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The Bloggerstant Reformation

Hugh Hewitt blogs through the political mire.

By 3.9.05

Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World
by Hugh Hewitt
(Nelson Books, 265 pages, $19.99)

YOU'RE A CLERIC IN Sixteenth Century Europe -- Germany, let's say -- and you're at the end of a lifelong calling. You have been dispensing doctrine faithfully, and though never on the papal career track, you will go to your grave defending the Church. There's this heretic Martin Luther out there, turning your cosmos inside-out, and you feel obliged to say something. Like this:

"As a retired mainstream media ('MSM') journalist -- and thus a double-dinosaur -- I don't begrudge these knights of the blog-table their grandiose dreams. But I worked on a school paper when I was a kid and I owned a CB radio when I lived in Texas. And what I saw in the blogosphere on Nov. 2 was more reminiscent of that school paper or a 'Breaker, breaker 19' gabfest on CB than anything approaching journalism."

Oh, sorry. Wrong century. But I did get it right that Eric Engberg, who dispensed that dismissive doctrine, has spent much of his life as a third-tier cleric in High Church Journalism. You'll remember that it was Father Engberg whose on-air dismissal of Steve Forbes's economic proposals ticked off his CBS co-cleric Bernard Goldberg. Goldberg rightly saw that Engberg and Cardinal Rather were selling indulgences to leftwing ideologues. He nailed his theses on the New York Times Best Seller list, an act of defiance which started everybody talking.

Thus begins the meta-narrative, to use the meta-journalists' lingo, that brings us to the Bloggerstant Reformation. It's as good a place to start as any. A priesthood of believers is out there, and they're giving journalism back to the people. Anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection can participate, and that's got the high priests, some of whom might have come up through the Columbia or Medill Seminaries, on an inquisitorial warpath.

A skeptic will note, correctly, that Goldberg did not blog, and is not known as a blogger. He chose moveable type to make his case, leaving behind a life in television journalism -- itself known, a half-century ago, as a reformist movement. Note, too, that Engberg wrote, a week after the Bush election, on CBSNEWS.com, a High Church concession to the Internet. The site provided him a place to write a modified personal journal, not a full-out web log, or "blog," without requiring him to take the plunge. No doubt part of a retirement package.

SPREAD OUT ON MY DESK, alongside the laptop compositional device on which I type, are advance pages of a book to be published about the time you see this printed magazine page. Published by Nelson Books, which typically deals in evangelistic themes, it is titled Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World. Never mind the ontological redundancy of your life being subsumed under everything. I cannot, at this writing, give you the jacket price or number of pages, but, trust me, it will be prominently displayed near the entry of your Barnes & Noble and Borders. The book, yes book, is well worth reading because it is written by the ubiquitous Hugh Hewitt, a lawyer, a longtime friend of the reviewer nonetheless, whose talk show is syndicated nationwide, whose polemics get published in opinion journals everywhere, and who is himself a blogger, and rather famously so.

The Rev. Hewitt -- no, he's not; but he did go to Harvard, which he'll let you know in short order, and he did no doubt stay in a Holiday Inn Express, even better -- has committed this brief history of blogging, this consideration of blogging's ultimate Meaning, this tutorial, to the printed page. It is an invitation from the Next World to those still living on the older shores, at least those who feel they first must read a book about the phenomenon. He does so as a fervent evangelist, urging the flock to put down their books even as they hold the covers open. And, yes, there's the inevitable chapter on the Protestant Reformation, with all the references to Hus, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin.

I have made the comparison several times myself, in speeches and elsewhere, but I simply can't remember if I did so after my last conversation with Hugh. Before, I think. My own activities in journalism of late, having slogged away at it for thirty-something years, have been devoted to giving the dissemination of news back to the people and taking training back from the J-schools. We are breathing, Hugh and I, the same reformist air.

So I hope he'll not mind if I take just a step back, momentarily, not all the way to Engbergland understand, but from the religious leitmotif. Os Guiness, the Anglo-Virginian theologian, writes that all great leaps in ethical progress, in authentic liberation, were summoned by the monotheistic impulse. Does that mean the Blogosphere? Much of this development involves, not so much the affairs of God, man, and state that preoccupy Hugh Hewitt, but personal journaling of the therapeutic and schoolgirl-diarist sort -- and, yes, sexual networking. Are we all about to work out our own salvation in front of God and everybody? Maybe so.

HUGH CONTRIBUTES USEFULLY to the meta-narrative, hitting all the familiar markers: how the bloggers caught on to Jayson Blair's fabrications at the New York Times and then brought down Executive Editor Howell Raines; how, along with the Swift Boaters, the bloggers corrected John Kerry's Vietnam misrepresentations when the mainstream media wouldn't; how Dan Rather went down. Hugh takes all that as Gospel. My old friend, Times columnist David Brooks (I'm blessed to know them both), tells me Raines's departure had little to do with Blogospheric pressure. That may well be true, Raines being impervious to anything real.

Certainly Hugh will have the last laugh over the bloggers' condescending critics. Engberg, for instance, lost it when he noticed the Election Day blogtricity regarding exit polls. Still playing Gotcha! Journalism, he lectured them on how oldtimers in the profession (he hates, just hates, it when Andrew Sullivan explains why his craft is not a profession) know the unreliability of exit polls. What Engberg did not catch was how reports of the Kerry lead -- scary if you were a right-wing blogger, elation if you were a lefty -- corrected themselves instantaneously around the Blogosphere, indeed well before most polling places closed.

If there's misplaced faith in Hugh's book, it's all in credentialism. He loves the idea that experts -- scholars, lawyers like him, people with lots of academic years behind them -- are blogging and setting the media straight. Far better, that, than all us generalist journalists (say that five times fast) writing on stuff about which we know little. It's a refrain of Hugh's. In a previous book of advice for young Christians, he actually told them they were wasting their time if they didn't matriculate at the top universities, such as his beloved Harvard. No, he did. When Bill Buckley famously quipped that he'd rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard, Hugh was, well, preparing to go to Harvard. Hugh needs an anti-credentialist epiphany, and soon.

To be sure, one of the beauties of the Blogosphere is that it welcomes correction faster than the Old Media ever did, and that correction happily comes from people who know things. More beautiful still: How the Blogosphere turns journalism over to Everyman. Like Hugh.

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About the Author

K.E. Grubbs Jr. is director of the National Journalism Center and editor of TheReporter.us