NEW YORK-Upon hearing that I'd started writing a blog, a Luddite pal asked me to describe this latest new-media phenom. Political bloggers, I explained, link to articles in traditional media. Then they rant and/or rave about them: "Great piece in the Journal." "The usual crap at CNN.com." Anyone can write one; you don't even have to use your real name. "Oh," he replied. "A blog is like a column without the responsibility."
Bloggers want you to know that there's a new sheriff in town. Edward Morrissey, writer of the right-wing blog Captain's Quarters, boasts to the New York Times: "The media can't just cover up the truth and expect to get away with it-and journalists can't just toss around allegations without substantiation and expect people to believe them anymore." And what are Morrissey's qualifications to police the media? When he's not harassing old-school journos like Dan Rather and CNN's Eason Jordan out of their jobs, Morrissey manages a call center near Minneapolis.
As a free speech fan, my initial reaction to the blog explosion-there's a new one born every 7.4 seconds-was delight. If you've been interviewed for a newspaper article you've probably had the experience of being misquoted or taken out of context, or at least had your name misspelled. If reporters get these basics wrong, how can we trust them when they tackle the big stuff? Moreover, the mainstream media is an ivory tower. Anyone who has tried to call a paper to complain has suffered through phone-tree hell before possibly wrangling out the limited satisfaction of a two-line correction on page 83 beneath the obituaries. But now anyone with access to a computer can, with the proper string of ideological comrades in cyberspace, call the mainstream media to account.
"I think the relation is more symbiotic than parasitic," writes Glenn Reynolds of the right-wing blog Instapundit. "Bloggers are more like the fish that protect sharks from parasites." Bloggers, fierce new watchdogs of the fourth estate, claim they're democratizing American journalism.
It all sounds great-until you read them. Once you spend some time surfing this ocean of likeminded righties, however, you realize the awful truth: the "populist" blogosphere is cowing the mainstream media even further into submission to the powers that be.
At a time when simply having a conservative Democrat spar with a conservative Republican is enough to earn the tag "fair and balanced," the fact is that the political blogs are dominated by the hard right. Such a development might have served as a laudable counterbalance during the 1930s, a period of liberal political hegemony. But when talk radio, cable television news and all three branches of the federal and most state governments are under the control of the right, the blogger wolf pack merely serves to further ossify a dangerously out of whack ideological imbalance. Moreover, conservative blogs mirror their mainstream counterparts by applying a far angrier and more violent tone than that of their liberal foes. Here's a sample of online comments written by Republican bloggers: "Ted Rall should be beat to within an inch of his life with a baseball bat." "Every morning when I read the paper, I hope the headline will bring me tidings of [Ted Rall's] untimely demise. Untimely? Nah. Overdue." "When I flush the toilet, it isn't considered violence, is it? So killing Ted Rall should be no different."
Death threats against liberal pundits are commonplace among, and essentially unique to, the right-wing blogs. And the GOP thinks that's OK. Nowhere can one find a responsible mainstream Republican to speak out against this hate speech.
Borg-like, the various right-wing blogs simultaneously discuss the same stories, applying identical rhetoric. They create blacklists and urge their readers and fellow bloggers to threaten and harass their targets. Surfing this cheesy world of flag-draped neo-McCarthyite HTML makes it impossible to deny Columbia Journalism Review writer Steve Lovelady's conclusion that most are "salivating morons" who form an ideological "lynch mob." Worse, many of the right-wing bloggers are flat-out liars.
My jaw dropped when gay GOP blogger Andrew Sullivan accused me in 2003 of "urging the murder of American troops in defense of Islamist terrorists." Of course I'd done no such thing, and he knew it. If I had had the ready cash I would have slapped the lying bastard with a richly-deserved libel suit. Incredibly, Time hired Sullivan to write a column.
I got off easy compared to Eason Jordan, who lost his job at CNN for claiming-off the air-that "he knew of 12 journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq," as Congressman Barney Frank quoted him in the Washington Post. And, he claimed, some had been targeted by U.S. forces. In fact, more than 50 war correspondents have been killed in the Iraq war-of whom a portion were apparently shot intentionally by American troops. Two journalists for Al Jazeera were killed in 2003 by U.S. troops firing at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, well known to CENTCOM as the main residence for foreign journalists. Two more Al Jazeera journalists reported being tortured by U.S. troops last year; another has been rotting in the Guantánamo concentration camp since 2001. Eason had the facts right, but the blogger lynch mob howled so loudly that CNN fired him anyway.
The mainstream media let Bush steal an election and lie his way into two wars. It allowed Condi Rice to be confirmed even though she got caught lying about the existence of Al Qaeda briefing papers given to her by the outgoing Clinton Administration. Lord knows the journalistic conglomerates need a firm boot in the butt, but the right-wing bloggers aren't ideologically inclined to deliver it.
Bloggers are ordinary people, many of them uneducated and with nothing interesting to say. They're sitting in their rec rooms, regurgitating and spinning what real journalists have dug up through hard work. They don't have sources, they don't report, and no one holds them accountable when they make mistakes or flat out lie. Yeah, there's a new sheriff in town. Unfortunately he's drunk, he's mean, and he works for the bad guys.