September 24, 2006
The Internet and Political AnalysisBy Clarice Feldman
New communications technologies generally bring with them expectations which are rarely fulfilled.
In about 1948 my dad, always a fan of technology, decided we should have a television set. My mother warned that we kids would stop reading and become lazy idiots if we watched that thing and threatened to leave if he brought one into the house. Naturally, we sided with Dad, and with a 4 to1 vote in his favor, the set was given a prime spot in the living room. And while there were some shows I remember fondly, 'I Remember Mama' and 'Your Show of Shows', I don't remember ever actually learning much from watching it.
Newt Minnow's judgment that it had quickly become 'a vast wasteland' was hard to dispute.
The development of cable channels made television a far better medium to convey a variety of information and entertainment. But it is, after all, a largely passive medium and the viewer can do little but watch and listen. It is not a means by which readers can interact and exchange useful information.
I'm a late comer to the internet. Like television, it too contains a lot of time—wasting diversions. I simply never saw the point of it. But I learned quickly that the net provides a unique and wonderful means of joining people from around the globe with similar interests to work cooperatively to ferret out the truth of things important to them. It seems to be a new technology which really can achieve the goal of providing a quick means of information exchange and intellectual interaction.
Working like a fast global intellectual market, it can join people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints willing to focus on single issues to discuss, analyze, fact check and inform. Keeping track of major, quickly changing, news stories, is one thing that internet users have excelled at. And there have been different formats to do this — all of which have proven successful.
When Dan Rather ran his story about the President's service in the Texas National Guard, the first clue that the 'evidence' for this was fake appeared on Free Republic, a site where people post excerpts of news reports and commenters respond. One commenter, familiar with the technology, noted that the documents could not have been prepared on typewriters available at the time. The story was quickly picked up by the wonderful Powerline and Little Green Footballs and a 'blog swarm' followed.
People with military experience added information. Others researched the stated sources for the story, the history of the principal characters, the credentials of the CBS forensic experts, the ever—changing CBS explanations. In no time the network was hard pressed to answer the serious questions raised about the provenance of the documents and the credibility of the story. The committed followers of the story were able to respond quickly to the rapidly changing story. Other blogs reported what was happening and more people participated in the investigation. CBS was caught out.
Other media scandals followed a similar path. The wonderful British site EUreferendum bore the laboring oar on the fauxtography and staged photos at Qana. Little Green Footballs and others too numerous to recall also gathered valuable information which was quickly exchanged and Reuters and AP were left with few defenders outside of media colleagues similarly compromised by overuse and under—supervision of local stringers and pro—terrorist partisans on their payrolls.
Sweetness & Light and Dan Riehl did great work on exposing the distorted media reports on what happened in Haditha. Unlike the others, the publishers largely did their own work with some, but not much, input from commenters. But their work was so good others could simply rely on what they had done. It only required synthesizing their excellent work into a coherent form so more people could appreciate what they had done.
Similarly, a number of blogs have been working separately on the story about the AP's Bilal Hussein, preventing the AP from sweeping his obvious links to terrorists under the rug. Michelle Malkin has done a great job in aggregating those links so a reader can link back and forth and piece together the story.
And there are specialty blog sites like Climateaudit which continues to grow as a place where both amateurs and climate scientists debate the state of our knowledge regarding global warming. If the public knew the facts, even those facts tacitly acknowledged by the proponents of global warming, the public would not have such a facile view of this issue. It was this site that blew the whistle on the hockey stick model largely used to argue for global climate warming. As Al Gore takes his 'trouble right here in River City' show on the road against a site worth watching.
And I love each and all of these sites. They are an addictive source of information gathering and sharing. But my favorite is Just One Minute, where a dogged band has for years tracked, stored, debated and analyzed every bit of reportage, pleadings, court proceeding transcripts and documentation of the Plame story. Its success is in large part a measure of the bright, witty and civil moderator, Tom Maguire. But it is the truest example of the web providing a means of drawing on that wonderful power of distributed intelligence (Auden's ironic points of light for the literary minded or Glenn Reynolds' Army of Davids for the more Biblical minded.)
I owe each and every person who participated in discussions there, even those who violently disagreed with me, more than I can say for being able to track and dissect the Plame case. It quickly had become beyond my capacity alone to fact check the many versions and false reportage that muddied the account. And it proved a unique sounding board for my ideas. Where else could one find so many well—informed and intelligent critics?
Ordinary people with a shared interest in any topic and a civilized place to exchange those views (the ideal political salon) bring more of interest to bear on any given topic than any panel of journalists with fairly identical backgrounds and views. (Come to think of it, it must not have been far different for my male Lithuanian ancestors who I'm told spent all their days sitting around in the local synagogue debating the Talmud and the issues of the day. I just don't have to be a man or trudge through the snow to get there. Neither do you.)
And if you don't have enough time to actively participate, you can just stop in and read the fine work they do every day.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.