Since the September 8 episode of "60 Minutes" regarding President Bush's National Guard service, coverage of the story quickly went from the validity of the claim to the claim of validity and finally to the way both are being determined.
Within a matter of a few days, blogs began peeling back the onionskin of the story to uncover what can ostensibly be called "the truth."
This week, the industry is rife with stories about "Rathergate."
But the phenomenon that is infiltrating the culture more than anything else is the blog.
Many of you out there will say, "Of course! I've been talking about the power of the blog for years!" But for the first time, blogs seem to actually be relevant to events in the world that matter to more than just club-footed break-dancers or people who debate whose better, Picard or Kirk.
A number of blogs have gained media attention for taking on the role of fact challenger and fact checker, trying to prove the unreliability of documents aired by CBS' "60 Minutes" that alleged President Bush got preferential treatment during his Texas National Guard service. This is simply one more sign of the growing impact blogs have on media and political culture.
But it is a sign of something else I've talked about before in this space. It speaks to not only the growing unreliability of information in general, but how the virtualization of information could very well lead to a collective disbelief in fact at all.
This affair over the National Guard papers and the roles blogs are playing in it, is a demonstration of facts being impossible to establish because they are no longer rooted in tactile or material existence. When they are, trust in the material of fact itself is subject to doubt borne of a culture that is now fed by an ephemeral and speculative ethos.
Facts are converted into phantasms, leaving reality itself unable to depend on truth. It cannot be confirmed; it is no longer verifiable. Less and less of our knowledge constructs consist of experience because experience itself has been virtualized. Understanding then becomes more and more subject to conjecture which is reliant on conjecture for verification. It is like the old story, based on Hindu myth.
"If we stand on the world, what does the world stand on?" "The world is balanced on the back of four Elephants," replies a teacher. "What do the Elephants rest on?," asks the student. "On the back of a tortoise," the teacher says patiently. "What does the tortoise stand on, then?," asks the student. The teacher thinks for a moment and shrugs his shoulders, "Why, it is tortoises all the way down."
Donald Rumsfeld's use of an ancient logical assertion at the time when doubt that weapons of mass destruction existed, is an articulation of the logos of our current Zeitgeist:
"Absence of proof is not proof of absence."
In a purely theoretical logical construct, this is certainly the case. But at some point, determinations have to be made -- and can be made -- about what reality is. At some point we have to kick the stone and like Samuel Johnson declare, "I refute it thus!"
If we believe we lived in a shared, physical world, we have to at the very least come to some agreement that reality can be determined in order to come to conclusions about what constitutes reality. Without that, there would be no football, baseball, or basketball; there would be no rules for driving. There would be no medicine, engineering, or science of any kind. There would be no rule of law.
And yet, the public has traditionally viewed offline media as a trustworthy source for the facts from which our reality is constructed. Yet, it has now become the most suspect. The Internet, on the other hand, the crowned prince of virtualized artifact, has become the source for reliability and verifiability. Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, "USA Today," and now CBS have all served to undermine the credibility of traditional sources of truth by competing with the Internet, a medium that had been defined in contrast to traditional media because of its inherent immediacy and lack of deliberation. That medium is now being looked to as a keeper of truth.
Or perhaps more accurately, it is a repository of so much information and points of view that the truth must be present in it.