Blogging: the price of political clout Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, July 06, 2006
Most bloggers are aware of the war of words going on between The New Republic and the Daily Kos. It is all a part of the emerging clout of political blogs and a bit of push back from the old media.
Naturally, with the emergence of clout comes scrutiny which, heretofore, wasn't a part of the game. When blogs were first arrived on the scene they were viewed a bit like someone might view a lion cub - cute and non-threatening. But lion cubs come of age, and at some point they're no longer that cute and they certainly aren't "non-threatening".
That's the position now held by political blogs, and, certainly, some more than others.
We've talked (podcasts) and written extensively about this phenomenon and how the left side of the blogosphere is quite different than the right. On the left, activists rule, party orthodoxy is stressed and the net roots crowd isn't just throwing out advise, they're looking to dominate the discussion and take over. To some extent they're becoming increasingly successful:
And the political blogosphere's influence, both on line and off, has been growing. Daily Kos, for example, attracts more than 4 million page views each week, and a recent bloggers' convention in Las Vegas named for Moulitsas attracted numerous Democratic presidential hopefuls.
That sort of influence is bound to attract attention, and, unsurprisingly, it has. Naturally not all attention is welcome attention. And it is that sort of attention which is now focused on blogs like Daily Kos by the old media which has ignited these exchanges, and unfortunately more:
When a writer for The New Republic, the 92-year-old doyen of elite Washington opinion journals, accused the nation's most prominent political blogger of using his on line clout to hush up a potential scandal involving a former business partner, he knew there might be some backlash from the so-called ``new media."
But he didn't expect death threats.
``This wasn't meant to be a big fight," a tired-sounding Jason Zengerle, senior editor for The New Republic, said in a telephone interview last week.
Nonetheless, Zengerle's posting has sparked a steadily escalating uproar among scores of liberal bloggers who rushed to their keyboards in defense of Markos ``Kos" Moulitsas Zúniga , the founder of the popular blog Daily Kos. But the posting has also prompted ``old media" outlets — like the conservative National Review and New York Times columnist David Brooks — to pick up on what some insist is the first scandal to hit the political blogosphere.
Death threats? Yes, friends, I know, bloggers have no control over their commenter's or supporters, but they can make it understood death threats, or threats of any type, are unacceptable for anyone trying to speak for or support them. This is a war of ideas. But that's not the point of this piece.
The point is that the scrutiny of bloggers with clout is just as warranted as bloggers scrutiny of media outlets and journalists or politicians. When bloggers begin to shape policy and dominate a political party's conversation, journalists are going to begin to ask a lot of questions. And rightfully so.
Now, as readers of political blogs await the next chapter in an increasingly vituperative on line battle — Moulitsas has called The New Republic ``Lieberman- worshiping" neocons ' while Zengerle says Moulitsas operates ``the digital equivalent of a smoke-filled backroom" — some outside observers believe the dust-up may be a benchmark in the blogosphere's entrance into mainstream politics, as blogs begin to face the same level of scrutiny as traditional media outlets.
``The blogosphere has always been mainly about scrutinizing everybody else and expressing violent opinions about them," said Alex S. Jones , director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. ``Kos is a very powerful blog, so in that sense it's taken on the vulnerability of one of the [political] leaders."
Welcome to "The Show".
``This fight is saying `Welcome to the big leagues,' " said Richard Bradley , the former editor of George Magazine and a blogger himself. ``If you want us to take you seriously, we're going to ask you the same questions that we ask anyone else who aspires to be a power-player in Democratic politics."
What is going on right now is the transformation of at least part of the blogosphere from a lion cub to the adult lion. Because of his outspokenness (TNR as a bunch of "Lieberman- worshiping" neocons') and direct involvement in political campaigns (CA 50 and, of course, Lamont, etc.), fund raising and political consulting, Kos moves from another medium reporting and commenting on the news to a maker of news.
Fair game in the world of journalism.
What sparked the war with TNR began in June:
The imbroglio began in mid-June after reports surfaced that Jerome Armstrong, an influential blogger who co authored a book with Moulitsas and also started a political consulting firm with him, was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly promoting a stock on line in exchange for money.
On The Plank, a blog hosted on the New Republic's website, Zengerle posted an e-mail written by Moulitsas to an on line list of what Zengerle described as ``elite liberal bloggers," asking that the Armstrong story be kept under wraps.
``My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now. It would make my life easier if we can confine the story," Moulitsas wrote in the e-mail. Zengerle also noted that several bloggers on the list belonged to the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, which was co founded by Moulitsas.
Zengerle also echoed critics who note that Moulitsas began promoting former Virginia governor Mark Warner on his website after Armstrong was hired as a consultant for Warner's presidential campaign. (Critics charge that Daily Kos did the same for other Armstrong clients, including Ohio Representative Sherrod Brown. ) Zengerle suggested Armstrong was charging consulting fees for access to Moulitsas.
Moulitsas — who declined to comment for this article — vehemently denied the charges, calling Zengerle's assertions about the advertising network ``ludicrous" and denying that his views are influenced by Armstrong's choice of clients. ``Let me be crystal clear. I deny that charge completely," he wrote of the latter accusation.
Armstrong has also said on his blog that any alleged quid pro quo arrangement with Moulitsas is a ``complete fabrication." In an e-mail, Armstrong wrote that ``there was nothing credible" in the allegations.
``This is what the once-proud New Republic has evolved into," Moulitsas added on his blog. ``Just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy."
The exchange continues with charges flying from each side.
But when reviewing the story, I couldn't but help take the side of TNR. This is a legitimate story. If Kos ran a blog with 50 readers a week, no one would care. He doesn't:
This increased scrutiny may be a natural progression for the liberal blog bloc, which has been credited with several recent political successes, such as fueling the campaign of Ned Lamont , an antiwar candidate who is challenging Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut for his US Senate seat. With fund-raising help from bloggers like Moulitsas, Lamont forced an August primary against Lieberman and has pulled within striking distance of the longtime incumbent.
``There's no question that no one would care whether Kos was corrupt if he was absolutely powerless or irrelevant," Bradley said. ``The reason it's a serious question is because the guy's come to wield some clout."
The June convention in Las Vegas, dubbed Yearly Kos, included a $50,000 party thrown by Warner and appearances by Senate minority leader Harry Reid , Democrat of Nevada, and several potential 2008 Democratic presidential contenders, all lobbying for the bloggers' support.
But that's not to say some of TNR's focus and attention isn't a bit of payback. And then too there's that bit of elitism which sneaks in there which keeps you from taking TNR's side completely:
``Look, they beat up on us all the time," Zengerle said. ``I mean, what do they call us, `The Joe Lieberman Weekly,' stuff like that. That is kind of ridiculous on its face."
And Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, said he was not impressed with the Daily Kos crowd.
``The liberal blogosphere are a group of people who feel incredibly disenfranchised. They feel their country's been hijacked and they're essentially powerless and the only way to stop it is to scream as loudly as you can," Foer said.
The blog insurgency will continue and, in fact, probably escalate. As this evolution continues, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Will the old media try to co opt the more successful portions of new media? Will it find that "warring" with bloggers is good for business? Will it, at some point, embrace the blogosphere?
But the one thing that is becoming increasingly apparent is it can not afford to ignore it any longer.
The flare-up between The New Republic and dailykos.com has parallels with the Connecticut Democratic primary race between incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman and Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont. First, it exemplifies the conflict between the hawkish, centrist wing of the party (the New Republic /Lieberman) and the anti-war left (liberal blogs/Lamont).
But besides ideological similarities, allegiances have been drawn. The New Republic , which printed a lengthy endorsement of Lieberman´s 2004 presidential bid, posted three pro-Lieberman articles on its website this year, and called Lamont´s online supporters ¨Lamonsters.¨
Liberal bloggers, meanwhile, have adopted the Lamont campaign as a pet project, citing good news about Lamont as ¨Nedrenaline,¨ a mocking counter to Lieberman´s 2004 presidential slogan ¨Joementum.¨ Currently, Lamont is the leading candidate on actblue.com, with more than 2,000 donors contributing almost $77,000 (as of Monday).
Bloggers have gotten directly involved in the race. Moulitsas appeared in a Lamont campaign commercial, where he portrayed an enthusiastic campaign volunteer, eager to work with Lamont. In June, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake.com chronicled her trip from the West Coast to Connecticut to work for the Lamont campaign.
¨I think a lot of bloggers were upset with Joe Lieberman long before Ned entered the race,¨ Lamont spokesperson Liz Dupont-Diehl said. ¨Since Ned entered the race, they´ve gotten to know Ned and there´s been a real true convergence of ideas and forces.¨
Lieberman´s campaign office didn´t respond to requests for comment. Unless, that is, a staffer´s breathy sigh after hearing the article would be about the Internet counts as a comment.
``The liberal blogosphere are a group of people who feel incredibly disenfranchised. They feel their country’s been hijacked and they’re essentially powerless and the only way to stop it is to scream as loudly as you can," Foer said.
Seems accurate to me.
But god bless Kos and his criminal partner Jerome.
If they weren’t around, Rove (still unindicted btw) would have to invent them.
He’s done more damage to his party than he can ever know. I see Joe Lieberman is going to run as an independent if Lamont wins. Heh.
I’m reserving judgement on the effectiveness of the DailyKos on the political process. Even with his fundraising and vocal support of various candidates, to my knowledge he has yet to get anyone elected. With Lamont he might actually get someone through a primary this year, but I suspect that Lamont won’t (or possible can’t) win the general election if Leiberman is present as an independent to divide the vote.
Kos is a leftwing lightning rod. His supporters are very vocal and very active. They might be able to get someone through a party primary this year. I think he may very likely become a primary king-maker in the near term, especially as the democratic voter base ages. Primaries can be dominated by extremist ideologues.
But I don’t see him getting people through the general election. General elections are won by shuffling towards the center to align yourself with the general population. Kos isn’t a centrist and he is incapable of centrism. He is ultimately intolerant of anyone who even attempts centrism, like Lieberman or much of the DLC. Centrism is anathema to him.
I just don’t see him leading the Democrats to glory. I can see him leading Democrats to successful primary contests, but not through a successful general election. His view of the general population is too skewed for that. But I could be wrong and it wouldn’t be the first time.
Well it’s fun to lampoon his losing streak, but sooner or later he’ll win one. Ornery and others might not like this, but Kos’ problem is that he forces the Party to the Left, constantly. He may not ENLARGE the party but he might SOLIDIFY it as a very left-of-centre party. Which is not good politics, in an American-style system, UNLESS Progressives are a plurality of voters and I don’t think that’s true. If he can solidify the party then he will start winning...after all once everyone thinks like you it’s easier to produce viable candidates to support and win elections.
Jon you pointed out that the Kos-New Republic brawl is a war of ideas. That is certainly true, but I think the reason for the absolute brutality of this particular war can be found in the nature of the combatants. All involved here are leftists (some more moderate than others). One of the godfathers of leftism, Vladimir Lenin claimed very openly that "an idea is like a gun, if I wouldn’t let my enemy have a gun, why would I let him have an idea." I may be slightly misquoting there, but you get the gist. Leftists cannot and will not ever allow their enemies to have an idea. If their opponent comes up with something new and interesting, they must bury it. Period. Never give ground, never let the enemy have an idea (a weapon). Destroy the idea so that your opponent will always face you unarmed. This is the vicious heart of leftism. We are simply seeing a left v. left fight exposed in public on a fairly large scale for the first time in years. Expect this to get a lot worse. The nuclear option will be exercised.