I'm simultaneously appalled and fascinated by the attempt to link Barack Obama to a Madrassa in Indonesia, and the subsequent blame for the smear placed at the feet of Hillary Clinton's campaign. I'm appalled because it's a flagrant attempt to destroy two candidates I favor, and fascinated because it makes me wonder whether the media model for the 2008 race will change significantly enough to allow Obama and Clinton to shake this off. The mass media has always trumpeted scandal and whispered the corrections. This weakness of the mass media model is one of the things that facilitates manufactured smears like this one. The antidote is the rise of grassroots media, but we can't predict how many people will trust online interaction and the hyperaccelerated marketplace of ideas more than they'll trust the talking heads on Fox News.
As much as I'd like to think blogs, social media and online forums will swoop in to save the day, I keep thinking about the folks outside the influence of grassroots media, who prefer passive news sources over active ones. They vote, too. It makes me wonder whether the aggregate of people whose political opinions are influenced by online interaction will reach critical mass in time for the election.
It's easy for someone like me to be bullish on social media influence. I'm in the media business, I spend my working hours sitting in a Manhattan office and I look at social media statistics all the time. It would be easy for me to believe that 2008 is the year.
When I visit other parts of the country outside major metro areas, I tend to find people who don't trust the Internet, or who are happy with passive news and entertainment to the point of cognitive dissonance when I mention blogs or message boards. Will we reach enough of these people? Will we have enough of them trusting the wisdom of crowds and the marketplace of ideas to overcome the old media smear tactics? I hope so, but as usual I'm skeptical. Inertia is a tough thing to fight.