New Media Same as the Old Media

Monday, June 12, 2006

Last week lots of VIBs (Very Important Bloggers), and a good number of those who bask in their reflected glory, tromped off to Las Vegas to participate in the first annual Yearly Kos convention. Much ado about nothing, methinks, but it has forced its way into my consciousness, none-the-less. I've been to conventions in Vegas. Vegas is the place for conventions; not because of the gambling, not because of the "entertainment," not because of the hookers, not even because of the cheap breakfast buffets, but because it has one of the largest convention centers in the country. It's a city well set up to accommodate conventioneers. Yes, the reason really is that boring.

The Yearly Kos drew lots of big name politicians and first string journos and got a good bit of coverage. So why do I think it's a wash? Because it is emblematic, not of the ascendancy of blogging as a political force in our troubled nation, but of our failure. What started as fertile ground for an insurgency against the hidebound mass media and its enmeshment with the political process it is supposed to be policing, is proving to be nothing but a pale imitation of that media

Case in point: "How Much Is That Blogger In the Window?" asks Salon's Michael Sherer. Sherer, who recently profiled "blogfather" Jerome Armstrong, turns now to the politician Armstrong consults for, Mark Warner. How interesting that the Presidential hopeful who pays Armstrong to help him court the netroots also threw top dollar -- 50k actually -- at the gathering of bloggers in Vegas.

To date, no other candidate has rented an Elvis impersonator to perform for supporters in a circular viewing station 1,000 feet above the Vegas strip. And no other candidate has tried to ply voters with the deadly trifecta of a vodka-chilling ice sculpture, a chocolate fondue waterfall, and free roller-coaster rides.

So will bloggers be wooed by this type of seduction? Some will. Some won't. But arguably the most prominent among them was acting like the Prom Queen.

Moulitsas, who has not endorsed any presidential candidate, repeatedly praised Warner for hosting the Friday night party and being an early endorser of the conference. "We are all going to have quite a bit of time to make up our minds," Moulitsas announced at the Stratosphere. "I've got to say, though, as a first date, this is pretty cool."

From his perch at Daily Kos, Markos continued to extol the virtues of the candidate.

Warner sent a strong message not just to us, but to the media and political establishments that the netroots matters. And in politics, $100K is pocket change. Better spend it on a blogger party where the candidate socialized with regular people than on bullshit television ads or crappy consultants....

To be honest, much of the anti-Warner tirades seemed to be coming from supporters of other candidates angry that Warner scored some points (and Warner did score points).

Disturbingly he points out that another major blogger shares his views. Dave Johnson from Seeing the Forest knows the importance of marketing.

Governor Warner has not just established himself with the blogosphere. By placing himself as a top blogosphere contender, he has positioned himself as a top contender, period....

By making himself important to the blogs, and at the same time increasing the importance of the blogs to the national political process, he is making himself a front-runner. At the same time, by increasing the credibility of the blogs now, he is strengthening their power and effectiveness as a channel for use by the eventual nominee.

So the reasoning here is that Warner has ensured his position amongst the bloggerati not by outlining the best political platform, nor by addressing the concerns that moved bloggers all the way from their comfy couches to the chairs in front of their computers, but by throwing the biggest, bestest party ever.

To be fair there were many other politicians there who spoke frankly with bloggers about issues. And I am not the only blogger who thinks Warner's stunt and others like it undermine the greater goals of citizen journalism. Hence the need for Kos and others to rush to Warner's defense and explain to us why we're wrong. But the signs of incipient media whoredom are everywhere.

A San Francisco Chronicle write-up of the event demonstrates the power of the mighty croissant to build bridges, even when Governor Bill Richards made the appalling social faux pas of low-balling the bloggers ages.

Still, [Justin] Krebs admits, maybe the croissants helped soften the crowd on such missteps. "The next time he does something bad, maybe somebody on a blog will give him a pass once, instead of pounding on him right away."

I fear Krebs, who founded "Drinking Liberally," or drunken liberals as I like to call them, is right. A lot of bloggers will prove to be cheap dates; selling their souls for far less than extravaganzas like Warner's big do.

The writing has long been on the wall that this wonderful new medium of blogging would go the way of all flesh. For all our criticism of the way most of the mainstream press has served to protect the institutionalized corruption of Washington, many bloggers routinely genuflect in front of their own sacred cows, and will undoubtedly do the same when people like the generous Mark Warner are placed on the altar.

As I recently wrote here, there is rigorous enforcement of group-think and manufactured consent in the blogging community. Perhaps the best example of the pressure to sacrifice ideals to sacred cows lies in the recent "outing" of Daily Kos heavyweight Armando. As I wrote before, the talking point that what happened to Armando was wrong, wrong, wrong, was swiftly established and reinforced. Most bloggers fell in line, but the activity on Booman Tribune is illustrative of what happens when bloggers questioned this conventional wisdom. It's worth noting that it is the only site I saw where these questions were well-aired at all. Booman still allows for diversity of viewpoint on his site, though he seems to be under tremendous pressure not to, and the "keepers of social norms" were hard at work to whip those miscreants who questioned Armando's holy martyrdom into shape.

The other day someone called Brian Nowhere wrote an excellent diary on the Armando episode. The bulk of discussion it inspired, though, was on how inappropriate it was, resulting in its editing. The diary appears here. For the unexpurgated version you'll have to go to his site. Here's a sample of Nowhere's inflammatory diary.

The leader of the civil rights movement was not known simply as Martin.

The leader of the yippies was not known as just Abbie.

And aren't we all glad that The first & biggest name signed at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence is not JHcock1776?

The guy who stood up and said "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" did not have the luxury of using the pseudonym JFK1943

The journalist who had his career dashed against the rocks by Karl Rove didn't have the option to just open a new CBS account under the screenname ratherNotBKnown.

But the most egregious example of censorship came from someone called suskind, who immolated his own diaries rather than allow comments which were "hurtful" to Armando to continue to flicker. A complete discussion of this occurrence is here and it is well worth reading. Did Armando ask suskind to hit the kill switch, or did suskind do it on his own volition, as he claims, only to be scolded by the Wal-Mart attorney afterwords? Here's the thing. It doesn't matter. As with the mainstream press, much of the censorship in the blogosphere is self-imposed, a reflexive impulse to serve those cows on whom sacred status has been conferred, whether or not they request such adulation. Suskind's act of conscience threw hundreds of comments worth of discussion on Armando's predicament down the memory hole. Or as spiderleaf put it:

This is really not cool. I thought your comment in the last suskind diary was top notch. Should have been out there for more debate and discussion.
I also took quite a bit of time to write in those and am pretty pissed off to have wasted my time like that.

Actually I'm calling bullshit. I think you're right, there is a reason they were deleted. And it wasn't for a freeflow of information.

The other colleen explains what led up to this dramatic show of allegiance to Armando.

Yes, there were several people who were trying to martyr him and were disappointed and angry there wasn't sufficient outrage. Those attempting to generate outrage then proceeded to compare Armando's situation with Hitler's Germany (Catnip) and another (suskind) compared Armando to MLK. I wanted to issue smelling salts.

Those of us hurting Armando's feelings by being insufficiently sympathetic were told we lacked the 'big picture', had no principles, lacked compassion and that if we're not there for Armando, DK and the blogs won't be there for us when we're in need. (as if they ever have been)

At the end of his last diary Sus announced that "the left" had a sense of "entitlement" and that our main complaint here was that he is a corporate lawyer. It was a manufactured conclusion, not borne out by the responses. Most folks decided that Armando made it extremely easy to identify himself and a good many of us (myself included) have a difficult time believing that Armando will stop blogging.

And Marisacat gives voice to exactly why Armando may have found it all so terribly "hurtful."

Plus although there has been excellent commentary (Brian Nowhere in particular but also others) w/r/t "privacy'...
the enduring issue is blogging as a "progressive" - that is the preferred term of these fellows - in fact a self styled "prgressive" thought leader, one might even say...

all the while not just a corp atty/of counsel for his firm... but a major player in the legal game to wedge Wal-Mart into PR.

Tells me all of my assessments of the coordinated nasty online blogger game of roping in liberals left progressives to a rigged game for the party (think Hillary) was right on.
Plain old tired vote delivery.

For one, these are the old Democratic thug plays.

Thrashing and bashing the alternative views... holding themselves up as "leaders" all the while something else entirely.

It is called disclaimer and there is a reason he chose to blog pro-business, pro-Kelo pro-eminent domain and not provide a disclaimer.

Two faced.

In other words the real issues raised by Armando's "outing" were being discussed by people who still care about progressive values, instead of the more common lockstep marching behind the "outing is just wrong" meme. We can't have that now can we? How sad is it that in the brave new world of blogging there is already such a pitched battle over the free expression of dissenting viewpoints?

So forgive me if I'm not terribly hopeful that the blogosphere will cleave to ideals over personalities when the Mark Warners of the political world come-a-courting.


Simon Malthus said...

another good post. i think Harry Reid made it plain:

Reid said the blogosphere, as it is called, needs to provide what the Democratic party lacks. "We don't have a bully pulpit, but we do have you," he said. "We need you to be our megaphone."

sounds awfully familiar:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type.

Simon Malthus said...

and as regards your closing sentence, this bit from YearlyKos organizer gina:

Heh...wrapping my mind around...big...while writing the last sentence Gov. Warner called personally to thank us for all we did and to express his appreciation for our "allowing" him to be a part. What a nice guy. I asked him if we would get to see him next year and he said, definitely. So, on a personal level, I'm trying to wrap my mind around things like, "a possible future president just called my cell phone to say thanks," and on a larger scale, I'm wrapping my mind around the idea that finally we in the blogosphere are being taken as seriously as we should be.

note here use of "allowing" above, as compared to this consideration of "trust" from further on in the same post:

I said in my closing remarks Saturday evening that this convention was built on a foundation of trust. Markos set it out when he first created the structure of our community where we riff raff are trusted to create our own content and manage our own community.

it has a bibilical ring to it.

Curmudgette said...

Wow, Simon. It's very clear which way the power is flowing, isn't it? I've said it for a long time. These web communities are not about challenging the status quo. They're rapidly becoming engines of manufactured consent.

Thanks for that link. I found this comment interesting.

"Prior to the explosion of blogs, our national debate was controlled by a handful of media conglomerates," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the convention. "Like the kings and the church of the 15th Century, these powerful entities controlled what information made it into the public square. But not anymore. Not with the Internet."

Do we know where Harry Reid stands on net neutrality? It will be interesting to see if he puts his leadership where his mouth is as that issue moves to the Senate.

Simon Malthus said...

word is Reid supports NN.

of course even a technologically even playing field will be distorted by the personality cults and the variety of shaming techniques you've listed. oh, and the lure of recognition. finally, i'm getting the respect i deserve!

how to be in the Net but not of it?

i'm tempted to posted a long quotation from Children of Dune, but i'll spare your comment section and only refer you, if you are interested, to the initial conversation between Leto and Namri. in particular the question: What was wrong with the central ministry which Alia and her priests had created?

Simon Malthus said...

and for a little surreality, check out Kos' latest: Cowards hiding behind blind quotes.


Curmudgette said...

Oh. My. God.