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It is often said (usually in business seminars)  that the Chinese represent the words "crisis" and "opportunity" with the same Kanji character.

It's also inaccurate.

But there is a deeper truth underlying this linguistic urban legend: new and important things tend to come to prominence on the shoulders of upheaval.

In the early 1990's, at the start of Gulf War I, America was information-hungry beyond what could be satisfied by network newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m. This isn't when CNN was born, but it is when it gained the bulk of its audience and respectability.

These scrappy cable news guys were not just in on the story, they were the story! They had cameras in buildings under siege and reporters hiding in hotel rooms in the middle of the carnage. CNN not only made stars of its reporting team (Where've you gone, Bernie Shaw?), but also military men Norman Schwartzkopf and Colin Powell, who kept us advised as the conflict continued.

CNN shaped and dominated the American media sphere for years afterward. It spun off Headline News for those who needed even more instant gratification and top stories every half-hour. News was becoming big business and America was getting used to getting it whenever it wanted.  That's what Ted Turner had in mind when he started CNN, after all. Unfortunately, profit was destined to quickly outrank the truth in such an organization.

Soon competitor Fox News was born, emulating the structure of CNN, but jazzing it up with better graphics and a much higher patriotism quotient (PQ). (Plus it had people who shouted louder.)

 CNN was rapidly losing conservative viewers to Fox News, so they decided to imitate the imitator. The graphics were snazzed up and jingo levels were goosed to previously unattained heights.

Of course, CNN wasn't alone in this. The touch of Fox News tainted pretty much every source of television news. Telling the people what they want to hear and keeping them afraid to look elsewhere for information is a great financial strategy.

In short, cable news had become corrupt and unreliable.

As Bush I gave way to Clinton, a new player entered the arena: the Internet! This incredibly powerful tool promised to change everything about the way we communicate ... and spread gossip. The infamous Drudge Report came to prominence by breaking the story of a certain stained blue dress which, amplified by cable news and right-wing radio, led to an impeachment.

Jump ahead a few years to the year 2000. The media machine is running full power to please its corporate masters and rake in the dough. As the story of a fixed election unfolds, the nation becomes inundated with double talk and arguments about "hanging chad" and "butterfly ballots."

But the internet has come into its own, and an infinite selection of other news sources is now available to anyone who cares to look. Stories of massive disenfranchisement break online only to dissipate in the fog of cable news. Salon's Table Talk discussion board becomes one of a handful of havens for confused Dems trying to discover the truth about what eventually becomes a bloodless coup.

Less than a year later, 9/11 changes everything. Well, not really. The spineless corporate media becomes even more spineless.

Our illegitimate president, Bush II, imitates his dad and starts a war in Iraq. The arguments presented to the American people are shallow and  fraudulent, but they are repeated so often and so enthusiastically by the shouters at Fox News and elsewhere that many Americans view the invasion as our only hope for survival.

Meanwhile, the Internet has now evolved a new voice: weblogs. What Gulf War I did for CNN, Gulf War II did for blogs. Every detail of war coverage is linked in the Agonist, the surprising p.o.v. from Baghdad is supplied by Where Is Raed, and Bartcop lays out the snark in heaping proportions. Discussion blogs have also gathered on both sides. Little Green Footballs 'n' Eschaton, Free Republic 'n' Daily Kos. And so many more. The weblog explosion is welcomed by some columnists, ridiculed by most.

Another election rolls around, and Dem bloggers are quick to research the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their smear of candidate Kerry. They discover numerous contradictions and ulterior motives, but the cable news crew doesn't bat an eye. Oh, but they're more than happy to amplify reports from a right-wing weblog's investigation of certain fonts on a document used in a CBS story about the President's military history (or lack thereof). The story gains instant credibility and Freepers take credit for toppling the mighty liberal Dan Rather.

Now, with the Propagannon story, we see the Democratic weblog world latch on like a pitbull while the corporate media refuses to even acknowledge that anything is happening. Well, this story may not receive much television coverage, but I am convinced that it won't go away. The weblogs are now the breeding ground for a new journalistic force, born out of crisis.

 I am incredibly impressed with the work of susang and her posse. This is not just a matter of pointing out stories that are already covered somewhere. This is a new thing, a very important thing. Kos has called it "open source journalism". I call it a rebirth of the ideal of the fourth estate, and possibly the salvation of our democratic society.

How many times have we heard the internet referred to as "revolutionary"? Well, folks, this is revolution. This is a reclaiming of information that has been denied us.

This is one hell of an "opportunity."

Originally posted to soundacious on Fri Feb 25, 2005 at 09:53 AM PST.

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