September 23, 2004

Gatekeepers of the Media vs. Blog Triumphalism

Information Flow and the Gatekeepers of the Media (via Eric Muller) is a great antidote to the blog blather. But the CBS Memos story is in fact a little more complex than is generally understood.

There were apparently at least two tracks pushing the story. TWO. A blog track and a right-wing PR agency track. Now, some people have thought the blog track was a sock-puppet of the PR agency. The evidence doesn't support that. In fact, it argues the tracks developed separately, and then later merged.

According to PRWeek:

Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the VA-based agency promoting the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, used right-wing blogs and news sites to turn a CBS report casting doubt on President George W. Bush's National Guard service into a potential black eye for both the network and the Democrats.

A CRC client, the Cybercast News Service (CNS), was among the first to voice suspicion that documents suggesting Bush had received preferential treatment in the Guard were forgeries.

"After the CBS story aired, [CNS] called typographical experts, got them on the record that these papers were fishy, and posted a story by 3pm Thursday," said CRC SVP Keith Appell. "We were immediately in contact with [Matt] Drudge, who loved the story."

CRC worked with CNS and the Media Research Center, another media watchdog client, to push the story into the mainstream press.

"We've been communicating with bloggers and news websites to make sure they know it isn't just Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge who are raising questions," added CRC president Greg Mueller.

CRC later clarified the blog claim.

The initial article was at "Thursday, September 09, 2004 2:41 PM EST" (probably should be EDT). The full CNS article (out by 2:55:04 PM EDT) is clearly a parallel work. It doesn't refer to the blog investigations at all, and quotes different experts. The article went on the United Press International wired, being at least echoed by the Washington Times

Drudge posts about the CNS article and the blog investigation around 2:46 EDT, combining the two tracks (note: for some reason, the Drudge archive version only has a blog link, but "'60 Minutes' Documents on Bush Might Be Fake" is the CNS article title, and the contemporary echoes have both links)

The Media Research Center press release says: "CBS News must come clean on this document scandal broken by ...". But that's dated "September 10", so it seems that bit of PR was late to the party.

So, the blog track was not an invention of the PR firm. Instead, the tracks seem to have come together with vigor. HOWEVER, when there is high-powered PR firm also flacking the story at the same time, in parallel, it's a little difficult to see a triumph of (insert string of buzzwords here). The story would not have been undiscovered if the blog writers hadn't been working on it *too* - it would merely have been a more PR-firm driven story.

Which is not to denigrate the widespread work. However, the reason that work was heard boiled down to various press connections, and in terms of having the story being publicized, the wind was at their back.

In contrast, a blogger without those situational advantages is shouting to the wind.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on September 23, 2004 02:40 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Excellent post Seth, thanks!

Hope this gets picked up (linked) by a higher tier.

Posted by: Tim at September 23, 2004 11:25 PM

Very interesting post Seth.

When the memo scandal first broke at LGF and Powerline I wrote an article, literally overnight, for TechCentralStation. ( Nick Schultz fronted it and left it in place for three days. Now, TCS has about 200,000 uniques a week and is in a certain rightish journalistic loop. Which meant that this story, and lots of others, were being seen by MSM. (It was also linked to by Glenn Reynolds.)

Essentially the perfect blogging storm of computers, graphic design knowledge and swarming occured with the memos.

Those conditions will not re-occur in a hurry; but the speed of the response and the quick sorting process which ensured that people who knew what they were talking about were found and linked, is likely a hint of what is coming for MSM.

Posted by: Jay Currie at September 26, 2004 02:45 AM