In a sign that the Old Media monopoly on information is starting to crack, Eric Pfeiffer of The Buzz at National Review Online interviewed Senator John Cornyn and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Meanwhile MSNBC reports that Hillary Clinton has set up meetings with “key bloggers”, presumably on the left.
The typical political news story as found on the AP news wire or the pages of the New York Times features a quotation from some political figure, whom the reporter may or may not have interviewed. This is embedded in several paragraphs in which the reporter sets the statement in context. Very often there is also a comment from an “expert” at a think tank and a statement from a politician of the opposing party. Once public figures agree to be interviewed by members of the on-line media, there is no reason that these functions of the Old Media cannot be duplicated or improved on.
The crucial step of course is the willingness of public figures to be interviewed by people whose bona fides are unknown. National Review has sufficient prestige to get past this hurdle, regardless of the medium they use to get the message out. To my knowledge no prominent figure in the Republican party has agreed to answer questions from a pure blogger.
I suspect that many in the GOP are still stuck in the old paradigm and pine for the days when the media consisted of the three alphabet networks and a couple of major newspapers. Politicians as a group seem to be highly risk averse and are unlikely to sit down to discuss anything with an anonymous blogger. Those who manage to successfully leverage the strengths of the new medium will either have already established a reputation as a journalist or author, or they will be a new breed of reporters working for organizations fronted by people with an established record in the news business.
The policy decisions taken by any government are influenced by the news coverage they draw. In some sense the media does act as a “voice of the people”, pressuring government to act in some ways and not others. The problem at present is that the media represents the voice of a small and unrepresentative segment of the American people, and that the majority effectively has no “voice” to the government. The majority who voted for Bush last November do not hear their point of view expressed at White House press conferences, or on the evening news.
It makes an enormous difference to American foreign policy whether the question posed to the government, supposedly on behalf of the people, is “What are you doing to ensure that captured terrorists at Guantanamo are treated with sensitivity?” as opposed to “What steps are you taking to dissuade the Syrians and Iranians from aiding and abetting the terrorists in Iraq?”.
In the same vein, the course of domestic policy in America would be dramatically different if reporters asked the press secretary “Why does government cost so much money?” rather than “How much money will the President ask Congress to spend on hurricane recovery?”
From the standpoint of the Old Media the answers to their questions are largely irrelevant.The whole point is to pose the question and to effectively frame the debate in ways favorable to the policy outcomes favored by the Old Media themselves.
Much of the “New Media”, an idea still in embryonic form, is focusing on the other Old Media sins, and they are plentiful enough, to be sure. The lies of both commission and omission, the statements torn out of context to appear to mean the reverse of what was really said, the selective use of “expert” commentators to buttress the point the reporter wants to get across, these are all known problems and ones which the bloggers and others are intent on trying to overcome. But while a good and worthwhile project in its own right, this cannot address the underlying problem. It's not simply that the Old Media distort the answers to the questions they pose, it is that the questions they pose themselves introduce a distortion.
In the final analysis we don't need more and better fact checkers. We need the questions posed to accurately reflect the concerns of the majority of the American people. Once that happens we can finally begin to make better progress at addressing those concerns.