The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Through A Glass Stupidly

Kevin Drum has earned his share of criticism from the blogosphere, but also a measure of praise. Although I know I've linked to his blog in the past, I don't think I've ever openly criticized him. But after catching this post today, I felt more than a little irritated.

Yesterday I was up at USC as part of a panel aboutblogs and newspapers, and Ana Marie Cox mentioned that ever since she stopped reading dozens of blogs a day in order to write Wonkette she feels much better informed. Everyone laughed.

But there might be a good reason for that. After she made that comment I asked the audience how many of them had ever heard of Ben Domenech. Two people out of a hundred raised their hands. And yet, for the past couple of days the single biggest topic of conversation in the left blogosphere has been Ben Domenech. "The reason you feel better informed," I suggested, "is that you're no longer wasting neurons on subjects like whether or not the Washington Post should have hired Ben Domenech to write a blog for their online site."

Everyone laughed at that too. But maybe Ezra is right. Might it have been better to let Domenech toil away in well-deserved obscurity instead of making him yet another high-profile symbol of conservative martyrdom?

Whew. Self-congratulatory, and topped off with an ex cathedra pearl of wisdom. The WaPo story wasn't invented by the blogs. You can decide that the blogs are over-reacting, and that's fine. But it doesn't change the fact that a respected newspaper has decided to put an Ann Coulter clone on the payroll and literally defend it as 'informed discourse.' And that actually is a story of note, in addition to being a disservice to the public. And contrary to Drum's postulation, a blogger who refers to a gay man as simply "in need of a woman" isn't likely to win converts from a little online controversy-- his readership is a foregone conclusion. The idea is that non-ideologues become aware of a troubling issue and are free to act as they see fit.

But what really concerns me about the rise of the blogs is the emerging impact of celebrity on bloggers. I'm certainly in no danger of being elevated to the Sunday morning slugfests or becoming a best-selling author, but we're beginning to see a disturbing, if not at all surprising, aspect of the blogger phenomenon. Straight out of any number of cynical teen movies, it's the story of those who go from outsider to in-crowd-- only to become the very thing they profess to hate. In this case, it's the smarmy attitude of those Beltway insiders who sneeringly dismiss stories that they deem unworthy of attention, confident that the public should be satisfied with their judgment and genuinely shocked when some express interest. Sorta like how big ticket sales could possibly mean that your movie is not a work of art, but one more Disney fartfest. I'm not talking about Drum specifically (although I am on the record as being a non-fan of the Wonkette site's Hollywood gossip-style politics), it's just something that's been on my mind of late.