The Magazine

The Not-So-Swift Mainstream Media

From the September 6, 2004 issue: And how they were forced to cover a story they hated.

Sep 6, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 48 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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It's unclear which of these was most critical for bringing the Swift boat story out into the open. Without Unfit for Command, the story would never have had a focal point with readily checkable facts. Talk radio kept the story alive on a daily basis. The blogs served as fact-checkers vetting the story, at least some aspects of it, for credibility and chewing it over enough so that producers and editors who read the blogs could approach it without worrying they were being snookered by black-helicopter nuts. Despite all that, however, no other medium has the reach of television, which is still the only way to move a story from a relatively small audience of news-obsessives to the general public.

Yet the blogosphere has had a particular interest in taking credit for making the Swift boat story pop. Blogs from Instapundit to The Belmont Club to Powerline were reveling in the demise of the old media and heaping scorn upon professional journalists. "I have been both a lawyer/law professor for two decades and a television/radio/print journalist for 15 years of those 20," Hugh Hewitt blogged. "It takes a great deal more intelligence and discipline to be the former than to be the latter, which is why the former usually pays a lot more than the latter. It is no surprise to me, then, when lawyers/law professors like those at Powerline and Instapundit prove to be far more adept at exposing the 'Christmas-in-Cambodia' lie and other Kerry absurdities than old-school journalists."

John Hinderaker, one of the bloggers behind Powerline, summed up the mood of the blogosphere by comparing journalism with brain surgery: "A bunch of amateurs, no matter how smart and enthusiastic, could never outperform professional neurosurgeons, because they lack the specialized training and experience necessary for that field," he said. "But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What can they do that we can't? Nothing."

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.