November 05, 2004

Web of Influence

Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell (of Crooked Timber) have a long piece on blogs over at Foreign Policy. Somehow I missed it until today; but highly suggest you go read it. And Dan, thanks for the mention of B.D.!

Some snippets:

Even foreign-policy novices leave their mark on the debate. David Nishimura, an art historian and vintage pen dealer, emerged as an unlikely commentator on the Iraq war through his blog, “Cronaca,” which he describes as a “compilation of news concerning art, archaeology, history, and whatever else catches the chronicler’s eye, with the odd bit of opinion and commentary thrown in.” In the month after the fall of Hussein’s regime in April 2003, there was much public hand-wringing about reports that more than 170,000 priceless antiques and treasures had been looted from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. In response to these newspaper accounts, a number of historians and archaeologists scorned the U.S. Defense Department for failing to protect the museum.

Nishimura, however, scrutinized the various media reports and found several inconsistencies. He noted that the 170,000 number was flat-out wrong; that the actual losses, though serious, were much smaller than initial reports suggested; and that museum officials might have been complicit in the looting. “Smart money still seems to be on the involvement of Ba’athists and/or museum employees,” he wrote. “The extent to which these categories overlap has been danced around so far, but until everything has been properly sorted out, it might be wise to remember how other totalitarian states have coopted cultural institutions, enlisting the past to remake the future.” Prominent right-of-center bloggers, such as Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Virginia Postrel, cited Nishimura’s analysis to focus attention on the issue and correct the original narrative.

As the museum looting controversy reveals, blogs are now a “fifth estate” that keeps watch over the mainstream media. The speed of real-time blogger reactions often compels the media to correct errors in their own reporting before they mushroom. For example, in June 2003, the Guardian trumpeted a story in its online edition that misquoted Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as saying that the United States invaded Iraq in order to safeguard its oil supply. The quote began to wend its way through other media outlets worldwide, including Germany’s Die Welt. In the ensuing hours, numerous bloggers led by Greg Djerijian’s [ed. note: That's, er, Djerejian] “Belgravia Dispatch” linked to the story and highlighted the error, prompting the Guardian to retract the story and apologize to its readers before publishing the story in its print version.

Bloggers have become so adept at fact-checking the media that they’ve spawned many other high-profile retractions and corrections. The most noteworthy was CBS News’ acknowledgement that it could not authenticate documents it had used in a story about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service that bloggers had identified as forgeries. When such corrections are made, bloggers create the impression at times that contemporary journalism has spun out of control. Glenn Reynolds of “Instapundit” explained to the Online Journalism Review that he sees parallels between the impact of the blogosphere and Russia’s post-Soviet glasnost. “People are appalled, saying it’s the decline of journalism.… But it’s the same as when Russia started reporting about plane crashes and everyone thought they were just suddenly happening. It was really just the first time people could read about them.” Media elites rightly retort that blogs have their own problems. Their often blatant partisanship discredits them in many newsrooms. However, as Yale University law Professor Jack Balkin says, the blogosphere has some built-in correction mechanisms for ideological bias, as “bloggers who write about political subjects cannot avoid addressing (and, more importantly, linking to) arguments made by people with different views. The reason is that much of the blogosphere is devoted to criticizing what other people have to say.”

Read the whole thing. It's well worth your time.

Oh, and if you live in the Washington DC area, don't miss your chance to have cocktails with Dan and other prominent bloggers later this month--as they discuss the burgeoning role of blogs in politics.

Posted by Gregory at November 5, 2004 09:34 AM

Dear Gregory,

If you want your name spelled correctly change it to something with wide letters.


p.s. Love your blog. Hope you understand that this an attempt at humor.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at November 5, 2004 12:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thax for kudos. best, gd

Posted by: greg at November 7, 2004 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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