You Are An Imbicile And I Am A Fool

If you believe the words of Joseph Rago writing at The Wall Street Journal I am a fool and you, the reader, are an imbicile. He describes The Blog Mob as “written by fools to be read by imbeciles.”

The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.

Views on how significant we are differs with different bloggers. At times I have been critical of the importance some such as Kos have placed on the “net roots,” such as when I did not believe that Dean had wrapped up the nomination in 2004 and that Kerry was out of the race. Of course the apparently more brilliant journalists in the mainstream media were also fooled on that.

More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren’t much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Having a day job which keeps me pretty busy, I certainly don’t pretend to be able to compete with professional journalists in obtaining the news, but bloggers do vary in the quality of comment provided. Many of us were commented on the dangers of going into Iraq long before professional commentators such as Thomas Friedman realized the folly of their initial opinions. As a physician I had insights which professional journalists lacked and was commenting on how Bush’s Medicare D Program was a financial windfall for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries long before commentators and reporters in the mainstream media discovered this.

The way we write affects both style and substance. The loquacious formulations of late Henry James, for instance, owe in part to his arthritis, which made longhand impossible, and instead he dictated his writing to a secretary. In this aspect, journalism as practiced via blog appears to be a change for the worse. That is, the inferiority of the medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or commonplace book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope–though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog’s being is: Here’s my opinion, right now.

The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting–the news–already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet all this is accelerated.

The blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. This element–here’s my opinion–is necessarily modified and partly determined by the right now. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought–instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.

It is true that posting an opinion without taking the time to get all the facts has dangers, but in writing this section I wonder if Rago has been following the changes in the mainstream media. The perils of instant journalism have been far more apparent in the twenty-four hour news coverage where being first is so important. Initial news reports frequently need to be corrected, such as the early election calls on Florida in 2000. While many blog posts are immediate reactions to the news, a lot of others deal with subjects we have been writing about for months or years with a new story simply providing a little further insight.

This cross-referential and interactive arrangement, in theory, should allow for some resolution to divisive issues, with the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis. Not in practice. The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating people who are in agreement, not so good at engaging those who aren’t. The petty interpolitical feuding mainly points out that someone is a liar or an idiot or both.

There is some truth to this. Even when conservative and liberal blogs debate back and forth there is rarely real communication. Again, this is a problem in the blogosphere but it also reflects the same attitudes seen in the talking heads who provide commentary profesisionally. When was the last time anyone ever saw Rush Limbaugh and a liberal commentator communicate and reach common ground?

Because political blogs are predictable, they are excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, with every constituency hostage to its assumptions and the party line. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions–John Kerry always providing useful material–while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case; but today that country is a vastation, and the unified field theory of media bias has not been altered one jot.

Leftward fatuities too are easily found: The fatuity matters more than the politics. If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad’s judgment of newspapering–“written by fools to be read by imbeciles”–they have also demonstrated a remarkable ecumenicalism in filling out that same role themselves.

This is a continuation of the last argument, which reflects the mainstream media as much as this is a problem in the blogosphere. At least the blogosphere has more variety than the mainstream media, with some of us varying more than others from the usual party line in the positions we take. There are conservative blogs that have opposed Bush and the war. Here at Liberal Values I have taken a consistently liberal view on social issues but have also supported libertarian and fiscally conservative positions at times.

Naturally an editorial such as this is bound to receive considerable comment in the blogosphere. Here’s a sampling of the comments:

QandO, Ace of Spades HQ, Booman Tribune, MyDD, Riehl World View, Roger L. Simon, Joe’s Dartblog, NewsBusters.org, Ed Driscoll.com, Decision ’08, Shakespeare’s Sister, EU Referendum, Gun Toting Liberal ™, PoliBlog (TM), Fraters Libertas, protein wisdom, Polimom Says, The Moderate Voice, Beltway Blogroll, Daily Pundit, Balloon Juice, Seeing the Forest, snapped shot, BizzyBlog, Confederate Yankee, Blue Crab Boulevard, THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS, alicublog, Media Blog

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    KerryDemocrat says:

    This is a repost from my blog, I’m lazy this morning:

    The Theory of Innovation Diffusion and How it Applies to Political Blogging

    Marketing types take notice! Your opinion leaders have been identified for you. But first….a little about innovation diffusion.

    Innovators as defined by Everett Rogers are those individuals who are ventursome, educated, use multiple sources for information and have a greater propensity to take risk. Early on, this theory was applied to those who use multimedia outlets to gain their information, a cross breeding of various television news sources, newspapers, radio, magazines, etc… basically those who sampled in an effort to find the truth. (at least as it applied to the news). These individuals would then become opinion leaders and disseminate the information that they had developed among their colleagues and friends.

    Those that adopted the beliefs of the early innovators are called “early adopters”…go figure. These people would then further disseminate the information to others leading to early majorities, late majorities and finally laggards. The adoptation of these concepts in terms of numbers of individuals would appear as a bell curve.

    Bloggers have been fairly misunderstood by the media in general, but it is simple a matter of people who are either innovators or perhaps early adopters with access to computer technology using a new media to disseminate information and grow a culture of acceptance among the masses. In fact, bloggers have been doing such a good job of this lately, that they are beginning to influence the mass media (along with the general population) and that is the point of it all.

    Some folks have begun to harness these opinion leaders via mass blogging sites (think Daily Kos) and advertising sites (think Pay Per Post). Individual opinion leaders can make the decision to keep themselves “pure of thought” or commit themselves to the dissemination of other ideas. Those that choose to participate in the dissemination of other ideas move themselves down the innovation food chain and are more likely to become early adopters as opposed to innovators.

    Original thought is tough to come by, but it is out there. Whether it is in the adoptation of new technology, political thought processes or cream cheese. (Yeah, I like the new jelly swirl stuff on my bagel).

    Back to current politics for a moment. For those of you old enough to remember Vietnam, it took many years for public opinion to turn against the war. The drumbeat for change was led by college students, the youth and some mass media outlets who posted death counts on the evening news.

    Today, with the rapid advance of technology, opinions against the war are being moved in dramatic fashion. This ultimately may change the very nature of warfare when it is being waged by Democracies into what needs to be very fast decisive victories with low casualties. I think Clinton understood this when war was waged in Yugolslavia by air. This was a very fast military victory without casualty to Americans. A blueprint for the future of warfare, and a frightening one.

    There may also be implications for opinion leaders (aka bloggers) out there as in the past opinion leaders were a bit challenging to locate, although it could be done by assumption. For example, it would be assumed that a gourmet cook would be an opinion leader on the best cooking knives. Bloggers readily identify themselves, and this could lead to some danger for political bloggers in certain societies, perhaps even the US in the future. (In other words, prepare to have your Vonage tapped…lol)

    I will end the post here as I am going off on a tangent, but I will leave a couple of links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_leadership

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Lazarsfeld

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