Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bloggers vs. Lieberman vs. the blogs

Well, today’s the big day for Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. Heckuva day for me to return to my blog, but that’s the way things played out. My move to Boston went well, and my month of unemployed relaxation went well, too. I’ve actually found a new job and start next Monday, which ought to pay for essentials like net access. And rent. And food. You know, that kind of stuff. Now although this is my triumphant return, I ought to point out that I’m leaving this afternoon for a few days in Maine and will be back on line maybe Thursday or Friday. After five weeks of not working, I need a vacation!

Over the past month I’ve kept up with the news and kept on top of the major stories. I’ve even gotten on line from time to time, to see how things are being reported on the web. I learned a few things about what I’d been reading on the web all this time, things I apparently missed. Did you know that bloggers have been altering the course of political thought in America, and that they’re also responsible for the current state of the Connecticut primary? Such power in the hands of a handful of net posters I was unaware of, but now I know.

Countless opinion makers (and even some news sources) cite “leftist bloggers” as the only ones who are really driving the Lamont campaign and the challenge to Lieberman. It’s easy to jumble it into a soundbite, which I guess is what editors want to see: “Leftist, anti-war bloggers,” “Radical, anti-war bloggers,” and similar, repetitive catch phrases are plastered all over not only specious media like The Washington Times and Fox News but are also repeated on more respectable outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR. Somewhere someone’s spreading the notion that blogs are driving the Lamont campaign, the news cycle and opinions in general. If these opinion makers were to be believed, you’d think that the innovation of the blog is actually some kind of movement, rather than a venue for opinionated people without editors to spout off without such aggravations as proofreaders, fact checkers and peer review.

The Lieberman campaign has been quick to damn “radical bloggers” as the cause of its woes. Senator Lieberman told NPR last week that he feels that the bloggers are more of a fringe element, and that the majority of Connecticut voters will come through in the end and support him. Lieberman chalked up his flagging popularity to an imagined enemy, rather than swallowing hard and accepting that maybe Ned Lamont’s challenge has been succeeding because Senator Lieberman is out of touch with his constituency. Pointing to the phantom bloggers is easier than self-reflection, and besides, the shopworn “media bias” phantom remains the tired province of the Republicans. And no matter what you might think of Senator Lieberman’s voting record, the fact is that he’s still not a Republican.

One not-so-new criticism of the media is that they’re not imaginative, and the bloggers-as-putsch-makers shows that. Ironically, the media are always looking to show new ideas and new trends, but it resists new ideas and new trends itself. Maybe it’s because those running the media are aging Baby Boomers who still view the world through the prism of the distant 1960s that they’re always so nostalgic for. So many Boomers have reminisced, “We changed the world!” while looking fondly back on their salad days, where a few campus radicals grabbed headlines at protests, swayed and sang with their fists in the air, we-shall-overcoming all the way to the Washington Mall. They can’t see beyond that model, and find themselves figuring that since blogging is a new thing, and since bloggers tend to be topical, it must be a new movement, poised to change the world—and these journalists can get in on the ground floor of reporting on it!

Liberal and leftist bloggers seem to get the most ink (or pixels) when it comes to the media reporting on them, and the press tends to be negative. Further, you’ve got bloggers like Kos who get tagged as “extreme,” “angry,” “leftist,” “liberal,” etc., when they really aren’t, but are getting assigned these labels just because they’re to the political left of Joe Lieberman—you know, like about 75% of Western civilization. Some of it is admiration, I suppose, with aging ‘60s radicals wistfully recalling love-ins and acid trips. But the condemnation also follows the same line of thinking: conservative reactionaries to ‘60s thought still think the way ‘60s radicals did. When the National Review or Sean Hannity rail against “fanatical leftist bloggers,” they’re setting the WABAC Machine for 1970 and signing on to the black-and-white vision of the world that you can only find in organizations like the John Birch Society—or the Youth International Party. What’s the difference between Jerry Rubin and G. Gordon Liddy? One of them had a government job.

These times, they have a-changed. The blog is just another way to join the public discourse, and the media are making it into something bigger than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong—I think that something that allows someone to express an opinion and make it available to the world is a huge thing (whether the world reads it or not.) But the nature of the blog is different from that of journalism. Journalism requires peer review, and established papers, no matter how stale their managing editors might get to be, still insist on some kind of review of the facts. It’s always been that way—but another state of affairs that’s always been is that people talk to each other about their opinions. This is usually in regular conversation, but the blog allows them to enhance that, and converse on line. The equation that there’s no peer review doesn’t change, which makes the blog a more specious source of information—though a rich source of opinion.

Maybe what’s driving the blogophobia that many papers have these days is the fact that blogs offer up opinions that are popular with readers. This could be threatening to them because of all the attacks that have been made on the media over the past couple of decades, accusations that mainstream media are brazenly liberal and out to persecute conservatives. Conservatives have taken the tactic of wielding this accusation and run with it, not only getting people to suspect liberal bias where it’s never been, but to accept that an organization like Fox News is a valid news source. If all the other outlets are mouthpieces of some shadowy liberal conspiracy, goes the reasoning, then what’s wrong with Fox being a conservative mouthpiece? This goes beyond trying to use a second wrong to make a right; this is redefining political discourse as not the clash of opinions, but as the clash of radicals. Jerry Rubin is still with us. He just works for Fox News these days.

Joe Lieberman ought to be ashamed of jumping on the bloggers-as-conspirators bandwagon. He’s damning them the way Richard Nixon tried to marginalize liberals in 1972 by asserting that a “silent majority” would come forth and back him for a second term. Now considering that Nixon won 49 states in that election, maybe he had a point, but there were a lot of factors also in play that led to that (like a weak McGovern campaign and a proven Republican conspiracy against the Democratic Party that went down at the Watergate Hotel that year.) Joe Lieberman might be right, and he just might have a wave of “silent maJoeritarians” come out and guarantee him a fourth term in the Senate. But Joe Lieberman is dead wrong about blogs and bloggers: we’re just disorganized writers who put our opinions out there, leaving you the responsibility for checking our facts for yourselves. But don’t take my word for it: I’m just a blogger.

More on this when I get back from Maine. Until then, Connecticut voters: get out and vote for Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate. This is the first official endorsement of any candidate by True or Better.

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