Posts from December 9, 2004

My Iraqi friends

My Iraqi friends

: While I was in Washington yesterday, I got to meet Omar and Mohamed, the blogging brothers behind IraqTheModel.com, and I can’t tell you what a wonderful moment it was. It was magical, even miraculous. For this could never have happened in a world without the internet and citizens’ media.

How in the world, before this, could I ever have become friends with two men on the other side of the world in a war zone where our soldiers are fighting? How could I have learned about their lives in the midst of that battlefield? How could we have made mutual friends — Zeyad, Kerry Dupont, Jim Hake? How could such a group have ended up working together, though thousands of miles apart, on a project to bring this new medium to the rest of the world? (Omar translated the Arabic blogging tool, by the way.)

I stand in awe of all that. But I also stand in awe of these two men. They have tremendous courage doing what they are doing: They grab onto free speech like men dying of thirst who finally come upon the oasis. They use their free speech with a gusto we should all admire and aspire to. They use it improve their nation and their future.

And it does take courage to do what they do. There are terrorists lurking around the corner of every word today. But these brothers keep doing what they are doing. And they come here to share their story with us. They are meeting with reporters and with others.

Among the things they said last night:

“We are trying to bridge the gap between Iraq and the world,” Omar said. “Iraqis are grateful for what Amreica did. Iraqis are grateful for the liberation of Iraq… They feel like they are not alone in their struggle.”

Mohamed said that his countrymen “had lived in the dark for 35 years.” With their blog, he said, they get to “show the world a different story that they cannot see in the media.”

He added: “I am free and I am enjoying my freedom.”

As I said, they grasp freedom with a enthusiasm that can only be admired.

But you shouldn’t think that they are saying all this from high up on a pulpit. They are two very unassuming guys who seem to take everything in stride; I guess that’s the only way to stay sane in a dictatorship and in wars. They’re enjoying America but they don’t seem overwhelmed by it. They don’t act as if they are changing the world, even though they are.

But for them and for me, what was so special last night was simply that we were friends meeting at last. Over an incredible distance and difference in culture and background and language, weblogs let us get to know and like and respect each other. And that is a wonderful thing. But what’s most wonderful is that these are not just my Iraqi friends. They are your Iraqi friends, too.

I’ll be seeing them again in Cambridge this weekend and I’m eager for them to meet their fellow pioneer in citizens’ media, Hossein Derakhshan, and others. We won’t all agree about politics or other views. But we all share a bond — and, no, I don’t mean the bond of blogs. I mean the bond of friendship.

Soldiers as news agents

Soldiers as news agents

: Drudge says an embedded reporter coached the soldiers who met with Rumsfeld yesterday and planted the question about GIs having to dig through dumps to find metal to armor their vehicles. What do we think of that? On the one hand, it’s a reporter using a soldier behind the scenes. On the other hand, judging by the reaction to the question (which sounded enthusiastic), it seems the point is legit. On the other other hand, if the reporter hadn’t coached the soldier would the question have been asked and would the story today be that soldiers gave Rumsfeld hell…..

Wi-fi question

Wi-fi question

: I’m sitting in my hotel room with my neat Apple thingie connected to the hotel network so I can operate wirelessly in the room. And it’s great. Except that frequently, my laptop decides to hook onto one of the other stray wi-fi signals around. I go into the advance properties and take them all off my preferred list. Still happens. Any way, you experts out there, that I can have my laptop (a Viao with XP) lock onto the Apple thingie and not have affairs with other signals?

Harvard: The start

Harvard: The start

: I’m at the evening forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School beginning the three-day confab on the internet and politics at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center. Kathleen Matthews is moderating with Joe Trippi of the Dean campaign and Michael Turk of the Bush campaign.

(It’s like Bloggercon 3.5 here; the room is filled with lots of online friends. Hoder is in the U.S. at last! Scott Heiferman is next to me. Jay Rosen’s over there. Dr. Weinberger is ahead. Stowe Boyd and Chris Lydon are nearby. And on and on.)

Kathleen asks people to speak in “blogspeak,” in TV sound bites. She hasn’t read Rosen!

Kathleen says we’ll ask whether the net will be able to beat Karl Rove.

After the usual obvious introductions (the internet is the most important development since the printing press…) Trippi says the real question about the campaign was whether people would get out from behind the screen and meet people. And they did. “It’s about Americans having faith in strangers again… There’s a community of trust that builds on the internet.” Yes, trust is the organizing principle of the internet; trust is the value is builds.

Joe says they started with 432 people wanted to meet up from all around the country and ended up with 192,000 people meeting up. Scott, Mr. Meetup, nods next to me. An idea that came from the Meetup was adding $.01 to the end of every contribution so they’d know it came from Meetupers.

When the campaign took on ideas from the people “they knew they’d had an impact on the campaign.” Yes, that’s another key factor in the internet: impact.

Kathleen asks, wasn’t the Dean campaign anarchy? No (I believe), that assumes there was control of everything from the people. There were contributions, but not control.

Michael says no kind of candidate is necessarily advantaged on the internet but he adds that there were fun viral things, like cartoons, that his campaign couldn’t do because it wouldn’t have been dignified for a sitting President.

Joe says transparency brought perils: They put up lists of names of undecided voters online for their supporters to write letters but the Kerry and Clark campaign quickly found those lists and downloaded them to do likewise.

Kathleen asks why the Dean organization failed in Iowa. Joe blames it on the governor dissing caucuses (that lost them 10 poll points) and telling a 79-year-old man to sit down so he could speak (there went another 5 points). Joe confesses his own mistake saying on Crossfire, when asked whether Carter will endorse, “come on down to Plains, Ga., to find out,” and he doesn’t know why he says it because he knew Carter would not endorse them. He says the “campaign made errors that just devoured our support.”

Kathleen says the man who created commercials for the Bush campaign was at Harvard and said his job will be eliminated soon, replaced by the internet. Michael argues that video will still be compelling to get campaign messages across; the delivery may simply shift.

Asked what will happen in four years, Trippi looks back at the things McCain could not do four years before (Meetup, localizers, blogs) and so you can assume that the changes four years from now can’t be guessed.

Joe says they decided to run a 24-hour campaign TV network online before they knew what would fill it and the people started supplying video. Citizens’ media: Give the people the tools and the distribution and they will use them (I smell another law of media coming on….)

Michael wonders what is going to happen to the journalism covering campaigns with blogs and RSS: “You sort of create your own media.”

Joe adds: “Email will be supplanted by RSS feeds as the choice for the average consumer or voter to take information from the campaigns…. I think the blogosphere is here to stay…. The problem is that the press keeps looking at the blogs that get huge traffic.” Amen. It’s the tail, it’s the tail. Calling Dr. Shirky.

Kathleen mentions Rathergate and asks what will happen to the credibility of blogs vs. media. Michael says, “I think you’re going to see a lot more stories like that…. The depth of experience you see represented in those blogs is just amazing.”

Kathleen asks about the danger of spreading misinformation and it not getting corrected for days. Nope, online it takes only minutes. It took bloggers 18.5 minutes to correct Rather; it took Rather 12 days to correct Rather (sort of). “The average blogger gets called on it immediately.”

I ask about the impact of all this at a local level. Joe says there are a bunch of 22 year-olds in these campaigns who will be in Congress in eight years. “The net got them involved when they woulodn’t have gotten involved otherwise.” He says he’s seeing local campaigns realizing that they can get people involved in campaigns again, “which is important for democxracy.”

“My fantasy of President Kerry [beat for laughter] is of a man who actually sent his health care paln to the people online… ‘I’m sending it to you before I send it to the Hill… I want you to talk about it… It’s up to you to stop the lobbyists….’ I think you’re doing to see this have an effect on governance and you’ll see that have an effect on the local elevel before you see it at te national level.”

Michael adds that people have been questioning the ongoing role of parties, what with campaign finance reform. “A lot of the tools that we built on the presidential site were very expensive tools and were very much out of reach… One of the things the parties can do is build an infrastructure for their candidates.” Right idea.

A student asks a question about media and Kathleen says “in any given newsroom now, people are reading blogs.” She says they have an impact on news.

Joe argues that during the war, embedded reporters gave us “one flavor” of coverage and blogs were the alternative. And he says that the beauty of the exit polls being blogged is that TV is in the eyeball business but those eyeballs were at Wonkette. He says they can’t do exit polls anymore and leak them to the campaigns. “Karl Rove will call Drudge and I’ll call Wonkette,” he says.

Trippi says “the one thing most Americans agree on is that they don’t like Washington… And the Democratic party has become identified as the Washington party.”

“We have to reform the party from the ground up… aw, I don’t want to get on my soapbox,” Joe says.

Trippi says that the Democrats “should not have some big name as the party chair.” I guess he’s not endorsing Dean. Sounds like news to me.

Michael asks Joe about Wolfson’s suggestion that the party members elect the chairman online. Trippi says he’s not sure that’s the right way but it would be better than the way it is going to be decided.

Trippi soundbite: “If you think about the internet as the information age, it’s a mistake. It’s the age of empowerment.” Trippi’s law.

He tells political loaves-and-fishes stories about expecting hundreds of people at an event and getting thousands because a few of those people told more people. A lot of them did not have internet access (an answer to the PC digital divide question).

Joe punctures the youth myth of the Dean campaign. Scott Heiferman reported that the average age of Dean Meetup people was 47.

Jay Rosen gets up to talk about the different narrative — not horseraces of winners and losers but forces of control vs. decontrol, a war in the party. He says there are all these people in parties who control message, money, news. “If the internet is really going to decontrol politics and messages, then what happens to this class?” Michael says the media story about Bush was that the campaign was all about control but he says that was not the feeling internally. He says there are people who don’t want to be part of a communal structure but want to be involved. Scott, next to me, says, “That’s so sad…. Isolation leads to distrust.”

Joe: “There’s a reason the country’s so divided. And that’s because the consulting class of both parties are so good at one thing… getting 50.1…. Both consulting classes have gotten exceptionally good at getting at that 50.1 percent number, not 80…” He says that before this era, if you wanted to go outside the party structure and control, there was nowhere to go. Now there is. He says that one party, probably the Democrats, will go the way of the Whigs.

: UPDATE: Props to Kathleen Matthews for her moderation of the event. I was particularly impressed because it was only this summer at the Aspen Institute when she said she didn’t really know blogs yet. Well, she certainly has done her reporting in the meantime and knows what all this means.

Heh

Heh

: King Prig Brent Bozell is acting like the trapped weasel he is.

Mediawatch: Help, please

Mediawatch: Help, please

: Monday at 8:30am, I’m to appear on Air America for what is supposed to become a weekly mediawatch segment, talking about the stories that got too little and too much coverage (and, yes, you know me, I won’t be following party lines; I’ll draw my own).

I want your help: Tell me here what stories you think got too little coverage and too much (Scott’s trial is already Hall of Fame in that category). And please do leave links to those stories. Thanks, partners.

The world changes in a click

The world changes in a click

: I saw the world change last night.

Spirit of America showed its new Arabic-language blogging tool at a reception in Washington.

soalogo.gifI have been hoping, dreaming, cajoling, and begging for this for more than a year, since I first met Hossein Derakhshan online and saw the blogging revolution he started in Iran and since I met, also online, brave Iraqi bloggers Zeyad and then Omar and Mohamed and others and read the stories of their true lives they brought to the world.

I believed that a tool of citizens’ media in the languages of the citizens would free them to tell their stories to each other and the world and dethrone the tyrants who have tried to silence them. Now it begins.

Spirit of America — Jim Hake, Kerry Dupont, Janice Abrahams, and some brave people in Iraq (more on them later) — made it happen. This weekend at Rebecca MacKinnon’s international blogging confab at Harvard, they’ll unveil this tool, but I got to see it tonight.

And though I could not, of course, understand a single word, a single letter on the pages, I saw pixels that looked as beautiful to me as the graceful, courageous, ancient script on the Declaration of Independence.

With this tool, citizens throughout the Middle East will be able to declare their independence. They will be able to build bridges to fellow citizens in other parts of the world — just as the Iraqi and Iranian bloggers have been able to do (allowing you and me to meet and make friends in a way that never could have happened without this). They will be able to tell the truth in ways that media cannot and their leaders will not.

Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz came to tonight’s reception, along with some members of Congress. I thanked Wolfowitz for reading blogs from Iraq and quoting them in columns and drawing attention to their messages in the halls of power. Then I asked him whether they are making a difference. “Yes, but not as much as they deserve to,” he said.

He told of reading a blog that reported on religous organizations that were really just fronts for Saddam and how he did not see this same coming from U.S. intelligence for too long.

Later, I said that the same is true in media. I told him the story of the antiterrorism demonstrations that Zeyad, Omar, and Mohamed covered that The New York Times did not cover.

The priesthoods of information are being upset, I said. We agreed that this is a good thing.

Secretary Wolfowitz said that citizens’ blogs in Iraq are helping. “Things that every Iraqi knows, Americans have to learn for the first time through the barriers of the Green Zone,” he said. He said that not only has he quoted blogs and learned intelligence from them, but he “got a lot of mileage in Congress” out of blogs stories of religious women’s objections to efforts to impose religous law in Iraq a few months ago. He is grateful for what the bloggers are telling us and he is grateful for their courage.

And, by the way, Wolfowitz himself reads blogs, he and his staff members made clear. He regularly sends them links to what he has learned online. (And, by the way, I enjoyed meeting him.)

When I asked that question about blogs, I mentioned the blogs in Iran and Rep. Darrell Issa of California was amazed that there were blogs there. I told him the story of Hoder and the blogging revolution and he remained amazed. “I missed that briefing,” he said. No, Congressman, you just got the briefing, I told him.

They see how these tools will change the world. But you already had that briefing, didn’t you?

All of this is not just a plug for contributing to this cause and helping bring the Arabic blogging tool to Arabic lands. But it is also a plug. So please give to the cause here. Help some brave people change the world.

: UPDATE: Judith rounds up other reports here.

Speak for yourself

Speak for yourself

: Ross Mayfield says bloggers are pulling punches — and then he pulls punches by not naming names. I don’t see it. And I certainly don’t feel as if I pull punches here (hell, just look at the people I piss off).