Kathleen Parker

With the recent toppling of CBS's Dan Rather and now CNN's top news executive, Eason Jordan, I think we can declare without fear of contradiction that rigor mortis is settling over the carcass of the Fourth Estate.

At least as we once knew it.

I make this pronouncement without pleasure, and in fact, suggest that we're really witnessing a double funeral. One is for traditional journalism as the omnipotent gatekeeper of information. As bloggers - authors of Web logs - have gleefully pointed out the past several days, everyone with access to the Internet is now a journalist.

Given the "instanaeity" of the bloggers' electronic encampment, known as the "blogosphere" - enabling real-time posting of news and commentary - newspapers and even broadcast media have become the news cycle's Sunday drivers.

As a longtime observer of the blog phenomenon - awed by the volcanic energy and talent that erupts by the nanosecond and flows without pause - I'm a fan. But I'm also wary of such unbridled power. For all their attractive swashbuckling and bravura, bloggers also can become a cyber-mob that acts, as mobs do, without conscience or restraint.

Thus, the other funeral is, I fear, for our freedom of speech. Not the kind we once worried would be quashed by government jackboots, but the sort that restricts the very thing bloggers represent - the freewheeling, unfettered expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of censure. Or without the life-altering, career-busting personal demolitions we've witnessed recently.

Except for the fact that they are both larger than life, professionally and symbolically - and except that bloggers initiated the heat that eventually brought them down - Rather and Jordan are dissimilar cases.

Rather knowingly used unsubstantiated "evidence," known to be flawed if not faked, to try to bring down the president of the United States during an election year. After enduring a blog siege hitherto unseen or experienced by anyone of his standing, Rather announced that he would step down as the "CBS Evening News" anchor.

By contrast, Jordan said something stupid, even indefensible, but his comments were in much different circumstances - during an off-the-record panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. A couple of weeks later, following intense criticism, he resigned his post.

What Jordan essentially said, for those who were in orbit the past two weeks - or who rely strictly on mainstream media for information - was that the U.S. military had targeted journalists in Iraq, where some 36 journalists have been killed since 2003.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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