Blogs: The explosion of free speech

Pithy commentary in Business Week on the fall from grace of CNN news head Eason Jordan over his remarks that US troops target journalists in Iraq:

[Jordan] resigned on Feb. 13 after conservative bloggers feasted on a controversial statement he made in late January at the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, about the U.S. military. His allegation – that coalition soldiers in Iraq mistook journalists for enemies and killed them – brought down a storm of criticism on him and his network.

Even as Jordan struggled to clarify his statement and affirm his support for the U.S.-led military in Iraq, conservative bloggers labeled him a traitor. The upshot? One observation uttered by a public figure in Davos’ supposedly closed setting, and within two weeks the guy was toast.

The Business Week article discusses the ‘power of the blogosphere’ as a major influencing force in society, and argues that blogs are merely the latest powerful communication tool, an evolution from past centuries where people used handwritten screeds and whispering campaigns to bring down their enemies.

Unlike anything else before, blogs provide more people with a mass communication vehicle to enable them to publish opinions, link to others and thus build literally irrestible forces of opinion, at a speed that’s almost breath-taking.

But I think the article’s key commentary is this:

[…] With all their clout and reach, bloggers alone can’t bring down their enemies. In the end, it’s up to society’s traditional powers — the corporate boards, politicians, CEOs — to rule on these matters. Do they fire an executive for uttering one foolish sentence, ax a reporter for a wrongheaded story, exile a university president for offensive remarks? If the bloggers appear to be censorious, it’s only because the rest of society plays along.

In truth, blogging represents an explosion of free speech. While blogs certainly empower lynch mobs, they can also lead to long and open conversations, virtual town meetings. These are the greatest antidote to censorship and secrecy. The Jordan case gave birth to loads of such discussions.

Business Week | Don’t Fear the Blog and the Fury

See also: original post about Jordan’s comments, on the World Economic Forum blog last month.