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Sunday, September 12, 2004

RatherBiased: Why This Story Matters

A lot of people out there think: Ho hum, Who cares if CBS was duped? We have experts, you have experts. Does it really matter?
Powerline does it's usual yeoman's work in answering that question.
One story they point to is this from the LA Times.
The Powerline boys then proceed to take the story apart.
Couple that with an excellent summary from HughHewitt.

Many of the bloggers working on this matter bring a lawyer's training in evidence to the conversation, and others bring background in intelligence and design. Pajama-clad though we might be, CBS has not been demolished by us so much as it has been by traditions of investigative thoroughness and judicial standards for the determination of truth. As the Globe report this morning shows, it doesn't much matter if CBS ever gives up the ghost. The verdict is already in. Dan Rather, at the twiligiht of a long and less than glorious career and looking for one last big bang, got duped by second-rate forgeries, and took a lot of wannabee Woodwards over the cliff with him.

Now the stories are beginning to arrive on how the CBS melt-down was triggered, and old media is hopelessly behind or biased again. Read Peter Wallsten's story from today's Los Angeles Times, which parrots Demcoratic spin about how this is a product of "right-wing luncacy," and fails, except in passing or disparaging fashion, to underscore the credentials of the bloggers and the experts they assembled in the course of pursuing the story. Wallsten doesn't even seem aware of the ironic reference to "pajamas" in one quote from the original FreeRepublic poster, nor does it appear as though he could be bothered to mention traffic acceleration, "open source journalism" theory or any of previous exercises of blogging power --"Christmas in Cambodia," Trent Lott, the New York Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I spoke with Mr. Wallsten briefly on Friday, before going on air, and I pointed him to a few places like The Belmont Club and Instapundit which could fill in the gaps in a hurry. Instead of really reporting what happened and why, he chose the "right-wing lunacy" angle combined with straight reporting on transmission, and closed with dire warnings from a tenured doom-sayer. What a perfect illustration of why old media is so hopelessly behind the curve: Tasked to report on new media, it couldn't do so, even with a thousand sources and an easy to understand story line. Why not? Because it didn't want to. The stakes are too high. Self-preservation dictates that old media scoff at new media, even after the walls have been breached and breached again.

There was a journalistic earthquake this week. The tremors have been coming for months, as Mr. Hewitt makes clear above. The mainstream media simply revealed who they are this week. They've done it in the past, but this time, they have competition from the new media, henceforth to be known as Open Source Journalism.
Here is an excellent editorial on the shift, from The Grand Forks Herald:

If you're a media buff - and who isn't, in America in 2004? - then circle Thursday, Sept. 9, on your mental calendar. Because that's the day weblogs came into their own.

And politics and journalism never will be the same.

What happened Thursday is that webloggers or "bloggers" latched on to a controversial "60 Minutes"/CBS News story - and then worked the thing, with a stubbornness and tenacity that would have done credit to a pack of bulldogs or a turn of snapping turtles - or, yes, an army of investigative reporters.

As a result, CBS was forced to respond within a single news cycle. And although the network eventually stood by its story, more holes are showing up in the thing almost by the hour, and there's a fair chance the network will have to retract.

This may have been the first time a TV network was forced to respond so quickly to an Internet critique. But it won't be the last time for America's networks, newspapers or other institutions, because bloggers now are responding to events not as opinion writers but as fact-checkers and skilled reporters.

and here, summarized by James Lileks:
Anecdotal evidence, of course, take it for what it’s worth. But I think the number of people who regard the evening news as straight truth delivered by disinterested observers, can be numbered in the high dozens. Blogs haven’t toppled old media. The foundations of Old Media were rotten already. The new media came along at the right time. Put it this way: you’ve see films of old buildings detonated by precision demolitionists. First you see the puffs of smoke – then the building just hangs there for a second, even though every column that held it up has been severed. We’ve been living in that second for years, waiting for the next frame. Well, here it is. Roll tape. Down she goes. And when the dust settles we will be right back where we were 100 years ago, with dozens of fiercely competitive media outlets throwing elbows to earn your pennies.

In retrospect, TV looks like a big smothering quilt: it killed the afternoon papers, forced the survivors to consolidate; it reshaped the news cycle to fit its needs, shifted the emphasis to the visual. It fed off the Times and the Post and other surviving papers, which had institutionalized the Watergate and Vietnam templates as the means by which we understand events. The old-line media, like its Boomer components, got old, and like the Boomers, it preferred self-congratulation to self-reflection. And so the Internet had it for lunch, because the Internet does not have to schedule 17 meetings to develop a strategy for impactfully maximizing brand leverage in emerging markets; the Internet does not have to worry about how a decision will affect one’s management trajectory; the Internet smells blood and leaps, and that has turned the game around, for better or worse. So we’re back to where we were in 1904 – except that the guys on the corner shouting WUXTRY, WUXTRY aren’t grimy urchins selling the paper – they’re the people who wrote the damn thing, too.

A Major Shift. And the after shocks are still reverberating....

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