Can Bloggers Promote Freedom?

Joshua Livestro argues in his TCS piece, “Trackback to Freedom” that there is a crucial difference between the 1989 revolutions that swept Communist Europe and the current wave of freedom in the Middle East:

[W]hereas in 1989 the eyes of the West were firmly fixed on events in Eastern Europe, the Western media now seem reluctant to get too involved. That could make all the difference. The main reason why the tyrannical old regimes in Eastern Europe couldn’t survive was because of the omnipresence of Western news media. Their cameras not only served as a first line of defense against possible repressive measures, they also helped to draw in more people (partly because of their very presence, partly through the news that they broadcast). These people in turn drew in yet more cameras, until eventually the growing snowball crushed the helpless communist regimes. Opposition leaders proved to be very skillful at using the media to communicate with the demonstrators. They even learned to influence the content of news coverage by stage-managing events, thereby putting yet more pressure on the old regime.

Without some sort of comparative analysis of the number of cameras in each place, I’m a bit skeptical. Certainly, there are sufficient cameras in Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere that those who are interested in getting their message out or receiving the news can do so. His penultimate paragraph, attributing the MSM’s failure to cover the story adequately to their love of dictators and conspiracy to cover up good news that happens on a Republican watch is rather asinine.

His conclusion, though, especially caught my attention:

This neglect on the part of the MSM creates a historic opportunity for the blogosphere. Enterprising bloggers should take their notepads, their webcams and their electronic cameras and head for Beirut and Cairo (the most likely next stop of the Freedom Express). Freedom’s hour is also the bloggers’ challenge. It’s time for them to get out of their studies and into the streets. The unfiltered truth as broadcast by them could help to set hundreds of millions of Arabs free, thereby making the world a safer place for liberty and democracy.

This is interesting but highly implausible. Few bloggers are reporters, let alone possessed of the skills and resources to traipse halfway around the world and cover news stories for months on end. While there are notable exceptions, most bloggers have day jobs. To the extent bloggers are going to cover the story live and bypass the MSM, it’ll be local folks in Beirut, Gaza, and other places where the news is unfolding. Internet cafes are increasingly ubiquitous.

The rest of us can certainly piggyback on the work of professional journalists and scholars, highlighting news that gets less attention than, say, Michael Jackson’s chimp, and draw interesting conclusions. That’s a not insignificant contribution, incidentally, but it’s not the same as heading out to change the world.

Update (1440): Jonah Goldberg warns against “blog triumphalism” and reminds us,

The typical blogger is not some hyper-smart, tenacious lawyer – like the guys at Powerlineblog – poring over the minutiae of a faulty CBS story. Nor is he a crusading consultant/activist/left-winger like the guy who runs the Daily Kos. The average blogger, according to a 2003 survey, is a teenage girl who updates her site a couple times a month with the latest 411 about her prom dress or which Olsen Twin she, like, really likes.

Of course, the typical reporter isn’t a world traveling columnist with the NYT or WaPo like Tom Friedman or Anna Applebaum but rather somebody writing about the Little Miss Porkrind festival outside Little Rock.

Stephen Green concurs.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.