Livewire: Blogs May Pierce the Fogs of War Sun Dec 8, 3:06 PM ET Add Technology – Reuters Internet Report to My Yahoo!
By Adam Pasick
NEW YORK (Reuters) – CNN owned the story of the first Gulf War (news – web sites) — blogs and the Internet may carry the day if there is a sequel.
Just as the 1991 conflict was the testing ground for 24-hour cable channels like CNN more than 10 years ago, a second conflict there may serve as a trial by fire for the news and commentary sites known as blogs.
Blogs — short for Web logs — are pithy, opinionated collections of links to other news coverage, accompanied by the author’s commentary. Since a blog can be created by anyone with an Internet connection, however, readers should take what is written there with a grain of salt.
A war in Iraq could be a blog watershed. Just as CNN made its reputation with live coverage from Baghdad, blogs may be uniquely suited to help cut through the fog of war by showcasing diverse accounts and opinions.
“The chief role of bloggers, judging by the Afghan war, is to draw together obscure reporting that didn’t make the mainstream, and also to second-guess dumb news analysis, pointing out what people said that was wrong,” said Glenn Reynolds, whose Instapundit blog (http://www.instapundit.com) is one of the most well-established and widely-read.
Blog creators are usually candid about their ideological leanings. But it is ultimately up to readers to decide which blogs are worthy of trust.
“It’s based on their track record more than anything else,” said Reynolds.
Some media experts, however, doubt that blogs will be able to get the access necessary to actually break stories or be at the front line of coverage.
“The military is going to say … you could be anybody — you could be Al Qaeda for all we know — and your promise to abide by our ground rules isn’t worth the virtual paper it’s printed on,” said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. “The bloggers’ role is probably going to be more of what we call the second-day story.”
In some cases, soldiers have created their own blogs to share news with friends and family, although obviously there are restrictions about what information they can disclose.
One blog created by soldiers in Afghanistan (news – web sites), initially located at www.172med.org, had to relocate after being swamped with readers from all over the world. Now located at logwarrior.com (http://www.logwarrior.com), the site tells the story of day-to-day life for the soldiers, including subjects such as their Thanksgiving dinners and shopping expeditions into nearby towns.
The U.S. Army has its own Afghanistan blog (http://www.americasarmy.com/archives/afghanistan_weblog/bomb.p hp), part of its “America’s Army” public relations effort designed to entice potential recruits, which also includes a video game.
The language on the Army blog is dramatic, to say the least: “WAAABOOOOM!!! A flash of light followed by a concussion of air shook the RPG fence in front of me and the safe house windows behind me.”
If there is war in Iraq, don’t expect to see bloggers parachuting into Baghdad — although there is already at least one blogger on the ground there, who publishes his descriptions of daily life in Iraq at Where_Is_Raed? (http://where_is_raed.blogspot.com/).
In criticizing the British dossier of alleged human rights abuses by the Iraqi government released this week, he wrote, “Thank you for your keen interest in the human rights situation in my country, thank you turning a blind eye for thirty years … thank you for not minding the development of chemical weapons by a nut case when you knew he was a nut case.”
War-related information online doesn’t stop with bloggers. GlobalSecurity.org (http://www.globalsecurity.org) offers high-grade pictures of military bases, presidential palaces and other sites of interest inside Iraq, which it says are obtained from commercial imaging satellites.
And for-profit intelligence-gathering companies, including Jane’s (http://www.janes.com) and Stratfor (http://www.stratfor.com), provide detailed military analysis and security briefings, with more details available to subscribers.
Bloggers, in addition to drawing on the vast news resources online, can also get news from readers.
“In early November I was getting e-mail from people on the front (in Afghanistan), and you’ll probably see bloggers getting e-mail” if there is war in Iraq, said Reynolds.
Other bloggers, especially journalists and ex-military personnel with reliable contacts, can break news on their own. Fred Pruitt, who runs Rantburg (http://www.rantburg.com/), a blog devoted to news in the Middle East and Africa, worked for a U.S. intelligence agency according to his bio. “He gets stuff before anyone else,” Reynolds said.
The site reported on Dec. 2 that “Shia militiamen opposed to Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) have begun deploying around strategic towns in the south of Iraq and are disrupting communications and military supply routes, it was claimed yesterday.”
Other sites of note that concentrate on the Middle East include Little Green Footballs (http://www.littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/weblog.php), by Charles Johnson and a blog run by Australian journalist Tim Blair (http://timblair.blogspot.com/).