Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Impact of Blogs

Whither the blog?

I don't know where they're going, but I'd like to tell you where they've been.

Blogs started mostly as online journals, or "weblogs", hence the moniker. It's when they went from journaling to journalism (including opinion and commentary sites) that their power became apparent.

Back in the day, many cities had at least two newspapers. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for one to have the word "democrat" in the title to show the slant you'd get from that paper. Oddly enough, I've never heard of a paper with the word "republican" in the title, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. But news was dished out in a competitive fashion, and people could choose which slant on their news they wanted.

Then along came tv news. Serious journalists who gave the impression of impartiality presented the news to an adoring public. It wasn't by accident that Walter Cronkite was known as "the most trusted man in America"; now that he's retired his far-left politics are well-known, but he tried to keep them hidden during his tenure as CBS's lead anchor. Looking back, we can now see his biases in his reporting, but for the most part people then didn't think or know to look for such biases. If anyone did, they had no way to get the word out.

The late 60's hippie movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate solidified the press as a mostly left-leaning group. In the 80's it took an entertaining conservative talk-radio host to give those right-of-center Americans a voice with which they could identify, and then talk-radio took off.

The next big movement was blogs. Who knows what will be next?

The Drudge Report, at the time a sorta-news, sorta-gossip site, came into its own with President Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal. Then came blogs.

September 11th? Everyone knows what happened that day. But what did blogs do to propel events? I'm not sure.

What stories have blogs pursued that make them such a force today? The first big story was in late 2002, when Trent Lott made some remarks at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party--remarks that were considered scandalous by many. Not just lefty blogs, but center- and many right-leaning blogs attacked Lott for suggesting that Thurmond, with his segregationist beliefs, would have made a great President in 1948 (when he in fact ran for President). Within a couple of weeks, Lott was forced under public pressure to step down as Senate Majority Leader.

The next major story was the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, a group of sailors who served with John Kerry (either on his boat or in his unit) who claimed that Kerry's Vietnam service, which he had made the centerpiece of his 2004 Presidential campaign, was not quite so honorable as Kerry himself claimed. Mainstream media, firmly entrenched by this time as an organ of the Democratic Party, ignored the story. Talk-radio and blogs kept the topic alive, and together reached enough people that the mainstream media (MSM, for those who know blogger-speak) could no longer ignore the story. By ignoring the story, the MSM allowed the SBVT sailors to get their story out unmolested and unchallenged, with blogs rushing the story to "print". The story got out, Kerry was discredited, and the rest is history. I wonder if he'll ever release his original military documents. Some suggest that he originally got a dishonorable discharge because the only discharge document he's ever released is from the Carter years. Blogs keep this story alive, but since Kerry is a nobody now and not a Presidential candidate, it's not a story with feet.

The next big story, also from the 2004 election, was CBS's story on 60 Minutes II about some recently-found Texas Air National Guard documents about then-Lieutenant Bush. The story broke soon after Labor Day, less than two months before the election. An obvious hit-piece, Dan Rather led the charge. The problem? The documents were obvious forgeries, most likely created with Microsoft Word and not an early 70's typewriter in Texas. Go here for a full account by LittleGreenFootballs, one of the web sites (along with PowerLineBlog) which picked up the ball and ran with it and proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the documents were fake. Rather refused to back down until too much evidence mounted and he was eventually shown the door--but given a few months to walk out of it. The big quote to come out of this fiasco? "Fake, but accurate." Good one.

By the way, if you really want some evidence about how slanted CBS News and Dan Rather are/were? Go here.

The most recent big story that blogs have carried is that of Eason Jordan, late of CNN. In Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, CNN's "chief news executive" Eason Jordan stated that US forces in Iraq were specifically targeting journalists. Of course, most of the MSM circled the wagons to protect one of their own, but influential blogs pushed the story. Jordan said his comments were taken out of context, bloggers pushed to have video of the speech released. Jordan resigned after days of hoping the problem would just go away.

Notice that three of my Big 4 stories have occurred within the last year. Blogs are taking the MSM to task, forcing them to cover stories they'd rather not due to political beliefs or self-interest. The press fancies itself as the watchdog of government, but the perennial question is, Who watches the watchers? At this point in history, we know the answer.

Maybe some day I'll break a big story. I'm still counting on Ed Code Section 38118 to give me that story.

Update, 3/20/05, 11:21 am: Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, had this to say in a speech at the Politics Online conference on March 11th (quoted from

Well, the title of my talk, which I did not actually select, is “Bloggers: The New Power Brokers.” What bloggers really are is not power brokers, so much, though there are a few who aspire to that role – they are “power breakers.” What bloggers have done is cut back on the power of gate-keepers, of middlemen, of agenda setters, by allowing the end run, that sort of thing. And that has opened up communications vertically, horizontally, and in all sorts of ways.

I couldn't agree more. And I hope he continues to be correct.

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