Blogs Have Their Day

How three amateur journalists dethroned an icon and turned the mainstream media upside down, all without quitting their day jobs

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    The Hindrocket had no such reservations. He was all systems go and headed for orbit. "I thought 60 Minutes was done for, and I said so," Hinderaker remembers. By 10:30 a.m., Power Line had an arsenal of arguments attacking the memos--typographical, logical, procedural, historical. The three bloggers put up genuine National Guard documents from 1973 so that readers could compare them with the 60 Minutes memos. By 2 p.m., Hinderaker and Johnson had packed it in at the office and headed home to manage the situation. The Drudge Report, the Mondo Cane grandfather of all right-leaning news blogs,linked to their site about midafternoon, sending a torrent of traffic their way and promptly crashing their Web server. By the end of the day, about 500 sites had linked to Power Line. "I think it's fair to say that that post that Scott began is probably the most famous post in the young history of the blogosphere," Hinderaker says proudly.

    Everybody knows the epilogue to this story. The memos are now widely believed to be forgeries. Certainly they were deprived of virtually any political force they might have had. CBS has launched a formal investigation into how the story got on the air in the first place. Rather has announced that he will step down this spring, and although neither CBS nor Rather acknowledges a link between the Power Line incident and the timing of his retirement, it would be hard to completely disentangle the two. (CBS declined to comment for this story or to speculate on when the investigation will reach its conclusion. "Whenever they're done, we'll put it out," said a spokeswoman.) As for Power Line, the site roughly doubled its readership, scoring half a million hits on Election Day. The MSM will never look as high and mighty again, nor will blogs ever look as low and lowly.

    Where will they go from here? It's hard to imagine that bloggers will be content to remain media gadflies, sniping at the giants from below. In fact, it's entirely possible that they will ultimately be assimilated into the mainstream media they now openly despise. They'll start accepting advertising (Power Line already does), they'll go on Leno, they'll lose their outsider cred and their aura of driven-snow purity. The best bloggers will be hired away by the hated MSM, bought off with Op-Ed columns and cable talk shows. And if bloggers do become Big Business, they will lose their free pass and become subject to the same scrutiny that 60 Minutes is under. After all, it's not as if Power Line never makes a mistake. It's just that right now, because Scott Johnson isn't as famous as Dan Rather, the expectations and the stakes aren't very high. That will change.

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