"The government and the corporate media," declares a prominent activist Web site, have created a "propaganda machine whose goal is to continue the expansion of a (fascist) state and to control every aspect of our lives and fortunes."
Sounds like any one of a bajillion posts on a left-wing "netroots" Web site these days, right?
Wrong. It's from 1998. And I cheated a little. I've doctored the quote. "Fascist" was originally "collective." The activist Web site? The populist-conservative FreeRepublic.com.
The short history of the Internet is already long enough to repeat itself. In dog years, I'm 288, but in Internet years, I'm Methuselah. I was the founding editor of National Review Online in 1998 (and before that, I worked down the hall from this quirky Microsoft start-up called Slate).
Back in those days, when the Internet ran on a series of pneumatic tubes and hemp-rope pulleys, conservatives were patting themselves on the back for seizing the commanding heights of the digital frontier. The argument was that because the Liberal Industrial Complex maintained a stranglehold on the Old Media, conservatives had, with ninja-like stealth, mastered the fledgling forms: direct mail, talk radio, cable news and, now, Al Gore's newfangled invention, the Internet.
"There's no question that conservatives have become much more sophisticated and much more aggressive in taking their message to the media, to radio talk shows, through the Internet, through faxes, through all kinds of activist groups and, in some cases, are directly broadcasting their message through conservative cable TV networks, for example," explained Washington Post and CNN media critic Howard Kurtz in 1995. "The Democratic side doesn't seem to have anything comparable in this realm."
But news clips like that have yellowed like a dowager's fingernails. Today, we're constantly told not only that it's liberals who have conquered the Internet but that it was their destiny to do so.
In May, the Washington Post suggested that conservatives are losing the battle for the Web because of the very "nature of the Republican Party and its traditional discipline," which is "the antithesis of the often chaotic, bottom-up, user-generated atmosphere of the Internet."
More recently, Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's 2004 campaign manager, described the Web as "a medium that abhors command and control." He continued: "Two guesses: Which party is really good at command and control? The Republican Party. Which isn't? The Democratic Party."