FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

2004: Year of the Blog

No matter which way it turns, the 2004 election will go down in history as the one in which the blog emerged as a pivotal player. Bloggers were busy working both party conventions this summer, and blogs have become the go-to places for spirited debate. Even the major news services have decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em... and have launched blogs of their own.

Now, in what might be blogging's finest hour (or lowest point, depending on your political convictions), bloggers have succeeded in challenging an assertion made by one of our nation's most highly respected news institutions. After 60 Minutes II released documents that it claimed showed that President Bush had been suspended from the National Guard and even disobeyed direct orders, bloggers countered that those documents were forgeries. Among other things, they pointed out that the typefaces were more likely to have been generated by modern-day computer printers than 1960s-era typewriters. Not surprisingly, most of the hoax accusations came from conservative-minded sites such as the PowerLine blog and the message board of FreeRepublic.

Suddenly, CBS was on the defensive, and a host of questions arose. If these documents did constitute a hoax, who was behind it, and why? If the documents were forged, why was the attempt so lame? Did someone want the forgery to be caught? If nothing else, these documents will be forever suspect, and news organizations will always have someone attempting to call their bluff, especially in political matters.

We've been heading down this road for some time. The world first found out about the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration courtesy of Matt Drudge, who scooped the mainstream media. Now, with the power of blogging, stating one's case and arguing with conventional wisdom is easier than ever. Even those who aren't active bloggers have access to more facts and opinions than ever before. At the same time, the credibility of the mainstream media has been on a steady decline (and will plummet if the Bush documents prove fake). Never again will people simply say, "If it appears in _______, it must be true."

Yes, months before the first vote is cast, the 2004 election has already proven that blogging is power. As Americans, we have not only the right but a duty to question authority. But, as the cliche goes, with power comes responsibility. Those of us who blog have must be as factual and careful as possible when posting, and to respect our readers. With my degree in journalism, that comes second-nature to me. But most bloggers are not trained in the ways of libel and fact-checking, and some lessons will come hard. Those lessons, though, will make the difference between knowledge and noise.

POSTSCRIPTS: Unmediated is a blog devoted to this very discussion: documenting the power of blogging and other emerging technology in deconstructing the mainstream media. Also, Tech Central Station has posted a piece further detailing how bloggers deconstructed the 60 Minutes report.