Monday, May 24, 2004
By Steven Taylor

The following was in Sunday’s Mobile Register, but wasn’t posted to their web site until this morning:

Technology changing the way we process information
Monday, May 24, 2004
Special to the Register

The photos of the abuses in Abu Ghraib and the gruesome videotaped beheading of Nick Berg illustrate the revolution in information dissemination that digital technology and the Internet have brought to the world.

This revolution is both good and bad. The positive element is that there is practically no way for report ers and editors to filter the information that the public receives. But the negative aspect is the same: Information is now disseminated without the virtue of fact-checking or the establishment of context.

This can often lead to sloppy and erroneous reporting, such as several months back when the Drudge Report noted allegations that Sen. John Kerry had had an affair with an intern — a story that spread like wildfire but was ultimately proven to be false. (On the other hand, Drudge broke the story on President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky when mainstream journalists sat on the story.)

Clearly, reporting is going through a period of substantial change. And this brings us to Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg.

There were stories related to possible prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year. And the fact that the military was investigating the events was known earlier this year. What, then, made it the scandal that it became?

Photographs — specifically, digi tal photographs, which are easy to take and easy to distribute. No need to have film, no limit to 36 exposures per roll, and no need to have the film developed.

If these guards had had to find the “Baghdad FastFoto” to get their pornographic snapshots developed, would we have seen them? Would they even have been taken?

The proliferation of digital photography means that there will be little that happens in the future that we won’t see. And seeing, as we all know, is believing. No pictures, no story.

But one photo can lead to nightly television coverage. And digital photos are far easier to leak than traditional film-based ones.

However, as significant as the digital photos of Abu Ghraib are, the story of Nick Berg’s execution — and the distribution of the video of that event in digital format via an al-Qaida-linked Web site — tells the most interesting tale of change.

The video of the gruesome beheading was deemed, understandably, to be too graphic to show on television (although some radio hosts, such as Sean Hannity, have played the unedited audio over the air).

The confluence of the lack of desire of the networks and cable channels to show the video and the ability to access the clip on the Internet demonstrates how news distribution has changed.

To get a true feel for the significance of this situation, a brief foray into the world of Weblogs, also known as “blogs,” is necessary. Basically, blogs are personal online journals that can also function as daily sources of commentary and analysis for avid news junkies.

Indeed, the most popular blogs are political ones.

There are a small percentage of folks who use blogs as their way of obtaining news, or, at least, obtaining commentary and Web links to news stories.

I maintain my own blog, PoliBlog ( I have been at it for a little over a year and have built a respectable audience that results in something on the order of 700 to 1,000 “hits” (visits) a day. On May 13, I had thousands of visitors all as a result of people looking for information regarding the Nick Berg execution.

Several other bloggers, who had chosen to host actual digital copies of the video on their sites, had tens of thousands of hits when normally they would have traffic in the 1,000-a-day range.

The ability, in the digital era, to hold copies of such information on a personal Web site, and the ability of search engines such as Google to find that information, is a radical change in the way that news is being spread.

All of this traffic was generated by the fact that there were a large number of people essentially going around the mainstream media to access information that the “bigs” weren’t providing.

Clearly, some (perhaps a great deal; it is impossible to know) of this traffic was generated by individuals who simply wanted to partake in the gore of the event, much like people who slow down to see the results of a traffic accident.

However, it was clear from a variety of commentators and comments from readers that many simply wanted to know for themselves what had happened and, given the lack of availability of the desired information in the mainstream press, were using the Internet as a means of acquiring that information.

I will note that one significant newspaper, the Dallas Morning News, as part of an editorial, did print an edited photo of one the murderers holding Berg’s decapitated head. The paper noted that “this is the enemy” and that the “vile image shows the world why we fight.”

I would note that I read the editorial and saw the image via the Dallas Morning News’ Web site, and I found the story via the blog InstaPundit.

The significance of this is clear: In the Internet era, even if the mainstream press decides not to display a certain piece of information, the lid is off.

Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments/Trackbacks (4)|
The views expressed in the comments are the sole responsibility of the person leaving those comments. They do not reflect the opinion of the author of PoliBlog, nor have they been vetted by the author.

4 Responses to “PoliColumn”

  1. Adam Says:

    Not that it matters terribly, but Kerry’s alleged affair with an intern was not proven false. Rather, it was never verified.

  2. Steven Says:

    I think it is fair to say that that particular allegation was proven to be false.

  3. Referee Says:


    Would it also be fair to say that particular allegation was proven to be true?

    If John Kerry wasn’t Ted Kennedy’s gay lover, I might believe the mistress story. Unless of course, the ongoing investigation proves that she was a he.

  4. Backcountry Conservative Says:

    Steven Taylor’s column in last Sunday’s Mobile Register discusses blogging and the news media, including mentions of the Nick Berg video. His column originally mentioned this blog, but the paper’s editors left that part out….

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