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22 May 2009 @ 11:11 pm
Bitten by the blogosphere  
Dan Rathers’ was not the first scalp claimed by bloggers in their war on the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of the truth. In 2002, just under two years prior to the Rathergate incident, Republican Trent Lott was the first to be bitten by the blogosphere when bloggers took notice of comments that he made at a birthday celebration for former presidential candidate Strom Thurmond.

During the celebration, which was being covered by many major news outlets, Lott stated that he thought that America could have avoided many of the problems it currently faced if Thurmond had been elected president during his bid for the office. This all seems pretty innocent; it’s not uncommon for politicians to sound over-eager in their praise for their outgoing predecessors (did I mention that this was Thurmond’s 100th birthday party?), though Lott’s comments seem a lot more questionable when you consider just what sort of policies from the past he was suggesting would fix America’s woes.

Thurmond was an advocate for racial segregation during his presidential campaign, and at one point stated that “all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.” Although there was little scrutiny in the mainstream media of what Lott’s speech implied, from the day following the Thurmond birthday celebrations, internet blogs were united in their condemnation of Lott.

One conclusion that could be drawn from this is that the mainstream press was using the internet as a sort of 'testing ground' to see if this story really was news-worthy or not. By looking at it that way, it could be seen as a sign of a healthy working relationship between the internet and mainstream press; by testing the bloggers’ reactions to a certain story before it actually becomes a news story. This example could also imply a certain ignorance in major news outlets that blinds them to what sparks public interest.

It could also mean that broadcast and print journalists are getting a little lazy. As with the Rathergate incident, the news story here is not just that the comments of Trent Lott implied that he was an advocate for racial segregation, but that it was the blogosphere that called him out on it. And as with the Dan Rather example, this part of the story is what hurts the image of mainstream journalists; because they were reluctant to widely report on Lott’s comments until bloggers started to get vocal on the issue, they therefore made the shortcomings of mainstream journalism a part of this news story.