Features

Blogwatch: Internet vs. Iran

National | Blogs (short for web logs, the running commentaries at numerous websites) began the toppling of Trent Lott and Howell Raines; can they turn around Iran?

Issue: "50 family-friendly movies," June 28, 2003

Bloggers last week celebrated news of protests in Iran against that country's extreme theocratic leaders. In response to the news that 250 academics risked imprisonment by asking Ayatollah Khamenei to recant his position that he is God's supreme representative on earth, the influential Glenn Reynolds (instapundit.com) noted, "Iranian faculty are actually doing what some American academics delude themselves into thinking they're doing-standing up for freedom against a fundamentalist dictatorship." Andrew Sullivan (andrew

sullivan.com) on June 17 turned the Iranian struggle into a test of blog power, asking that "On July 9, as many blogs as possible focus on the struggle for freedom in Iran.... Many people have theorized about the power of the web to bring about change ... so let's try and use it."

The New York Times used to be able to get away with journalistic ventriloquism, a practice that includes picking out a "man in the street" to say what the reporter wants to say. But with conservative bloggers as well as columnists like Ann Coulter on the watch, what once was standard now receives ridicule. Ms. Coulter mentioned at the end of her June 11 column the tendency of the Times and other newspapers to quote a man named Greg Packer, "apparently the entire media's designated 'man on the street' for all articles ever written. He has appeared in news stories more than 100 times as a random member of the public."

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That mention spawned a blog investigative frenzy last week. Mickey Kaus (kausfiles.com) and others pointed out that Mr. Packer is a highway worker who devotes sick days, personal business days, and apparently many other days to celebrity gawking. For the last 10 years he has made it his business to be present at every major celebrity event, including parades and New Year's Eve celebrations, and has become especially adept in giving lazy or shoddy reporters what they want to hear. Blogs noted that he offered praise for Hillary Clinton, sappy sentiment following the death of Princess Di, and so on. Mr. Packer even boasts of his adeptness in attracting the attention of reporters: "Sometimes I just motion to them."

Bloggers are not giving up on the Times scandal involving executive editor Howell Raines. "Edward Boyd," the pseudonym for a blogger contributing to zonitics.com, demanded to know if Mr. Raines's severance package was on par with those earned by other Times executives. The Times refused to comment, but Boyd's post was quickly picked up by the Reynolds/Sullivan/Kaus big three of bloggers. Mr. Kaus also noted that Times publisher Pinch Sulzberger made $2.5 million last year, plus $3.9 million in stock options, for leading his newspaper into disaster, and wondered whether journalists who complain about the "escalation of CEO pay packages" will attack publishers' pay.

Liberal bloggers, meanwhile, have bounced back from their shock that the war in Iraq went so well: They are seizing every problem in post-war Iraq to say, "I told you so." Eric Alterman (altercation at msnbc.com) began his June 16 post, "Iraq is ungovernable," and wrote of the coalition, "oh yeah, they're liars." Bloggers and reporters are playing up the coalition's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but French (yet conservative) blogger Dissident Frogman offered a taste of history. "80 years later, there are still passersby who regularly-and totally unexpectedly-step on unexploded WWI shells in the north-east of France. We're talking about a rather small area, rather populated and cultivated by men over 80 years. And shells that just fell there. Not hidden. And not found either." The

dissidentfrogman.com is in both French and English.

Many bloggers are still jumping on the French, who have their own military troubles to keep them occupied. Under an "IT'S A QUAGMIRE!" headline, instapundit.com provided information on the UN and European Union peacekeeping mission in northeastern Congo. After years of war in the Ituri region, including the recent slaughter of two Catholic priests, a 1,400-member French-led team arrived in the city of Bunia, greeted by mobs of armed tribesmen jeering at them. With a mandate that does not include the use of force, the team has been unable to leave the city to quell violence in outlying regions. One villager was quoted as saying, "The white men will run, we have the city." Mr. Reynolds's take? "That's a polite mistranslation. He was actually saying 'the French will run.'"

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