TCS Daily

Weasel Words

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - February 7, 2003 12:00 AM

Scott Ott, the publisher of blog called ScrappleFace, was recently able to achieve the kind of fame and influence that blogs rarely enjoy. Ott wrote a parody news story in which Donald Rumsfeld apologizes for calling France and Germany the "Axis of Weasels" in the context of mocking France's supposed military fecklessness, Germany's Nazi past, and the two countries' opposition to military action against Iraq.

The phrase stuck and "Axis of Weasels" took off and gained a life of its own. A caller to an MSNBC news program used the phrase to denounce the French and Germans for their stance on Iraq. Both The Economist and the Wall Street Journal's online "Best of the Web" edition featured the phrase prominently. Even former Secretary of State George Shultz made a point of calling the French and Germans the "Axis of Weasels" in a recent media appearance.

Beyond signifying popular disgust with the lack of support given by the French and Germans, the spread of the phrase "Axis of Weasels" demonstrates that the Blogosphere continues to shape news coverage. If there remain any doubters of the Blogosphere's influence over news coverage, the sudden popularity of "Axis of Weasels" should put such doubts to rest.

And lest anyone believe that this is an isolated incident of influence, it bears repeating that bloggers have been affecting coverage of major news stories for some time. If it were not for bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Josh Marshall, the story of Trent Lott's now infamous remarks at the 100th birthday of former Senator Strom Thurmond might never have gotten off the ground. Bloggers like Sullivan have helped focus attention on alleged editorial bias and sloppy reporting at The New York Times. The controversy over former Emory University Professor Michael Bellesiles' book on American gun ownership in history, Arming America, was covered widely in the Blogosphere as well. Blogospheric reproach for Bellesiles' apparent dishonesty was partly responsible for the revocation of Bellesiles's Bancroft Prize, and his resignation from Emory University.

Certainly blogs were not alone in covering these stories, and the stories would never have achieved the kind of attention that they ultimately received were it not for the eventual involvement of Big Media. But the point is that in many recent cases, Big Media has been late to the story, whereas the involvement, coverage, and editorializing of the Blogosphere was immediate and overwhelming, helping set trends in the coverage of many news stories.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Big Media is making greater and greater use of bloggers to supplement its news coverage. In addition to his Instapundit site, Reynolds now writes a blog for MSNBC, as does leftist journalist Eric Alterman. Slate has benefited from the services of Mickey Kaus. And given PBS's recent story on the Blogosphere and bloggers Reynolds, Megan McArdle, Oliver Willis and Anil Dash, it is likely that the lines between Big Media and the Blogosphere will continue to blur-a good thing, since Big Media will then be able to augment its news coverage by making use of the specialized and particular talents of bloggers.

For example, instead of relying on the rudimentary grasp of economics evinced by some Big Media reporters when covering budgetary or tax issues, viewing and online audiences could instead be able to benefit from McArdle's expertise (she received an MBA from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business). Stories with a legal angle could receive expert coverage from law professors Reynolds and Eugene Volokh. And debates over the value and desirability of open source technology would certainly benefit from the observations of open source experts Eric Raymond or Arnold Kling. The list of talented bloggers who can contribute thusly on various issues is long.

Scott Ott is not the first blogger to break into the big time through the expert use of a pithy and catchy phrase. Nor will he be the last, given the fact that bloggers are receiving more and more attention from figures in Big Media. Another blogger will come along to make an impact, and demonstrate anew the vibrancy of the Blogosphere in public discourse-a vibrancy that is swiftly making some blogs indispensable in the ongoing search for news, information - and funny catch phrases.

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