ALLAN JEFFERYS: Influence of Blogs Threatens To Reshape American Politics
A couple of columns ago, I suggested that broadcasting will have the greatest influence on the presidential elections for 2008. Now I'm not so sure.
On reflection, I believe the most dangerous and most powerful influence will come from the Internet.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Web. When I think of what we used to go through to research a subject, I marvel at and cheer the Googles, Yahoos and Ask.coms that abound. In seconds you can find out hundreds of things about people, places, things and ideas.
E-mail may be the best thing invented since Gene Sarazen came up with the sand wedge. Before this instant communication tool arrived on the scene, we sent paper letters to each other which called for full page replies. With e-mail, you can simply hit "Reply" and add "Amen" or "You said it." Easier for you and easier for the recipient.
I also like the idea of a couple of clicks which tell my bank to pay a bunch of bills. No need for stamps or checks. Saves time and money. You can download movies, music, pictures and computer applications in nothing flat. The Internet can take the place of a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopedia.
So what's not to like? What's to fear?
As more and more people get hooked up to e-mail, more and more people will open their computers to extremely persuasive bald-faced lies. This is not to say print media and radio and TV are not equipped to lie, it's just that they tend to be more subtle lest they get caught. But anybody can start a blog.
This online journal of your personal thoughts does not cost very much and is easy to create.
The power of a blog lies in how easily it can be forwarded around the world. Like a chain letter, you can dream up some horrible scenario and send it out.
Couch it in language that excites or incenses your readers, and they'll help by forwarding it to their friends. The next thing you know, you have created an urban legend.
An urban legend is just that: a legend that sounds true but isn't. It may have a grain of truth in it, but it is basically an underbelly jab that can hurt or even destroy a reputation.
No one is immune, be he liberal or conservative. These lies can be attempts at humor or downright malicious. As campaigning heats up, you can expect more and more e-mailed smears intended to derail a candidate or merely influence your vote.
They will seem plausible.
Here's one example: a long essay supposedly aired on "60 Minutes," in which Andy Rooney explained his philosophy of life. In this diatribe, Andy comes across as a reactionary racist who states, "The money I make belongs to me and my family, not some governmental stooge with a bad comb-over who wants to give it away to crack addicts for squirting out babies." It goes on from there.
Trouble is, Andy Rooney never wrote or said those things, and George Carlin had nothing to do with the bit about being a "Bad American."
Another one: the story about Lee Marvin calling Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) the bravest man he ever knew. Marvin did enlist in the Marines and saw action in the Pacific, but he never saw Keeshan at Iwo Jima, and Keeshan got in too late to see combat.
I confess I forwarded this one. Even pure fabrications sometimes sound like they should be true. Many of these stories are inspirational, others effective in maligning your opponents, some are downright funny. But most urban legends are neither urban nor legend. They are simply lies. Like spam, they are difficult to pin down and difficult to separate from truth.
So beware the blogs. And if you'd like to check out urban legends, perhaps the best place to search is a Web site called www.snopes.com.
Barbara and David Mikkelson (I've never met them) run this site, investigate, pursue and unearth the truth about much of the stuff that is forwarded around the world without any verification. They are to be commended for their zealous fact-finding.
If you log on to their Web site, you can have a ball wandering through all kinds of areas of myth, even if (like me) you're embarrassed to discover you have fallen for some of these legends and forwarded them yourself.
Of course you don't have to check up.
For example, if you want the real scoop on Hillary, you've come to the right place. Just give me a couple of minutes to set up my blog.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and entertainment editor, lives in Pinehurst. He has written two novels.
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