In an election year full of dubious claims, obfuscated facts, distracting rhetoric and ruthless arguments, one thing has become clear:
Bloggers have become a force to be reckoned with.
(Whoa, I think that is what journalism teachers would call "a lead").
Before I started blogging, and early in the primaries, the success that Howard Dean was having raising money on the internet lead the discussion from major news outlets everywhere. It wasn't until after I'd plunged into the world of blogging myself that I realized how he'd done it. Grass Roots campaigns had taken on a different form. He had been able to directly deliver his message to a group of people who could, then, help spread the word directly to others. Bloggers had become a community of millions, and once the word began to take hold, it spread like wildfire, virtually, and the money began flowing in.
The success of this innovative approach was noticed by all the other candidates, and quickly joelieberman.com and georgewbush.com popped up.
Fast forward to the middle of July. The Democratic Convention invaded Boston, and news sources began reporting that a handful of bloggers were going to be issued press credentials to the convention. By the time the Republican Convention began in NYC, many reporters on major news outlets were referring to the perceptions the bloggers had on the speeches as part of their analysis of the effectiveness of the speeches themselves.
This week, the increasing credibility of the major bloggers may have actually managed to bring very distinct questions to our notions of mainstream journalistic integrity.
The story that CBS's '60 Minutes' was planning on airing containing new information about the legitimacy of claims that President Bush had gone AWOL from his national guard service was hyped for weeks. When it finally aired on Wednesday, it was largely reported as a devastating blow to the Bush Administration claims that President Bush had completed his service and fulfilled all its requirements. The evidence was centered largely on two memos that his commanding officer had written regarding the deficiency in meeting these requirements.
So convincing and damning was this information that even the White House, having said for months that they had released all the President's National Guard service documents, released copies of these very documents with a sheepish mea culpa.
Enter the bloggers, stage left, quietly.
Within 24 hours, the swarming and collective knowledge of the blogsphere has uncovered that there is a distinct possibility that these documents are actually forgeries, made on a computer and then copied them multiple times to give them an aged look. What is remarkable about this discovery is the veracity of these documents were not being questioned by anyone in the mainstream media, or even the White House.
There is an excellent and much more detailed synthesis of how this all went down here, at Tech Central Station. It covers the forensic typographical evidence. Most specifically is a term called "kerning." Here is a description from the Tech Central Station article, as quoted from Powerline:
To explain: the letter 'O' is curved on the outside. A letter such as 'T' has indented space under its cross bar. On a typewriter if one types an 'O' next to a 'T' then both letters remain separated by their physical space. When you type the same letters on a computer next to each other the are automatically 'kerned' or 'grouped' so that their individual spaces actually overlap. e. g., TO. As one can readily see the curvature of the 'O' nestles neatly under the cross bar of the 'T'. Two good kerning examples in the alleged memo are the word 'my' in the second line where 'm' and 'y' are neatly kerned and also the word 'not' in the fourth line where the 'o' and 't' overlap empty space. A typewriter doesn't 'know' what particular letter is next to another and can't make those types of aesthetic adjustments.This, coupled with a superscripted "th" after the term 147
This is a story that never would have found the light of day but did so quite expeditiously because of bloggers. Four years ago, the mechanism by which the documents were debunked was in its infancy, and would certainly not have been given the legitimacy by the general public or the major news media outlets. With this story, the credibility of the blogging community has increased exponentially, and with it, they may have taken down the credibility of CBS News for the foreseeable future.