"CHRIS MATTHEWS looked at you like you were Grover Norquist," a very senior Democratic operative commented on my appearance at Matthews' weekend show. During the segment where Matthews asks his panel to tell them something he doesn't know, I predicted a breakout this week into mainstream media of the controversy surrounding Eason Jordan's statements about the U.S. military "targeting" journalists in Iraq made at Davos on January 27. My friend meant to convey that Matthews thought I shared with Grover a "not to be trusted," hostile disposition towards big media. In fact, all I had was a habit of reading the blogs.
Matthews hadn't heard of the Eason Jordan story, which meant he hadn't been reading the blogs the previous three days, as they had been debating the Jordan charges since Tuesday, February 1. Jim Geraghty was the first of the big bloggers to point to Rony Abovitz's account of the Jordan remarks, posted from Davos on January 28. I broadcast the same day on the subject, and there have probably been a thousand blog posts on the matter in the week and a half since. The folks paying attention are spread out across the political spectrum, from Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and Mickey Kaus on the left to all the usual suspects on the right, where Michelle Malkin and LaShawn Barber merit special recognition for pushing the story forward.
But on Friday, when we taped the Matthews show, Chris didn't know anything about it, and apparently neither did Howard Fineman, nor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, nor Sam Donaldson. But the story was still somewhat young.
On Monday, I was part of a panel put together by Campaigns & Elections Magazine on blogging's impact on campaigns. The panel before us had been moderated by CNN's Judy Woodruff. One of my co-panelists, Jon Lauck of South Dakota Politics, asked Woodruff in the hallway outside of the meeting room what she thought of the story. "When I talked with Woodruff, she did seem simply stunned that Jordan could have said something like he did." Her reaction is similar to most of the reactions of those present at Davos, but again, the striking thing is she hadn't heard of the story. Of course, Woodruff works for CNN.
I hadn't considered the possibility that big names in journalism simply wouldn't be reading the blogs. For one thing, the blogs are interesting--whether left, right, or center. More to the point, they are news engines, carrying advance word of brewing stories. By Wednesday, February 9, Eason Jordan's slander on the military was the subject of a Fox News Roundtable on Special Report with Brit Hume, and had birthed its own blog, Easongate. Anyone admitting to not being up on the story by the following Monday was admitting to a lassitude about the news that calls into question both their work habits and news judgment.
What does matter is whether mainstream media "journalists" continue to wall themselves off from the new media information flows. Increasingly, the blogs are ahead of the old news cycle, and not just because they aren't slaves to ideological bias. They are simply more nimble, and more quick to the market with interesting facts.
Eason Jordan's verbal pratfall resembles nothing so much as Senator Trent Lott's fall from his majority leader job in December of 2002. The blogs kept those remarks alive long enough for the mainstream media to take note, and they will in this instance as well. How hard will the mainstream media have to get slapped by its own ineptitude before it even notices it is getting slapped? It has been two years since the Lott controversy, and Rathergate and other blog-driven stories have transpired in the interim. What's it going to take to wake up the Rip van Winkles inside the Beltway?
In an interview I did with Larry Kudlow on Tuesday night, I was not surprised to hear that Larry begins his morning by surveying the blogs he likes best. Kudlow has himself begun blogging. Kudlow is light years ahead of his colleagues in cable land, and his program is smart and lively as a result. The difference in quality is beginning to show, and before long it will be obvious who is working at staying informed, and who isn't.
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.