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"Ladies And Gentlemen ... I've Just Been Handed An Urgent And Horrifying News Story"

If you're anything like most self-respecting news junkies, perhaps you've been spending much of your day separating fact from fiction regarding a certain pending U.S. port deal with Dubai. Noting that this story might have reached a fever pitch earlier this month if it hadn't been overshadowed by a certain hunting accident in Texas, Howard Kurtz today tracks the story from it's first nearly unnoticed appearance on the wires to it's veritable explosion on the editorial pages, blogs and politicians' press releases.

Following the trajectory of a story like this one, you might have started thinking you were witnessing a footnote to a lot of the recent chatter about why the blogosphere could never replace the traditional media. (Of course, that might have been just me, because I tend to read any and every article that includes the word "blog" in it these days.)

At National Review's TKS, Jim Geraghty doesn't place the blame squarely on the blogosphere, but admits that he and his "fellow bloggers "have been snookered" by this story:

The controversy over this port sale have been driven by a great deal of vague, ominous and sloppy language thrown around by lawmakers, the media and bloggers. Had this discussion been marked by a precision and focus on just what was at stake, this would not have turned into the brouhaha it did.
Of course, he doesn't leave that without at least a slight indication that there is a conspiracy of some sort at work: "One almost wonders if the misleading language was deliberate." Nonetheless, Geraghty calls attention to the heaping helping of hyperbole that bloggers so eagerly "ran with" as the controversy began to bubble over:
Little Green Footballs declared it "great, just great" and posters there began comparing it to putting Hamas in charge of airport security or the Medellin drug cartel in charge of the U.S. Border Patrol … Over on Crooks and Liars, there was a lament that "Dubai Company Will Help Run Ports in New York" while the very next post declared, "The so-called 'War On Terror' seems to be about War On People With Middle-Eastern Names." Apparently it is wrong to profile a person based on their name, but it is perfectly okay to veto a company's management of U.S. ports because they're from Dubai.
Geraghty has a point, the confusion that this story has wrought is not to be blamed solely on the hyperbolic nature of bloggers. The press in general has a tendency to reduce most "hot" political issues into a convenient he said/she said debate, offering up their own heaping helping of information about how the political firestorm will play out for either party. Of course, this environment makes it even easier for politicians to position themselves conveniently with soundbites of their own inflammatory statements. As our own Dick Meyer noted today in his effort to debunk the myths that the story has proliferated, the politicians involved in this controversy are responsible for their own demagoguery, which at least in this case, rivals much of the worst that can come from the blogosphere.

More and more, the media we consume is noted by its brevity – which makes stories that are considerably complex even more difficult to tell – and why it becomes so easy for misleading headlines and hyperbole to spread so quickly. Then, of course, the real job of the media (hopefully) becomes correcting those misconceptions that exist. And that reporting process is one that doesn't typically lend itself to speedy, knee-jerk reactions. The Washington Post's John Harris might have summed it up best during an online chat this afternoon that consisted primarily of questions about the port deal: "I am learning a lot about this as we go along -- many of your questions are also mine." As for other readers' more specific inquiries about port security, Harris chose to post their questions without his own commentary "rather than fraudulently pretend that I have become an expert on port security in the past 24 hours."