Let me come back, if I may, to a concern I raised recently -- centering on how a sense of disproportion is taking over our political culture -- as in, well, you know, that quail-hunting saga involving Dick Cheney. Whatever happened to that one, anyway?
What happened was that a hot, hot story cooled off. With the public's interest and anxieties sated, the media moved on to the next hot topic -- one we might describe as "Help, Help, Bush is Turning over Six U.S. Ports to the Arabs!!!!!" (Does a mere five exclamation points adequately reflect the rage that seized us last week?)
I write with my editor's eyeshade on. This is about the media, my profession for four decades. It is about the media and how we do business in the age of the
Internet, when millions couldn't be troubled to lug a newspaper into the house or to watch the TV evening news for anything but maybe, possibly, the sports.
As old ways and days fade, new ones come to life -- this being a thumbnail account of how we got so worked up over Dick Cheney and the emir of Dubai.
The First Amendment to the Constitution has for 200 years protected free speech. Never before has there been so much speech: loud, angry and pretentious, as well as moderate, reasoned and informative, all of it coming to you, to all of us, all day long, everywhere, by virtue of the ongoing revolution in communications.
Under the old dispensation, newspapers, magazines and TV networks were gatekeepers. They figured out what (in their less-than-humble opinions) we needed to know. News distribution was top-down: them to us. No more. The Internet and cable TV have rendered news a horizontal proposition. If somebody has something to say, we may count on its being said -- often as not in pure anger and indignation.
No one really knows how many web logs -- a k a blogs -- operate today, but an estimated 75 percent of Americans get some news from the Internet. The Internet community is a great cacophony: a roar with jillions of tones and tunes. Speed and choice are the (exquisitely modern) hallmarks of communications today. We want what we want, and we want it now.
In the faded old days, a newspaper not only had but also took a certain amount of time to check out stories. Due diligence wasn't always done, but city editors could be tough customers, and readers opened their papers with at least some assurance that the matters before them on the printed page and been sorted out and combed through.