This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," November 24, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
ERIC BURNS, "FOX NEWS WATCH" HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch": As we observe the oldest traditional holidays, we talk about the newest of revolutionary technology: the brave new world of blogs. They helped bring down an anchorman. Although it's still 2007, they're already changing the 2008 presidential race. But how? Answers, analysis and some wild guesses after the headlines.
BURNS: On the "FOX News Watch" panel this week: four experts on blogs, writers of them, readers of them, analysts of them. Well, three experts, and Jim. That would be Jim Pinkerton of Newsday, Rachel Sklar of the Huffington Post, Courtney Friel of FOXNews.com, who reports on blogs for the channel, and Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, which has blogs and Rich reads them. I'm Eric Burns. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.
According to the Web site TechnoRatty, only 111.4 million blogs have been tracked this year, but 120,000 new Web blogs are being created worldwide each day. And the number of blogs doubled from March and April in 2006 to March 2007.
And Rachel, it's a subject that some people don't know about. Those who do know about them think they may be the most important development in journalism in a long time. Let's start at the beginning. A blog or a Web blog is what?
RACHEL SKLAR, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, technically a blog is an online journal of some sort where each — the entries in reverse chronological order and the entries are known as posts. And you post to your blog, and you say whatever you want in it. So a blog can be about what you had for lunch that day. I had soup.
BURNS: Will there be a big audience for people wanting to know what you want for lunch out there?
SKLAR: There are lunch fetishes out there.
RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW: They're scary, people, by the way.
SKLAR: There are sports blogs and gossip blogs and that's what I do at Huffington Post.
BURNS: And do you, Jim, get yourself a blog if you want a blog by doing what?
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: You go to a place, like blogspot.com, and sign up. It's free and easy. Ten, 20 years ago, we talked about the 500 channel universe, cable and so on. What we really got is the 500 million channel universe. In the spirit of the YouTube, everybody gets their own channel now. It's not television, it's the Internet. But with video, it's the same thing. And of course, there is no guarantee that anybody is going to watch. It might be you, a total narcissistic phenomenon like the Time magazine coverage on the mirror of yourself there. It's fun, people do it and some of them have again, you know, gotten an audience.
BURNS: And that's what they want, isn't it? If everybody has a blog, no one will watch because there is an audience. Everybody is a performer. So, the goal here is to get a blog, Courtney, that somehow attracts attention.
COURTNEY FRIEL, FOXNEWS.COM: Successful and want to make money from Google ads. Can you believe there are 1.4 new blogs added every single second? That's the thing, there are so many blogs you can get information out there and there's a lot of hatred and you have to know where to look. When I started getting into this, I was really, really overwhelmed because there was so much information. It seems they all link to each other.
My suggestion, go to Google Reader and find what you like. You can get RSS feeds at that link. When your favorite person that you're reading posts a new blog, it comes up all on one page.
PINKERTON: And Courtney, Eric knows what RSS stands for, but maybe tell us.
FRIEL: The funny thing, I don't know exactly.
FRIEL: I don't know what it is. It's a RSS feed. Nobody — I've asked the question. Nobody knows.
PINKERTON: It's really simple syndication.
BURNS: Really simple syndication.
How do you choose, you've got the choices, Rich. And would you, if you were looking, you had 10 minutes in the day, and thought, gee, I'll spend 10 minutes blogging, would you see if a person who you really admired was a blogger? Would you choose a topic? Would you idly rifle through the pages — old-fashioned terminology, let's say figurative — of all the blogs there?
LOWRY: Sure, there's a real food chain here and there's some top- rated blogs. And all the 1.4 blogs created every second, most of them will never be read at all. And there are a couple of factors that go into this. There are established media figures who are already pretty big political writers who start blogs, who have kind after built in audience, and more pure bloggers, who no one heard of, they're smart lawyers, they're just smart people in general out there, who just follow politics and began posting their own thoughts. And when they're really good and really informative, they get an audience that's as big or bigger than those establishment figures who blog in.
BURNS: How do they initially get people to know that they are there?
PINKERTON: Well, well, I think the key there is branding. I mean, the nothing really in the new media environment is that different than the old. The more things change the more they stay the same. A big name who creates a blog will get an audience. Arianna Huffington started with a big name before she had the Huffington Post. She was a natural magnet. And James Wolcott from Vanity Fair.
SKLAR: You've got to have the posts and driving impetus behind blogs is that, does that passion that leads to you know, the immediate reaction.
PINKERTON: It's name ID. And people, like advertising, like holding up a sign.
SKLAR: Did anybody know who Markos Moulitsas was before he started to post, you know, it's a ritual thing, it's through the generation of good, strong content.
LOWRY: It's really based on merit and clicks. So someone, named Marcos, nobody heard of before starts blogging stuff that I find reprehensible, but others like.
FRIEL: What are you talking about?
LOWRY: And when people like it, they link to it, but when — and then eventually readers get to it. And if they like it, the audience builds. There's meritocracy to this.
BURNS: But initially — I remember reading about Arianna's post in the newspaper before it actually came online. It seems to me that would be the best thing that could happen to you. Before you come online with your blog, you somehow get some publicity, which lets people know that you're going to be there, as opposed to your being there and hoping people are going to find you.
FRIEL: Well, sure, well, no one could come to my blog if I wasn't on TV saying got to CourtneyFriel.com. It helps to have some name recognition and you have to have a spark, something that people are interested in seeing.
PINKERTON: There's a blog phenomena embedded in the larger financial, things like MySpace and Facebook allow people to pull together and networks who they are. You said I started a blog, now come and watch. If they like you, they will.
BURNS: We have to take a break and we will be back with more on blogs, specifically their impacts on political coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like a couple, especially like left-leaning blogs, right-leaning blogs and you find your niche, like the kind of news you want to hear. You can find out people's opinions on the blog. I like it. It's interesting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that like political blogs that people talk about in the news, I think they're influence is grossly overstated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: What I was saying, Rich, that's usually a setup I use for Jim because it gives him a way to jump in and criticize me immediately. So let me se if I do any better with you. The way I would put it is that blogs don't seem to me in and of themselves terribly important these days. But as prodders, as sources for the major networks, the Dan Rather, example, for one. It was a blog or two that pushed the whole Memo-gate thing. Isn't the important thing politically with blogs not what they're doing, but the extent to which they can force bigger media outlets into the fray.
LOWRY: I agree with you. That's a brilliant question. What you wanted to hear, wasn't it?
BURNS: One of the two, but I didn't need both. Thank you.
LOWRY: It's still basically a blog. You look at the surveys and how many people actually read them. It's still kind of an insider elite phenomenon, but much and much less though. The spread, their reach is growing, but have a huge influence on the people who follow things closely both politically and in terms of the media world, and that's why they have an outside influence.
BURNS: Let's stay in the media world. 2008 election, what will the effect of blogs be?
PINKERTON: Let's illustrate the point. In 2006, the blogosphere was largely responsible for getting Joe Lieberman defeated inside the Democratic Party in Connecticut. The left wing bloggers hated him. And then he didn't get the Democratic nomination and won the election. And the limitations of blogs there. And the same is true for 2008. There's no question that the blogs fear — the left wing have it in for Hillary Clinton. They're clobbering here all the time. Now, whether they can derail her in Iowa remains to be seen. I don't think that pursuing what you and Rich said, they'll have an effect in the general election compared to the primary.
PINKERTON: There aren't that many of them. The real engines of political coverage are still, TV, radio and print.
SKLAR: Right, but I think that was Rich's point is that those, the people who are in control of those media are reading influential bloggers. And I think that actually is a great point. It's not so much how many eyeballs you have, but which eyeballs you have. And the blogs aren't a limited and an elite situation anymore, not with the number that are out there and not with the audience that they have.
FRIEL: And these bloggers are holding the media accountable, whether you're News Hounds and hating on FOX News or NewsBusters and picking on the liberal bias out there, or whether you're TMZ. Look what they did with Michael Richards and Mel Gibson. You're making sure everyone stays on their toes and that's what bloggers are good for, I think.
BURNS: And TMZ, as far as I know, is the only blog that has already grown into a television show.
FRIEL: Absolutely. It's a great show, by the way.
SKLAR: And the press is ready.
PINKERTON: And Courtney is quite right. Mark Finkelstein of NewsBusters was the first to get his hands on the pictures of Barack Obama in Iowa at a 4th of July singing the national anthem. And Hillary and Chris Dodd and everybody are putting their hands on their chests like they're supposed to. And Obama is standing there and I think that picture rocketed around the blogosphere and made FOX News and others as well and that will have a big effect, I think, on the future of '08 politics.
LOWRY: I think the media watch dogs outlets and blogs are important in development. You also have to talk about excesses because a lot of the sites, they're throwing spaghetti up against the wall and complaining about everything, everything is a scandal. Everyone is biased one way or the other. And some of it sticks, you know. So David Brock's site, Media Matters, will take down a Don Imus, but for every take down of Don Imus, you have an absurd charge against Rush Limbaugh that doesn't make any sense.
SKLAR: No sense at all. Rush is never over the line.
PINKERTON: And that's right. They went after Bill O'Reilly wanted to do the same for Bill O'Reilly. And they broke their pick on him.
BURNS: Tell me if the blogs had any affect so far on the perception of viewers on the presidential debates.
PINKERTON: I think that the bloggers went to work on Hillary on her laugh, when she — when the announcement a few weeks she was on all the networks and had the delayed reaction laugh. and Jon Stewart picked it up. I saw it on YouTube and all over the place. Again, they're setting up a snarky insider quality that is accessible to anybody because the Internet is so small D democratic.
SKLAR: They're first responders. You've seen blogs spring up at The New York Times and the others and Time has gotten in on the Web. And after all, the debates and they're being live blogged now, could we do the Huffington Post and we were one of few to start and now everybody and their brother has got a live blog.
LOWRY: They're first responders and accelerators because they can amplify trends and sometimes because of that, exaggerates them in a way that doesn't really have any bearing in reality.
BURNS: And another way for them to get attention, there's, you know, Daily Kos and FOX News. Now, I don't know who started picking on whom there, but regardless, many more people know that Web site than did before. And it was Bill O'Reilly, I think, who initially found it full of highly objectionable material, tried to get a sound bite from the sponsoring organization of the Daily Kos convention didn't. Played the subject up and now...
PINKERTON: That is an issue. And let's face it, you have an open posting situation everybody can put a comment on and throw anything they want on there and under some responsibility, that has to be worked out legally and ethically to clean it up. If you don't, it's fixing it.
BURNS: Let me stop this on legally and ethically. Will there come a time — does there have to come a time when there's some kind of regulation of blogs? As you just pointed out with the spaghetti on the wall, some of those strands should not be thrown in the first place.
LOWRY: Right, but I tell you, regulation is just a bad idea and something probably right and left would agree on, that the best solution to posts that are stupid or excessive is other people pointing out that they're stupid and excessive and there are plenty of people to do that.
BURNS: How do you know, Courtney, who to believe?
FRIEL: Oh, there are tons of haters out there.
BURNS: Yeah. That's what I mean.
FRIEL: You don't know who to believe. I think you have to go to the objective places. That's what I try to do. And I've actually turned my attention — because I have ADD at times — to the video bloggers. They take the content from the blogs and make a creative show and bringing out creativity on people on YouTube.
BURNS: As a final comment, it seems to puts an awful lot of responsibility on the people who watch the blogs to make up minds what to believe.
PINKERTON: It does. But I'll' say this, the laws against defamation and slander will not be changed and there will be legal cases here and we'll discover — the more things change, the more they stay the same. The blogs aren't much different than the old day.
SKLAR: It's just a method of publication.
PINKERTON: Just a method of publication.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. Our leftovers from Thursday won't be forever, but we will say we will have more to say about blogs, including the five most influential people behind the top blogs in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTIONER: Can you tell me what a blog is?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A blog? Is it that red thing from the movies back in the days when they used to go underneath the...
UNIDENTIFIED: No, it's online. It's when you have a — like a — you talk about stuff online and you can put your on views and opinions about people or issues on line, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTIONER: Do you blog or anything?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I write a blog on MySpace, what's going on in life and stuff and it's pretty good. Your friends know how you feel and your mood and stuff, pretty good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I write a blog for my company and write about technology today and how we can help all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: I want to read the blog about what's going on in life and stuff. To me, it sounds like the most important subject the blog could handle. Neither one of the gentlemen, Courtney, is among the most influential of bloggers yet. Who, in your view, are?
FRIEL: Well, that's why I'm going to go first because I know you guys are going to talk political, but I'm going to talk entertainment. Hands down, has to be Harvey Levin. He was a lawyer, a legal background and a journalist. And he has — he has the journalistic credibility, knows people in the industry and the courtroom and they're pretty accurate.
BURNS: He's at TMJ, which we mentioned.
FRIEL: TMZ, TMZ.com. And now TMZ TV. I'm a fan. I think he has a lot of power and takedown. Really, celebrities have to watch what they do. If you're on TV at any point — if I was walking down the street, I could possibly get on the show for doing something bad. But I'll be careful.
BURNS: We wish you luck. Jim?
PINKERTON: Well, I think, like the auto industry a hundred years ago, there's thousands, back then, thousands of auto companies. And now there's too many blogs to pick one that's famous. If you do politics, then I think — and you do the left, I think you'd have to say Talking Points Memo is influential on the left and on the right National Review Online. It's the one place the conservatives know they're going to get their daily dose of a wide range of opinions. And I think it has got a real — say NRO to anybody in Washington and they know what you're talking about.
SKLAR: Well, I'm going to have to disagree with Jim. I would say the Huffington Post is the most influential political blogger on the left and we welcome all viewpoints.
BURNS: We, meaning you work for the Huffington Post.
SKLAR: That was made clear at the top of the show. Yes, I work for the Huffington Post. It would be in poor taste to nominate my boss Arianna Huffington, I'll go with Jeff Jarvis from Buzz Machine, who is very much a proponent of freedom of information and has been a big support of that.
LOWRY: Jim, thank you for your kind words online. And I would say he's not...
BURNS: Rachel, are you in disagreement?
LOWRY: He's not a blogger, but I think the king of online media is Matt Drudge. And I think he's more influential among conservatives than liberals, but I think so many people in a political world and the media take their cues from him and you have even the Hillary Clinton campaign now leaking stuff to Matt Drudge.
BURNS: And it's simply a matter of so many people reading him, so many people trusting him.
LOWRY: So many people reading him because they know that's where they're going to get the hot tips first.
BURNS: A lot of which are wrong.
PINKERTON: Hold on. Hold on, he's not, strictly speaking, Drudge is not a blogger; it's a Web site. And the dirty secret of the little media, they all watch it too, but definitely an agenda setter.
BURNS: I have to stop to you say that's all the time we have this week.
Thanks to Courtney Friel, Jim Pinkerton, Rachel Sklar, Rich Lowry. And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching.
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