Monday evening, I was writing this column as my wife sat watching a Chinese movie, and in another room my daughter was watching “Scooby Doo”. What we all had in common at that moment, is that we were all staring at an electronic screen. Television in its various forms is an integral part of our lives, whether we like it or not. This is most unfortunate in its effect on Politics.
A certain Newsweek writer, whom I do not hold in high enough regard to want to give him attention, has written on the Internet and Politics, throwing out the old notion that JFK was elected in large part because he “mastered” Television, just as “FDR mastered Radio". This writer continued to bubble with enthusiasm about how well various Democrats, especially Liberal ones, have done with popular mediums, as if no Republican knew what to do with a microphone or a camera, or more to the point, as if Style should always trump Substance.
But it would be incorrect to deny Television its victories. Cronkite lied about Vietnam after Tet, and poisoned our effort there. Dan Rather and Mike Wallace have been veritable scorpions in the infant’s crib of public discourse, as far too many people depend on the main channels and networks for their understanding of events, even now. John Kerry got far too close to the White House, and Gore before him, than either man had any reason to hope, and their ally was Television.
We talk about the New Media, but it’s still wearing diapers, folks. The Blogosphere sounds to most people like a sound you make when you sneeze, and the Internet has not established itself for credibility or meaningful discourse. For all the growth, political blogs still amount to less influence than does the National Enquirer, and those blogs which tolerate, much less promote, reader comments and a group forum style of debate on the issues of the day, remain largely ignored, inconvenient noise in the minds of those Celebrities who think our place is to nod eagerly, and of course go out and buy their book. Does Michelle Malkin really think she represents Free Speech, or that closing comments completely has not reduced the freshness of her environment at her blog? I don’t think so, but then she is a nationally syndicated columnist with some eager publishers waiting to put out her work. Does Hugh Hewitt really think that selling t-shirts is a good way to sway Congress on the pressing national issues? Again, I don’t really think so, but I’m not a radio talk show host with his own line of eager publishers to market his latest work. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Malkin and Hewitt are wrong on their opinion. I agree with them both quite often - except the Illegals issue, where Malkin could really do to lay off the caffeinated beverages while she writes on that subject - but as successful as they are in the Blogosphere, it happened because they made their name in the Old Media to some degree, and pulled their audience over with them. I have not yet found a major Conservative who pulls millions of hits a day, who mainly established himself as a Blogger. It will happen, I am sure, but for here and now it’s important to understand that our medium is still small and generally ignored by those who consider themselves important. We have had some successes, and on moral grounds we are in very good shape, but for now Goliath is still standing, and laughing at the little guy with the sling shot.
So what does this mean for the near future? For one thing, it means every time some so-called Republican attacks his party and his leadership in public, he helps a Democrat replace a Republican, and that is in no way excusable. It means that what voice we Conservative bloggers do have, should be united in its temper and civility, even where we disagree. It means that the old dragon of Television, which sees the death throes of the Old Print Media in the hemorraghing revenues at the New York Times and similar regimes, is afraid for its life, but rather than reform it attempts to destroy what it sees as a rival. This means banal bills in Congress to try controlling the Internet, and with it rein in Free Speech by those whose voice is the most independent. This means that as small as my little bog is, it is seen as a threat by every Status Quo newsroom editor and bureaucrat in D.C.
Fortunately, there is also good news. Blogging is fresh, with a flavor unlike anywhere else, and it carries an honesty which people are beginning to understand has died from the print and broadcast media. And while CBS and other old-guard regimes have started their own blogs, they are even less inclined to allow comments, and thus genuine discourse, than the current Blogging Celebrities like Malkin and Hewitt are willing to grant. Lame doesn’t sell, even for free. And in the end, that might prove to be the Achilles heel for the TV giant. And I will be happy to test that theory. All I need is to keep finding a few smooth stones ...