Chgo Trib: Internet Makes Politics ‘Obnoxious’

By: Warner Todd Huston

The dead tree media, the dinosaur media, the Old Media has spoken. It’s officially worse than ever! The Chicago Tribune has pronounced political discourse worse than ever before and it’s all because of that “obnoxious” Internet. So, you folks reading this should know that the Trib blames these rancorous times on you. Of course, what the Trib and its “experts” suffer from is My-Lifeitis, that well known sickness that afflicts those that imagine that today is worse than it’s ever been, that only in their lifetimes have things become so bad. In other words, they are historically illiterate.

Now, before I get into the Trib’s somewhat blinkered analysis of today’s political climate — or as the Tribune prosaically says, the “more polarized political environment” — I have to ask one thing of the Trib: Are you guys just now noticing that the Internet tends to stir the pot? Where have you been the last ten years?

Now, that said, let’s dive into this silly story.

With a headline that could have been spelled D-U-H, we get the Trib’s trenchant analysis labeled as “Political rumors, full of sound and fury, fly fast online.” Duh, right?

The piece goes on to replay some of the recent rumors about Mccain, Palin and Obama (did you know there’s a picture of Sarah Palin in a bikini and holding a gun? NOT! Fooled ya!), tells us that the Internet slams us with an “ocean of specious political muck” and can be found “yapping incessantly on cyberspace.” None of these revelations are very new, to say the least.

The Trib article gives us the oh-so-concerned blather of “experts” such as psychologist Nick DiFonzo, who says he’s not “seen this level” of rumors before. Or the tongue clucking of Julie Germany, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, who imagines that its all “meaner” than ever before.

To tell the truth there is nothing in this report worth bothering with, for the most part. In fact, it’s all nothing new, nothing that we haven’t seen in a dozen other articles where the Old Media is seen trying to understand what has happened to its quiet little lefty controlled world. But, I do say “for the most part” because there is one single paragraph that is most revealing of where this article is coming from and what the Old Media think of the Internet. It reflects what the dead tree media has universally decided as what is “wrong” with the political climate today.

“The reasons are many. A more polarized political environment. Intense economic uncertainty. The fracturing of the information filter formerly provided by a large, vigilant and once more-widely trusted mainstream media.”

There is so much nonsense in this statement that it boggles the mind, but it’s a prevailing sentiment among the sort of people the Trib interviewed as well as in its own venue.

Let’s break it down:

“A more polarized political environment”? Just nonsense. There is nothing “more polarized” about our time. It’s just louder. In fact, we are less passionate about politics as a nation now than we’ve been in the past. Elections were once a time when violence and drunkenness commonly broke out. Further, there is no more partisan fighting in the press now than in the distant past. Really, just the opposite is true; there is less than ever before. In America’s days past the press was far, far more rancorous than now. The press today pretty much lines up behind one side (that would be on the left), but in the past each town had a partisan paper for each side of the debate and words were often quite harsh between them. Rancor was the order of the day and few if anyone worried much if the charges were true, high-minded or even civil.

“Intense economic uncertainty”? Another non-factor. Please, it’s no different than past eras of economic uncertainty in the US. The era of economic ease between 1984 and 2006 was the odd era, in truth. Economic uncertainty is far and away the more common.

And now we get to the REAL cause that the media sees as the culprit…

“The fracturing of the information filter formerly provided by a large, vigilant and once more-widely trusted mainstream media.”

You see, this is what the press thinks is the real culprit though it only seems so to people with no historical perspective. To such people it’s somehow “worse now than ever.” These people suffer from my-lifeitis, imagining that no other time has been as bad. They are blind to human history and our own past. But the fact that the leftist press can no longer control the flow of information like they have since the 1950s makes it seem to them, the historically ignorant, like it’s now worse than ever.

One of the Trib’s experts even seemed to echo this historically blind sentiment. Of course, we don’t know how out of context the article took her comments, granted.

But the Internet and its stepchild, the blogosphere, are helping to ratchet up the vitriol several notches this election cycle, and Germany said older, more traditional media outlets are increasingly buying into the trend.

“Whoever shouts the loudest and whoever has the most partisan things to say these days gets the most attention,” Germany explained.

Far from being worse, though, it is BETTER to have more people that can be heard. It is better that the left-wing press is no longer the guardians of what the people are “allowed” to know. I am glad to see them lose their unnatural and undemocratic power over us all.

Does it mean lots of stuff and nonsense can find a bit more freehand to range about? Yes. Does it mean that we need to redouble our efforts as citizens to learn how to read, learn how to discern veracity, and learn how to do our own research? Absolutely. But it is a good thing to slough off the docility that the blinkered press used to keep us in. Thanks to the Internet, we have a better opportunity than ever to be able to take Ben Franklin’s advice to find a way to “keep our Republic.”

But, even with the din of the Internet turned up to 11 (a Spinal Tap reference, there) this is just an echo of human nature, a nature that was there before the Internet, will be there after the Internet, and the existence of which has nothing whatever to do with that of the Internet.

After all, anyone that has ever read some of the pamphlets and newspapers of our founding era — or those of the English Enlightenment and the era of the Glorious Revolution before that — will know that vitriol and rancor is nothing new.

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