<b>Peter Bart:</b> Bloggers rights

While just about everyone agrees that the rise of blogdom is a positive force, the care and feeding of bloggers still causes a surprising degree of static.

Publicists increasingly court them, but are infuriated by the bloggers’ disdain for the rules of engagement (ignoring fact-checking and review dates, for example). Movie stars smile at them at premieres, yet are angered by their incivility. Corporations and major institutions hold firm to their “mainstream press only” policies, yet even the United Nations has finally given credentials to a lone blogger (Matthew Lee).

The so-called mainstream press itself remains snooty about bloggers, but finds it useful to reference the bloggers when convenient. In the media section of the New York Times last week, an article cited “several bloggers” as having criticized the supposedly modest financial contribution of News Corp. to the “American Idol”-designated charities. Presumably, if the Times wanted to hold Rupert Murdoch’s company up for scrutiny, it could have assigned a story to one of its staff reporters.

This was vaguely reminiscent of the practice of some Washington politicians in planting a story with a blogger then telling a mainstream reporter to “check out that blog — it’s a good story.”

And then, of course, there’s the attitude of the Feds: To U.S. Attorneys, bloggers are not “true journalists” and, hence, not entitled to First Amendment protection.

The upshot is to put the blogosphere in a state of permanent tension, under assault in some areas yet boasting about its clout in others. This, in turn, encourages some bloggers to wallow in non-stop rants as a form of self-promotion. Living dangerously is sweet revenge, they seem to be saying. To be sure, if a piece gets posted that proves instantly incorrect, or that places them in legal jeopardy, they can simply pull it down and pretend nothing happened.

Inevitably, all this creates a certain jealousy on the part of writers for big-brand publications, who cannot afford to brandish their personal grudges and who actually are mandated to check their facts. Some journalists respond by pursuing their own double-standard: Their writings in print are, as Fox News Channel would put it, fair and balanced, but their bylines on the Web are self-indulgently opinionated.

By contrast, some no-name bloggers consistently display great zeal and courage as they investigate topics that are ignored by celebrity newsmen. Such is the case of Josh Wolf, a 24-year-old blogger who was tossed into the slammer for refusing to cooperate with an investigation of the U.S. Attorneys Office. Wolf had shot footage at an anti-Fed political rally but declined to name names on demand.

Wolf is not alone. There are growing instances in which bloggers and videographers have been harassed by the Feds — even Iraq veterans who were protesting their treatment. Since these bloggers are not “pros,” they are unprotected. This position would have come as no surprise to America’s first bloggers — the 18th century self-published pamphleteers whose writings provided a key subtext to the writing of the Constitution.

While the blogosphere has its share of heroes, it’s also populated by pseudo-journalists who have never done a fact check or apologized to a public figure whose career may have been damaged by their bizarre rants. They pose a challenge to the gatekeepers and the high priests of publicity who must figure out how to deal with them.

Clearly, the landscape is crowded and confusing, but decisions have to be made: To whom do you grant interviews and credentials? Do you reach out to individuals who consistently defy your rules of engagement, or do you scrap the rules entirely? From the Hollywood perspective, do you invite people to screenings who consistently thumb their noses at review dates?

It’s a big party, after all. And the blogosphere is a big place.

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