May 8th, 2008
You wouldn’t know it from watching most television news outlets, but a major story has been brewing behind the scenes since it originally broke in the Times Magazine on April 20th: many of the seemingly objective former military officers appearing on TV as analysts in the run-up to the Iraq war actually had financial ties to military contractors — and spent plenty of time being spun by the Pentagon, including by officials with a role in military procurement.
As discussed in Politico today (via Media Bistro), the news outlets in question have resolutely refused to address the issue in public, in several cases even ignoring letters on the subject from members of Congress. But the story has been kept alive in part by the pajama-clad warriors of the blogosphere, some of whom have followed it with bulldog intensity. A classic function of blogs:
“We are in a time when stories can have a second life,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. A few years ago, if a story did not generate attention after a week, it could be considered dead, said Rosenstiel, who cited the instance of how bloggers revived the U.S. attorney firings story.
Of course, members of Congress have been involved, including John Kerry, whose online petition hit such a nerve with grassroots Democrats that their response apparently overwhelmed the his online advocacy system’s servers. And of course the story originally ran in the Times Magazine and has been covered on PBS’s News Hour, so bloggers aren’t alone in being on the side of the angels. But we’ve often heard mainstream journalists bemoan the standard of conversation common on blogs, and this incident serves as a perfect example of one reason that citizen journalism matters — the amateurs help keep the professionals honest. That couldn’t happen in anywhere near the same kind of way in the information oligopoly that existed before the internet democratized publishing.