GOP Justifying the Rollback of the Press

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For the past couple of days, the Drudge Report has been running excerpts from Bill Sammon's latest book "Strategery" [sic]. Today's Drudge top headline was "Bush Cheers Decline of Mainstream Media, Rise of Alternative Press" -- which provides further validation to the trend that I elaborated in this video: Government Bypassing the Press.

Sammon interviewed Bush and a number of senior advisors about the pre-election "Memogate," where Bush claims that CBS explicitly "conspired" to harm his campaign. Drudge writes that "Memogate has helped accelerate the decline of the mainstream media, generally defined as CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times and other establishment news outlets."

Bush didn't make any amazing revelations about the media to Sammon, but just some fairly neutral observations like "the news is slowly but surely losing market share" and “It’s interesting to watch these media conglomerates try to deal with the realities of a new kind of world” -- that the news is "always available" -- and that we're beginning a "a revolution in newsgathering and dissemination." Nothing too earth shattering there.

But what is concerning is how the Republican National Committee and other GOP strategists have taken the opportunity of the changing media landscape to further "Rollback the Press" -- as Jay Rosen would describe it: Ken Mehlman told Sammon:

“It also, frankly, gave us an opportunity, frequently, when things came out in the media that we didn’t believe or didn’t like, to say, ‘It’s another CBS story,’” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who was the president’s campaign manager. “I mean, it gave us a serious response to bad news.”

While the Internet has undoubtedly lowered the barrier for bloggers, podcasters and video bloggers to be able to broadcast their thoughts to the world -- and in some cases bubble up to become a national story -- there is still an open question of government accountability and a free press that can provide checks and balances to government.

The mainstream media still has a critical mass of attention from the general public, and I don't think they will ever completely disappear. And so they have a responsibility for creating a common context that can bridge the conversation gap between our increasingly fractured culture and siloed ways of thinking.

There is also another "darker side" to the new media landscape that Karl Rove is certainly aware of -- AND I'm sure knows how to exploit to his advantage better than anyone else. Rove told Sammon:

“There is so much ugliness and viciousness and fundamental untruths that the blogosphere transmits,” he lamented. “It also is a vehicle for ugly rumors, for scurrilous personal attacks, an avenue for the creation of urban legends which are deeply corrosive of the political system and of people’s faith in it.”

There is more and more opportunities for politicians to generate and spread these types of urban legends and lies to citizens, and it's a big problem that comes bundled with all of these new communications solutions.

My hope is that collaborative media and collective sensemaking will eventually prove to be an effective mechanism for filtering out this type of deliberate noise and propaganda -- while at the same time amplifying the signals of truth to a diverse enough audience so that we can function more as an integrated society.