Witch-Hunts, The Media and Bloggers

I don’t read much in the blogosphere on China, although I’m starting to. But the mere act of exploring what is available in the blogging world on a topic I haven’t looked at closely for a while brings home to me how extraordinarily comprehensive the blogging revolution is. There are blogs for everything, and the discussion is often erudite, well-thought through and well-informed. But could it take us further?

One particular little side-alley (an occupation hazard of blog-reading, especially on a Sunday morning when I should be out hiking) made me wonder about the short-comings of journalism, and whether blogging might really fill the gap. I ended up (I can’t quite recall how) on the website of one Richard Webster, a writer based in Oxford. His latest book is an expose of a major police investigation into alleged paedophilia in North Wales, ‘The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The making of a modern witch hunt’ From the blurb:  

A large responsibility for creating the witch-hunt described in the book lies with journalists – and in particular with journalists on broadsheet newspapers. The narrative demonstrates what one editor, Peter Wilby, has himself noted: investigative journalists can be the most credulous of people. The Secret of Bryn Estyn relates how a broadsheet exclusive went tragically wrong, and encouraged the making of false allegations against a large number of innocent people. It sheds a revealing light on the current state of British journalism. Gary Horne, a former Panorama producer who is now a lecturer in journalism, says the book will be compulsory reading for all his students.

While he’s referring to the British media, one can’t help but draw similar conclusions elsewhere in the world. The U.S. media did a lousy job, on the whole, of delivering a skeptical and robust coverage of the lead-up to war in Iraq. Having just watched Hunting Of The President, and allowing for a certain degree of bias, one could draw the same conclusion about the Starr Investigation, and in particular its chief victim, the hapless Susan McDougal.

Why is it books, and occasionally documentaries, which are the ones to really shed light on these subjects? Of course, there’s the issue of time, both in terms of giving the researcher enough room to dig stuff up, and in how documents, sources and perspectives offer a better view of what happened months or years after the event. But even then, are blogs beginning to illustrate the weaknesses — bias, sensationalism, budgetary pressures, competitiveness — of traditional media? Or could they?

17. April 2005 by jeremy
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