The President Would be Fascinated with the Power of the Blogoshere
It’s a great pleasure to welcome The New Nixon to the blogosphere. I think the thirty-seventh president would have been both fascinated by the power this amorphous nowhere-and-everywhere cybersphere now wields, and appalled (but also sometimes at least a little titillated) by the license it allows and even encourages.
It is entirely fitting that Richard Nixon, old and/or new or anywhere in between, should now be debuting in cyberspace. Although personally he tended to observe a hands-off policy where machinery was concerned, his offices always adopted the latest technology. By the late 1960s, the IBM Selectric II typewriters in every White House office seemed to represent The End of History as far as written communication was concerned; it was impossible to imagine that further invention could possibly improve on the interchangeable pop-in typeballs and the built-in correction ribbons. (Although Rose Mary Woods remained faithful to her IBM Executive model long after the rest of the staff had eagerly joined the Selectric’s ranks.)
Some senior staff members had WACA (White House Communications Agency, which was run by the White House Military Office) telephones in their cars; the mobile handsets were the same size as the desk phones and the support module was the size of a small overnight bag. Some offices had fax machines that were the size of large microwaves (although widespread use of microwaves was still several years in the future). The fax paper, which was slickly coated, came on huge rolls and a lot of cutting and smoothing was involved before the document was ready for reading.
The White House News Summary that Pat Buchanan prepared for the President each morning might even be considered among the forerunners of blogs. Although its content was dictated by the public press and its tone was a world away from wonkette.com, the News Summary provided capsule précises (and I know that doesn’t look right, but I checked and it is the plural of “précis”) of the major news stories and columns, sometimes enlivened by Pat’s insightful and snarky comments (and Pat was a master snarker decades before that now overused word had even raised its head).
I remember how I was first introduced to the idea of a personal laptop computer by John Taylor, when he was RN’s Chief of Staff at 26 Federal Plaza in downtown New York. It was 1987 or ’88 and John had what, at the time, struck me (despite the fact that it was about 2 inches thick and not noticeably light) as an incredibly sleek gunmetal gray Toshiba with a screen that produced right orange text. John had used it, in fact, to write a novel that was about to be published — a thriller called Patterns of Abuse that dealt with important questions involving a president’s duty to maintain national security vis a vis a reporter’s right to publish a story. (I know John will becomingly blush when I use The New Nixon’s inaugural edition to tout his twenty-year-old novel, but it many ways —both in terms of plot and ideas— it was ahead of its time and is worth picking up in 2008.)
For many years I had wanted to write a novel, and I immediately got myself a Toshiba just like John’s, and started looking up publishers’ addresses. Alas, it turned out that I lacked both the discipline to write a novel and the aptitude (and patience) to master the mysteries of a laptop. This proved to be a definitive double whammy and my Great American Novel remains unwritten.
President Nixon would have been intrigued with the roles the blogosphere now plays —goad, gadfly, pacesetter, fact checker, and bs detector being only a few among many others— on the national news scene. Winston Churchill spoke as early as the 1930s about the power of the press and the equally important power of the suppress. And in 1931 Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin famously railed against the unchecked power of some British press proprietors as “power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.” And that situation (where the operative axiom was never to pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel full) remained unchanged until about ten years and one month ago.
Ever since Matt Drudge learned, in January 1998, that Newsweek had spiked Michael Isikoff’s story about Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern and broke the news on his website —www.drudgereport.com— the stranglehold that the conventional media had on what the people knew and when they knew it was forever broken. In fact, the tenth anniversary of crossing that cyberspace Rubicon was recently marked on January 19th. In the fall of 2004, President Nixon would have observed how Dan Rather’s career was summarily and ingloriously ended by the blogosphere’s almost overnight exposures of phony fonts and forged signatures.
Of course, out here in the blogosphere there’s a lot that is frivolous and mean spirited and wrongheaded and downright perverse. But there’s also a lot that is provocative and challenging and informative — and even inspiring. I’m sure that The New Nixon will fall in these latter categories; and I hope that as it develops and progresses we can all shed some light and have some fun.