While I was in New York recently the Atlantic Wire posted this piece about a silly blogging war currently roiling South Carolina politics. The upshot: this episode proves a thesis by the Atlantic's Mark Bowden: that blogging (and the 24 hour news cycle more generally) has produced a state "in which the quest for information has been superseded by the quest for ammunition." Gone is any pretense at objectivity in journalism, which has been the ideal (if not always the reality) for American journalism in the 20th century.
My New York location made me pay special attention to this story, I think. I began this blog in NYC, shortly after the 2004 elections. That was the first political year in which blogging had any impact--by now YouTubing, Facebooking and tweeting have supplanted my already old-fashioned use of the blog as a mere writing platform. And yet I roll on, for this format continues to work for me.
When I started, there was a great thunder in the political blogosphere about how bloggers would take down the "mainstream media" (or "MSM"). Mercifully, this appears to have abated. The Times and other traditional outlets now produce some of the best blogs around, and bloggers at DailyKos and elsewhere have earned a legitimate claim to be part of the conversation. We are witnessing a symbiotic relationship between old and new, not a destruction of the journalistic establishment by the young turks.
All that said, Bowden's article and the Wire piece caused me to realize that political blogging--while a new and more democratic form in some respects--actually hearkens back to the 19th century era of "yellow journalism." Pulitzer and Hearst did not care about accuracy in news nearly as much as they cared about selling papers. Lurid headlines and falsified interviews were the norm, not the exception. Today's tabloids are our lineage to Pulitzer and Hearst; but, at least there is an effort in the newsy tabloids to get at the (always exaggerated) truth.
The rise of journalistic codes of conduct in the 20th century were a reaction to the excesses of the 19th. Conservatives have long lamented that journalists are just liberal hacks in thin disguise; from this standpoint, today's frankly partisan blogs are honest, if nothing else. While most reporters are Democrats, I still believe there is an honest attempt in the MSM to get at the "truth." Much mainstream media bashing, especially on the right, equates to shooting the messenger.
Meanwhile, our political bloggers--of all stripes--aren't even trying to play fair. They're moving backwards even as they use modern technology. I'll keep on blogging anyway, because I love it and because I have faith that there will eventually be a way to separate blog gems from blog duds. Let's hope this faith isn't misplaced.