In 1906, pioneering investigative reporter Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, documenting the squalid and filthy condition of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. Now, nearly a century later, another unregulated industry poses a potential health hazard to millions of unsuspecting American news consumers: Internet blogs.
Also known as "weblos" or "ternetbls," these online publications began to appear on computer screens in early 2004, where they were first seen as an efficient way for ordinary citizens to share delicious dessert recipes and adorable pet photos. Instead, Internet blogs are increasingly being used for a darker purpose: to spread unregulated political opinions. Cleverly exploiting a loophole in the First Amendment, Internet blogs have gained many of the protections of legitimate media, such as newspapers and television. They are increasingly gaining influence.
Many are must-reads for political junkies, who openly cruise the unlit, trash-strewn alleyways of the Web, anxiously looking for a punditry "fix." But is that vial of sweet political crack from Dr. Bloggood "stepped on" with dangerous campaign contaminants? In the nation’s hottest Senate race, this past year, the answer was yes.
Oddly, no laws have apparently been broken. Case precedent on political speech as it pertains to blogs does not exist. But where distinguished, real journalists like Dan Rather can have their entire careers broken because some so-called "ethics violations," bloggers are writing in the Wild West of cyberspace. There remains no code of ethics, or even an employer, to enforce any standard.
"Yeeehawww, looky me, I'm the Lone Cyberspace Ranger, riding across the unregulated cyberprairie with my trusty sidekick Proportional Fonto!" I mean, what the f---? [Goshdarnit], experts didn't go to two years of Columbia Journalism School to put up with this kind of [crap] from a bunch of faceless non-experts with modems.
At minimum, the role of blogs in the Daschle-Thune race is a telling harbinger for 2006 and 2008. And if blogs start to crowd out peer-reviewed media, consumers will begin losing access to professional-grade journalism phrases, like "telling harbinger." Worse, some blogs could become new vehicles for the old political dirty tricks.
Like all media, blogs hold the potential for abuse. While there are yet no documented cases of people using blogs to smack their dogs on the nose for soiling the rug, or electrocutions from blogs falling into bathtubs, experts believe it may only be a matter of time.
“People are pretty smart in assuming that if a blog is making a case on one side that it’s partisan,” Jamieson added. “The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan, and this is where the average American is a gullible idiot. They become mesmerized by the intriguing fake neutrality of the blog, confusing it with the genuine neutrality of legitimate news sources, like network television, and then WHAMMO! that's when they get the old bloggo sucker punch.”
“Are blogs analogous to a sole person, or are they a media publication?” said Goldberg, a legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "Whatever the courts decide, it is critical that we consider all those sweet billable hours."
Generally, the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on political advocacy by corporations and unions does not apply to media or individuals. The reasoning has been that media competition insures legitimacy. And, unlike the rugged competition of the traditional media, the vast hypermonopoly of the blog industry offers little in the way of checks or balances.
Defenders of Black point out that unlike the South Dakota blogs, he was not working on behalf of a creepy Republican with a hair helmet. And clearly, absent blog ethical guidelines, what Black did was not that different than many others.
“He is perfectly free to write the blog. You can criticize him for it but he had a perfect Constitutional right to do what he did,” said a hysterical Volokh Conspiracy, who claims to teach "free speech law" at "UCLA" "Law School."
“People are free to say whatever they want to say and not reveal any financial inducements and not reveal in whose pay they are,” Volokh added, shifting nervously in his seat while wiping sweat from his upper lip.
However, some experts believe that Volokh himself may have a conflict of interest. He authors his own blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, which prominently features advertisements for Post-It notes, a product of the 3M Corporation, which has contributed thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns since the 1960 election cycle.
Despite the rear-guard actions of First Amendment extremists like Volokh, many experts -- and the experts' copy editor, and also the experts' girlfriend -- believe the time has come to finally bring regulatory reform to the Blog Trust.
Just as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle spurred government oversight of the food industry in 1906, many experts believe that expert articles like this will spur angry internet consumers to demand government to shine a regulatory light into the dank, filthy recesses of the blog world.
When this will happen is unclear, but one thing is certain: the experts' boss said he thinks the experts might get a Peabody Award out of it.