Rathergate, The Real Story
Bloggers Gain Influence
These are exciting times fellow bloggers. The Bloke woke up over his morning coffee to find the news still abuzz over the blogsphere’s torpedoing CBS and Dan Rather’s story about President Bush’s military records.
News sources are finally acknowledging what Blog Bloke has said all along. That blogs have elevated from a cyber-niche of lonely geeks into a powerful political tour de force:
“This is an exceptional case study of the power of the blogs,” said Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and co-author of “The Power and Politics of Blogs,” a research paper published in July. “A couple of the blogs raised factual questions — it was like firing a flare. Then the mainstream journalists did the heavy lifting. It was highly symbiotic.”
Drezner’s study reports there are between 2.4 million to 4 million blogs, a number that is expected to explode to 10 million in 2005. Most are idiosyncratic and apolitical, but those with a pronounced political bent have repeatedly triggered real-world news events.
Bloggers are already credited with keeping afloat the story of Sen. Trent Lott’s admiring comments about the now-deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond and his 1948 segregation-based campaign for the presidency, until the mainstream media swarmed all over it. They also nurtured controversy about Kerry’s Vietnam record alongside veterans opposed to Kerry. But the CBS story is the biggest coup to date.
“This was a story tailor-made for bloggers,” said Henry Farrell, the co-author of the research paper. “They’re not investigative reporters and don’t have the resources of the media. But there are lots of talented people out there who can work on the story for 20 minutes. It was distributed intelligence in which a story can be unpacked into thousands of little bits.”
“I don’t think this story is comparable to any other I’ve seen,” said Tom Johnson of Power Line. “A major news story, produced by a gold-standard news operation in the midst of a presidential campaign, turns out to be a complete and utter fraud. As recently as five years ago, it would have stood up.”
“We can’t be too quick to equate the bona fides and journalistic chops of a blogger with that of any mainstream media organization,” says Christopher Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News. “The bloggers do not have any system of checks and balances. My issue is simply when we start elevating these journals of opinion to the level of newspapers of record, so to speak.”
Other critics have complained that blogs can traffic in rumor, such as a claim in February that Sen. John Kerry had had an affair with a former intern.
Responding to the criticism, Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee behind the Instapundit blog, says the online community acts as its own ombudsman to sift fact from allegation.
“The check on blogs is other blogs,” he says. “Because blogs operate in a reputation-based environment, nobody minds a bias. But they expect you to be honest about your facts. And if you get a reputation for not being honest about your facts, people pay lots of attention to you.”
Jimmy Orr, Bush’s Internet director, last summer called blogs “very instrumental. They can lead the news. And they’ve been underestimated.” Bush campaign communications director Nicole Devenish last week told Time magazine that “blogs are what talk radio was a few years ago.”
But Drezner and Farrell said the bloggers’ moment in the sun may be brief, as the novelty of what they do fades and they become co-opted by mainstream journalists and politicians. “They’re going to get sucked into the system,” Farrell said. “Politicians are figuring out how to absorb them, so they may eventually fade a bit.”
*Blog Bloke takes this one step further. Rather (no pun intended) than being absorbed, what you will find is a convergence of blogging and journalism. Simply because the technology is too powerful to be ignored by industry, and too empowering to be abandoned by the public as a passing fad.