This weblog does not belong to the Media Bloggers Association. This weblog had never heard of the Media Bloggers Association until yesterday, when the Associated Press made an announcement:
AP to meet with blogging group to form guidelinesOh yeah?
The Associated Press, following criticism from bloggers over an AP assertion of copyright, plans to meet this week with a bloggers’ group to help form guidelines under which AP news stories could be quoted online.
Jim Kennedy, the AP’s director of strategic planning, said Monday that he planned to meet Thursday with Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, as part of an effort to create standards for online use of AP stories by bloggers that would protect AP content without discouraging bloggers from legitimately quoting from it. …
Cox, the head of the bloggers’ association, said there needed to be a clearer understanding among bloggers about what kinds of use of AP stories would or would not trigger legal complaints.
This weblog was not born yesterday.
I’ve been monitoring reactions to the AP story. I haven’t seen a single weblog indicate that it had heard of the Media Bloggers Association before this story broke. Naturally, I was suspicious. It sounded like one of those setups where “tribal representatives” who have no actual standing with the tribe sign a treaty ceding some large tract of land to white developers. What the hell is the Media Bloggers Association?
I went looking. Let me just say that the research has been distractingly interesting. I can’t possibly work everything into this post. Shortest possible version: Daily Kos is right in all particulars about this supposed negotiation. His major points: [1.] The Associated Press doesn’t make the law. Their current campaign is in violation of established copyright law. Talking to the MBA won’t change that. [2.] Kos isn’t going to boycott the AP. He intends to go on using his right to fair-use quotations from news stories. He says if the AP wants to sue him for this, bring it on. [3.] And I quote:
The dumbasses at the Media Bloggers Association, of course, are walking right into that meeting because they crave nothing more than creating the impression that they, you know, represent bloggers (they don’t).Spot on.
The Media Bloggers Association substantially consists of one lackluster blogger named Robert Cox. His weblog, Words in Edgewise, and the MBA website, are two halves of the same site. Robert Cox isn’t all that interested in blogging per se. What he’s really into is self-aggrandizement by representing himself as someone who speaks for bloggers and blogging. An embarrassing number of organizations have fallen for this.
(There’s more yummy goodness to come, but I’m going to post this much now. Expect this entry to get longer as I continue to work on it.)
2. Robert Cox is speaking for you!
Meeting with the Associated Press on behalf of the blogosphere is right up Robert Cox’s alley. His appearances at conferences and on roundtable discussions, his interviews and his published opinions, are the by far the biggest subject of his weblog.
An incomplete list: RC is on the Poynter committee, which is “evolving a guidebook for online ethics” (but I haven’t seen Cox participating in any of the major online ethics thrashes over the past few years). :: RC appears on a panel on the Future of Alternative Journalism. :: RC attends the We Media conference on blogging and social media. :: RC participates in the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s roundtable on the future of online media. :: RC attends a Justice in Journalism conference in Nashville. :: (He quotes some of his own remarks, which are fatuous.) :: RC is interviewed about blogging by the Congressional Quarterly Researcher. :: RC participates in a State of the News Media 2006 online roundtable. :: RC puts together a panel on the Maine Blogger case for the Media Giraffe Summit. :: RC speaks at the SPJ annual conference. :: Legislators and advocacy groups ask RC to opine on blogging. :: RC writes op ed for DFW Star-Telegram. :: RC appears on the Fox News Neil Cavuto Show. :: (That piece will give you a good sense of Robert Cox’s blogging style, if you’re interested; or try RC meets Gerald Ford for a picosecond during a seventh-grade class trip.) :: RC appears on a panel on changing media at the Justice & Journalism conference in Phoenix. :: RC engages in name-dropping at BloggerCon IV. :: RC is mentioned in an editorial by Matt Tapscott. :: Lauren Gelman of the Stanford Law School Clinical Education Center asks RC to sign on to an Amicus brief. :: RC travels this great land of ours, meeting “…educational institutions, foundations, media associations, financial services companies, law firms and legal associations, government agencies, book publishers, movie companies and many more. I have met with executive editors for major newspapers, supreme court justices, White House officials, deans of law schools, general counsels for major corporations. I have spoken at conferences for corporations, public information officers, major media associations, journalism schools. I have also personally met with hundreds of bloggers.”
Please tell me you get the idea.
Given the quality of Robert Cox’s opinions and analyses, you’d think we’d have heard more about all this activity of his. I expect the liberal mainstream media is to blame. (Yup, Cox is one of those. He’s also a racist.)
Sometimes, alas, Robert Cox is denied a voice at some event where he’d like to speak, like this one, at the Museum of Television & Radio. Then he’s hard put to say a single good thing about the gathering. (Click through and have a look at who they invited instead.) But for real vituperative anger—the only circumstance that ever gets Robert Cox to write at substantial length and use specific detail—the winner and champeen is a 2005 panel discussion following a special showing of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck that left RC permanently ticked-off at Nick Lemann. You can read about it in RC’s Blogs to Lemann: Drop Dead!.
In that entry, he also mentions that he wrote up the event at the time in his old weblog, The National Debate. TND has since been taken down, but through the miracle of the Wayback Machine, a.k.a. the Internet Archive, you can still read it.* Even better, you can watch RC’s own video of himself asking the panel the kind of question that makes panel moderators wish they carried firearms, and the panelists doing what RC claims they “studiously avoided” doing: answering his question. Watch this video! THERE IS NO BETTER INTRODUCTION TO THE MIND OF ROBERT COX.
3. Some smaller tidbits before I dive into the next big section:
Robert Cox (then Bob Cox) was or is the proprietor of Olbermann Watch, a nutbar right-wing attack site. I don’t want to link to it. You can read about the blog, Robert Cox, the early days of the MBA, and the kind of things RC does with his prized “journalistic credentials”, in Watching Olbermann Watch. This ties Cox to the likes of Rupert Murdoch. It’s definitely food for paranoia.
Robert Cox isn’t accustomed to having other sites respond to his writing. When they do, he gets nettled, whiny and defensive, at length. Worse, he fails to identify who it is he’s responding to! It’s enough to make you wonder whether, at heart, he’s really a blogger at all. Here’s his reaction to this entry (plus someone else’s response). Even more fun, here he is picking a fight with Gawker Media.
You just keep thinkin’, Butch.
That’s all for this segment. Again, expect this entry to get longer as I continue working on it.
4. A bad Wikipedia entry, an interesting item from a Salon letter column, and an unseemly obsession with being first; also, Tlönista reads the MBA News Archive so you don’t have to:
A bad Wikipedia entry:
I first divined the existence of Robert Cox by looking at the Wikipedia entry on the Media Bloggers Association. It’s short:
The Media Bloggers Association, or MBA, is an American membership-based, non-partisan organization involved in activities that support the development of blogs as an emerging distinct form of media.What’s the problem? Simple. There’s one humongous and glaring omission: Firedoglake owned that story. Their coverage was the wonder of the world. The mainstream media and bloggers across the entire political spectrum were using Firedoglake’s coverage to follow the story. It got written up at length by Glenn Greenwald in Salon (“Firedoglake’s Libby reporting forces a reevaluation of blogs”), Liz Halloran in U.S. News and World Report (Media Takes: A Dogged Blogger at the Libby Trial), and Jay Rosen in PressThink (“They’re Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial”). If you look at SourceWatch’s list of external links on the trial of Scooter Libby, you can see how thoroughly they dominated the coverage.
In January 2007, MBA members were among the first bloggers to receive press credentials identical to those of broadcast and print journalists at a federal court, to cover the trial of Lewis Libby, alongside bloggers from more established sites including the Huffington Post and Daily Kos. The MBA described this as a significant step forward in its efforts on behalf of its members.
I typed “media blogging association” firedoglake into Google. Up popped result #1: the New York Times article on Firedoglake’s coverage of the Libby trial. Two and a half screens down, there it was:
For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association.“I see you,” I said out loud. I went back to the Wikipedia article and looked at the entry’s revision history. Sure enough, the original version and the first two rounds of revisions were credited to “Robertissimo.” (Yes, I know: there’s always the possibility that it was written and revised by some other Robertissimo of the same name—one who uses the standard MBA wording, is familiar with the organization’s doings, cares enough to keep a close watch on the entry, cares far too much about who gets credit for being the first bloggers to get journalistic credentials, and has a writing style very like that of Robert Cox. It’s well to keep such improbabilities in mind.)
The next revision was by Raph Levien, whose laconic explanation said “tone down self-promotion, giving due credit to other blogs.” Levien amended Robertissimo’s untruthful claim that MBA members had been the first bloggers to receive press credentials identical those of print journalists, and added mentions of Daily Kos and The Huffington Post: if not completely accurate, a considerable improvement. Another Wikipedian, Outsider3, disputed some of the entry’s other claims. Then, alas, Robertissimo came back and removed Outsider3’s additions, piously noting in the “Talk” section that “…while the information may be factual, it needs reliable sources per WP guidelines on attribution.” I’d have thought that “There’s a good chance that I’m the president of the organization being criticized” was the more pertinent information.
Further down in the “Talk” section, I think it’s Robertissimo who quotes Robert Cox explaining that the reason the MBA members weren’t the first-ever bloggers to get journalistic credentials was because an earlier blogger, Gene Borio, had claimed that he received federal credentials long before the Libby trial. If so, Robertissimo did a good job of maintaining his initial enormous lie: that Firedoglake had no part in the coverage of the Libby trial.
(Dear Wikipedia: may I suggest that you have a look at Robertissimo’s other entries and edits? Dishonesty is so seldom a one-time event. Also, someone should fix that entry.)
An interesting item from a Salon letter column:
This letter to the editor is from the letter column following Glenn Greenwald’s article on Firedoglake’s coverage of the Libby trial. The letter writer is referring to the New York Times’ story about the coverage:
You Left Out the Unfortunate Part of That Article…(I added the underline.)
… the shameless credit-grabbing by Robert A. Cox, president of “the America Bloggers Association.”For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Mr. Cox negotiated access for the bloggers.Mr. Cox had absolutely no role in negotiation access for Firedoglake, which did so independently long ago, most likely before Mr. Cox even thought about it. Cox has also tried to force FDL into his “pool” deal with AP, which, I believe, FDL rebuffed. And yet Cox not only continues to act like this was all his doing, the Times dutifully goes along.
FDL’s coverage was FDL’s alone, and in no way, shape, or form, associated with whatever con game Cox is pushing.
This version of events was confirmed by Christy Hardin Smith in Firedoglake:
One correction, though: the MBA did NOT negotiate our media passes. We have been working on getting passes for this trial from the moment Libby was indicted. Jane and I made calls to the courthouse, e-mailed, wrote letters, and worked on getting credentialed from very early on. To emphasize our commitment to doing serious coverage, we enlisted the help of Arianna, whose Huffington Post name was more recognizable than FDL to folks not familiar with how blogs had been covering this investigation. But the gaining of our three media passes? That was OUR work. And it was our consistent work on this case—for years—that got us the passes, and not anyone from the outside. I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with some other blog group because, frankly, I’ve got better things to do with my time this morning, but I wanted to be clear on that point—we worked our butts off to get credentialed for this case, and we were credentialed early. Mr. Shane may have misunderstood on that point, so I wanted to make that perfectly clear.To summarize thus far: Robert Cox shoehorned himself into the story, fibbed about being the intermediator through whose agency all the bloggers got their credentials, already had a deal going with AP, and tried to force the Firedoglake bloggers to join the AP pool, which would have given AP complete access to their superior and quite valuable reportage.
Now we’re supposed to believe he’s dickering in good faith with the AP on behalf of blogdom? No way. Even if his motives were purer than Ivory soap, he should have more sense than to go anywhere near this issue.
An unseemly obsession with being first:
Let’s go back once more to that New York Times article. At the bottom of the story, it has two corrections. The first one says:
A front-page article yesterday about bloggers covering the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. referred imprecisely to the role of Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, in securing credentials. Mr. Cox negotiated access for his association, which was the first blogger group to be granted credentials to cover the trial. He did not negotiate on behalf of firedoglake.com and other blogs that received their credentials later.This has to have originated with Robert Cox and the MBA. It’s not very believable. Jane Hamsher and Christy Hardin Smith had been hot on the trail of the Valerie Plame/Dick Cheney/Scooter Libby story for years, and applied for credentials as soon as Libby was indicted. Robert Cox didn’t take a strong early interest in the story. He primarily covers stories that involve blogging, and he usually writes about them after they’ve happened. During the trial itself, his coverage was diffuse, imitative, and not terribly well-informed. He was enthusiastic about having credentials—RC really, really likes credentials—but evidenced no great passion for the story itself.
In short, I’d need solid and convincing proof from a reliable third party before I could believe Robert Cox & Co. got their credentials before the Firedoglake bloggers. Why should it matter whether they did? No reason. In fact, it’s not especially important. What’s weird is that Robert Cox thinks it’s that important. This is not something a grownup should be obsessing about.
Tlönista reads the MBA News Archive so you don’t have to:
In the comment thread of this post, the estimable Tlönista has posted a summary of the MBA News Archive, and all the important work it does on behalf of bloggers. Conclusion: it doesn’t do much work on behalf of bloggers. To quote:
In summary, it looks like the MBA is a vehicle for getting Robert Cox quoted in papers. And they’ve been awfully cozy with the AP for a long while (well, two years is a long while in Internet time).We could still use a patient volunter to watch and report on the Youtube video about MBA’s deal with the AP.
And that’s it for this segment. It’s been a long day.
Still to come, possibly tomorrow: the Newsweek connection, Oliver Willis held blameless, the MBA’s hastily rejiggered membership page, the quest for a membership list, the case of the Maine Blogger, further revelations of the Wayback Machine, and Walt Willis and Bob Shaw.