- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The icky peephole video of Erin Andrews is the Internet equivalent of the grocery-store tabloids found wanting in ethical and journalistic boundaries.

The video should be no reflection on the countless bloggers who provide a steady stream of content in a professional manner, although the absence of a gatekeeper is one of the routine indictments dispensed against the blogosphere.

Just as print publications have varying levels of quality, so, too, do Web sites.

And as hard as it is believe, given how ubiquitous the Internet has become in dispensing information to the masses, it remains in its infancy stage. It is still sorting things out. It is still working on its infrastructure and checks and balances.

I confess to being a big consumer of the Internet. I have morphed from the person lugging around three or four daily newspapers to the one lugging around a laptop that has reams of news stories and opinion pieces and links just a click away.

Much of the content may not sing to the ear, as newspaper columnists and feature writers once did and occasionally still do. But sweet-sounding prose is not one of the principal objectives of the Internet. Its principal objective is to push out gobs of content, create traffic and inspire comments.

Andrews, a sideline reporter for ESPN, routinely increases traffic to those Web sites that have a borderline obsession with her. These sites are not concerned with how she does her job. And to be fair to the sites, the job of a sideline reporter is mostly frivolous.

No, these sites are concerned with how she looks, what she wears and whether the occasional subject of her interviews makes an utter fool of himself.

That is fine. That is how one aspect of the game is played on the Internet. All content, no matter how inane, has a platform and niche appeal.

So it almost was inevitable that a creep or creeps eventually would find out the room number of a hotel where Andrews was staying, peer through a tiny hole and then start filming R-rated images of her.

Soon enough, rumors of the five-minute video surfaced on the Internet, without confirmation that the blond woman on the tape was Andrews, before the lawyer representing her huffed and puffed late last week and announced that legal action would be taking place.

Journalistic lines are sometimes crossed in the pursuit of a good story, but in the case of Andrews, the line was obliterated. A disrobed reporter hardly qualifies as a story, except in certain nooks and crannies of the Internet.

We always have had prurient print publications whose existence depended on the base instincts of males.

The difference is that a woman in a smut publication agrees to the photographic spread, while Andrews was given no such opportunity.

That is the Wild West aspect of the Internet that unnerves so many. There is so much more of everything on the Internet. You are one search engine away from whatever it is that moves you, and page after page of it, some of it fictitious.

That is not necessarily good or bad. It just is. Any human-run institution is destined to be imperfect, as trial lawyers discovered long ago on their merry way to the bank. Politicians, too. Politicians make a career out of noting the imperfections in each other and then leave it to an imperfect electorate to peer beyond the caricatures.

The Internet has become the modern-day meeting ground of hardworking town criers, all provoking discourse of modulating virtue, much of it as harmless as two schoolchildren accusing each other of being idiots.

The video of Andrews is no indictment of bloggers, no more than a plagiarist is an indictment of journalists.

The creep or creeps who filmed Andrews should be tracked down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

That would discourage at least one form of Internet excess.

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