Sunday, June 25, 2006

Write what you know

David Brooks provides a wonderful illustration of this maxim in action. When he writes about what he knows, like in Bobos in Paradise, he’s hysterically funny and accurate. However, when he writes about blogs, blogging, and bloggers, like in today’s Sunday Times (click on that link to get a nice little message about how the NYT expects you to pay for opinion content online. Hah!), it’s obvious he really doesn’t get it:
The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his website, Daily Kos [with what? Propane?], and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin had made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.
Where to begin? The major misunderstanding that Brooks and just about everyone else makes when talking about the progosphere is treating Zúniga like some sort of lefty Karl Rove who’s pulling all these strings and controlling everything. They can’t help but see the progosphere as just another top-down power group with a powerful centralized leadership and a bunch of mindless foot soldiers that do the great leader’s bidding. The whole point of political blogs is that anyone can have an opinion and broadcast it to the world (or rather, to anyone who will read it.) Then people argue about those things and link to those things and agree with those things and from this frothy and sometimes unwholesome brew ideas come, movements emerge, money is raised. Yes, some figures are more influential than others, and Kos is one of those figures. But I promise you, David Brooks, and everyone else that Kos doesn’t have a bunch of whips enforcing Kos orthodoxy throughout the progosphere. (Orange-shirted Kossack thugs have not shown up outside Internal Monologue’s doors, that’s for sure. But maybe I’m not important enough to be worth arm-twisting.)

The vast majority of content on Daily Kos isn’t even Kos himself, but diaries posted and recommended by readers (I’ve done three so far, one of which made the coveted “Recommended List”), reader comments, and “front page” articles posted by a rotating group of bloggers. A great introduction to what DailyKos is really all about can be found here. (It’s a response by diarist goldberry to recent New York Times and Newsweek coverage.)

One fascinating narrative emerging from this media hoopla is that all political blogs are progressive/liberal blogs. This is totally false, of course. (Indeed, until recently, the conservative blogosphere dominated in terms of traffic generated.) If I was a right-wing blogger these days, I’d be pissed that my political opponents are getting all of the MSM ire (ire = attention, and people don’t blog if they don’t want attention. Believe me I’m speaking from personal experience on this.)

It’s understandable that The New Republic, David Brooks, and other doyennes political discourse of are so down on bloggers. We’re encroaching on their sacred territory. If anyone can have an opinion about politics and broadcast it and have it available for anyone to read for free (unlike NYT select), the business model and privileged standing of the established punditocracy are in big trouble. It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s reaction to the Protestant Reformation: “How absurd to think that an individual can have a relationship with God outside of our established hierarchy! How dare they disrespect our privileged priesthood that has exclusive access to infallible truth! The sheer uppity presumption of disagreeing with us is bad enough, but to consider us irrelevant is downright blasphemous!” (OK, this is probably an unfair characterization of the Church’s reaction to the Reformation. And for the record, I think the Catholics had better art, at least for a while.)

I think an analogous thing is happening in progressive politics: there is a movement towards a more bottom-up distribution of power, enabled by blogs and other forms of web activism. Those at the top of the old progressive hierarchy resent the loss of control. My reply to the whiners at the top is this: if you had been doing a better job at winning elections for our side, then maybe we would have been content with confining our blogging to personal exhibitionism and exhaustive commentary on our favorite television shows. But under your watch and benevolent paternal guidance, the Republican party took over the federal government. We’re tired of hoping you’ll take back our country for us. Now we are demanding that you do so. This burst of energy from the blogs is a force to help take this country back from the narrow interests that have hijacked it. Many Democratic politicians get this. If only the pundits and consultants would, too. Get on board, ‘cause this train isn’t waiting.

UPDATE: Atrios has a great critique of this column here. If only he had trackbacks. Sigh.

UPDATE 2: Digby weighs in here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed it with the Catholic/Protestant comparison. The so-called MSM is feeling threatened that anyone dare encroach on their orthodoxy of opinion. It's a bit sad, but also predictable and funny seeing them blow a gasket.


7:29 AM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

I agree that listening to the MSM shriek in terror as their privileges are ripped from their feeble, clutchling talons is making for some great entertainment. I'm glad you like my Catholic/Protestant analogy. I do feel the parallels are apt. It'll be interesting to see what form the "Counter-Reformation" might take.

Thanks for stopping by, JJF. I always appreciate feedback from visitors.

7:55 AM, June 26, 2006  
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12:32 PM, March 24, 2009  

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