OxBlog

Monday, April 26, 2004

# Posted 10:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE BLOGGED: That's the title of the George Packer column that Josh mentioned earlier today. Matt Yglesias isn't too happy with Packer's column, however, since it is "dripping with condescension." I'd say that's a pretty fair statement. After all, Packer writes that blogs are both
Pleasurable and destructive: They're so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated -- yet nervous, sugar-jangled -- stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts.

Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere -- every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) -- is a knockout punch.

A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another. They are also nearly without exception men (this form of combat seems too naked for more than a very few women). I imagine them in neat blue shirts, the glow from the screen reflected in their glasses as they sit up at 3:48 a.m. triumphantly tapping out their third rejoinder to the WaPo's press commentary on Tim Russert's on-air recap of the Wisconsin primary.
In contrast to Matt, Kevin Drum isn't too bothered by all of this. He observes that
Based solely on the thousand words that are online, I'd say Packer has blogs pegged pretty well. While it may be true that mainstream journalists are sometimes more contemptuous than they should be toward blogs, Packer is dead right when he says that we more than return the favor. In fact, practically the only place that liberal and conservative bloggers find common ground these days is their apparent belief that the New York Times ranks just below Richard Nixon's White House on the list of trustworthy American institutions.
Hmmm. I'm going to side with Matt on this one. Packer is right that blogs always seem to be keeping score and that they are far too quick to compliment themselves on landing a knockout punch. But isn't that exactly what Packer is doing in his column? Even the title of his column sounds like a blog post.

Of course, this kind of 'gotcha' attitude is widespread at all levels of the journalistic establishment. All you have to do is the open the paper in the morning to find a half-dozen examples. Here's one: The ABC website now has an article up on the mini-scandal set off this morning by John Kerry's extremely nuanced explanation of what medals he did (or possibly did not) throw over a fence during an anti-war protest in 1971. The article begins as follows:
Contradicting his statements as a candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry claimed in a 1971 television interview that he threw away as many as nine of his combat medals to protest the war in Vietnam.
So I guess the lesson here is that bloggers, myself included, have adopted some of the mainstream media's less desirable habits in spite of our constant efforts to demonstrate our moral superiority. Anyhow, I think the real problem with Packer's column (or that portion which is online -- even LexisNexis doesn't have the whole thing and I am certainly not giving my money to Mother Jones) is his assertion that blogs lack substance. While Kevin may be too moderate to say so, his own website disproves Packer's allegation that blog posts are "usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication". And while I have my issues with Josh Marshall, I think that is absolutely impossible to accuse him of not developing his arguments in considerable detail.

Moreover, Kevin (and less frequently Josh) develop their arguments through active debate with other bloggers. How often can professional journalists say the same of themselves? While I'm sure that journalists deconstruct each other's work off the record, it is absolutely taboo for the New York Times or Washington Post to take apart each other's articles in the public spotlight (except when plagiarism is involved.) While Packer is right that bloggers tend to have a sort of rah-rah patriotic attitude toward the blogosphere as a whole, he is wrong to say that they are "unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another." Right after the NYT, the #1 target of almost every blogger is his or her closest friends and closest enemies in the blogosphere.

So, how can one conclude a chest-thumping, navel-gazing post like this? By reminding everyone that George Packer is an absolutely first-rate journalist. He has published what is far away some of the best work on the occupation of Iraq. And in person, he is a very nice and down-to-earth kind of guy. But like the rest of us, he makes mistakes.
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