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Network TV bigwigs rail against bloggers

News anchors slam online attacks against Dan Rather after his "60 Minutes" report about President Bush's National Guard service.

Network news anchors are taking off their gloves as they go toe to toe with Internet bloggers.

At a panel discussion sponsored by The New Yorker magazine on Saturday in New York, NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and ABC anchor Peter Jennings lashed out at Internet bloggers in defense of CBS anchor Dan Rather, according to reports from the Associated Press and Reuters. Brokaw compared the bloggers' attacks on Rather's "60 Minutes II" report about President Bush's National Guard service to a "political jihad."

"What I think is highly inappropriate is what's going on across the Internet, a kind of political jihad," Brokaw said during a panel on which he appeared with Rather and Jennings. "It is certainly an attempt to demonize CBS News, and it goes well beyond any factual information a lot of them has, the kind of demagoguery that is unleashed out there."

Brokaw and Jennings both acknowledged that a mistake had been made in a "60 Minutes II" report questioning Bush's National Guard service, but the network news anchors also offered their support to their fellow news colleague. Neither held back their contempt for Internet bloggers, who have kept the scandal alive with thousands of posts criticizing Rather and CBS.

"I don't think you ever judge a man by only one event in his career," Jennings said. "I think the attack on CBS is an attack on mainstream media, an attack on the so-called 'liberal media.' To me, when you make a mistake, you apologize. You go back and review your standards."

Rather declined to comment on the situation, saying he had been asked not to talk about it further by news division executives while an investigation was under way.

Michael Paranzino, founder of Web site BoycottCBS.com, wasted little time responding to Brokaw's statements.

"Tom Brokaw reads the news, but does he understand it?" Paranzino said in a statement. "Jihad is not Americans demanding reforms from an arrogant and biased media. Jihad is Islamists mowing down children for sport, blowing up families at Tel Aviv cafes, and in case he forgot, terrorists sending jet airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon."

He added: "We will not be cowed into silence by Mr. Brokaw's intemperate remarks."

"60 Minutes" aired the "Guard story" on Sept. 8. Within hours, bloggers flooded the Internet with information discrediting the story because it relied on documents that appeared to be fake. At first, CBS and Rather defended the story. But two weeks after the scandal erupted, CBS announced that it had appointed a special investigator to look into how the story was reported, and Rather issued an apology on air.

Blogs, short for Web logs, have grown in popularity over the last couple of years. Bloggers, who don't necessarily need to be professional journalists, often break news before most news agencies. But even when they aren't breaking stories, some offer opinions and their analysis of news.

Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, technology, which lets online publishers automatically send Web content to subscribers, has helped fuel the growth of blogging by giving readers a powerful tool to compile news on the fly from several sources at once.

Blogging has become so popular and such an integral part of how people consume news that both the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer reserved areas in their press boxes for . Campaigns for Bush and presidential challenger John Kerry have posted their own blogs as a way to provide news updates and to hammer out the issues surrounding their platforms.

While some newspapers and TV networks also have launched their own Web logs, many old-guard journalists have criticized the "nonjournalist" blogs. The debate has folded into a broader discussion of how the Internet, which has dramatically changed the way people consume news over the past 10 years, should be used as a journalistic tool.

The venerable Walter Cronkite has been on record several times in the past, expressing his distaste for all things Internet. But at a Society of Professional Journalists gathering in New York last month, he went as far as to call Internet bloggers "scandalmongers," according to reports from the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review.

"I cannot understand how the Internet should have gotten so entirely oblivious to the whole theory of libel and slander," Cronkite said. "How is it possible for these people to get on the air with any allegation they want to make, any statement they want to make, as if it were true, as if they were journalists, which they are clearly not? They are scandalmongers."