Mass media beware: the bloggers

John Leo

5/6/2002 12:00:00 AM - John Leo
One vote here in favor of the blogging revolution. Bloggers (from the words "Web log") write personal online diaries and commentaries. The best bloggers weigh in on social and political issues, report nuggets of information that the national media miss or suppress, and provide links to other bloggers with something sharp to say. Subjects that the mainstream press is skittish about (e.g., the link between abortion and breast cancer, or the mini-race riot that occurred in Cincinnati three weeks ago) tend to show up in the blogging world. Bloggers are emerging as a check against the mainstream press and as a prime source of news and commentary among the young.

A minor example of the culture in action: The blogging corps got wind of a poll being sponsored by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) allegedly showing that 94 percent of those surveyed thought Ariel Sharon should be put on trial for war crimes. By linking quickly to one another's Web sites, the bloggers brought many other voters into the poll and reversed the numbers. At the end, 94 percent opposed the idea of trying Sharon.

The first commandment of blogdom is that anyone can become a pundit. Nobody is in charge. Bloggers can say anything they want to and get their message out with blinding speed. This is unsettling to us lumbering print guys. Six or seven times I've had to abandon a column because some upstart blogger beat me to it. Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the most quoted blogger, is surely the fastest gun. His 1,000-word analysis of the State of the Union message appeared on his site just 33 minutes after President Bush finished speaking. Sometimes Sullivan launches attacks on wayward columnists around 4 a.m., so blog fans can read his version before they get to the columns being attacked.

The fairness of blogworld is impressive. Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor whose InstaPundit site (http://instapundit.blogspot.com) is the 800-pound gorilla of the blogging culture, is strongly pro-cloning. But he recently provided links to a series of mostly anti-cloning Christian sites so readers could judge for themselves. Another example of blogger openness is Catholic and Enjoying It! (www.markshea.blogspot.com), which posted the sad comment, "There's nothing like having the church you love be the butt of the whole world's jokes," and then provided the link to a biting anti-Catholic satire about abusive priests. In the print world, it's safe to say, making sure that one's detractors are heard is much rarer.

The crisis over sex abuse by priests has brought a lot of Catholic bloggers into the field. Some of the commentary has been first-rate, particularly on Sursum Corda (http://sursumcorda.blogspot.com) and Amy Welborn's site In Between Naps (www.amywelborn.blogspot.com). Protestants weigh in heavily, too. (A list of 120 Christian blogs is available at www.MartinRothOnline.com.)

Political bloggers are mostly right of center, either conservative or libertarian. The conventional wisdom is that the strong rightward tilt is a reaction against the mandatory liberalism of the modern newsroom. But nobody knows for sure. Bloggers have given encyclopedic and favorable analysis to Bernard Goldberg's charge that the "right wing" label in journalism is applied much more commonly than the adjective "left wing." Blogworld has strongly supported the war on terrorism and is famously quick to point out logical and moral failings of anti-war relativists.

Out of blogger-induced fairness, I hereby recommend two liberal sites. One is the site of Tom Tomorrow, the cartoonist and commentator (www.thismodernworld.com). He's fair, funny and a friend. The Daily Howler (www.dailyhowler.com) is a useful check on conservative excesses, though sometimes over the top. Be sure to read "Our Current Howler: Part II -- 03/12/02" with the synopsis that reads: "The American way of life has been challenged. But whose side is John Leo on?"

Now the corporate world seems to be heading blogward. Fox News hired blogger Ken Layne and put him on its Web site (www.foxnews.com). National Review Online (www.nationalreviewonline.com), an indispensable site, recently added a blogging section. ABC.com now runs a blog-like political commentary, "The Note," which recently mocked the "Forrest Gump-like existence" of Sen. John Kerry and the role of the Boston newspapers in keeping Kerry's reputation aloft.

In two cases, bloggers have prepared the way for new newspapers in major cities. SmarterTimes.com, a running account of the sins and omissions of The New York Times, led to the founding of the New York Sun, New York City's new conservative daily paper. A similar path is being followed in Los Angeles, where LAexaminer.com regularly snipes at the Los Angeles Times to prepare the way for a new anti-Times daily paper. Check in with blogworld. It's worth your time.