Are Bloggers Out to Destroy Old Media?

February 21, 2005

AnkleBitingPundits has an interesting post on the this increasingly discussed notion “that the blogosphere is hell-bent on destroying and ‘bringing down’ the Old Media.” Anklebiters concedes that some people even in the New Media may see it that way, but that they — Anklebiters — don’t. I agree with Anklebiters that most bloggers don’t view themselves as a cyber lynch mob and that they certainly shouldn’t. In the first place, there’s no monolith among bloggers.

Many left wing bloggers exist out there who surely wouldn’t even want the Old Media’s influence to be diminished. As Anklebiters say, bloggers can serve as Old Media bias checkers, which is largely what’s been going on with the cases at the forefront of these discussions: Rathergate, Easongate, etc.

Since I was in college in the seventies, maybe even as far back as high school, I’ve thought it ironic that the mainstream media (big three network TV and the major newspapers) had acquired a degree of unchecked power that arguably caused it to become the type of force it was originally designed to check against. That is, the framers believed the free press to be one of the best government watchdogs on a number of levels. And the media served in that function for years. Many believe that without the tenacity of the Washington Post, and others, the Nixon White House would have escaped scrutiny and Nixon would never have been forced to resign. Regardless of your take on that, there is no denying that the media did serve a watchdog function, even if they oversaw one side of the political aisle more than the other.

Indeed, the problem is that the big three TV networks and most big city newspapers became, if they weren’t from the beginning, agenda-oriented. They became — literally — the Fourth Estate, trying to promote left wing policies and cultural attitudes. The unelected, virtually monolithic media became a powerful, unchecked force, which grew in influence until recently. It wasn’t until the advent of talk radio, specifically with the launch of Rush’s nationally syndicated radio program, that they faced any serious competition in the marketplace of ideas. None of this would have mattered in theory if the mainstream media had been what they held themselves out to be: objective reporters of news. But they weren’t. They were purveyors of liberalism. Their selection and reporting of news were driven by a left wing ideology.

Rush hit the airwaves and contradicted their orthodoxy, skewered their sacred cows, and even made fun of them. They could dish it out, but they couldn’t take it. They couldn’t bare the thought of being under scrutiny themselves. In their incredible arrogance, they considered themselves above scrutiny. They were, after all, devoted to the objective reporting of facts. Their’s was a sacred calling. How dare anyone suggest that they might do anything other than serve the public interest and remain ideologically neutral. (If you’ll note, the Old Media still displays this arrogance today. Some of these dinosaurs are so devoid of self-reflection they don’t even see, much less acknowledge their liberal bias.

But the point is that Rush became a one-man watchdog of the mainstream media. (That was not necessarily what he set out to do, but it is one of the many profound things he accomplished). And they resented it and resented it deeply. They castigated him as mean-spirited and a liar. They turned all their forces on him and demonized him as evil personified. He never complained, but he was attacked — brutally — and sometimes still is. I sometimes think most people of the New Media have little inkling of the extent Rush was scapegoated and how much they owe him, individually and collectively for blazing these paths and taking the hits that have made their (our) path easier. Because Rush was conservative and effectively undermining their influence they had to take him out. Of course they failed. And the revolution was born. Since then conservative talk radio has exploded, Matt Drudge has flourished, Fox News has taken cable by storm, and the blogosphere is going great guns.

Today all these forces are working together to balance out the influence of the media. It was probably a pipe dream in the first place to assume that there would be some kind of natural adversity between the media and the government and that the former would check the latter. The inescapable reality is that human beings — politically oriented ones — comprise both institutions. If you have liberals dominating the media, you’re not going to have equal scrutiny of liberal government officials.

The best way to ensure balance is for there to be a balance of views in the media itself. Amazingly, that wasn’t happening from the sixties until the advent of Rush. We have now arrived at the point that we have a balance and the Old Media is rebelling. They view themselves to be in a war. Rush, Fox, Drudge and conservative bloggers are their enemies. If you doubt this, just look at the way CBS circled the wagons around Dan Rather when he was caught with his pants down. Look at Easongate.

Back to where I began, I think we’ve come full circle. We now have a media which can serve as a check on corrupt politicians and aspiring ones, and as a check on their brethren. The remedy is more freedom of speech and press, and less regulation. The marketplace of ideas has finally yielded a sufficiently balanced media that they are serving in the role envisioned for them by the framers.

I agree with Anklebiters that most conservative bloggers are not in existence for the purpose of torpedoing the Old Media. I think most bloggers are involved because they want to contribute to the public debate and the blogosphere offers them a platform.

I do think, however, that pride precedes a fall and that if certain bloggers are feeling puffed up about certain Old Media conquests they ought to pinch themselves and acquire a little humility. Their purpose should be to serve the public interest, not to destroy the opposing viewpoint or those purveying it. We on the right must never allow ourselves to become censors. We must encourage the left to speak and speak often. The marketplace of ideas is our friend. And freedom of speech is for everyone, even those whose ideas we consider repugnant.

If this rant is incoherent I apologize. I’m getting over a cold and am a little tired. I might try to refine these thoughts later into a more coherent column.