Thursday, September 16, 2004

Boiling frogs

If you toss a frog into a pan of boiling water, he will immediately jump out. But if you place him in a pan of cool water and slowly increase the heat, he will boil and die. He simply fails to notice the gradually increasing heat until it is too late.

Social revolutions of every sort have been typified by established power's failure to notice the heat turning up. One day, Fidel Castro marches into Havana, too late for Batista to act. Hitler panics a democratic Germany into giving him "emergency" powers, and a dictatorship is born. On a more domestic front, IBM fails to acknowledge the importance of its own personal computer technology and passively cedes its market to Microsoft, making Bill Gates the wealthiest human in the known galaxy.

Mainstream media (MSM) have long known about the Internet, and the blogosphere. But, by casting bloggers as pajama-wearing nobodies, they fail to notice bloggers can bring down a network. In the process, the pajamahadeen is born.

I hyperbolically overstate my case, of course. Bloggers have not and will not bring down CBS News. FoxNews will do that for us. In fact, bloggers depend on MSM for publicity. We need them, and manipulate them by taking advantage of their blind spots. When we need attention to a subject, we go to the one source of competition they do recognize, and truly fear: cable news. FoxNews in particular.

In the CBS/Rathergate story, the blogs brought the story to the attention of FoxNews, the cable news leader. Fox kept the story alive long enough to force MSM to act-- and act they did. MSM does not fear the bloggers, but panic at the encroachment of FoxNews. Fox eats their advertising revenue.

The real revolution is not the blogosphere, per se. It is competition in the media news marketplace, first brought by talk radio, and then cable news. The failing of broadcast news-- CBS, NBC and ABC-- is they did not recognize competition from cable news until it was too late. CNN, once the cable alternative to MSM, is now MSM itself. They too failed to recognize competition, and now FoxNews has twice the audience of CNN on any given night. During the Republican Convention, FoxNews had more viewers than any of the Big Three. Truly revolutionary.

But bloggers have their critical role, and give huge potential leverage to competitors, in a symbiotic relationship. Competitive media need us, just as we bloggers need them. MSM failed to notice the competition because they are a homogeneous lot-- no intellectual diversity to speak of. 90% of MSM journalists vote the same way. And, although Dan Rather and his ilk would have you believe bloggers are all right wing nuts, the blogosphere is in fact the seedbed of diversity. There is no shortage of left wing web sites out there. MoveOn.org is organized around a web site, is it not?

Dan Rather, Bill O'Reilly and others are suspicious of the Internet. They don't trust the Internet because bloggers are a disorganized, unruly, uncontrolled mob. We lack the journalistic training and standards they pretend to hold dear. MSM says nobody fact-checks and vets web stories. On the contrary, we are the fact-checkers. We are, and have access to, lawyers, scientists, engineers, historians, doctors, forensic experts of all manner, humourists, writers and even journalists.

A mob, yes. But not really disorganized, rather self-organizing. We swap spit, we swap ideas, we act together or alone, as the mood and situation suits us. We are democracy in action.

We all have our bias, but as an individual blogger I wear my opinions on my sleeve and am countered and checked by thousands of other individual opinions in the blogosphere. I have no rank, no power base, no credentials and no influence other than my thoughts and ideas and my ability to present them. They succeed or fail on their own merits, as judged by readers everywhere.

It is MSM, with it's imaginary monopoly and high-priest mentality, that attempts to edit and control what individual citizens will know and think. These are the franchised autocrats who can toss integrity aside to acquiesce to a personal, political agenda-- even including an attempt to alter the outcome of a national election. Worse, when they do so, it is probably not even intentional on their part. I seriously doubt Dan Rather consciously realizes the extent to which he has abandoned his integrity. Such is the intoxicating power of hubris. Hence, Rathergate.

MSM is the self-appointed autocracy, while the blogosphere is almost pure democracy. Right, left, tinfoil-hat or stone-cold-sober, bloggers compete with ideas. Individual citizens eventually decide what is true and what to believe. In a recent survey, Rasmussen reports only 27% of the public thinks the Rathergate documents are not forgeries. The emperor has no clothes.

The marketplace of ideas will win the day.

And boiled frogs will rain from the heavens.

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