BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. Bob Garfield has laryngitis -- really, he does.
BOB GARFIELD: [IN VERY RASPY VOICE] And I'm Bob Garfield. I think I'll just be quiet for a little while.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. As you certainly know by now, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott has relinquished his role as senate majority leader. He was dislodged by a wave of condemnation that followed a comment he made at Strom Thurmond's hundredth birthday party. Thurmond ran for president on a segregationist platform in 1948.
TRENT LOTT: I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. [WHOOPS, WHISTLES FROM AUDIENCE] We're proud of him! [APPLAUSE] And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems all over all these years, either!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:According to New York Post columnist John Podhoretz the credit, or the blame, for the fall of Trent Lott belongs to a group that lives solely in cyberspace -- the bloggers. The term bloggers comes from blog which comes from weblog. Bloggers are innumerable and opinionated and they are all over the web, chatting, arguing, spinning the news and making the news. In fact, Trent Lott's infamous birthday party comment burst into the headlines because of the blogs. John Podhoretz joins me now. Welcome to On the Media.
JOHN PODHORETZ: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it's bloggers that made hay of the Trent Lott story. Do you know on which blog and by whom?
JOHN PODHORETZ:Well the most important figure in this story is probably Josh Marshall who runs a blog called talkingpointsmemo.com. The Lott story broke on a Friday, and over the weekend, Marshall highlighted it; other people saw it there; another blogger named Atrios then ran with it as well. Dug up some very interesting stuff and horrifying stuff about the Mississippi Democratic Party's record that belied Trent Lott's claim that support for Strom Thurmond was largely about defense issues in 1948, and I think most importantly for, for the viability of this story, conservative bloggers led by Andrew Sullivan whose blog is at andrewsullivan.com, by David Frum who has a blog on the National Review web site, and others leapt on the story; demanded Lott's resignation; said that the Republican Party and the conservative movement were at a crucial crossroads -- moral, spiritual and political crossroads -- and had they not gone as passionately and ardently with the story and with the, this moral demand, I'm not sure that it would have had the legs that it had.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Frum and Sullivan are professional journalists; there are lots of amateur blogs. Did amateurs help feed the fire?
JOHN PODHORETZ:Oh, absolutely. I mean Atrios is an amateur. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of these sites. There is a wonderful sort of clearing house - the Readers Digest of the Blog World - is run by a man named Glenn Reynolds, a professor at the University of Tennessee who runs a web site called instapundit.com in which he surveys the things that are said on these and other blogs, and all through that first week, he was saying take a look at this site - take a look at that site - take a look at the other site. What you have in this blog world are individuals who in previous eras, and indeed probably even now, their only real outlet would have been writing letters to the editor or making a phone call to a journalist with a tip, with a piece of information. These people now function as a kind of first, first, first draft -- rough first draft. If, you know, daily newspapers are the first draft of history, these are like rough first drafts of history; they're leaping into the debate with information and passion and enthusiasm in some ways that reporters, professionals, may have lost because they're so used to covering politicians, so used to understanding that politicians speak cant and blather that their ears have been dulled, and I think that's actually part of the story here -- is that the reporters who were at this party for Thurmond didn't quite hear what Lott said.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Do you think that a year or two ago bloggers would have had enough influence to put the senate majority leader's job in jeopardy?
JOHN PODHORETZ:No. I think what we're seeing here is the ripening of an entirely new journalistic form. As is always the case when new media start, it's the people who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort out of passion that makes something viable. And what you have here is people who are doing this not because what they want is to corner a market, but because they want to become part of the national debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John are there any other stories from this year -- big or small -- that were flushed out first on the weblogs.
JOHN PODHORETZ:Interestingly enough, a lot of stories get counter-spun by the weblogs. The New York Times for example, a lot of New York Times's coverage over the summer of the looming war with Iraq was called into very powerful question by bloggers who compelled the Times, I think in some ways, to correct a very misleading story that was done about Henry Kissinger and his opinion about the war, and so there's a lot of that stuff going on in which mainstream journalistic publications are feeling pressure from the kinds of information and knowledge that are being disseminated on these weblogs which are, after all, reachable the same way you can reach a story in the New York Times sometimes just by going to a search engine like Google or something and typing a phrase in. You might get a New York Times story or you might get a story from a blogger.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now one of the bloggers who's spent a lot of time dogging the New York Times is Mickey Kaus. His Kausfiles you can reach from Slate.com. Now he posits the notion that the bloggers were fed the Trent Lott case via e-mail by Sid Blumenthal, a member of the Clinton administration. Kaus says that Blumenthal started the ball rolling in the blogs that ultimately rolled over Trent Lott!
JOHN PODHORETZ:First of all I don't doubt that that's true, and if Sid Blumenthal, of whom I'm not a fan, you know had been handing out false or silly or pointless information, whatever it was, it wouldn't have made an impact. The fact is that people have been feeding journalists forever. It is perfectly legitimate for Sid Blumenthal or anybody to try to get word out about something that he's upset about. That's what "letting a thousand flowers bloom" on the web means. It means you don't have to depend on the New York Times or on the Washington Post or on ABC or on CNN or on Fox News or on NPR to get information out and part of the debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well John thank you very much.
JOHN PODHORETZ: Thanks a lot.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John Podhoretz writes for the New York Post. His story about Trent Lott and the bloggers is called The Internet's First Scalp. [MUSIC]