Tags: How | the | Blogs | Torpedoed | Dan | Rather

How the Blogs Torpedoed Dan Rather

Friday, 28 January 2005 12:00 AM

"The fall of Dan Rather began on September 8, 2004 with a posting on a forum at FreeRepublic.com - discussing the documents presented on CBS that allegedly showed that President Bush had evaded the draft, used influence to join the Texas Air National Guard, and later used that same influence to whitewash his record…"

Added Sheffield: "A virtual think-tank was born… Forty-seven posts later, a person who called himself 'Buckhead' offered the proposition that he thought the documents were forgeries."

Sheffield and his Web site jumped on the bandwagon, searching the Web for experts on 1970's typewriters. Another blogger site, PowerlineBlog.com, raised the question of forgery. "Matt Drudge and his DrudgeReport.com then linked to the Powerline piece, and the story took off," recounted Sheffield.

The power of the virtual pen as a sword that could slash to the truth was about to be illustrated in spades -

CBS News recently made public the report of its internal investigation on how "60 Minutes Wednesday" came to broadcast a September 8, 2004, story about President Bush's National Guard service that was based on forged documents from an anonymous source.

This report was made necessary because within minutes of the original CBS broadcast, those bloggers described by Sheffield and others were examining the documents and pointing out clear evidence that they were forged. Chief among those bloggers were PowerlineBlog.com, RatherBiased.com, and WizBangBlog.com.

Some media observers now contend the "Blogosphere" is rapidly replacing CBS and the rest of the mainstream media. Even New York Times best-selling author Hugh Hewitt calls his latest book, "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World."

Sheffield joined two other pioneers of the new reformation at the Heritage Foundation, Friday, to address the theme: "Rather is Retiring: Is the Blogosphere the New Media Establishment?"

Matthew Sheffield (RatherBiased), Paul Mirengoff (Powerline) and Kevin Aylward (Wizbangblog) all gathered with host Mark Tapscott, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy, for a panel discussion on blogging and the media.

Aylward's key point was that the bloggers have indeed arrived - and with an impact that has already been telling to the main line media:

"One of the items I've been working on for my portion of the presentation is a look at blogs versus traditional media web sites. Using John Hawkins rankings of The Top 125 Political Sites on the net as a base, I added the Web sites of selected newspapers to the ratings to see how the top trafficked blogs stack up.

"You'll note that several blogs rank higher than mid-size daily newspapers and some are pushing the sites of papers in the top 50 (by daily circulation). The data suggest that the question isn't "When will blogs arrive?" but rather "Blogs HAVE arrived, what now?"

Mirengoff answered that rhetorical question by suggesting: "In 2004, the earth moved…" [referring to the Rathergate phenomenon]

Mirengoff further suggested that the main stream media may be now finding it necessary to join and compete with "other voices" in the media, "loosing control of the agenda" that it had dictated over so many years.

The blogger also opined that although the main stream media still has the obvious advantages of a huge audience and armies of fact-checkers, it also suffers from the twin liabilities of "arrogance" and often "cluelessness."

The big issue, as Mirengoff explained, is that the main stream media has "no real relationship with its audience – they still just want to just tell you how it is. Their attitude will prevent them from getting close to their audience."

Such, however, is not the case with Powerline, for example, which has "immediate and direct access to the audience through e-mail."

And, furthermore, the bloggers listen, Mirengoff emphasized.

Meanwhile, panelist Aylward noted that the real challenge for the emerging and formidable force of bloggers – as well as the smarter main stream media - was "harnessing the power of millions of independent and distributed bloggers."

And, noted Aylward, the sometimes clueless main stream media will certainly at some point learn to compromise with tradition. "Smart media organizations will use the blogsphere as a farm system [to recruit its new crop of pundits]."

Sheffield noted that the main stream media has already been tapping into the blogsphere. By way of example, he noted that CBS actually found their primary source for the Bush military service piece – Bill Burkette – via a survey of anti-Bush Web sites.

Sheffield also pointed out that CBS ironically looked to bloggers when seeking out its own 1970's typewriter expert to defend its documents – in its eleventh hour effort to at least partially rehabilitate its debunked story.

Mirengoff concluded that in the end, as bloggers continue to refine and specialize, "who gets heard the most will be determined by the market."

Aylward piped in that a good case-in-point was how his site got deluged with hits when the mainstream downplayed the particulars of the Nick Berg beheading in Iraq. "We covered it; the people wanted to know."

Mirengoff also pointed to the rise in the specialty blog, giving the for instance of the influx of stories re the courts knocking down the federal sentencing guidelines.

"We went to SentencingGuidelines.com and found a wealth of information and background." This type of detail is not forthcoming from the traditional news sources, ne noted.

Sheffield emphasized that main stream journalists can learn from the bloggers – like admitting right up front you have a viewpoint on an issue that you report on. The reverse is true, he added, saying that the main stream media might be slower to break a story, but will most often responsibly hold back until the facts are clear.

"The future belongs to the media that combines the best of both," he concluded.

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"The fall of Dan Rather began on September 8, 2004 with a posting on a forum at FreeRepublic.com - discussing the documents presented on CBS that allegedly showed that President Bush had evaded the draft, used influence to join the Texas Air National Guard, and later used...
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Friday, 28 January 2005 12:00 AM
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