On Meet the Press this past Sunday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman railed against internet news sources, referring to them as an "open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information." He continued to mock new media, suggesting that the American public is incapable of deciphering between facts, fiction and opinion, when he said that modems should have a warning label from the surgeon general that reads "judgment not included." What Mr. Friedman cannot understand is that web-based information sources like blogs, wikis and vlogs (video blogs) are the new beat reporters and investigative journalists of our time.
Their importance was revealed, just this past weekend, before which, very few Americans recognized the name Van Jones. The White House environmental adviser was one of thirty-two "Czars" appointed by the president who is accountable only to the president, immune to government oversight and senate confirmation. The major networks and newspapers including Mr. Friedman's employer, the New York Times, failed to acknowledge his existence until after new media watchdog's revealed information that the mainstream press failed to uncover. In an on online story posted last April 6, New Zealand blogger Trevor Loudon exposed the world to the Van Jones the Obama administration did not want you to know about. Three days later, the American website World Net Daily exposed Jones' research to a wider audience. The article revealed Jones's ties to radical leftist groups, being a self-proclaimed communist and racially incendiary remarks. These revelations did not trigger any journalistic instincts at the major networks, cable news channels or major newspapers. It did, however, reach a core with citizen watchdogs. During the six months after Jones and then WND published their first Van Jones stories, new media sources uncovered his signature on a petition suggesting the Bush administration was involved in the September 11 attacks. Citizen investigators produced a recording of Van Jones exposing his disdain for the existence of Israel. On a lighter note, a video surfaced showing the president's "green jobs" Czar calling Republicans an expletive. The discovery that Mr. Jones was a supporter of Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, served as icing on the cake. These revelations were met with silence from the Washington Post, New York Times and major news networks. At the eleventh hour, approximately twenty-four hours before Van Jones resigned, the "big three" and the so-called newspaper of record, the New York Times, acknowledged the Jones fiasco. It is a shame that Thomas Friedman and company will never admit that new media did the job the American people previously entrusted in traditional media.
In a June 18, 2009, article in Forbes magazine, pollster John Zogby noted that over twice as many Americans trust internet news sources more than television, newspapers and radio. That poll came just eighteen months after a Harris Poll showed that 54 percent of Americans, in general, do not trust the press.
Veteran journalists such as Mr. Friedman want you to distrust new media. But it’s clear that the American people no longer trust the old press corps. Mainstream media’s complete disregard for the Van Jones controversy has highlighted the need for a new breed of watchdog -- citizen’s journalists, as well as internet based professional news organizations that can bring back the investigative journalism prowess and objectivity that is lacking in the traditional Fourth Estate.
Mr. Friedman is right that information should be filtered, but that process should be left to the individual to decide what is credible and what matters. Journalists have an obligation to their profession and the public to disseminate the facts, especially when they involve government officials whose actions greatly impact the country. The mainstream media didn't just drop the ball regarding Van Jones -- they never showed up to the game. Thankfully, new media players were able to step up to the plate and bring home a victory for the people and the journalism profession.
Paul Miller serves as communications director for the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based nonprofit that utilizes new media to promote government accountability and transparency.