From 1991 to 1995, he served as a signalman, and from 1995 to 1997 he was in the New Jersey National Guard as an infantryman. While on active duty, he attended Airborne School, and served with the 22nd Engineer Brigade (Airborne) and 1st Special Operations Command (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, and with the 20th Signal Brigade in Germany. In the New Jersey National Guard, he served with the 114th Infantry Battalion. He is a superb student of military history, as anyone who reads The Fourth Rail can attest.

Contributor Blackfive was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, a weapons sergeant in the 7th and 12th SF Groups, a scout lieutenant in the 11th ACR, an Intel officer in the 10th SF Group (FWD), and a Company XO in the 3rd ID. He spent more years as an Intel officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Contributor Josh Manchester, from the Adventures of Chester, was on active duty in the Marines from 2000 to 2004. He deployed to Egypt, Kuwait, and Iraq. A combat engineer officer, he participated in battalion, group, and occasionally Marine Expeditionary Force-level planning for the invasion of Iraq. He also served for a short period as an intelligence officer, finding, sorting, and analyzing various intelligence products. Manchester has a wide familiarity with Marine Corps history and doctrine; division, regimental, and battalion-level operations, combat engineering, command and control, and logistics. He is a graduate of The Basic School and Marine Corps Engineer School, and received a BA with honors from Duke University in Comparative Area Studies, focusing on Japan and Latin America, with minors in Japanese and History.

So you can see why a reader might trust the judgment of these three writers on the seriousness of Jordan's slanders over that of, say, the Journal's editorial team

Now, what about the Power Line gents? They are civilians, and in the Journal's view they are also presumably amateurs when it comes to journalism. Are they qualified to opine? Well, let's go straight to the résumés:

John Hinderaker is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. For the past 30 years, Hinderaker has had a broad-based commercial litigation practice. A veteran of close to 100 jury trials, he has appeared in courts in fifteen states. Hinderaker has been recognized by Minnesota's Journal of Law and Politics as one of the state's "Super Litigators" and was recently named by that publication as one of the top 40 commercial litigators in Minnesota.

Hinderaker has represented clients in such diverse areas of litigation as construction, antitrust, unfair competition, Lanham Act, trade secrets, product liability, professional liability, insurance and surety law, and the First Amendment. He also is experienced in class action litigation.

Scott Johnson is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota Law School. He clerked for Judges Myron Bright and Richard Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit for two years, joined Faegre and Benson in 1981, became a partner in 1987, then left to join the publicly held regional bank holding company TCF Financial Corporation in 1997, where he works as senior vice president and member of the legal department. He is also an adjunct professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis.

Paul Mirengoff is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford Law School, where he served on the Stanford Law Review. He is a partner at Akin Gump in Washington, D.C. He concentrates in employment law and has litigated scores of federal employment cases involving all forms of alleged discrimination.

Prior to joining Akin Gump, Mirengoff practiced in the D.C. office of Hunton & Williams. Before that, he was a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission working in the Office of the General Counsel.

All three are fellows of the Claremont Institute and contributing writers to THE DAILY STANDARD.

Surely the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal have many credits to their records, but for them to suggest these men are "amateurs" who contrast poorly with the "grown-ups" is ludicrous.

Credentials, of course, have little to do with facts--either they are facts or they aren't. And one man's opinion, no matter who signs his paycheck, should be judged by the same standards of logic and persuasiveness as all others, regardless of the letterhead on which it arrives.

The Jordan affair revealed a lot of things about old media, including the revelation that guild membership can trump shared values. But I don't think I am alone in concluding that Vermont Royster and Robert Bartley would have been shocked at an elitist dismissal of main street voices, even if those voices aren't being paid to speak out.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.