Yesterday Variety‘s Michael Fleming posted a complain-and-lament piece (titled “How I Got Blogged Down”) about how pressure to quickly break stories online has led to sloppiness and retractions. His two prime examples are the bloggers who last week retracted premature news of Natasha Richardson‘s death (i.e., the distinction between actual and brain death having led to confusion) and Nikki Finke announcing on 1.29.08 she needed to “knock down” a rumor about ICM’s Jeff Berg departing his post after having posted a bit earlier that Berg was leaving.

“I chase film news,” Fleming writes, “[but] I regularly see half-baked stories posted, and quickly spread all over the world by sites that don’t verify them. [And] I’m troubled by a growing lack of objectivity, and an erosion of civility between competing journalists and the subjects we write about.”

One caveat is that while Fleming does chase news (like we all do) and is an excellent, thorough and fair-minded reporter, a good portion of what he breaks has been handed to him on a plate. Everybody feeds Variety with their fresh deals — there’s no more widely recognized and supported publication than Variety when it comes to this stuff — so it’s not like Fleming is out there all alone beating the bushes with a stick.

And what about the online reporters who’ve claimed to have broken stories and then seen their scoops turn up in a subsequent Variety report without any acknowledgement that they published it first? I’ve been hearing carpings along these lines for a long while now.

“Sometimes I wish there were more points of view from showbiz bloggers,” Fleming also says. “Too many of them have taken the same tone as they blur a line between objective reporting and opinion.” Who’s he talking about exactly? Why not name a couple of names and list examples of said blurrings?

“There is a preponderance of catty anonymous barbs, and bullying directed at other journalists and anyone in the industry who doesn’t play ball,” he states. Okay, but who’s bullying who over what particular issue? Playing ball regarding what activity or arena…early-bird screenings? Spit it out.

“Some bloggers seem to prize pummeling each other more than gathering news,” he observes. Yes, they do — and it’s entertaining (or at least diverting) when this happens. Fleming obviously doesn’t find it so, but what rankles him in particular? Bloggers will sometimes write about the same complaints that print journos used to privately share about each other at parties in the old days (i.e., the mid ’90s and before). The difference today is that it’s all hanging out on the clothesline 24/7.

Sometimes there are clothes out there that shouldn’t have been washed, or are too damp to air-dry, or which lack clothespins, or haven’t even gone into the washer to begin with. But one way or the other it all gets sorted out in the end. I think readers have come to understand you we all need to take almost everything with a grain of salt until the facts of life demonstrate otherwise. Depending on your POV and awareness levels, even official press releases can be fairly regarded as misleading or incomplete. Everybody spins to some degree. Nobody is 100% right or forthcoming about anything.