I watched with some fascination as the sordid story of Mel Gibson’s latest entanglement with police played itself out on the Internet this weekend.
What interesting is not so much what Gibson is alleged to have said and done after being arrested for drunk driving along the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu — though that is a very interesting story — but how the initial coverage of the affair by the mainstream news media quickly was superseded by blog-news media, which uncovered a bigger story, including an anti-Semitic tirade unleashed by Gibson at the time of his arrest and what might have been a coverup by the Malibu Sheriff’s department.
At the time of his arrest, Gibson was said to have issued a torrent of expletives at the attending officers, saying that he "owned Malibu" and that the officer involved in his apprehension would suffer gravely for daring to charge the celebrity with a crime. Back in the day before Internet news and muckraking online news coverage, Gibson probably would have been right. All we would have known was what was published in the initial newswire reports and the carefully redacted coverage in such august publishing organs as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Mel Gibson’s public image, and his resulting brand, would not have suffered.
Now, though, it’s a different world, one that the old-guard news media still doesn’t fully comprehend. It’s not so much that they’re slow — actually, in this instance, the newswire reports of Gibson’s arrest surfaced quite quickly — but that they’re still playing by old rules, allowing the authorities and spinmeisters to filter and control what the public reads rather than giving us the unexpurgated truth. They don’t yet realize that the public, as individual consumers of news, is more in control now that it has ever been, and that news junkies — who, typically, want to get the real story as opposed the "official" story — no longer will be satisfied with partial or self-censored content.
The established order of the news media must do more than just shift its business model increasingly to web-based approach. It also must be more truthful with its readership than it has ever been previously.