In light of Dan Rather’s apology and admission that he and CBS news screwed up - an apology and admission that would not have been forthcoming if not for the blogosphere - I think it is time to revisit two recent comments on this whole deal. The first, from Tech Central Station’s thoughtful piece entitled Hayek Smiled: Why Blogging Works, reads:
In 1997 CBS falsely reported that a US Customs agent was corrupt. It took three years of investigation to clear his name. It won’t take a month to get to the bottom of this one.
The same article points out the flaw in the big argument of traditionalists against the blogosphere’s ability to fact-check the asses of big media, which basically posits that because no one “controls” it, no one can control it from disseminating the most outrageous rumors and conspiracies:
This traditional criticism of the internet has now been aimed at the blogosphere and is embodied by big journalists like Jonathan Klein who, while defending the CBS story to The Weekly Standard remarked, “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at ‘60 Minutes’] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.” Klein misses the point that it’s not whether you can trust some guy in his pajamas, but whether you can trust a spontaneous system of thousands of guys in their pajamas trading information and imparting small, sometimes deceivingly insignificant, bits of information.
What we’ve seen in the last few years is a gradual refutation of the Klein myth, that “Big Media” is more capable of sorting the truth than are 3,872,561 blogs. Slowly but surely a loose network of bloggers is sometimes beating the designed, controlled systems of checks and balances at deciphering what’s true and what’s not.
Author and journalist Virginia Postrel weighed in on September 13th (and my, doesn’t that seem ages ago in blog time?), saying that bloggers are editors:
What CBS has learned over the past few days is that its editors aren’t good enough. Nowadays when stories go public, they get checked by after-the-fact editors with expertise in every field imaginable, and that checking gets published to the entire world via the blogosphere...That those memos managed to get on national television without a caveat about their reliability suggests a complete breakdown of both journalistic instincts and journalistic process.
You shouldn’t need bloggers to catch errors like this. But it helps.
Talking to a friend of mine tonight about this, he said to me, “Yeah, that’s one really good thing about the internet. Once a site is big enough, it has experts in almost anything among its readers.” But that’s not the really good thing about blogs: The really good thing about blogs is the blogosphere. A site need not be published from some monolith in order to have knowledge and competence behind it - or reading and commenting on it. I mean, heck, there are even blogs for sheet metal enthusiasts out there, now. That network of knowledge, connected more powerfully and widely than ever, is the big deal when it comes to blogs. Sure, the ability to self-publish is revolutionary, but it’s what can be done via that technology that is really world-changing. The node is not stronger than the network.