Wired offers a sobering story about the power of blogs, or rather the tendency of political bloggers to swarm (Howard Rheingold’s word). I would call it Salem-style witch hunting crossed with good old-fashioned conspiracy nuttiness.
Academic David Hailey stepped into the debate about the Texas Air National Guard memos suggesting they might have been produced on a typewriter, only to find himself the target of political bloggers, an attack that included demands for his dismissal. Luckily his university, Utah State, stood behind him and the original bloggers backed down (and, according to Wired, apologized) but as Hailey points out, it leaves more than a nasty aftertaste:
“It doesn’t matter if you vindicate yourself, you’re stained,” he said. “(The university) can support me and that stain won’t rub off. I can sue the pants off these guys…. That doesn’t change anything because everybody else only sees what is out on the internet.”
I’m all for bloggers keeping the traditional media on their toes, by original reporting, fact-checking and reasoned commentary. But this kind of thing, whatever the subject, whatever the political temperature, whatever the stakes, doesn’t do that, nor does it build confidence that that monitoring role is likely to become a long term reality.