The March of the Bloggers

‘Under my keyboard the desk shakes. The bloggers are on the march’
The Times March 11, 2005

The headline above says it all. Featured in the Times yesterday, columnist Simon Jenkins admitted that he had been a little slow on the uptake but as his article reveals: it has finally dawned on him that mass communications are no longer the exclusive property of governments or moneyed oligarchs, like Times owner Rupert Murdoch. For better or for worse, the Internet opens the doors for everyone.

Despite this realisation however, the columnist still remains somewhat aloof toward the Internet. “On the web,” he writes, “opinion travels first class while facts go steerage.”

As if newspapers were paragons of objectivity and even-handedness.

They are not and that fact is being clearly and graphically underlined by the Internet. The Times, like all the other major newspapers, has yet to even mention – let alone publish – Richard Tomlinson’s historic affidavit on the death of Princess Diana. If it were not for the Internet we would still not be any wiser as to the real circumstances behind Diana’s death and that’s with no thanks to the likes of Simon Jenkins.

The mainstream media is under threat precisely because it has failed to report events fairly, accurately and objectively. Instead it is being used to direct and massage public perception on behalf of the authorities and the media owning oligarchs. An example of this being the numerous stories of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction which were a media mainstay in the years and months prior to the actual invasion of Iraq. In its aftermath they proved to be utterly baseless but they had suitably prepared public sentiment in both Britain and America into accepting the invasion, even if somewhat reluctantly.

As a result, there is growing disenchantment with the media and not just the print media. There is indeed something of a media revolution going on and even TV veiwing figures are starting to fall. Although don’t expect Jenkins to tell you about that yet, he’s only just cottoned on to the threat to the print media.

However, Jenkins is not the only mainstream media journalist to note the growing power of the Internet. In the same issue of the Times, Dan Sabbagh writes that the Internet is ‘bad news for ‘real world’ press’. Focusing on websites that deal with money, gossip or what amounts to little more than trivia – like Popbitch – Sabbagh manages to tell us very little besides the fact the Internet is growing and newspaper sales are falling.

Intentionally or not, the effect is to keep us distracted from websites of real important. While Jenkins lamentation over the absence of such “qualities as newsgathering and reliability” on the Internet sounds more than a little hollow, especially when contrasted with the Times Middle East correspondent, Sam Kiley’s account of his own departure from the paper a few years ago.

As Kiley found when he tried to submit a story that was not in line with the paper’s editorial policy on Israeli assassinations:

‘No pro-Israeli lobbyist ever dreamed of having such power over a great national newspaper. They didn’t need to. Murdoch’s executives were so scared of irritating him that, when I pulled of a little scoop by tracking, interviewing and photographing the unit in the Israeli army which killed Mohammed al-Durrah, the 12-year-old boy whose death was captured on film and became the iconic image of the conflict. I was asked to file the piece “without mentioning the dead kid”.

‘After that conversation, I was left wordless, so I quit’.

Still Sam Kiley is that rare breed, a journalist with some genuine integrity, which is why he quit. The vast majority, however, are little more than “intellectual prostitutes” as John Swinton one of foremost journalists of his time described them during a dinner speech in 1890:

“There is no such thing, at this stage of the world’s history in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dare write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Other of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my papers, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.

“The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men.

“We are intellectual prostitutes.”

John Swinton, New York 1890.

Also see:
The Revolution Starts Here