It's All In The Balance?

Finally. It's been two whole months since we've had a good throw-down between The Washington Post and the blogosphere. I was beginning to think the fight between the liberal blogosphere and the paper's Web site was so much water under the bridge. Welcome to the latest round of this ultimate fighting cage match.

The spark for this week's episode was the announcement of a new blog at The Washingtonpost.com, and not just any blog, a conservative blog. Written by RedState co-founder and former Bush political appointee (at 24 years of age) Ben Domenech, the blog Red America debuted on Tuesday. It's dominated the political blogosphere discussion ever since, with very good reason. Buried under all the charges and invective though lies a very important point about the nature of the media. What is balance?

Domenech's hiring sparked a furor among liberal bloggers. While The Post Web site actually shut down comments because of the aforementioned controversy, they haven't done so here. As of this morning, there were over 1,700 comments posted to this entry on post.blog announcing the hire.

Not to get into all the complaints and mean-spirited rhetoric, the thrust of the complaints carried a lot of legitimacy. Some of them, like Domenech referring to Coretta Scott King as a "communist," were apologized and answered for on the blog. More serious charges of plagiarism that have =http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2006/03/24/domenech_blog>popped up on many popular lefty blogs have thus far gone pretty much unanswered.

Plagiarism ranks right up there with outright fabrication as the greatest sins any writer – journalist or not – could be accused of. It's not a charge that should be leveled lightly but bloggers appear to have uncovered some pretty convincing evidence – and so far there's been little in the way of proving otherwise. Michelle Malkin, one of Domenech's closest allies is not taking this lightly and is even calling on her friend to "own up to it and step down." No argument here.

And just as this was about to be posted, word comes that Domenech has indeed resigned from The Post.com. The liberal blogosphere will now have its scalp and the MSM has yet one more black eye that it didn't need. Overlooked in this though will be the premise of another of the main complaints lodged against The Post.com – "balance."

Initially, the loudest complaints centered on this issue. If the Web site was to have a "Red State" blogger, where in the world was the "Blue State" blogger? Conservatives have long complained that Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Briefing blog for the site was, in fact, such a liberal voice that his writings demanded to be labeled "opinion" and an opposing voice was necessary for "balance." It appeared they had won that argument with the hiring of Domenech.

Liberals didn't see hiring Domenech as providing balance, arguing that Froomkin is someone with a long background in journalism who uses reporting and research to back up his writings. No, in their view, the institution of "Red America" begged for an accompanying opposing viewpoint. Democratic Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) wrote to The Post.com arguing just that:

Balanced coverage and ideologically diverse editorials have long been hallmarks of responsible journalism. If The Post would like to appear evenhanded, I strongly suggest the Web site launch a similarly partisan liberal blog, 'Blue America.'
Stark put to paper the sentiment of most of the blogosphere, one that has driven media criticism from time immemorial. The Hippocratic Oath of journalism, it seems, should be, "first, be balanced." I'm not so sure about that.

Once upon a time, there was this little show on CNN called "Crossfire," which was structured around a very simple formula – a debate on the issues of the day with one moderator "from the right," one "from the left" and daily guests to represent those two sides. It didn't really matter what the issue was, there were always two sides, and only two sides, to disagree with one another. For and against, that's the way the world worked on "Crossfire."

That formula lost favor though, to the point that even a fake journalist started making sense. When "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart appeared on the show in October of 2004, the death knell for "Crossfire" was sounded. While co-hosts Tucker Carlson (right) and Paul Begala (left) may have thought they were hosting a funnyman, Stewart was arguably more serious than any guest who ever appeared on the show.

While the hosts chuckled, Stewart told them their show was bad. Not just that it was bad but that it was "hurting America," and he begged them to "stop hurting America." Stewart went on to say a great many things that put "Crossfire" in perspective, sort of like the kid who finally had to say the emperor had no clothes. "Crossfire" was not a place where "debate" took place, it was a tired forum for one side to shout past the other in meaningless bromides. It was "balance" to the point of stripping the conversation of any substance whatsoever.

Which brings us back to this latest flap. Let's say another conservative is hired to take over for Domenech. Is the Web site obligated to launch a "Blue State" blog? Most editorial pages contain a mixture of voices, some conservative, some liberal some sort of moderate. But is there any obligation to operate under some formula? They may alienate a large segment of their audience, but they are free to print whatever voices they choose.

I'm of mixed feelings on this subject. On the one hand, it seems preferable to give space to a wide variety of opinions. On the other, this obsessive attention to "balance" inevitably leads to "Crossfire" type discussions. Help me out here, should we seek balance for the sake of balance? If not, what role should balance play in our national discourse?