September 10, 2004
The blogosphere never sleepsBy Thomas Lifson
Three years ago tomorrow, the awe—inspiring towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, following a completely unanticipated mode of attack. Today, the once proud tower of CBS News threatens to collapse under an attack clearly unanticipated by Dan Rather and his editorial colleagues, who vetted and passed—on to the public as genuine, documents purported to have been typed in the early 1970s, but which exactly match the output of Microsoft Word in their spacing, superscript, apostrophe design, and other typographical nuances.
The world of national security changed forever on 9/11/01. The world of mass media may have changed forever on 9/9/04.
It took less than one full day for the blogosphere to vet the purported memos from Lt. Colonel Killian, George W. Bush's superior in the Texas Air National Guard, far more thoroughly than CBS News was able to accomplish in weeks. Power Line posted its first analysis of the typographical anomalies at 7:51 AM, September 9th, and updated it throughout the day, based on emails from readers who contributed their own experience and expertise on subjects as varied as the arcana of electric typewriter spacing and typefaces, and military practice in writing dates.
According to Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, who also played a major role in examining the potential forgeries, it took CBS news 12 hours to even begin its own internal investigation of the legitimacy of the documents it foisted on the American public. As is so characteristic of the blogosphere, Johnson drew his conclusion based on information supplied by Drudge. While CBS slept, information on the web shot back—and—forth, testing, adding, disagreeing, analyzing and concluding. Typewriter enthusiasts, former military clerks, and ordinary folks chimed in, adding their two cents' worth, continuously.
The blogosphere never sleeps.
The old hierarchical editorial structure, with highly—paid journalist—bureaucrats looking over potentially explosive evidence, and calling up a few people in order to check, was left in the dust by the new interactive, dispersed, fully—networked reality of internet vetting.
This phenomenon stands on its head the old bromide purveyed by the elitists of the old media, to the effect that the only reliable news comes from sources which employ editors, and which are staffed by 'real journalists' who adhere to strict standards of scrutiny. For the record, Power Line is produced by three lawyers who earn their living outside of the realm of journalism.
Internet technology is the key enabler of this revolution, but its philosophical origins are a bit older, being based in another transformative technological revolution, a necessary precursor of the internet itself.
Konnosuke Matsushita, the founder of the world's largest consumer electronics company, manufacturers of products carrying such brand names such as Panasonic, Technics, and National, was both a philosopher and an industrialist. Drawing on Henry Ford's experience in driving down the cost and price of the Model T, Matsushita created the business model of continuous improvement of design and manufacturing techniques, in order to relentlessly drive down costs and prices, and thereby expand the market for electronic goods. Today's desktop and laptop computer sector, with its cheap and easy access to the internet (as well as Microsoft Word typesetting), is the product of Matsushita's vision of ever—cheaper and evermore—abundant electronics.
Unlike Henry Ford, Konnosuke Matsushita believed that harnessing the insights and experiences of ordinary people was a more powerful mechanism for change and improvement than any combination of 'experts' could offer:
'The wisdom...and ideas of many people must be combined freely and without reserve. Without them, you cannot achieve true success.'
New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki wrote a fascinating book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which examines the current media industry through a lens similar to Matsushita's. Surowiecki's framework can be seen as the blueprint for the developments now known as Rathergate. He argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter that the smartest people in them.' If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts. Wise crowds need:
1) diversity of opinion;
All of these conditions are in force in the instance of Rathergate.
Broadcasting and newspapers are one—way media, managed by elites, hierarchies with their own narrow circles of associates, and their own bureaucratic interests and proclivities. The internet 'combines freely' the 'ideas of many people' and incorporates the self—correcting mechanism of unlimited public disputation.
When Matsushita began exporting his color televisions to the United States market in the early 1960s, the proud towers of the TV business included names like Zenith, RCA, and Magnavox. They never knew what hit them. While Matsushita automated and simplified the production of then—expensive color televisions, Zenith responded by touting its products as 'hand crafted' and showed pictures of parts being soldered onto a television chassis.
Today, the original Zenith, RCA, and Magnavox companies are long—gone. Each of these brand names exists only as a label on products produced by foreign companies. The shareholders of Viacom (corporate parent of CBS), the New York Times Company, and all the other media behemoths should start reading the history of technology, and phone their brokers... or maybe log onto Ameritrade.