At large in the blogosphere
May 5, 2002 10:31 AM   Subscribe

At large in the blogosphere And yet another analysis of the world of blogging. Does this one, by a decent literary and cultural critic, present blogs and blogging in a better light than many earlier ones? note: NY Times free reg reqd.
posted by Postroad (43 comments total)
Can people now stop saying that Andrew Sullivan and co. are challenging the mainstream or some sort of supposed opinion orthodoxy? He is the mainstream of American opinion journalism. I also wonder if the touting of his site here represents a conflict of interest, given that Sullivan is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine.

The golden quote: "If warblogs are becoming famous, it's because mainstream journalists are mentioning them in their copy or on the Sunday morning talk shows. In the three years since blogs were first noted as a subphenomenon of the dot-com craze, those that echo or bolster the print and television commentariat have acquired what pundits like to call ''policy significance.'''
posted by raysmj at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2002

This piece is actually really quite harsh:
Blogs don't limit your news intake, break stories or promulgate rumor, at least not intentionally. They have an only seemingly more innocent agenda. Blogs express opinion. They're one-person pundit shows, replete with the stridency and looniness usually edited off TV.
Also, Whenever [criticisms of blogging] appear in print, the Blogosphere (the bloggers' term of choice) convulses with narcissistic egocentricity.

There's some truth to all this, but it's yet another judgment of a medium that in fact misses every relevant point about the medium itself and focuses instead on the loudest of its users. In other words, it doesn't really contribute anything.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:27 AM on May 5, 2002

For those too bored by the whole "media coverage of blogs" phenomenon, here's the summary:

"Blogs are personal sites where people link to stuff. I spent a week looking at some blogs. I learned nothing. Blogs may safely be ignored. Now back to your regularly scheduled advertising circular."
posted by rusty at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2002

personally, i'm convulsing in narcissistic egocentricity over the fact that there was an article about blogs that didn't mention any of those damnable a-listers.
posted by msippey at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2002

Actually Borges' Library of Babel was far more than simply a library the size of the universe-it was bigger than the universe at approximately 10 to the 100th power books, whereas estimates are the universe contains 10 to the 40th atoms.
"The volumes of Borges’ library add up in their totality to the sum of every text ever written, and, indeed, every text which could possibly ever be written - and, going well beyond that, also contain every possible combination of letters in every language and, presumably orthographical symbols ... in all languages"
This means a completely accurate autobiography for you is in the library.
posted by quercus at 12:43 PM on May 5, 2002

"Honolulu Weekly" page on blogs.
posted by sheauga at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2002

Goddamned warblogs eating up all the coverage again, grumble grumble.
posted by D at 12:57 PM on May 5, 2002

Do you think that the article only really mentions one site by name -- Andrew Sullivan's, natch -- because that's the only site that the author visited? It certainly reads that way. In fact, it reads as if the only thing the author has read is other articles published in print over the past month or so. Puddle-deep journalism.
posted by riviera at 1:03 PM on May 5, 2002

For a slightly different take on the subject, The US News & World Report article A blog's bark has bite. The author admits that he is in favor of blogs, and presents some ways that they differ from print media.
Bloggers can say anything they want and get their message out with blinding speed. This is unsettling to us lumbering print guys. Six or seven times I had to abandon a column because some upstart blogger beat me to it. Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the most quoted blogger, is surely the fastest gun. His 1,000-word analysis of the State of the Union message appeared 33 minutes after President Bush finished. Sometimes he launches attacks on wayward New York Times columnists around 4 a.m., so blog fans can read his version before they get to the columns.
posted by bragadocchio at 1:08 PM on May 5, 2002

Funny, riviera, I was going to post something similar. The piece is entirely without substance. IMHO, A. Sullivan writes a Web log like George Bush rides in a "limo."

The writer must think that "blogs" are what famous people do in their spare time. In fact, this sentece summed it up as to the research Ms. Shulevitz undertook: "But a week's worth of meandering through the tens of thousands of blogs now on the Web led me to as many left-wing as right-wing ones."
posted by boardman at 1:09 PM on May 5, 2002

Too sillly:

Norah Vincent, defending blogging on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page, went farther and argued that the hostility between the old media and blogs forms part of a larger political war, with the elite liberal media establishment on one side and populist conservative upstarts (often known as warbloggers because of their support for military actions by the United States and Israel) on the other.

First, the old media isn't paying any attention to warbloggers. Why should they? The vast majority of the public doesn't pay attention to warbloggers either.

Second, there is no "elite media establishment". The mainstream media is now owned by a tiny number of corporate conglomerates and that makes them extremely conservative by definition.

Second, most warbloggers aren't doing anything but parroting mainstream pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and many others.

In other words: "supposed elite media establishment" = "populist conservative upstarts".

The main reason that I ignore most warbloggers is that they ape the same propaganda that I can see any time by just turning on the TV news. The fact that most of them have egos the size of Texas doesn't exactly endear them to me to them either.

If some of the critics writting these pieces actually read some more obscure and less political weblogs, they might actually find some interesting stuff. Since critics are notoriously lazy, it's not likely to happen.
posted by mark13 at 1:17 PM on May 5, 2002

Hasn't it been 15 minutes yet?
posted by briank at 1:47 PM on May 5, 2002

Contrary to popular opinion, "conservatism" is not the dominant discourse among the warblogs. But I wouldn't expect anyone from Metafilter, these days, to be able to tell the difference.

As a favor, I will point out that W.T. Quick invented the word "blogosphere", which nobody ever mentions.
posted by dhartung at 3:07 PM on May 5, 2002

Contrary to popular opinion, "conservatism" is not the dominant discourse among the warblogs. But I wouldn't expect anyone from Metafilter, these days, to be able to tell the difference.

Would you care to educate us? Or have our brains been so addled by Chomsky that we are beyond all hope of ever comprehending the nuances of the "dominant discourse"?
posted by jjg at 3:31 PM on May 5, 2002

It sounds like Shulevitz (who has in the past turned in some doozies of flippant no-research State-of-the-Culture pieces) really means something by "blogs" that most of us here don't -- news commentary blogs. Not that I think this article adds an iota to an understanding of those, either. But the article seems slightly less dimwitted if you realize she's really just addressing those blogs which deal with the same territory as mainstream journalism, and nothing else.
posted by BT at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2002

Blogosphere (the bloggers' term of choice)

Was I at the meeting where this was decided? I would've preffered Blogshire or Blogovia myself.

All kidding aside, at least he draws the right comparisons for a change. Blogs don't challenge CNN or the NYT, but they do collectively challenge say Crossfire or your local op-ed fixture.
posted by jonmc at 4:23 PM on May 5, 2002

jonmc: How do they challenge Crossfire or your local op-ed fixture? They say pretty much the same things and, like most local op-eds in the U.S., they're predominantly conservative. Are we talking about simple audience share here? Why then are conservative pundits and the Fox Network, etc., pointing readers toward warblogs?
posted by raysmj at 4:42 PM on May 5, 2002

"Blogs are personal sites where people link to stuff. I spent a week looking at some blogs. I learned nothing. Blogs may safely be ignored. Now back to your regularly scheduled advertising circular."
posted by rusty at 12:00 PM PST on May 5

So rusty what are you doing here? A site where thousands of little bloggers link to stuff for other little bloggers which can probably be safely ignored.
posted by onegoodmove at 4:52 PM on May 5, 2002

like most local op-eds in the U.S., they're predominantly conservative

I'd be curious to see some actual data on that as I've seen blogs of every concievable stripe and some that are all over the map. What I meant when I said that collectively we bloggers are a challenge to op-ed types is that now that any joker with rudimentary html knowledge and a 'net connection can be his own op-ed guy, and thus the need for them to pre-interpret the day's events for us is not as urgent. Whether our blog screeds are of any better quality of relevance is a matter of taste or opinion I suppose.
posted by jonmc at 4:56 PM on May 5, 2002

jonmc: I was referring strictly to warblogs, and not blogs in general. (There are a few moderates and DLC/Clinton Democrat types out there in warblogland, as far as I can tell, but I've yet to notice any serious, to-the-core left-liberals. Even Matt Welch admits that his definition of liberal isn't the standard American one. It's more neo-liberal, which in this country is - wrongly, in my opinion, but that's another story - usually called "conservative." And Welch seems to have drifted more to the right regardless.) Blogs are, indeed, all over the map.
posted by raysmj at 5:06 PM on May 5, 2002

I think rusty was summing up media coverage of weblogging, not stating his own opinion of weblogs.

From the article: "some mind-numbingly detailed dispute over, say, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict". That sure sounds familiar.
posted by iconomy at 5:45 PM on May 5, 2002

[quick - preventive I/P link - PEACE NEWSFEED - warning - contains material not suitable for front page]

My impression is that anti-war sentiment is rooted in pacifism, isolationism, and the belief that US military action overseas generally makes things worse. The "to-the-core-left-liberals" are more readily identifiable on domestic issues than they are on Afghanistan or the Palestinians. There's nary a Democrat for miles in these parts, much less a *liberal.* Is dhartung suggesting, perhaps, that "right-wing" no longer equates to "conservative"? /troll

"In the print world, it's safe to say, making sure that one's detractors are heard is much rarer."

The US News and World Report points out a great thing about blogging: Many bloggers are starting to link to opposing points of view, confident that readers will see their way clear to make up their own minds.
posted by sheauga at 5:58 PM on May 5, 2002

I think rusty was summing up media coverage of weblogging, not stating his own opinion of weblogs.

Indeed. I'll learn to read more than just the words with a little more practice.
posted by onegoodmove at 6:07 PM on May 5, 2002

Ms. Shulevitz claims that she explored tens of thousands of blogs in a week and yet resorted to the same ol' obvious sources, refusing to cite specific examples of these "tens of thousands" in this article. This is not the first time she's tried to stir the martini instead of shaking it in the name of "journalism." Witness the remarkable conflict of interest over a tree chopping piece and other unsubstantiated ad hominen attacks and similar conflicts in pieces that she's written. But then what do you expect from a journalist who's patterned her entire life upon ingratiating her way to the top of the journalism elite?

My guess is that Shulevitz, like our good friend Alex "Pass Me the Bottle of" Beam, wrote this article to protect her own self-interests.
posted by ed at 7:21 PM on May 5, 2002

I don't have any big problems with this piece. Yeah, I know it rankles to see that the mainstream-media pieces on weblogs (finally! after all these years!) aren't about "us," they're about "them." But, for better or for worse, these are the weblogs that matter. Glenn Reynolds (who does read Kottke, actually) and Andrew Sullivan get lots and lots of hits, many more than any of the old-school webloggers. (And boardman: they are weblogs! What else would you call them?) Jason Kottke is surely popular, but in the scheme of things, he's probably less famous that Leo.
posted by mstillwell at 8:01 PM on May 5, 2002

mstillwell, there have been mainstream media pieces since 1999, unless you don't count Salon, the Connection, the New York Times or the Guardian (and others) as mainstream.
posted by rebeccablood at 8:12 PM on May 5, 2002

onegoodmove: I think you may have missed the first sentence, where I said: "For those too bored by the whole "media coverage of blogs" phenomenon, here's the summary:"?

I.e. "the summary version of the linked article," not "the summary of my own personal feelings."

Hey! Look what Ryan's doing! Don't worry, I have already been assimilated.

Incidentally, how many more of these lame "Look! Blogs!" articles do we have to see? I vote for ignoring them about 12 articles ago.
posted by rusty at 8:37 PM on May 5, 2002

Jesse, I have no idea if your brain has been addled by Chomsky or not. The dominant discourse, for those who care to read beyond the point where they figure out "Oh, this guy supports the war", is a non-ideological libertarianism. The top dog, Sullivan, is at best an iconoclastic conservative; Kaus (also mentioned in the article, so more than one was read) is a neo-liberal in the TNR tradition. Glenn Reynolds, the top semi-pro, has been harping for the last few days on the Pink Pistols and the question of whether the NRA actually discriminates against gays; he says they don't, which is firmly a libertarian position. There's even been an interesting dust-up over property rights and monopolies between the libertarians and the conservatives (as well as a longer-term debate over cloning, pretty much divided along the same lines); if, as I noted, one cares to actually read, the latter are in the minority. The dominant complaint among bloggers over the last two weeks has not been (say) Arabs, but "wobbly" Bush administration policy, where they are firmly on the liberal side vis-a-vis (for instance) Saudi Arabia and the pro-Israel side regarding the Middle East (and support for Israel has traditionally been centered in the Democratic party due to the voting patterns of American Jews, while support for Arab states emanates from oil-rich Republicans).

If I'd pick one word to describe all that, it wouldn't be "conservative". And liberals should realize there are allies to be had here, particularly regarding the cloning debate as it relates in rather important ways to abortion rights.
posted by dhartung at 9:05 PM on May 5, 2002

They're mostly free-market conservative-libertarians, which has long been a sub-category of American politics. (Milton Friedman, who refuses to be called a conservative, long ago stated as much). There's also such a thing as left-libertarians, and I have yet to see a representative of them yet in warblogger world.
posted by raysmj at 9:31 PM on May 5, 2002

(rebecca: You're right, I was stretching a bit, mainstream media have covered blogs before. Though there's certainly more coverage now.)

My point is that the canon has changed: it used to be kottke and camworld and zannah and plasticbag and megnut and eatonweb and medley and peterme and and prolific rebeccablood and robotwisdom etc.; now it's some of these sites, but also a whole lot of "warbloggers" plus amateur and professional pundits.

Today, a journalist assigned to cover "weblogs" writes about different weblogs that they would've written about one or two years ago. The weblogs they would've written about (or did write about) two years ago haven't changed. But they're not part of the canon anymore. (They are part of weblog history, and journalists should be aware of this.) People seem upset about this--that journalists aren't writing about "them" any more--but hey, big deal.
posted by mstillwell at 10:45 PM on May 5, 2002

personally, i'm convulsing in narcissistic egocentricity over the fact that there was an article about blogs that didn't mention any of those damnable a-listers.

First rule of the A-List is No One Talks About the A-List.
posted by lizs at 2:14 AM on May 6, 2002

Second rule of the a-list is that no one talks about the RULES of the a-list.

Sheesh, lizs, you know better than that.
posted by rich at 6:12 AM on May 6, 2002

dhartung: Just for the record, please note that calling someone a conservative is not akin to calling a fellow American a Communist at the height of the Cold War. It's OK. If the warblog sites are mostly conservative and libertarian-conservative, that's not evil, say. It's just the way it is, and silly to deny it or cover it up. Even Instapundit, for all his liberality on certain issues (people are more often complicated than not in their politics than not, regardless of ideology), comes at his blog from the viewpoint of a Republican from the right who's arguing with other Republicans on the right, in a way similar to the way Hitchens seems as if he's a man whose natural sympathies lie with the left, who's arguing with the left and has drifted far away from them on certain issues. If that makes any sense.
posted by raysmj at 6:21 AM on May 6, 2002

Or maybe the term "Republican right," is just more accurate anyway, come to think of it. Or just "Republican-leaning." I'm not sure myself about the the word "conservative." It mostly just means "right-leaning, according to American standards" given that free-market capitalism doesn't necessarily conserve anything. But many Republican-leaners have long managed, since the 1960s, to uphold the vitues of both Ayn Rand and Edmund Burke simultaneously. It's a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter thing, maybe, or square-peg-into-a-round-whole thing, but it's the way things are and have been. Instapundit wants to ditch some of the Burke part. That's all.
posted by raysmj at 6:50 AM on May 6, 2002

And yeah, raysmj, everyone who incessantly points out that warbloggers generally don't want to hunt and kill homosexuals, as if that makes them any less right-wing, is really missing the point.
posted by riviera at 7:02 AM on May 6, 2002

mstillwell: Today, a journalist assigned to cover "weblogs" writes about different weblogs that they would've written about one or two years ago.

well, sure, but I would argue that the biggest change in the coverage is that the journalists are now focused on weblogs maintained by other journalists--with the warbloggers as a footnote to that "phenomenon" (and then only because of their ties to the professional writers). this is normal: journalists love to write about themselves, and professional writers seem always to be more interested in the views of one another than of anyone else.

I have no problem with journalists and professional writers maintaining weblogs. I'm surprised it took them this long to start. but that's not the story. it's not news when professional writers acquire a platform to publish more often.

the story is that ordinary people like you and me now have the means to publish to a world-wide audience. and from my perspective, most of the current articles are fundamentally missing that point.
posted by rebeccablood at 9:34 AM on May 6, 2002

rebecca, I agree. But I'll add that most of the "ordinary" people out there blogging bring their own unique perspective to things they post. It's not "just the same story" being bandied about.
All fact collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination comes from above, through the skylight.
- Oliver Wendel Holmes, Sr., The Poet at the Breakfast Table

Most bloggers I've read are on that third story, or are somewhere between the second and third floor. Most reporters don't have the time or freedom or the luxury of expressing themselves the way a person writing a blog can.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:16 AM on May 6, 2002

Relevant to this discussion is Eric Olsen's minirant When Labels Dissolve, as well as several follow-up posts.

In talking to other bloggers, I have found a substantial subculture who are perceived as some form of “conservative” because they are zero-tolerance toward terrorism in its many forms, support America’s basic ideals, don’t go in for self-loathing, and don’t think the Jews had it coming. But they don’t see themselves as conservatives either.... Bloggers like Baugh, Layne, Welch, and Johnson represent a new breed of independent-thinking intellectual activists who are beholden to no one way of thinking, who see themselves as basically liberal in outlook but without the profound stupidities of the [extreme] left.

One may, of course, differ with this analysis, but it should be clear that warbloggers who self-identify as liberal are in fact central to the community.

And ray: No matter how broadly you would like to define the word, libertarians don't self-identify as conservatives. Just ask them.
posted by dhartung at 4:03 PM on May 6, 2002

dhartung: I can read. Most of the guys you're talking about are conservative libertarians or neo-liberals or whatever you want to call them, by accepted standards and observation developed over a lifetime of over three decades, etc. It matters not to me how they self-identify.
posted by raysmj at 7:42 PM on May 6, 2002

Example. Even the admittedly more liberal-minded (than the warblogger norm) Ken Layne's idea of forgetting about labels is voting for "moderate Republicans.":

In the post-Sept. 11 era, more and more Democrats like me will be looking for smart, moderate Republicans. I look at Riordan and see a guy who owns a great diner in downtown Los Angeles and supported an ACLU Mexican named Antonio Villaraigosa . . .

Why not just be voting for individuals, then, rather than "moderate Republicans?" Why bother with party at all? Because Layne, by his own description, is conservative in regard to economics, and more Republicans are conservative economically. "Conservative economics" in this case generally equals free-market libertarian economics, in common parlance. Same thing. (By contrast, Reynolds spends much of his slamming Democrats past and present, and even Jimmy Carter's work as an ex-president, so it's safe to assume he's not going to looking to vote for any "moderate Democrats," very soon.)
posted by raysmj at 8:10 PM on May 6, 2002

Come to think of it, why would Sept. 11 send a Democrat into the arms of "moderate Republicans?" I don't get it. Elected Dems. didn't, by and large, overtly support military action in Afghanistan? Sheesh.
posted by raysmj at 9:10 PM on May 6, 2002

Thanks Dan, that was helpful.

I am curious as to whether any of these people have written anything that connects their support for the war with their liberal values. What I have seen, so far, are variations on the theme of "I used to think bad things happened for a reason, but now I just believe in Evil! See, it's all so simple!" which doesn't really make the case for me.
posted by jjg at 9:32 PM on May 6, 2002

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