Evangelical Outpost on information flow

Joe Carter has an interesting and characteristically thoughtful post on why the coverage on Rathergate has been non-stop, while few have seen fit to pay attention to Michelle Malkin’s similar attempts to pass off fraudulent history as the truth.

A comparison of these two cases provides an excellent example of how information is disseminated through the various information channels now that the concept of “media” has become more fluid. The rise of blogs has helped open access to media outlets that were previously unavailable and has enabled the coordination between various specialists. It has, as Patrick O’Hannigan writes in The American Spectator, “leveraged the increasing popularity of all things Web to make “asymmetrical warfare” by non-journalists against inaccuracies in Big Media easier than it had been before.”

The creation of new media forms, however, has also produced a new hierarchy that, while allowing a free-flowing mobility, remains sharply distinct. I believe it can be broadly outlined as follows:

Tier 1 – Network and cable news (i.e., CBS, CNN, FOX); newsweeklies (Time, Newsweek); major daily newspapers (The New York Times, Washington Post); prominent columnists (David Brooks, Maureen Dowd)

Tier 2 – Talk radio; Political journals (National Review, The New Republic); Web magazines (Salon, Slate, NRO);

Tier 3 – Cross-over bloggers (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, Kos Zuniga);

Tier 4 – High traffic/high linkage bloggers (Captain Ed, Roger Simon); Internet columnist (World Net Daily, Tech Central Station)

Tier 5 — Bloggers

Tier 6 – Blog commenters, lurkers, posters to forums (Free Republic, Democratic Underground)

Most stories in the media start from T1 and move downward through the various tiers What was unique about the CBS memo story was that the discrepancy was picked up by a T6 source (Free Republic poster “Buckethead”), emailed to a T4 blog (Powerline), jumped to a T2 (Drudge), and was then picked up by the Tier 1 media. The dissemination of information downward from T1 is extremely flat, news can reach all the other tiers simultaneously. In contrast, information that moves upward from the lower tiers must be moved up by a higher tier.

Obviously, I’m a combination of T5 (here) and T4 (WND columnist). And while I think this is a solid partial explanation for the failure of the story to achieve any traction – it’s manifestly true that I don’t have the ability to see this, or any other, myth publicly exploded by myself – there’s also other factors at work too. Prof. Ann Althouse sees it this way:

I don’t think the two cases are comparable, because it isn’t possible to engage with a history book without reading it and knowing the actual material well enough to pick it apart…. I have no idea whose facts are true there though. I’m happy to assume you’re right about the scope of military operations in WWII and what is in Malkin’s book, but I’m just not going to feel ashamed of not knowing such things. It’s broadly assumed that the Japanese internment was wrong, and most people don’t feel they need to reconsider it, so we’re just not bothering to get up to speed on the info.

It’s even harder in the case of alternate history novels, I’m learning. Not to go all O’Reilly on you, but I think both Joe’s and Prof. Althouse’s points are relevant here. The inadvertant novelist would never have gotten away with it to the extent that she has if anyone in the media knew anything about military history; as I’ve said before, journalists know nothing by virtue of their fact-free training, where reading Dan Rather’s book passes for an education. The potential problem with the latter perspective, however, is that it’s not necessarily true that most people still assume the internment was wrong. I’d like to think so too, but an awful lot of people seem to be delighted to be provided with the opportunity to reconsider it. No doubt they’ll be the ones cheering on a sequel.