A Paleojournalist Fears the Blog

Feb 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The campy 1958 cult classic “The Blob” starred the late Steve McQueen as a teenager who observes a meteor crash, rushes to the site and finds a glowing red blob engulfing an old man, whose bloody arm dangles out.

McQueen rushes to tell the town about the danger, but the grown-ups won’t take the teen seriously. Meanwhile, the blob grows by absorbing every person and thing in its path. The bigger it gets, the more damage it can do.

I was reminded of this recently by the ugly reaction, and odd sense of empowerment, displayed by some Internet bloggers after the resignations of CNN’s Eason Jordan and the retirement of CBS’s Dan Rather. The self-described “blogosphere” quickly took credit. Bloggers also showed glee in trashing the reputations of these media icons while ignoring their professional accomplishments and years of service to the community.

It would be simplistic to dismiss the mushrooming phenomenon that I’ve come to think of as the Blog by labeling it a right-wing cyber-lynch mob. There are too many to write them off as a lunatic fringe. The number of participants is growing too fast in number and scope to ignore, with rumors, opinions and half-truths bouncing around the wired world in milliseconds.

Surfing through some of these blogs sent a chill down my spine. As a veteran journalist, I suddenly realized, to paraphrase an old comic strip, these people have seen the enemy and it is me.

I found numerous Web sites openly expressing hatred of the MSM. That stands for Main Stream Media, an acronym apparently encompassing all consumer and trade print and electronic news outlets. They even have a term for media veterans like me: paleojournalist.

If being a paleojournalist means a commitment to carefully sourcing all information before making it public, where it can impact lives, then it must be true. I still think you need to consider the source, and that source must be based on fact-checking and an editing system designed to ensure a fair, just, impartial, grown-up point of view. For generations, the MSM has worked to earn a place in the community, while making a living and providing a service.

That earns scorn from this new breed. The Blog advocates insist their highly personal point of view is better because it is more transparent. They often wear their politics and prejudices on their sleeve. They believe that makes them more credible. They say what matters is whether people find truth in their blog and return. They believe that will happen if they get it right again and again.

There is an amazing amount of anger expressed toward the established media. These bloggers have been frustrated for years that the news delivered by professional messengers is often disagreeable and counter to their personal agendas. They don’t want to hear from critics; they want to be critics. They don’t want to be teased by images of the rich and famous; they want to be heard themselves. Some hate anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They almost universally distrust much of what they see on TV news shows.

A few have a more sinister agenda. They aren’t concerned with a better world or a fair shake. They are ideologues promoting a social, political, cultural and/or religious agenda, often at any cost but their own.

The Internet provides a forum with a low entry cost, and exposure is limited only by the ability to market and communicate. It allows bloggers to say what they want when they want, the way they want and take pleasure as a lot of their views seep through a vast interconnect of like-minded, equally disgruntled people across the country and around the world.

What turned the anti-MSM movement on the Internet from a brush fire into a wildfire is that it coincided with an administration in Washington that trusts the media even less than the Blog does, if that is possible.

“With the Bushies, if you’re their friend, anything goes,” wrote MSM columnist Maureen Dowd in The New York Times earlier this month. “If you’re their critic, nothing goes. They’re waging a jihad against journalists-buying them off so they’ll promote administration programs, trying to put them in jail for doing their jobs and replacing them with ringers.”

We have seen in the past decade a swelling in the ranks of conservative radio talkers and TV commentators. This above-ground army of ideologues is still at work but now has been joined by a force of bloggers growing in number, power and nerve at Blob-speed.

The Blog has every right to advocate ideas, social mores and policies. However, bloggers cross the line when, by being bullies, haters and rumormongers, they put a chill on the rights of others to report, question and broadcast freely, which is essential to any democracy.

Even CNN was accused of giving in to this mob by none other than The Wall Street Journal, which editorialized, “It does not speak well of CNN that it apparently allowed itself to be stampeded by this Internet and talk show crew.” It said the network should have shown “the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs.”

I’m sure the Blog won’t understand why I increasingly see bloggers as electronic storm troopers who use their bully pulpit to pound anyone who doesn’t line up with their worldview. And it scares me.

The Internet is indeed the most democratic form of communication ever invented. It would be a terrible irony if its ultimate use were to deny us in whole or in part our right to a free press and free speech. That too scares me.

In “The Blob,” Mr. McQueen finds B-movie resolution by luring the insatiable monster to a local ice rink and freezing it. That isn’t going to be practical for the Blog. Instead, we need fair-handed politicians, smarter laws (including a national shield law to protect legitimate journalists) and most of all, MSM moguls with a lot more guts.