Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Weblogs Are Here to Stay

Paul McMasters wrote a very compelling, but fairly combative and dismissive account of blogs published in the Colorado Springs Gazette's March 2 Editorial Page. Reading Mr. McMasters' biography at the First Amendment Center explains why: Mr. McMasters is a former member, and probably still considers himself a part of, the "Mainstream Media", or "Legacy Media". The mainstream media folks have been the ones most seriously savaged by the "blogosphere" - the combined daily voices of some 30 million people around the world.

Mr. McMaster's view of weblogs is biased. The bias is clear in his tone, and in his words. I doubt Mr. McMasters has a blog of his own. If he did, his view would be different. Just ask a few mainstream journalists who also blog.

Weblogs are a combination of the Town Crier, town square soapbox, and pamphleteers of Revolutionary War America. Stopping weblogs would have the same chilling effect on freedom as stopping those activities during our quest for Independence. The majority of the best provide links to other articles of interest to the 'blogger' - the owner of the weblog in question. A large number also provide commentary on what they link to. Some only provide links. Blogs may or may not allow comments, so that readers can respond. The last thing bloggers are interested in is shutting down honest discourse - in fact, quite the opposite is true. Bloggers ENGAGE in discourse, and encourage it of others.

Of course, saying anything definitive of bloggers in general is difficult, if not impossible. There are bloggers in virtually every nation on the Earth where Internet access is available. There are about eight million weblogs in the United States, with an additional 4000 or more new weblogs coming online every day. All it takes to create a weblog is an Internet account and about five minutes of the individual's time. There are at least a half-dozen places that allow individuals to create a weblog free of charge.

Nor are weblogs limited by subject. While the majority of the largest weblogs are politically biased (some on every side), there are blogs on music, books, education, religion, weather, science, technology, and any other field of interest to more than two people. With 8 million weblogs to choose from, most people will gravitate to those that attract their attention, provide information they're interested in, and usually are compatible with the individual's own beliefs and ideas. A Google search of the word "weblog" produces almost 44 million "hits" - links to weblogs, links to articles about weblogs, and links to articles WITHIN weblogs.

Mr. McMasters' derisive comments about the "attack" by weblogs on selected individuals is pretty one-sided. Let's look at what really happened:

  1. Dan Rather ran a segment on "60 Minutes II" purporting to show documents accusing President Bush of receiving special treatment, failing to show up for a physical, and being Away Without Official Leave - "AWOL". Within hours of CBS putting the documents online, several people noted that the font used was proportional, and the documents appeared to be in a format not used by the Air Force in the 1970's. It took the "blogosphere" less than three days to establish that the documents appeared identical to those produced using Microsoft Word, "Times New Roman" font, and the standard program defaults. It took slightly longer to find experts who were willing to state unequivocally that such documents could never have been produced in the time period they were purportedly from. The general concensus was that the documents were a fraud.

  2. John Kerry, during his presidential bid, used Vietnam as the center point of his campaign. A number of people who served with Senator Kerry, or at the same place and same time as Senator Kerry, stated that much of what the Senator stated was exaggerated, fabricated, or distorted. They presented evidence to back up their accusations. Senator Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" story was proven to be a fabrication. Legacy media refused to get involved with the story, and the only outlet was the Internet and other, less public means. Once the floodgates were opened, everything John Kerry has said or done in the last 44 years was examined under a microscope. The result was a constant barrage of attacks on his less-than-factual stories and speeches. There's no doubt that these attacks cost him the election. This isn't a vengeful, McCarthyite process, but the role the media has always been expected to play in American society. When the formal media structure failed to become involved, the alternate media carried the ball.

  3. The New York Times posted a story online about "missing" explosives from Abu QuaQua munitions dump just days before the November, 2004, election, intimating that the civilian and military leadership in Iraq was faulty. It took several days to prove that the "story" was a non-story, that most of the explosives were accounted for, and the quantity was miniscule compared to the tens of thousands of tons of explosives hidden by the Baathists prior to the invasion.

  4. The Eason Jordan story is a bit different. The story broke because a journalist who was also a blogger was present when Mr. Jordan made a very foolish and unsupported statement, that the US Military was deliberately targeting journalists for death. Unfortunately for Mr. Jordan, he made this statement in front of two members of the US Congress, as well. When the news hit the "blogosphere", bloggers began demanding that Mr. Jordan provide evidence of his allegations. In the course of studying Mr. Jordan's statement, it was learned he'd made a similar statement in Lisbon, Portugal, in November, 2004 - also unsubstantiated. Mr. Jordan tried to backtrack, but refused to outright deny that he'd made such statements. The "blogosphere" demanded either details or an apology. Either Mr. Jordan, or the leadership at CNN, decided that it would be best for Mr. Jordan to retire, instead.

  5. Ward Churchill wrote a very arrogant and dismissive article comparing the people killed in the Twin Towers to the architect of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution". That's a pretty strong allegation, unsupported by facts. Mr. Churchill came under scrutiny because of his statements. That scrutiny brought to light a very poor scholarly reputation, a resume filled with half-truths and outright lies, and attracted even more attention to Mr. Churchill's words. That opened an even greater can of worms when it became obvious that Mr. Churchill distorted facts, used footnotes that were either outright fabrications or deliberate distortions, and plagarized the works of others.

  6. The attacks against President of Harvard, Larry Summers, have mostly come from liberal weblogs who adhere to the extreme liberal agenda of gender equality being sacrosanct. Mr. Summers suggested, in a closed meeting where ideas were to be presented for discussion, that maybe there was a gender explanation for the disproportionate number of men and women in the physical sciences. Since this is against the "holy grail" of gender equality, he was savagely attacked by feminists and other extreme liberal members of the faculty, even though there is scientific evidence that there are genetic differences between men and women, including differences in brain structure and spatial analysis. Most conservative weblogs support Mr. Summers' right to say this, and to open discussion on the subject. The liberal left has tried to force Mr. Summers to resign over encouraging free speech.

Most bloggers are professional, adult, and considerate. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the atmosphere of the blogosphere is congenial. The problem Mr. McMasters seems to see is the fact that weblogs have done the research to prove, almost without exception, that some people aren't truthful in their public discourse - politicians, journalists, professors, actors, lawyers, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Weblogs have indeed attacked those untruths, and sought corrections, explanations, and when something has been proven exceptionally insulting to the majority of Americans, a public apology.

A study of the top 100 bloggers in today's market show a preponderence of professionals: Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds is a law professor and frequent contributer to Tech Central Station, a major online news magazine. Power Line, "Times" "Blog of the Year", is the property of three very successful lawyers. Michelle Malkin, Roger L. Simon, and Hugh Hewitt are professional writers and journalists with weblogs. There are at least a dozen other weblogs each authored by lawyers or law professors, doctors, scientists, educators, military members (active and retired), and hundreds of other people with valid and impressive credentials. There are a hundred times that many run by "ordinary people" who feel they have something to say, and the means to do it.

Mr. McMasters' disdain for blogs is duly noted. The truth, however, is that weblogs give everyone an equal voice, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what they do. Their readership is due to what they say, and how it's received by their readers. The only measure of success for weblogs is in the number of "daily visitors" - people that check their favorites daily. Weblogs are the ultimate in free speech. Weblogs have destroyed the "limiting factors" that the mainstream media used to restrict the words and voices of those they disagreed with. They provide a constant and ongoing validation process of what appears in the print and broadcast media, and a self-regulating community that also points out the faults found in their online membership. Mr. McMasters' attempt to link bloggers with "the McCarthyites, the white suppremacists, the religious zealots, and others who have exploited fear and ignorance for power and punishimen - or a cheap thrill" is a back-handed attack on the very freedom of speech he purports to sponsor. Accusing the blogosphere of being the "new media" outlet for such speech fails to acknowledge the regulating power of the blogosphere itself that identifies, disects, evaluates, and rebuts such quackery.

Finally, in Mr. McMasters' final paragraph, his statement, "We must get past the idea that expression has no value unless it mirrors our own" seems to be an attempt to really say that "only what appears in a 'professional' publication should be considered truth". We've seen how often the "professionals" have been wrong (Jayson Blair, Eason Jordan, Dan Rather, many, many others). Mr. McMasters seems to be upset that there are new voices for people to listen to, to judge, and to accept or reject as they choose. He seems to be upset that his friends in the mainstream media are being held accountable by "a bunch of guys in their basements in pajamas". He fails to understand that "freedom of speech" is not necessarily the freedom to be excused from accountability.


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