February 2, 2004 02:25 | Culture / WebBlogging

Round One

It seems to me that the prizefight between mass media and "weblogs" has now begun in ernest.

Some have been debating the "weblogs versus journalism" conundrum, and the use of weblogs and "social software" in political campaigning has garnered much coverage from all sides. Also, there have been a few cases where weblogs have "outed" stories the mass outlets dropped, not to mention provided more in-depth coverage of things the big boys can't or won't touch... But it I believe the really interesting bout heard its starting bell this past week.

The admission by ABC news and others that it's footage of the now infamous "Dean Scream" not only misrepresented the reality of the situation, and that it's widespread use was - "perhaps" they say - an effort to show Dean in a negative light, was one of those chance moments when the World Champion heavyweight lets down his guard for just a moment, giving the unproven newcomer a chance at a really juicy right hook to the head.

This isn't about Howard Dean or "Social Software". It isn't about "journalism". It is about manufactured and manipulated reality sold to an unsuspecting populace.

One of the beauties of many-to-may communication, weblogs being the first step towards a widely accessible and aggregatable implementation of such, is it's ability to de-isolate individuals, and more importantly, to bring them together in a non-regulated way. This is key in any democratic discussion. (Insert everything from power-laws, the trickle-up effect, social networks to "grass-roots movements".)

Slowly but surely the new heavyweight is finding his bearings, refining his technique, learning to dance and gaining in strength. Can a swarm float like a butterfly and sting like a bee? I sure think it can.

The bell rung and the first punch thrown:

Over the last couple of weeks a process that was formerly hidden became visible, as the powers of television, radio and print decide which candidate they want to run against George Bush in the fall.
The last half of the 20th Century was an excessive monoculture, centralized thinking system, where we think, as Citizen Kane snapped"What I tell them to think!" The American news executives who deleted the Dean candidacy through misinformation should do as the leadership of the BBC did -- resign and make way for an overdue reformation of journalism, and as a result the American political system. It's time. As Lydon tells us, the corruption isn't new. What's new is that it's visible now that we can inform each other without relying on them.

The "process that was formerly hidden" is propaganda institutionalized as (most) journalism, marketing and entertainment: cultural fascism, exploiting irrational fears and base desires.

Are you ready to rumble?


It's inevitable. The fact that credibility, filtering and inflow is all built in makes it powerful. But I wonder if mass media will realize that its pointless to fight, rather why dont them fools join inna da fray.

Having just finished reading Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them, I have to concur. There is an inherent power and connectedness, when 1000 people blog about something one way when 2 or three mainstream media outlets (usually wag-the-dogged by stories in the openly Right Wing media outlets) report on it the other way. Unfiltered, it might lead to "consensus journalism," a kind of mob rule if you will, and there is always the risk that an influential blogger can be in turn influenced by Big (Government, Money, Oil, etc.) Thankfully that hasn't proven true to date. The really important thing to remember is that in a few years, all sides of the spectrum will use blogs as adeptly as the center-left seems to at the moment. Then again, there is the possibility of a kind of blogroll myopia; there might be a cadre of respectable, fair-minded Republican bloggers, for example, drowned out by the dittoheads, Andrew Sullivans and Anne Coulters of the world...and we don't know about them because they're not in our Friendster list or whatever.

Do you really think the populace is unsuspecting though? I may be overly cyncical, but I think the public knows what's going on - not the details maybe, but that it's happening - and simply doesn't care.

I actually think that's behind a lot of the hyper-ratcheted-up partisanship that grew up first under Reagan and has increased ever since. The Right invented extreme measures to blunt the fact that everyone *knows*, post-Watergate, that the whole thing is manipulated within an inch of its life.

At that, however, I agree that the web does give a lot of ammo for those who would resist the bill of goods we've been sold since WWII. Where once there was nothing but Z, Mother Jones, and Utne (and THIS in Canada) now there are a million flowers blooming - and not just online but in print as well. But I suspect that the system has, at least for now, already been innocculated against the real threat that these alternative media can present to them.

Which reminds me, have you read this excellent bit by John Perry Barlow?