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CBS Gets a Black Eye from Bloggers

This in from the Washington Post:
Scott Johnson, a lawyer in Mendota Heights, Minn., put up his first post at 7:51 a.m. on Sept. 9. By the time he got to his Minneapolis office, he had dozens of e-mail responses.

One of them was from Charles Johnson, a Web designer in Los Angeles, who promptly posted his own thoughts on the subject.

Scott Johnson, 53, writes for a Web site called Power Line. Charles Johnson, 51, posts on Little Green Footballs. They were among the bloggers who blew the cyber-whistle by charging that the documents used by "60 Minutes" in its report on President Bush's Air National Guard service appeared bogus.

It was like throwing a match on kerosene-soaked wood. The ensuing blaze ripped through the media establishment as previously obscure bloggers managed to put the network of Murrow and Cronkite firmly on the defensive.

The secret, says Charles Johnson, is "open-source intelligence gathering." Meaning: "We've got a huge pool of highly motivated people who go out there and use the tools to find stuff. We've got an army of citizen journalists out there."

With Bush telling the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader that "there are a lot of questions" about the documents "and they need to be answered," the pressure has intensified on CBS. The network hopes to finish its investigation early this week of whether the memos said to be from Bush's Guard commander 30 years ago are forgeries -- a debate that has been driven by America's e-mailers.

In the last two years, the blogosphere -- a vast, free-floating, often quirky club open to anyone with a modem and some opinions -- has been growing in influence, with some one-man operations boasting followings larger than those of small newspapers.

Many sites are seething with partisan passion, often directed at the media. But they are also two-way portals for retired military officers, computer techies, former IBM Selectric salespeople and just about anyone else to challenge and fact-check media claims.

Not everyone is a fan. Former CBS executive Jonathan Klein complained on Fox News that "these bloggers have no checks and balances. . . . You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."

The pajama brigade pounced. After all, they had found problems that CBS had missed or minimized -- and had done it by downloading the memos from the network's Web site. "One of the things about a blog is we sometimes act as a clearinghouse for information from readers with an interest in an esoteric area," says Scott Johnson.

Bloggers also have the advantage of speed. Several major newspapers quickly began questioning the Guard documents, but they lagged behind the online critiques.

The first known posting came on the hotly conservative Free Republic site at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 8 -- less than four hours after the story aired -- from a man dubbed Buckhead. The Los Angeles Times says he is Harry MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with GOP connections.

Conservative Web commentators are overjoyed. "I don't want to overstate the extent of my glee over the Dan Rather imbroglio now known as 'Memogate,' " wrote National Review's Jonah Goldberg. "But it may well be the Greatest Story Ever."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan now calls for Rather to be canned. "This is the blogs' breakthrough moment," he says. "Dan Rather is a much bigger deal than Howell Raines," who resigned as the New York Times' top editor after the Jayson Blair debacle. Some liberal columnists and editorial pages have ripped CBS as well.

Anonymous attacks thrive on the Net. The Chicago Tribune reports that the site Rathergate.com is run by Mike Krempasky, political director of a Virginia advertising firm run by conservative direct-mail king Richard Viguerie.

Were the bloggers politically motivated? Charles Johnson says he's a lifelong Democrat who plans to vote for Bush. Scott Johnson is a Republican activist who views Rather as an "intensely partisan liberal" and "quit listening to CBS News 20 years ago."
*Blog Bloke says calling for the resignation of one of journalisms' icons is out of line. Nevertheless, I'm still waiting for Dan Rather to come clean on this. After all, he would have expected nothing less from Nixon, or Reagan, or Clinton, or... more at BlogBloke.com.

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