The information explosion occasioned by the World Wide Web -- putting at the fingertips of schoolchildren information that would have been inaccessible to PhD researchers a generation ago -- has the potential to make us all smarter, to free us from the tyranny of those who would limit our access to truth, to empower us.

But it has made serious journalism -- political journalism in particular -- a hundred times more difficult.

-- A Web of Bunk -- William Raspberry, Washington Post, October 25 2004.

You're late. Harlan Ellison did this story already, except he didn't see any good points to the Internet. To him it was nothing but a "cesspool of imbeciles". I disagreed in 1998 and I disagree today: we need the Crazy Yenta Gossip Line, and we need the Web of Bunk.

The web short-circuits everything between the microphone and the front page, and every man jack of us has to figure out on our own what to believe. That doesn't excuse the mainstream press from continuing to exercise their own judgment... in fact, if the mainstream press is to retain a useful role that judgment is going to have to become their product.

"If more or less ordinary citizens -- "netizens" -- could drive the CIA-crack story or the Sept. 11 fantasy into the mainstream press, imagine what a well-financed, politically motivated, smartly directed campaign could do."

Just imagine. that's easy to imagine. In fact I can't imagine a time when these kinds of well-financed, politically-motivated, smartly-directed campaigns haven't been able to throw the mainstream press off-course. Pick any five year period in the 20th century, and I'll bet you can find a dozen examples. To make it easy, start with any collection of Doonesbury cartoons (and don't forget to pay attention to the campaigns he bought into as well as the ones he didn't).

"How do you handle controversial, explosive charges made in the heat of a political campaign by people with painfully obvious axes to grind?"

You treat them like any other information source. Whether it's the Swift Boat vets, or "Reefer Madness", or the whole Hearst legacy... the only difference now is that the "Average Joe" gets to see more of it happening in real time, so you have to do more checking. And for every Swift Boat slam, there's a dozen Abu Ghraib revelations.

So I guess you're right when you say "But it has made serious journalism -- political journalism in particular -- a hundred times more difficult."

I see this as a good thing.

Lynx-enhanced by <peter at taronga.com> (Peter da Silva)