Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How We Get Our News

Interesting goings on in the blogosphere these days. Mostly related to Senator Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" adventure, which is increasingly looking like a tall-tale.

I've been following the story mostly via Hugh Hewitt, Instapundit, Captain's Quarters, Shot In The Dark, and Free Republic. And what's interesting to me, other than the details of the story itself as they emerge, is the subtext regarding the power of the media.

Now I'm not one of those who thinks the media are involved in a giant liberal conspiracy. But I do believe they harbor overwhelming bias toward the left of the political spectrum. And I also believe they're largely blind to any but the most egregious manifestations of their bias. People get this way when they're insulated in groups of folks who only think like themselves - regardless of their political perspective.

So anyway, it's not really all that surprising to me that the same media that thought allegations that Bush went AWOL from the Air National Guard was front page news and deserved weeks of coverage would be the same media to see no real story when every single officer in Kerry's chain of command in Vietnam, and over 250 fellow swifboat veterans would produce meticulously researched and footnoted allegations challenging Kerry's war hero status in Vietnam.

Pause for a moment. The above is not a joke. I don't have any trouble seeing why they found the first story important and the latter not newsworthy. Sure, it has to do with those biases, as Glenn Reynolds has been pointing out from the start. But I think it has a lot more to do with that lack of perspective and insular culture.

Just how insular? Well one theme pounded home time and again as this story has broken is that the mainstream media apparently don't use the Internet much. Not for research and not for news. We know this because elements - like the Kerry Campaign admitting that John Kerry was not in Cambodia for Christmas of 1968 - which have broken and been thoroughly analyzed by online journalists and pundits aren't even known by mainstream reporters until weeks afterward. These folks read the dead-tree press, and watch ABCCBSNBCCNNMSNBC and maaaaaybe Fox once in a blue moon. If those places aren't picking up a story, the general consensus is that no one is interested. It's a self-validating system. The vast majority of them would feel great discomfort taking a story like this seriously that their colleagues were ignoring. It's a peer-pressure / sub-culture thing.

Something interesting is happening as a result though. While the blogosphere and talk-radio worlds are railing about how the media are trying to surpress this story, something else is going unnoticed. The public is finding out about the story anyway. How? Well here is a post from Free Republic (written by the webmaster of the www.swiftvets.com site incidentally) which contains something startling:


In a poll the Pubbies did in the battleground states, 60% of the likely voters knew about the Swift Vets ad, and saw it as a negative for Kerry. Five million people have seen that ad, and it wasn't on television. Screw the media. We are the media.

60% of likely voters in battleground states know about this despite a virtual blackout in the traditional media? Five million saw it when it was still only available online? Wow.

The news world is changing in a hurry. Makes me think about where I get my own news from. Several years back I cancelled my daily newspaper, the Star-Tribune, after finally hitting my limit for subsidizing liberal pablum packaged as news. Around the same time I stopped watching much television news, save for the occasional news analysis show on cable. I also quickly started finding good news sources online. Web sites have become far and away my primary news sources.

Now I generally think I'm not typical, being more of an "early adopter" of new technology than most. But perhaps we're moving out of the early adopter phase.

Here is where I go for news on an almost daily basis:

National News:
Real Clear Politics
Instapundit
Free Republic
National Review Online

Sports:
ESPN

Weather:
Weather.com

Local News:
Pioneer Press Online
Star Tribune Online

Incidentally, this doesn't even include all the news I pick up via reading other blogs. Most blogs I generally go to for commentary very frequently have links to news stories as well.

The other great thing about the Internet is that I can dig into great detail and get multiple perspectives about any story on my own. I don't need an editor to spoon-feed me.

Perhaps this sort of self-directed new-seeker is a phenomenon of the new technology, and perhaps that's why the traditional media seem so flat-footed in comparison. But if the media continues to sit on, or at least attempt to contain, any stories damaging to Kerry's image, and if these stories turn the election to Bush anyway, that will send shockwaves through the political landscape like nothing since Watergate. Watergate glamorized the intrepid news reporters who refused to let the government bully them into silence. Cambodian Christmas might just glamorize the intrepid news readers who refused to let mainstream editors bully them away from stories they didn't deem newsworthy.

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