If you’re a frequent reader of CONTENTIONS–or of any other political blog–chances are you don’t entirely trust the mainstream media (MSM). Indeed, blogs have emerged as prominent resources for news and analysis in response to the many failings of traditional news outlets, which have been discredited for their not-so-hidden biases and, at times, galling errors. In recent years, alternative media have successfully challenged MSM supremacy: the MSM relies on certain independent websites for news tips, and blogs are now seen as more reliable indicators of public opinion than newspaper editorial pages.
But despite these critical gains vis-à-vis the MSM, I’m forced to wonder whether one alternative media outlet is about to go too far. At least that’s my immediate reaction to news that Joe Wurzelbacher–i.e., “Joe the Plumber”–will be heading to Israel as a war correspondent for pjtv.com. Don’t get me wrong: I’m more than certain that Joe can have an opinion on the news that is as valid and clearly stated as anything that the Maureen Dowds and Bob Herberts of the world can produce. (This is, after all, the underlying logic of alternative media from which all bloggers-myself included-benefit.) Still, Joe has no known qualifications for actually covering the Middle East, and it is therefore impossible to imagine how he might advance Americans’ understanding of the fighting in Gaza (which Israel has prevented correspondents from visiting, in any event).
More likely, it seems as though Joe will only contribute to the very problem that so many in the blogosphere have harped on for so long-namely, that Middle East reporters frequently arrive in the region with no frame of reference and/or obscene biases. Indeed, will Joe be any more capable than the average MSM correspondent of reading an Israeli newspaper; or interpreting a mosque sermon on Palestinian television; or assessing the strategic significance of a given Israeli operation or Hamas rocket-attack? It seems highly improbable, to say the least. And then there’s his prior claim that a vote for Barack Obama is a “vote for the death of Israel” – is this the kind of thing that credible reporters typically say?
Indeed, by sending Joe Wurzelbacher to the Middle East, pjtv.com may be taking its assault against the MSM too far. It is sending the message that anyone-which is precisely what “Joe the Plumber” came to symbolize during the 2008 presidential election-can cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more competently than the MSM. To be sure, this is an amusing proposition. But if tested, a failure could discredit an important alternative-media outlet in the process.