Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Watching the Watchdog Watching the Watchdog

A book out by Stephen D. Cooper titled: Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate asks a lot of good questions that are extremely relevant today, in view of yet another instance of the press, as the self-proclaimed watchdog of our government, itself engaging in suspect activities.
CBS News. In 2004, the network came into possession of allegedly authentic National Guard documents which claimed that President Bush had failed to perform his duties when he was in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. But the documents were forged, and bloggers, not the media, broke that story.

From the Introduction: The metaphor of watchdog has long been popular as shorthand for the structural role of the free press in a representative democracy. Should government officers fail in their responsibility to exercise power on behalf of the general public, that watchdog would alert the citizens at large to that malfeasance. ...

But what of that watchdog’s leash? If the people need a watchdog to make sure the institution of government does not abuse the power they have granted it, would there not be a need for a comparable check on the press, as a social institution with power in its own right? ...

[B]logs lack direct control over the activities of the mainstream press, yet many of them monitor the mainstream press ... . [T]he watchdog’s bite is the threat of diminished credibility, manifest as lost votes for politicians and as reduced consumption of their media products for the mainstream press. ...

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