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LAist Rants: Comments, Please!

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Extremist "blogs" are refusing to take readers' comments, and that makes linking to them dangerous.

20th Century mass communication had one drawback as far as the principles of democracy were concerned: It was asymmetrical. A small group of people spoke, and everyone else listened, unable to offer their feedback in any organized or useful way. This is why radio and television have always been such powerful propaganda tools for authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

The internet was supposed to address this problem. The decentralization of nodes, the leveling of the playing field, were touted by many as the elixir that would miraculously revitalize our decrepit plutocracy. But in much the same way that energy barons have convinced unemployed Southerners that the high-born New Englander in the White House is one of their own, by manipulating not specifically public perception but rather media's reportage of that perception, they've figured out how to co-opt the internet, too. And so the heady days of the blogosphere's infancy as journalism's great white hope have given way to a great big whitewash and a new form of media manipulation: That which looks like a blog, but is in effect an asymmetrical propaganda tool.

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Long ago, ground rules were set down as to what constituted journalism. That these principles have been completely shredded is a mark of shame on every member of the press corps today. But though blogs advance into the turbulent vacuum left by thousands of yellow journalists beating their hasty retreats, no one, yet, has stepped forth to propose a set of rules for what constitutes a legitimate blog.

First of all, we've got to figure out what an illegitimate blog would look like. The difference between propaganda and journalism is not that propaganda takes a subjective viewpoint. Journalism may very well do the same. It's that propaganda instills, through trickery, the belief in the viewer that his disagreement with that viewpoint places him or her in the extreme minority. Thus, the pernicious characteristic of propaganda has less to do with what is being said than with how it's said. Propaganda is always designed to ridicule or marginalize those who disagree with its views.

As such, the notions and means involved in creating this kind of material are anathema in themselves to any reasonable centrist. Only extremists refuse to compromise. The rest of us, not fully comprehending the extremity of the viewpoints represented behind our daily stream of cable news propaganda, assume that these are still the views of reasonable men, amenable to returning at some point to the mainstream. They are not.

In order to prevent the blogosphere from devolving into thousands of mouthpieces for the Powers that Be, slowly choking and drowning out the independent voices of the very rational people who started this whole movement in the first place, every blogger ought to apply just one standard before creating a trackback link to another blog, something that tells you in an instant whether a site supports journalism or propaganda:

A legitimate blog allows free commentary from its readership. Anything less is dishonest. Comments level the playing field again; this is why the propaganda sites are afraid of them, while the journalistic sites are not. It's the responsibility of every blogger to sort out whether he or she is linking to a site that doesn't allow freedom of expression. If we don't start doing this right away, the flowering again of democracy through decentralized communication will be dead on arrival.