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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

INTERNET IN THE PAST

“I’d go see what’s up on it at the Drudge Report.”

The internet is so ubiquitous now that it is difficult for modern young people to imagine what it was like before this situation developed. For anyone born after 1994, the internet has always been around and has always been a major part of their lives, and that includes many college students today.

I've speculated several times how things might have been different in the past had the new media been around, and that's the subject of a question asked in journalism school by Bob Woodward about how Watergate would be covered today. Gordon Crovitz writes in the Wall Street Journal (behind subscription barrier):
Mr. Woodward said he was shocked by how otherwise savvy students thought technology would have changed everything. “I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm,” he said, “because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet” and the details of the scandal would be there. The students imagined, as Mr. Woodward put it, “that somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events.”
...
Another student wrote that “with the advancements in the technology of the Internet,” it “would be simple to track down the $50,000 that were withdrawn from the intelligence-gathering fund.” Another speculated that “the online community would have gone into a tweeting frenzy.”
Now, its not entirely untrue that it would be easier to get information on the internet than it was in the past, but that's no substitute for actual reporting. The lack of any effort to go out and get news is disturbing to an old journalist like Woodward, but it does explain a lot about modern news, which so often seems to just find something on Talking Points Memo or Drudge and repeat it.

However, as Steven Hayward notes at Powerline, there is something that almost certainly would have been different today:
Fox, for example, would have rightly been all over the place pointing out how Johnson and Kennedy had bugged political opponents and abused power.
Honestly I question whether Fox would be all over that, but absolutely blogs like Breitbart would have been.

And that's the major difference, aside from lazy journalism. Other sides of stories would have been told. If its awful for Nixon to bug his opponents, why wasn't it for Kennedy to do so? But that didn't get covered, because they were on the "good" side of things, according to the media at the time, and Nixon was evil.

Or consider the Vietnam war, which suddenly became bad and the focus was on failure, awful misdeeds, and bodies coming home. With almost no voice to counter this, the narrative became quagmire, failure, and mistake, just as the press tried to pain the Iraq war and rebuilding effort.

Had blogs like Hot Air and Right Wing News been around, had Michelle Malkin and Drudge been on the scene in 1968, would Cronkite's "we've lost" during the Tet Offensive have been so powerful and convincing? Able to show the utter, humiliating failure by the NVA and how totally they were defeated after a quick, brief set of victories might have changed peoples' minds, but that was not shown to anyone.

Or consider this story, out of New York City in the Gothamist:
According to police, the two men who were arrested in front of the Sixth Street Community Center last night allegedly assaulted an NYPD sergeant with a metal pipe in front of the Starbucks on Astor Place. One of the men, 41-year-old Alexander Penley, is an attorney and has been an Occupy Wall Street organizer since the movement began in the fall.

Penley, along with 30-year-old Nicholas Thommen, were arrested around 10 p.m. after what witnesses described as a violent scuffle between the two men and police officers, and are charged with a litany of offenses, including assaulting a police officer, menacing, criminal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest, and inciting a riot.
How many times did this happen with the hippie anti-Vietnam protests in the late 60s and early 70s but it got buried or not covered at all?

Remember how Keith Olbermann and many on the left seemed inexcusably unaware of the murders, rapes, thefts, and other crimes that have taken place in the Occupy events last year? That's where we'd all be without the new media covering these events. Did they happen at sit-ins, at Kent State, for example?

Somehow I doubt those hippies were completely honorable and law abiding, given that they were by definition already breaking the law and were more than willing to engage in drug use and promiscuous sex without any regard for consequence. We already know of some cases finally leaking out of rapes and sexual abuse of women at various events in the past, finally being admitted to by the women who endured them, but considered them part of the price for following a charismatic leader.

The internet has changed how news is covered, and some of that change is for the bad. I've read repeatedly stories about how reporters are incredibly lazy these days, relying on Drudge to gather stories then covering them with cut and paste efforts. Blogs I visit regularly complain about being plagiarized by news sources without even an attempt at attribution.

But the other side is there too: the way the new media forces stories out into the open that almost certainly would have been buried (2004's Texas Air National Guard Memo fraud, for example). And that's worth a few lazy reporters, particularly as all they do is hasten the demise of legacy media outlets long scheduled for demolition.

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