Vote.com: Influence, and the Internet is Giving Power Back to the People

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9781580631631: Vote.com: Influence, and the Internet is Giving Power Back to the People
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As the print and broadcast media-commonly referred to as the Fourth Estate-falters and fails, a new social and political force is rising in power. The Fifth Estate, as Morris has dubbed it, is made up of the rapidly growing number of voters who use Internet technology. This army of younger citizens with easy access to information and a direct link to their representatives heralds a new dawning of democracy, putting political power back into the hands of the people.

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Vote.com will undoubtedly make some readers wonder what the heck Bill Clinton ever saw in Dick Morris, the political consultant who was a driving force in the president's "triangulation" towards a more conservative political agenda. At the heart of the book is a bold pronouncement: people are going to start voting on the Internet, Morris declares, and the powers that be are going to have to listen. But Morris's understanding of the Internet is so muddled, and his representation of "voting" so misleading, that the book is difficult to take seriously.

Let's take, for example, his claim that the Internet is eliminating intermediaries. Yes, the Net has made it possible for consumers to do some purchasing directly. But when Morris asserts that "we are increasingly buying our clothing, food, pharmaceuticals, books, compact discs... without ever setting foot in a store," he's only half right. It's true that you're not physically traveling to a store to make these purchases, but online retailers do not always cut out the middle man--they're just different kinds of stores.

Morris's book ignores economic reality in many other key ways. He believes, for example, that "the Internet will do for journalism what free agency has done for baseball players," by which he apparently means that journalists will become rich and powerful and able to set their own agendas. The reasoning is flawed: even with free agency, ballplayers depend upon team owners to hire them to practice their craft, and the salaries are widely divergent. Journalists who try to become one-man online enterprises will find that the success of Matt Drudge is not necessarily a harbinger of the future. (For that matter, Drudge's only real financial success came when he allied himself with big-media conglomerates--and his moment in the sun seems to have vanished along with the clamor for Bill Clinton's impeachment.) Morris similarly believes that all news outlets will become equal online: "Users will find their way to any site to read a story that strikes their interest. The brand name will count for little." While his belief in the willingness of online users to dig relentlessly for information is admirable, it's just as likely that corporate agreements between traditional media outlets and portals like Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo! will ensure that most people see a version of online news that's primarily a "new and improved" version of the same old product. And let's not forget that huge sectors of the populace aren't even on the Internet yet.

There's plenty about Vote.com that's laughable, like Morris's repeated invocation of "the X Generation," but the biggest joke of all may be the very notion of "Internet voting." Boiled down to its essence, the concept is nothing more than self-selecting opinion polls. Expressing one's opinion isn't necessarily the same thing as voting, and the results so far have been mixed. (Remember when a Howard Stern sidekick became the choice of the masses for People's Sexiest Man Alive?) Yet Morris gazes into the future of "direct democracy" with starry eyes: "What small size and intimate geography permitted ancient Athens to accomplish, the Internet will let America and the world accomplish." (Perhaps somebody should point out to Morris that ancient Greece was only a democratic paradise if you were lucky enough to be a citizen; women, slaves, and the working classes didn't have it as well off.) There's also a bunch of material in Vote.com about how Bill Clinton's "unimpeachment" represents the death knell of old media power, which Morris attempts to piggyback onto his proclaimed rise of new Internet power. His political analysis in those chapters is sharper, but it doesn't do much to rescue the book from its most fundamental flaws. --Ron Hogan

About the Author:

Dick Morris, who had a twenty-year relationship with President Bill Clinton, is currently under contract to Fox television as a political commentator and writes a weekly column for the New York Post. He is president of Vote. com, a fully interactive Web site designed to give Internet users a voice on important public issues and other topics.

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9781580631051: Vote.com: How Big-Money Lobbyists and the Media are Losing Their Influence, and the Internet is Giving Power to the People

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