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FROM THIS EPISODE

Devoid of Pretense

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

The war is as close as the touch of a keyboard.

While fighting rages in the Middle East, bloggers and other citizen chroniclers of the conflict are turning the Internet into a hive of information, opinion, pleas for help and calls for peace.

People caught in the war, especially the Internet-savvy young, have been blogging, posting and e-mailing to express fear of the bombing, to condemn the other side, and to show the horrors of war in pictures that you won't see in your morning paper.

Considerably less restrained than traditional media and usually devoid of any pretense of objectivity, bloggers have become the ubiquitous background noise of any conflict or disaster, a modern-day Tower of Babel.

A 17-year-old named Eugene is writing a blog named IsraelBunker from, he claims, an actual bomb shelter, where he has a laptop and a WiFi connection.

A Reuters news agency story says bloggers hiding in shelters and watching from rooftops are "trading terrifying experiences, bitter barbs and words of sympathy."

"I'm listening to bombs right now, as I write this," someone with the tag Lebanon.profile wrote before fleeing Beirut. "The devastation they have wreaked on us is truly horrendous."

Stephanie Kallab, a 20-year-old student at Johns Hopkins University who was attending a family wedding in Lebanon, was stranded with 16 relatives in Hadath, just south of Beirut, as missiles fell within earshot.

"I hear every single bomb and bullet exchanged," Kallab wrote in a posting on Facebook.com that was widely disseminated. "Every way out of Lebanon has been blocked/bombed, so we are all just stuck here... Please keep me in your prayers."

In the end, it took 10 days for the family to be evacuated by U.S. Marines to Cyprus. The family is now back home, most of them in the Baltimore area.

"It was the most terrifying experience of my life," Kallab said yesterday when I reached her at home. "Every night we had to sleep with the windows open. We couldn't lock the windows because we didn't want the glass raining down on us if we got hit. It's not like we were sleeping, anyway."

Another young American, 25-year-old Lana Asfour, who had been vacationing with relatives in Lebanon, fled Beirut on July 17 in an arduous, 15-hour trek by bus through Syria to Amman, Jordan.

"We were all absolutely terrified and knew that our bus could be attacked at any point as we were going through tunnels and driving on highways, all along the coast," Asfour wrote in a long e-mail to friends. "I thought that I was having a nightmare."

I found her today by phone in Dubai. Asfour said she had composed her lenghty e-mails "to let people know I was OK and to make myself feel better, because when I got to Amman I was still in shock."

On a less personal level, many of the blogs and postings from the Middle East have sought to cover the conflict in a way that, some of the bloggers say, traditional media is unable or unwilling to.

Yesterday, on BloggingBeirut.com, a writer who calls himself Finkployd reported on a "massive oil spill" spreading over 40 percent of the Lebanese coast, the result, he said, of an Israeli air strike on oil tanks south of Beirut.

He goes on to say that "Israel has polluted its own waters and coastline, in this flagrant act of environmental irresponsibility."

Who knows if that's true?

I reached Finkployd by telephone yesterday in Beirut. He's 24 but will not give his real name, because, he said, "It's way too tense for that."

"The problem with the Internet is that there are some very extreme views out there," Finkployd said. "It's not my place to start another extreme blog. There are enough of those."

This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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