Fox News host Greta Van Susteren engaged in a war of words with Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson on her show on Monday over Carlson's decision to publish Mike Tyson's controversial comments about Sarah Palin.
Van Susteren called Carlson a purveyor of smut against women when Carlson decided to publish the extremely inappropriate comments about the former Vice President nominee.
Carlson defended his Web site's actions as much as he could, telling Van Susteren that he wasn't attacking Palin, but felt the comments were newsworthy and needed to be published. The battle focused in on an editorial note that was added after the initial publication.
Carlson said that nothing changed about the story, while Van Susteren alleged that Carlson was trying to cover something up.
That's just cover! That's just cover. We're not that stupid, she told Carlson. You tried to hide your motive with that editorial note.
Both make some legitimate points in this case, but both also have clear ulterior motives.
The major wrong exhibited by both? Blatant controversy designed to draw Web traffic. For Van Susteren, it's more television viewers and buzz for her show, while for Carlson, it meant more viewers of his conservative Web site.
In the spirit of disclosure, I interned for Carlson's Daily Caller Web site -- and always found Carlson to be humorous and intelligent in my brief encounters with him.
But also in my time there, it was clear that the Web is not unlike its conservative competitors in taking a controversial approach to news in the pursuit of traffic and relevancy. Looking through some of the Daily Caller's big exclusives reveals multiple attempts dripping in juiciness, but lacking in journalistic value.
There was the piece publishing private e-mails from the Journolist listserv that cost Dave Weigel his job at The Washington Post. Another was a gotcha journalism attempt by one reporter in obtaining undeserved food stamps. Or you can simply look at all of the slideshows and goofy stories the Web site published -- most, blatant traffic grabs.
Understanding the Daily Caller's past allows you to understand why it would publish Mike Tyson's inflammatory comments, which Van Susteren rightfully points to in her initial blog post. The talking head questions whether the Web site might be struggling and that this piece could be a desperate attempt in regaining some limelight.
I keep asking myself, why would Tucker allow this to be posted on his Web site, Van Susteren wrote on her blog, Greta Wore. I am suspicous (sic) his Web site is not doing well and this is one quick last breath to create buzz to keep it afloat.
Not only that, but look at Carlson's past. This is a man who in January said Michael Vick should be executed for his poor treatment of dogs. Clearly Carlson, once best known for his affinity of bowties, doesn't have an issue with pushing the envelope. Perhaps Vick should be chastised to some degree for poor treatment of dogs, but execution?
Van Susteren might be right with her thoughts on the publication and Carlson's motives, but her insistence on this issue shows she isn't innocent of trying to create buzz, either.
FishbowlDC, a blog that covers the Washington scene, accurately pointed out that while Van Susteren has called for Carlson to remove that article, she's also drawn a lot of attention to it by writing a blog post and discussing it on her program.
If she really felt that Carlson's decision to publish those quotes was so reprehensible, why did she continue to bring them up? Wouldn't ignoring the comments rather than highlight them be better if she was so worried about the comments' effect on women?
This whole incident showcases one of the major issues in journalism today -- it's all about buzz and money. For a Web-only publication like The Daily Caller, advertising is everything, and a lot of that is driven by traffic numbers.
According to Quantcast, a data service that reviews Web site traffic numbers, the Daily Caller averages about two million unique visitors a month -- good for the 752nd most visited U.S. Web site.
The push to boost numbers and move ahead of competitors is likely behind the motive for publishing stories like this one -- and frankly, that's sad. The world of online journalism demands smart story selection and sound SEO strategy, but decency should also be part of the equation.
The article did have an editorial note that told readers that about the vile nature of Tyson's comments, but screenshots show that it was added after the story's initial publication on Friday.
There is some legitimacy to Carlson's point that Tyson's views are newsworthy, but if you are going to publish there is a need for that reader warning from the very beginning.
Carlson is right in some ways in this battle, but so is Van Susteren.
But ultimately both are more wrong than right. Both of these conservative talking heads are guilty of reaching for traffic rather than try to produce good journalism.
And for two people so talented as Van Susteren and Carlson are, that's a sad indictment on today's state of journalism.