People ask me all the time about my thoughts on how blogs have changed the political landscape. One of the things I usually cite is how blogs keep many of the little details from going unreported. And I believe this may eventually lead to more transparency in government. But before "transparency" and "government" can be used in the same sentence without prompting fits of laughter, those little details need to turn into courses of action that actually penalize government officials when they do something wrong. No government official is going to want to move toward transparency unless they are moved in that direction by compelling forces. And I think those compelling forces are motivators of fear.
In other words, no lobbyist should comp meals to an elected official, out of fear that someone in the blogosphere will uncover it, and that the resultant controversy will bubble up to the mainstream press. No major corporation should appear to benefit directly from a war that the administration has failed to adequately justify, being rewarded with fee increases and more work for its incompetence.
I think the big disconnect is that the blogs are indeed reporting on the minute details, these things are bubbling up to the mainstream press, but that's pretty much where many of these things die. The Downing Street Memo pretty much sealed the deal on the war in Iraq being a forgone conclusion, despite the president's insistence otherwise. But where has that gone? We hear mumblings about impeachment that eventually die down, but nothing ever really gets done.
And yet, we've impeached a president for lying about an extramarital affair - something that has almost next to nothing to do with how the country is run. People seem to want to give Bush a free pass on taking us to war under false pretenses. So it's not the uncovering of the facts that's the problem. It's what we do with these facts once they emerge, which tends to be absolutely nothing.
To truly experience the transparency that citizen reporting can bring to government, we need to make all the details actionable. I wish I could say that I knew how to do this, but I can't. Mainly because I don't understand the lack of outrage on the part of the public. It's not that they're not getting the information - this morning I was watching MSNBC and heard them report on at least three stories I first read about on blogs. So the model of MSM reporters tapping into blogs for direction on stories is certainly working. It's just that when the stories do manage to bubble up, the reaction is often a resounding "So what?"
I think if we could find out what factors are contributing to the apparent apathy, we could get the model working the way many expected it to work. Instead, we have elected officials brazenly and flagrantly violating the law, ethical guidelines and more because the chances are that they won't be held accountable.