The Dish is actually going to take a brief breather this holiday weekend. But one small program note on this day, given the media debates of the last few weeks.
I believe the blogosphere first truly gained traction in America for a good reason. There is something about blogging's freedom from the constraints of conventional journalism that captures an American ideal: civic engagement totally free of anyone else's influence. It is an ideal of a fourth estate hostile to authorities public and private, suspicious of conventional wisdom, and, above all, confident, even when confidence seems absurd, in the power of the word and the argument to make a difference ... in the end. The rise of this type of citizen journalism has, in my view, increasingly exposed some of the laziness and corruption in the professional version - even as there is still a huge amount to treasure and value in the legacy media, and a huge amount of partisan, mendacious claptrap on the blogs.
But what distinguishes the best of the new media is what could still be recaptured by the old: the mischievous spirit of journalism and free, unfettered inquiry. Journalism has gotten too pompous, too affluent, too self-loving, and too entwined with the establishment of both wings of American politics to be what we need it to be.
We need it to be fearless and obnoxious, out of a conviction that more speech, however much vulgarity and nonsense it creates, is always better than less speech. In America, this is a liberal spirit in the grandest sense of that word - but also a conservative one, since retaining that rebelliousness is tending to an ancient American tradition, from the Founders onward.
And so, if this is not too tea-partyish, some words of inspiration and admonition on today of all days:
"The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper," -- Thomas Jefferson to G. K. van Hogendorp, Oct. 13, 1785.
"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." - Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.
"I think an editor should be independent, that is, of personal influence, and not be moved from his opinions on the mere authority of any individual. But, with respect to the general opinion of the political section with which he habitually accords, his duty seems very like that of a member of Congress. Some of these indeed think that independence requires them to follow always their own opinion, without respect for that of others. This has never been my opinion, nor my practice, when I have been of that or any other body. Differing on a particular question from those whom I knew to be of the same political principles with myself, and with whom I generally thought and acted, a consciousness of the fallibility of the human mind, and of my own in particular, with a respect for the accumulated judgment of my friends, has induced me to suspect erroneous impressions in myself, to suppose my own opinion wrong, and to act with them on theirs." --Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1811.
Here at the Dish, we try and we fail at this every day. But we have never for a second doubted the imperative of this complicated, difficult and exhilarating task.
The American imperative.