One hallmark of a generational crisis is that a new medium rises to power. In the 1960s’ crisis, this was television. In the 1930s’ crisis it was two media, radio and the movies. In the 1890s’ crisis, it was the mass market newspaper.
As each of these media emerged, the existing order fought the medium as strongly as the old political order fought the new. The difference between the fights was that the journalists did it unconsciously, pretending (always) to being impartial and fair, while displaying their biases.
In the 1960s, given the complete collapse of radio as a political medium, this fight was mainly carried on by newspapers. (I say mainly, because the anti-TV in politics movies of the 1960s — from The Best Man through Redford’s The Candidate — is a course of its own.) Readers and viewers were told, in no uncertain terms, that the new medium was dangerous, that the candidates it created were caricatures, that it was open to manipulation. As though the older medium were not.
Yet in time, we know, each medium had its day. TV became deregulated under Reagan’s conservative regime, which did away with the old Fairness Doctrine. Franklin Roosevelt embraced radio, as he embraced Hollywood, using them as propaganda vehicles to enormous effect. The role of newspapers in creating the Spanish-American war is well known.
All of which brings me to this, a direct threat to the Internet lodged by The National Journal The specific target of their ire is Matt Stoller of MyDD, who has proposed to "Googlebomb" on behalf of 71 Democratic candidates in close House elections.
If projects such as this one (which while ingenious does seek to game
the system to influence lower information voters) proliferate, how much
longer before internet speech goes the way of broadcast speech?
recent months this column, called the Blogometer, which claims to
define the political debate in the blogosphere (much as news columns 40
years ago claimed to define TV debate) has become a staff-written
exercise. In other words, it is controlled by editors. These words come
from the top of the company, not some intern, and they need to be seen
for the threat they in fact are.
There is no danger from what Stoller is doing. None. Conservatives
have been gaming the system in the same way for years. The danger, if
such exists, is to Google, which (I believe) is big enough to protect
itself from manipulation of this sort. By putting the company on
notice, in other words, Stoller practically guarantees the failure of
Government action is not needed here. But the threat of it, from an
entrenched Washington power center, should concern all of us.