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Parker: 'Rathergate' illustrates the promise of blogs
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The CBS mess variously known as ''Forgerygate'' or ''Rathergate'' is by any other name a seminal moment in the blogosphere that holds promise not only for revolutionizing journalism, but also perhaps for problem-solving on a global scale.

And why not?

Still in relative infancy, the blogosphere - that new galaxy within the journalism universe wherein citizen journalists known as bloggers (short for keepers of Web logs) chat among themselves through mutual links and commentary - has defined itself in large part as a vehicle for challenging the mainstream media (MSM).

Bloggers love fact-checking television and newspaper reporters and commentators, for instance, and have proved themselves both energetic and competent on both fronts.

They've been credited with challenges that led to the retirements of both Sen. Trent Lott as majority leader upon his waxing nostalgic for Strom Thurmond's good ol' Dixiecrat segregationist days and Howell Raines as editor of The New York Times following the Jason Blair debacle.

But the piece de resistance has occurred over the past several days as bloggers questioned the authenticity of documents CBS News presented allegedly proving that President George W. Bush received preferential treatment in the National Guard.

This is where most sensible people start nodding off, but the larger drama of the Blogosphere v. CBS is sufficiently compelling to stay awake. What happened is perhaps familiar by now:

The documents CBS presented supposedly came from the personal files of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, which Killian supposedly typed more than 30 years ago. Rather and 60 Minutes II vouched for the authenticity of the documents, one of which claimed that a Texas Air National Guard squadron commander was trying to ''sugarcoat'' Bush's record.

Cumulative evidence produced primarily by the blogosphere suggests that the documents are forgeries and that Rather and CBS were duped in a political hoax.

Through the weekend, Rather was still sticking by his guns despite the fact that many of CBS' sources for the story have distanced themselves, while other news organizations have produced reports lending credence to the hoax theory.

Both Killian's son and widow, for example, say they doubt the memos are real, as Killian rarely typed. One of the sources CBS said would corroborate the charges said he was misled by the network.

All these discussions with the Killians and others took place after the blogosphere had worked its magic, beginning when freerepublic.com suggested the documents might not be real.

Such was the spark that began the flame that grew into the wildfire that became the conflagration that threatens to consign journalistic credibility to history's ash heap.

Fueling the fire in the earliest stages were most notably Power Line (powerlineblog.com) and Little Green Footballs (http://www.littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog), which ran the just-discovered memos through some simple tests to verify their authenticity.

Key to the unraveling of CBS's hyped documents, as bloggers pointed out, were the superscript 'th' and the Times New Roman font used in the alleged Killian memo, both of which seem to belong to a rather modern Microsoft Word default letter-writing program rather than a 1972-era typewriter.

Make that yet another victory for the nerds, but not nerds in pajamas, as former CBS executive Jonathan Klein said in an attempt to impugn bloggers.

''You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [at '60 Minutes'] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing,'' said Klein.

The implication that bloggers are slacker dust bunnies has delighted bloggers, the best of whom are lawyers, professors, scientists, renegade journalists and techies of various sorts, such as the brothers Johnson (Charles and Michael) at ''Little Green Footballs,'' whose years of experience in state-of-the-art graphics and Web design at the ''pixel level'' enabled them to quickly duplicate the CBS memos and demonstrate their likely origin on a very modern computer.

All of which brings me to my premise that the blogosphere isn't just a challenge to journalism in its currently stagnant state, but a potential boon to problem-solving of a higher order. The beauty of the blogosphere is that it is self-igniting, self-propelling and self-selecting, a sort of intellectual ecosystem wherein the best specimens from various disciplines descend from the ethers, converge on an issue and apply their unique talents.

Though virtually newborn, the blogosphere has blossomed exponentially in a matter of Earth-time seconds, from a few random voices to a mighty and diverse chorus of sometimes spectacular talent. Bloggers are the Big Bang of the Information Age.

It seems, therefore, not unreasonable to hope that as this new galaxy expands - with the best and brightest emerging as natural evolution commands - bloggers might apply their immense energy and collective intellect to solving an array of human problems.

Let's start with Iraq, shall we?

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Tribune Media Services

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