Monday, October 24, 2005

Keepers of the Hate

The usual suspects:

Within days of Hinrichs's death, a number of Internet websites were speculating that he had planned to blow himself up inside the stadium -- and that he was a radical Muslim terrorist. Blog headlines screamed, ''Jihad at the University of Oklahoma?" and ''The Oklahoma Suicide Bomber." Bloggers demanded to know why the mainstream media were ignoring the story, and some supplied a ready answer: The liberals in the media were afraid to ''offend the gods of political correctness" -- as syndicated columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin put it -- by calling attention to Islamic terrorism on US soil.

But was there any substance to the story? Apparently not. According to the authorities, there is no indication that Hinrichs was anything more than a depressed, troubled young man.


They're wrong. This is not an issue of ''mainstream media good, blogs bad." I love blogs; I've had one myself for the past month. I think ''citizen journalists" can do a great job complementing the mainstream media, providing much needed outside fact-checking and analysis, and in some cases newsgathering as well. It's not a matter of credentials, either: One of the worst offenders in flogging the ''suicide bomber" story, Malkin, is a professional journalist. And let's face it, it's not as if the professional media have never circulated bogus ''news" or fanned hysteria (look at the Hurricane Katrina coverage).

In the Hinrichs case, however, it seems that the blogs and the mainstream media have brought out the worst in each other, with local TV stations picking up Internet rumors and feeding them back to the Internet.

And, yes, the hysteria has done real harm. The conspiracy theories on the right will still flourish even after the case is closed; meanwhile, many on the left will use this fiasco as an excuse to dismiss legitimate concerns about terrorism as right-wing paranoia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Hinrichs's family has been put through the additional hell of having to publicly defend a dead son and brother against accusations of being a murderous fanatic.

The mainstream media can be arrogant. But the bloggers and their readers are sometimes too willing to accept trafficking in rumor and speculation as a process from which the truth will ultimately emerge through the self-correcting power of debate.

Now there's a subject worthy of debate. By the current rules of the road is Michelle Malkin really a "professional journalist?"