Bear with me on this one. It may turn out to be one of the strangest posts I ever made in this forum. I am attempting to draw an analogy as we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Clinton scandal involving the 23-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky.
One of most intense debates of World War II is whether the destruction of the Falaise Pocket in France in 1944 provided a brief opportunity for America’s outlier general, George Patton, to drive all the way across Germany to end the war months earlier.
The destruction of the pocket created a sort of perfect storm: the utter but brief disruption of German forces in the West, coupled with the presence of an extraordinarily gifted general willing to violate several precepts of prevailing military doctrine to capitalize on that disruption.
That brings me to Matt Drudge. It seems to me that rapid technological change and disruption in the 1990’s temporarily created huge breaches, not unlike the Falaise Pocket in northern France in World War II, that were quickly filled by a handful of brash innovators, such as Drudge. Yes, things eventually settled to a new status quo, much as they did in WWII. The Germans, for example, regrouped temporarily and fought the Battle of the Bulge.
Even so, for better or worse, the marriage of the Internet and inexpensive desktop computers in the mid-1990’s created a temporary breach that empowered a few innovators to step up and transform the way news was reported.
Incidentally, another somewhat more conventional and establishment figure who emerged in the midst of all of this technological tumult was Andrew Sullivan, a product of an Oxbridge and the Ivy League education who essentially invented political blogging and changed forever the way political pundits interacted with their audiences.
Plenty of people mourn the decline of the MSM (mainstream media) that followed the advent of digital media. When I was a graduate student in telecommunications in the mid-1980’s, the likes of Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith, and Eric Severeid were revered.
A few years earlier an iconic film about the decline of journalistic standards, the Oscar-winning movie Network, was required viewing for communications students at my undergraduate institution.
But were those halcyon times – really? The much-extolled Vital Center, which was a more palatable term for managerial liberalism, was nothing but manufactured consensus by an Establishment that had recently dragged America into and out of a bloody and divisive conflict in Vietnam, one from which we have not yet fully recovered. This and subsequent global economic and geopolitical setbacks sparked a crisis of managerial liberalism that still rages.
The digital revolution and the expansion of bandwidth that followed opened up the information landscape to a host of dissident voices. Yes, it has created as much division as it has opportunity. But all in all, I think that we have benefited immensely from this expanded terrain and the enhanced opportunity for discussion and debate. Our challenge now is to develop new political institutions and media models to accommodate these changes.