Thursday, September 15, 2005

Blog Like You Mean It

After reading and very kindly commenting on one of my recent entries, my friend Tess became very enthusiastic about what I’m doing here; I think she thought I had stumbled across some new form of expression. Then, upon checking out another blog I’d linked to, she said, “Oh. I get it.…So this is something people do. That's cool.”

Yea, I know, it really isn’t all that cool. Well, in principle, it’s cool. I always marveled at the pure egalitarianism of the Internet. It is a forum for anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and some tech savvy. More and more, the numbers of the former two are increasing, and the latter is becoming less of a requirement (thanks to services like Blogger).

The downside, of course, is that it’s a forum for anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and some tech savvy. And who really wants to hear from everybody?

Of course, there’s more to it than that. One has to have some kind of motivation and/or egotism to put their voice out there. I dare say they’re the same people who write Letters to the Editor and call in to radio talk shows. Point is, it’s a very special cross-section of our society. If there were truly a way to make sure all voices were heard, maybe we’d be on to something. But right now we’re only certain to hit the extremes.

The other problem with this din of chatter is finding it. Or, the assurance that you’ll be able to find a balanced representation of perspectives.

Oh, yea, but here I am writing about blogs in my blog. And I’ve never written a Letter to the Editor. I’ve never called a radio talk show. Does that make me the silent majority finally coming forward? Well, I can’t speak toward other bloggers’ motivations, but I am doing this as an act of discipline. I’m trying to hone/rediscover my writer’s voice, to settle into the egotism that comes with having and standing by an opinion. It’s an exercise for me.

Even just doing this for the past week or so has made me more motivated to write a Letter to the Editor, to have a viewpoint, to take a stand. So maybe it’s working. Maybe I’m unleashing my inner pundit.

So I’m acknowledging that my perspective is valid, as valid as anyone else’s. It is genuine and true for me, even if for nobody else. But just being me, just taking a stand certainly doesn’t make me an expert on anything. And I dare say that’s true of most bloggers out there, though I don’t know how humble they are about it. Many, it seems, have deemed themselves watchdogs of the Media and the Government. In return it seems like the Media at least is starting to take them seriously, whoever and wherever they are.

Why, just today, in listening to NPR’s coverage of the confirmation hearings for John Roberts, one of the commentators said, “Well, we’ve been checking opinions in the blogosphere, and….” I would actually love to know how you get on their radar. And, again, what makes these people qualified. I mean, I suppose having an opinion about the man who will most likely be the next Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t take a great amount of expertise – just an opinion. But what about news stories that have broken in blogs (and I’m not talking about the mainstream newspapers and TV networks that have been starting blogging just because it’s currently “the thing to do”)?

On September 8, 2004, 60 Minutes aired a story citing proof of favoritism given George W. Bush during his early 1970s service in the National Guard. Within hours of the broadcast, a user named Buckhead posted a message on the conservative “gathering place” Putting geek skills to use, he claimed that the documents displayed by CBS News could not possibly be authentic since a proportionally-spaced font had been used, instead of the monospaced font used by typewriters of the day. Now, technically, that was not a blog (it was a forum or message board). But many blogs kept the story going, even refuting Buckhead’s hypothesis, since apparently IBM did have a proportionally-spaced typewriter available in the early 1970s. However, enough pressure was put on CBS to verify their information that they ultimately determined their source to have perpetrated a fraud. So the truth won out (damn it) because of some meddling kids.

What will become more common and valuable are blogs focusing attention on news normally given short shrift by the mainstream media. A Wired magazine article notes a number of stories from 2002 which would not have been given the second look they deserved if it hadn’t been for some persistent blogging, by quite prestigious people, I might add – professors and professional columnists. So apparently you don’t have to be a nobody to blog. In fact, I’m starting to think that that’s who makes up most of the blogosphere that actually gets media attention and respect – professionals in their particular fields who are looking to express their personal views for a change (perhaps normally quieted by corporate or government pressures).

I also remember a story I heard on NPR, about an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who started a blog specifically to create a safe forum for other employees to voice concerns and opinions about the way the lab was being run. That’s pretty specific, but truly democratic.

However, the issue of focusing on and perpetuating a mainstream news story is actually what brought me to write this entry. I’d stumbled across a blog the other day (actually, I guess it’s one I’d been to before, “100 monkeys typing”) which had a link accompanied by one sentence, “Bet Terri Shaivo's rolling over in her urn about now.”

That link took me to the website for The Daily Telegraph, an Australian newspaper. There I read an account of euthanasia perpetrated by doctors in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Now, it’s not an absurd story. As the flood waters rose and without assistance to move critical patients who had lost their life support due to electrical problems, difficult choices invariably had to be made. What struck me, however, was that I could not find this story anywhere from a mainstream American media source, only blogs (that’s the blog for the editor of The American Journal of Bioethics) and a Baton Rouge radio station.

I did, however, find what I believe to be the original story, written by a reporter from The Mail on Sunday, the Sunday edition of The Daily Mail -- an English paper which is apparently somewhere between a tabloid and a “serious” newspaper. The article cites an interview with an anonymous doctor and says the story was corroborated by “local government officials”. It goes on to quote one “emergency official” named William “Forest” McQueen. Mr. McQueen is quoted as saying, “Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die.” Later in the article, he is quoted as telling relatives that patients had been ‘put down,’ saying: "They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died." Here, in the second-to-last paragraph of the story, they reveal that McQueen is in fact a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs, a town north of New Orleans, and had been working with emergency teams.

Doesn’t quite sound like an “emergency official”. I’d actually missed that little detail the first time I perused the article, so I did a search for his name, figuring maybe he’d come up on some government page, confirming his identity and lending him some kind of credibility. Instead, I found a BBC article naming him as missing, by his English wife. There’s even a picture and a description of his job -- maintaining the grounds of an old plantation house.

So it seems pretty apparent that, fortunately, Mr. McQueen did get in touch with his wife, who in turn spoke to the Mail reporter. Beyond that, the story is fairly uncorroborated.

So what’s my point? Well, I guess my point was going to be that I’m a pretty keen investigative journalist. Or, that real (read, non-tabloid) journalists realized there was something fishy about this story, and that’s why it never made it off the international tabloids and some knee-jerk blogs. So it was meant to be an example of bloggery gone awry, potentially perpetuating a myth (“When Blogs Attack!”).

That said, as soon as I went to find more blogs wrongly citing the Mail story as absolute truth, I found a number of bloggers who had done the same miniscule amount of research I had, coming to much the same conclusion, with some actual medical experience to back themselves up. All I’ve got going for me is my skepticism (I really should have been born in Missouri, the “Show Me” State). As Walt Whitman said, “Reexamine all you have been told…dismiss whatever insults your soul.”

I know that only because it was on a Body Shop t-shirt I used to have.

So I guess the bottom line is that blogging allows the masses to easily disseminate misinformation (the beauty of the mob mentality), but they can also, hopefully, challenge it. Then again, if nobody with money and a TV channel is listening, does it really make a noise?

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for sharing such an amazing and informative post .really enjoyed reading it. :)