Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Progress is being made

I have been fascinated by the role of the blogosphere versus, and its effect on, the MSM (see here, here, and here) . So has Glenn Greenwald and, in a post about the rather mild rebuke (but rebuke nevertheless) in the same NYTimes that published the load that the execrable Michael Gordon dumped in that same paper, Glenn says that this criticism "stems directly from the same criticisms of Gordon's articles first voiced in the blogosphere".

It is difficult to quantify the influence which the blogosphere has on our broader political debates. There are the blogging triumphalists who seem to think that bloggers are taking over the world and can change whatever they want with a few posts. And then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum -- the gloomy, whiny defeatists -- who think that all is hopeless because the Big Bad System is so powerful and ingenious and Machiavellian as to be invulnerable (attributes of omnipotence often assigned to the Rove-led Republican political machine -- until the 2006 midterm elections). But most people seem to reside somewhere in between those two poles, which is where the truth is also likely to be found.

Bloggers plug away every day with their media criticisms, their political assaults, and their demands for greater accountability from the political and media institutions which have been so profoundly and glaringly failing the country. Most of that work does not produce immediate results, and whatever work does produce results cannot typically be quantified or documented. No single blog post, by itself, is going to radically transform our political landscape or engender some spontaneous reawakening from our citizenry or political and media elite. And that lack of immediate satisfaction sometimes produces the misleading sense that no meaningful change is occurring.

But changes of this sort -- like the growth of a child with whom one lives -- are gradual and therefore imperceptible, but they are still occurring. Mainstream journalists can no longer ignore the criticisms and complaints that come from the blogosphere. They hear them and are affected by them and that has the effect of changing their behavior. The Michael Gordons in our press corps are not going to be able to aid and abet the efforts of Bush followers to fan the flames of war against Iran without substantial impediments, criticisms and attention -- not as much as is merited, but certainly far more than before.

For a long time, most national journalists studiously ignored the blogosphere completely, trying to demonize it and dismiss it away as some sort of frivolous cesspool of vulgarity and partisan hysteria (some still cling to that tactic). But in terms of size, impact and sophistication, the blogosphere has evolved beyond the point where it can be easily caricatured that way and it has grown beyond the point where it can be simply ignored. The instances where our nation's most influential journalists are compelled to respond to criticisms from blogs are now so numerous as to be routine, even expected.

And that criticism, provided it is persuasive and well-documented, will inevitably have an effect in re-shaping and improving our political discourse -- not immediately or flamboyantly, but gradually and inexorably. When it came to Iraq, it took almost a year-and-a-half for criticisms of the NYT's Gordon-type reporting to appear in its own pages. Yet this time, when Gordon tried the same stunt with Iran, it took less than two weeks for his own paper to criticize him, and numerous other articles on the same topic were published that were far more substantive and responsible.

That is genuine progress, and much of it is attributable to blogs, the influence of which will only continue to grow. People like Tony Snow, Richard Wolffe, and Lieberman-consultant Dan Gerstein feel compelled to scream that the blogosphere is a frivolous and inconsequential echo chamber not because it is, but precisely because they know it is not. If it were, they would continue to ignore it, rather than feel a need to lash out at it.

Media outlets know they are being watched and that a lack of adversarial reporting will be detected and severely criticized. There is much to complain about in our political and media institutions, and there is no shortage of those complaints, but it is also worth noting -- to dilute pervasive defeatism if for no other reason -- that there is also progress being made.


Blogger liberal journal man said...

First the ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. --Gandhi

11:27 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I hope so, Mr. Gandhi, I hope so.

4:51 PM  

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