Watching the watchdogs

Charles Johnson continues to produce mind-boggling results in documenting the outrageous bias and outright fraudulence in the mainstream media depiction of the Lebanon war. Yesterday Charles demonstrated still more staged photojournalism from Lebanon by an AP photographer. (Charles linked to “Al-AP at it again with staged photos.”) Other striking instances of similar phenomena are on display in “Leading BBC reporter caught lying,” in “Green Helmet Man admits staging photos, AP spins furiously,” and in “Azzam Tamimi uncensored.” For Charles, it’s all in a day’s work.

Charles and Little Green Footballs are notable examples of what Professor Stephen Cooper of Marshall University calls Watching the Watchdogs: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate in the title of his new book. (The linked publisher’s page offers access to the book’s introduction, first chapter and index; the book’s Amazon listing is here.) The book is excellent. Judging it by its account of controversies in which Power Line played a role — Rathergate, the talking points memo, Krugmania, the Haifa Street photo — it meticulously reconstructs several of the most interesting engagements of the blogosphere and the mainstream media.

Professor Cooper has become both a student and an advocate of the role played by blogs like ours in connection with the mainstream media. In his conclusion, Professor Cooper writes:

Quite simply, the blogosphere exists because it fills a need. It was not brought into being by fiat; it evolved through the accumulation of individual acts. The many people who find it worth their investment in time and effort to create blog content surely do it because they find it fills a need for expression, for giving voice to their thoughts, in a way the previous outlets available to them did not. So, too, does the blogosphere fill a need for those who read the content, and participate in discussion by adding their comments. In this sense, then, the blogosphere represents a vox populi the technology did not determine, but did, instead, facilitate. This is clearly a free market perspective on the blogosphere; the author finds it the most satisfying understanding of it.

Probably the critical theorists, as a school of thought, would be discomfited by the notion that a blatantly commercial marketplace in communication technology has facilitated the evolution of a genre of computer-mediated communication (viz., blogs) with such a relentlessly individualist ethos, yet having such a clear public benefit. Probably they would not have expected that a genre with such inconsequential roots (viz., personal web pages) could have opened up public discourse to a collective level only considered a theoretical ideal. Probably they would have assumed that even an approximation of that ideal discourse could come into being only through some sort of concerted political action, not through the accumulation of voluntary interactions in a decentralized, unmanaged virtual space. Yet, that is precisely what has happened.

This author is inclined to think that social structures which evolve through the voluntary interactions and exchanges among people—such as the blogosphere—tend in general to be more beneficial than structures created through the deliberate exercise of power, however well-intentioned—such as regulatory bureaucracies. That idea cannot be fully explored here. For our purposes, we can simply note that the blogosphere would seem to be a near-perfect instantiation of the ideal discourse.

Real life can often be a pleasant surprise. And that is a good thing about it.

Forgive Professor Cooper his small lapse into academic jargon to cloak his celebration of the role played by the part of the blogosphere that he respectfullly documents and analyzes in the rest of the book.

UPDATE: TCS has posted a Podcast interview of Professor Cooper by Ed Driscoll that is accessible here.

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