SITTING ACROSS from the very pleasant Soledad O'Brien, I got the impression that she had been well briefed and may even have dipped in my new book Blog, but I was certain by interview's end that she was not an enthusiast of the blogosphere. I'd had the same feeling upon completion of a four way conversation on Fox & Friends a couple of hours earlier, though the trio there was just as pleasant and welcoming as Soledad. I was a representative from the Blogger Nation--and a pretty dismal one at that, according to the blogs of the left--and the great fathers and mothers of Big Media would treat me kindly, even indulgently.
So I find myself slipping into deep Noah mode: When interacting with my colleagues in broadcast, I will answer their questions and tell them that the flood is not just coming but has begun. But I do not expect they will believe me.
And I won't be alarmed that they don't. The degree of their understanding doesn't matter a bit.
And why should they believe me? Rather, Kerry, Raines, and Lott blew themselves up, right? If they surf a bit to blogs with comments sections they will find there rabid, vulgar, and profane posters from all across the political spectrum. It is just so . . . raw. It cannot possibly compete with the refinement, and the budgets, of the bigs.
I have stopped trying to define what a blog is, but rather now default to describe what bloggers do: We are cyber sherpas, leading anyone who wants to follow through the mountains of information that accumulate every day to the stuff we think is most important. We give advice. We warn.
All of free media on the Internet is our giant wire service, and each day, throughout the day, we provide as many bulletins as we please.
When I first began in television, as the co-host a nightly news and public affairs program in Los Angeles for the local PBS affiliate, I was smitten with the teletype machine that would spit out the wire's version of the world. I'd check it constantly, hoping for a late-breaking story that we'd cover live--and first. It happened occasionally. We were on the air when O.J. went joyriding. We went live a minute after Richard Nixon's death was announced. We were live on most election nights.
The teletype may still be clattering away somewhere, but everyone gets the feed now. In fact, there are millions of feeds. How did you hear that Johnny Carson had died? I got it on JetBlue TV, from Fox, flying on a blizzardy Sunday to keep my date with the cable shows. Had I been on the ground, I am almost certain I would have learned about his passing on the net.
"Breaking" a story is almost certainly a relic of an age gone by, like a classic car that will occasionally still show up on the road. Sure, the Washington Post can "break" the news that the Pentagon is revamping its intelligence operations, but the moment it is in print it has traveled the globe and a thousand or ten thousand commentaries are registering. The Post no more gets to define the significance of that reorganization than I do. Folks who follow such things will pick their own interpreters.
I HAVE TRIED TO STEER my TV interviewers from the political blogs to the business blogs. I jammed in the news that GM's vice-chairman had opened a blog, as had Boeing's vice president for marketing. Why did that matter? They are cutting out the automotive press and the aviation industry scribblers, or if not cutting out, supplementing. They don't have to persuade anyone anymore. Did you see the front page of the New York Times business section this morning? Internet ad space is tight. Very tight. That means a growing market for the blogs. That means revenue.
On the flight back to California, I read the new Joe Klein's "In the Arena" column in Time. "Within moments of Bush's speech," Klein wrote of the Bush Second Inaugural Address, "a conservative blogger found the roots of the President's most distressing image--freedom as a 'fire in the minds of men'" Klein moved quickly on to what he judged to be the portentousness of Bush's borrowing from Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, but never bothered to tell us which blogger had dug up the nugget. So Big Media is now obliged to acknowledge, but determined not to accredit bloggers?
Same flight, but now the Atlantic. Jonathan Rauch:
"On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero's welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around."
The comparison of "the religious right" to Michael Moore is jarring enough, but the idea that the "religious right," however broadly or narrowly Rauch defines it is a lost platform fight away from becoming killers is quite simply astounding. And it might have gone unnoticed by that "religious right," except that I posted it at my blog, and reference it in this column, and now the new information network takes over.
Will some portion of that new network absorb the contempt and ignorance Rauch managed to get by his editors at one of the most respected journals in America? And will that change their political behavior? I think so.
On Tuesday I had Rauch on my program. He pleads hasty writing and objects that the focus I put on these sentences is unfair to the intent of his piece. I offered to post the entire article and any response he wants to make. He agreed that I was at least allowing him the chance to reply. I did not note to him that this is a courtesy the Atlantic did not extend to a religious conservative in its package of essays on the divide in America.
Five years ago--or even two--if a religious conservative had read the piece, and if he had written a letter, and if the Atlantic's editors had read it, perhaps they might have printed it three months later. In the new information age, Rauch is defending himself on a national show as scores of bloggers munch on his words.
THAT "EVANGELICAL NETWORK" is already large and growing larger, for reasons quite unknown to the mainstream media. It assures the growth of influence and the political involvement of faith-based voters. I think it also assures the spread and domination of American politics by red states.
What is unfolding is the rapid rewiring of America's collective sensory system. (This phenomenon is happening in the rest of the world, too, but it's happening here first and with a speed that is mind boggling.)
The audience's decline for news has been felt in some places while its shift has been felt in others. But what has only been glimpsed is the vast reordering of what that audience brings with them to the news. Where did all those new Bush voters come from this past election? Not Karl Rove's blackberry. They were activated by new information flows--as were the new voters of the left. But there were many, many more new voters on the right.
American politics is becoming more ideological because American voters are getting much more information on the debate that has been underway since Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the side more closely attuned with traditional American principles and values, especially of the religious variety, is winning. And the new network cannot be rubbed out. It cannot be ignored, or shouted down, or killed off by Big Media.
Some of the bigs are afraid. But I think many more of them are simply clueless. The pajama-clad, ankle-biting amateurs--nobody reads them right?
And it isn't just the center-right information flow that has been rerouted. The same thing has happened on the left. The Moore people mock the E.J. Dionnes of the world even more than they do their conservative opponents.
The difference in the flow of information between the year 2000 and today is a great as the difference between 1935 and 1950. From this distance it is easy to see what the small screen did to politics: who it empowered, which causes it advanced, and which changes it forced on American institutions.
The blogs have done, and are continuing to do, the very same kind of massive restructuring. It will be easier to observe five years from now, but it isn't all that difficult to see today.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.