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Year of the blog

"Year of the blog" Continued...

"Everybody, that is, except for ABC News reporter Ed O'Keefe," Mr. Hewitt writes in Blog. Mr. O'Keefe and an ABC colleague reported the story the following morning. But in news parlance, it had no "legs" and would've died if not for a then-anonymous, leftist blogger named Atrios, who wrote on his site, "I won't mention that the problems Lott is referring to are the Civil and Voting Rights Acts."

The fuse was lit. Liberal blogger Joshua Micah Marshall and libertarian Glenn Reynolds bit into the story, questioning whether Sen. Lott, whose remark seemed a misty longing for the good old days of segregation, was fit to serve as Senate majority leader. Within days, bloggers across the political spectrum began demanding Sen. Lott's resignation-and demanding to know why mainstream journalists were still silent. Bloggers pushed the story until regular reporters finally took up the cause and the Senate majority leader resigned. For the blogosphere, the Lott affair was a defining moment: Bloggers had forced mainstream media to cover a story.

It wouldn't be the last one. In 2003, bloggers' relentless scrutiny of The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal eventually forced the resignation of executive editor Howell Raines and his No. 2 man, Gerald Boyd. The blogosphere brought the most prestigious newspaper in America to its knees.

Then, in 2004, bloggers forced the mainstream media to take seriously the allegations of an upstart 527 group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The Swifties' contention that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had lied about his war wounds and battle exploits boiled over into the mainstream media only after bloggers refused to let the story die. Then Fox News amplified the blogosphere buzz, eventually forcing broadcast networks and establishment print publications to examine the 527's claims. The collective media drubbing amounted to an assault on Mr. Kerry's credibility that may have tipped the election.

The most recent example of blog-driven news was "Rathergate." 60 Minutes 2 on Sept. 8 ran a story bashing President Bush's guard service, basing the piece largely on memos purportedly written in 1973 by his then-superior, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. But hours after the memos were posted on the internet, bloggers Buckhead, PrestoPundit, Powerline-and Hugh Hewitt-debunked them by calling in document experts and questioning the integrity of broadcast icon Dan Rather. CBS first stood by its story, but relentless blogger attacks forced the news veteran into a corner from which he would ultimately issue, on the air, an unapologetic apology.

What bloggers did with the Swift Boat Veterans and the exposure of the Rathergate forgeries arguably played a role in the reelection of President Bush. Liberal blogs helped launch the candidacy of the anti-war candidate Howard Dean-and raise money for him-which pulled John Kerry to the left, which, in turn, may have also helped reelect President Bush. On election night, blogs leaked the result of early exit polls that heralded a Kerry victory, leading to Democrats' euphoria and Republicans' depression until the actual vote count came in. Mr. Hewitt believes that left-wing bloggers were part of a deliberate disinformation campaign, what he calls "black blog ops," which signals the potential of blogs to be misused. But it was also conservative bloggers on election night who warned their readers not to take those early reports seriously.

Mr. Hewitt may well be the world's leading blog-evangelist, having inspired something in the neighborhood of 120 new blogs. (A website, www.hewittinspired.blogspot.com, catalogs them all.) Some are part of a growing sub-wave of evangelical blogs; "Hugh kept bugging me about starting a blog, saying the blogosphere needed evangelical voices," said Mark Roberts, senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Roberts agreed, and learned that blogging at www.markdroberts.com provides a way to extend his ministry and "simply speak as Christians about what's going on in the world. Not on Christian 'issues,' per se, but whether it's a book, or a movie, or a social concern, through blogs we can contribute a perspective that might not otherwise be heard."

For example, after Mr. Roberts attended an advance screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and posted a review on his blog, he entered into a correspondence with some Jewish readers-something that probably would not have happened had his review appeared only in Christian periodicals. Blogging, Mr. Roberts said, helps him avoid insularity, which he sees as an occupational hazard for pastors: "It enables me to interact with a much broader cross-section of people in the world, for me as a pastor to have conversations with people about serious topics, people who are not folk in my own church."

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