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Less Reformation, more refraction

Special to The Times

Blog

Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World

Hugh Hewitt

Nelson Books: 226 pp., $19.99

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People who pick up the book “Blog” are likely to think that it’s about blogs. For the most part, it’s not about the Internet phenomenon of blogging, the term for individual or group Web-based chronicling and instant publishing. Rather, this book is a sustained effort of partisan hackery aimed at further eroding trust in what the author Hugh Hewitt calls “mainstream liberal media,” which for him means anything to the left of Rush Limbaugh. This regurgitated mantra, in the hands of skilled marketers, can be applied to the latest hot brand -- in this case anything to do with blogs.

Hewitt, a professor of law at Chapman University Law School, has his own nationally syndicated (and Limbaugh- esque) radio show as well as one of the most popular blogs. As of September 2004, his blog was getting about 75,000 hits a day. He blogged the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions as an independent, a sort of right-wing Robin Hood stealing from the rich liberal mainstream media and giving back the correct information to the hinterlands.

Hewitt has chosen the Protestant Reformation as a mirror on how blogging is leading a reformation against the mainstream media. He focuses largely on the case of “Rathergate” at CBS and how blogs were the first to point out the discrepancies in the documents CBS anchor Dan Rather said alleged that President Bush received preferential treatment during his National Guard service.

Hewitt never shies away from celebrity name bashing, dropping every right-wing pundit’s favorite punching bag -- Barbra Streisand -- into the mix. He also fawns on Fox News, Limbaugh and a bevy of rightist blogs when given the opportunity to do so. Hewitt considers the blog revolution in an America-centric fashion that ignores the fact that the Internet is not the sole property of Americans alone. The only “foreign” references he makes are comments on how Al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist groups have been using the Internet to spread their messages.

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Though at times Hewitt makes important points about how blogs have kept scandals such as Rathergate and Sen. Trent Lott’s flub over Strom Thurmond’s segregationist past in the public eye, his fanatical fervor leads him down the path of triumphalist bombast.

Without traditional media to feed off of, there would be little for most political bloggers to link to and comment on. Certainly the emergence of blogs and blogging as public watchdogs of media is beneficial to correcting inconsistencies, fabrications and outright lies. But Lott’s and Rather’s own miscues and ethical lapses were what ultimately brought them down -- not bloggers. It was up to USA Today, part of that liberal mainstream media, to uncover the scandal that journalist Armstrong Williams was being paid by the Department of Education to talk up the federal “No Child Left Behind” program -- not bloggers.

The other fallacy is that blogging will supplant mainstream media and that the emergence of blogs will be similar to the outcome the invention of the printing press had on furthering the Reformation by giving common folk access to the Bible in their own languages. There are cases to be made about how the blogging revolution will change mainstream media habits and dissemination, but unfortunately Hewitt’s “independent” position advocates right-wing, corporate or advertisement blogging and not independence as such.

In a Jan. 15 entry on his blog (HughHewitt.com), Hewitt is a bit more forthcoming about the ethical dilemma faced among the top tier of political bloggers who may or may not get paid to advocate for causes, saying “bloggers should disclose -- prominently and repeatedly -- when they are receiving payments from individuals or organizations about whom or which they are blogging.” But in the book, Hewitt describes how blogs should be used by opinion makers to get their points across through directly influencing the most prominent bloggers.

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Hewitt ponders a “dozen blogs I would launch” and imagines a central blog that would cover the publishing world, link to Amazon and generate buzz. It would be one that causes book sales to soar when the author of this hypothetical blog praises a book, or plummet when given a fervent thumbs down.

What Hewitt fails to see is that there already is a growing infrastructure of litblogs available that are independent, not beholden to a single publisher and not taking payola to promote or trash competitors’ books.


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