Category Archives: Blogosphere

PJs III: Keynote: Preaching to the Great Unwashed

This is the continuation of my long multi-part post on the “Open Source/PJ” media launch at Solomonia last November. I have divided them up differently this time and made slight changes.

Keynote: Preaching to the Great Unwashed

But the best was for after lunch. Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a InstaPundit) introduced keynote Judith Miller. Why Judith Miller? Why not Glenn Reynolds (whose book “An Army of Davids : How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths” with a scheduled date release of March 2006 is already a best-seller at Amazon)? Like Elizabeth Hayt in the first panel, she admits she doesn’t blog, she only really found out about them when she was in prison and didn’t have internet access, and actually, she admitted later in the discussion as she entertained the suggestion that she really should blog, she finds the prospect quite “terrifying.”

Why is she here? Because she’s the Martha Stewart of journalism? The current MSM celebrity? Because various key legislation swirls around her case? Okay. Whatever. I guess I just happen to have other concerns. But wait, what’s that she’s saying?

“Let me tell you the five commandments of journalism.”

Huh?!? What does she think she’s doing?

Apparently she views herself as the representative of serious mainstream journalism who has come to give some elementary ethics and advice to these junior journalist bloggers so that they too could aspire to the heights of mainstream excellence.

Is this dramatic misreading of the audience due to “lack of curiosity” as Austin would put it dryly, or the result of such intense cocooning that she doesn’t know to whom she speaks? (Are these two sides of the same coin?) Is this a whiff of that characteristic arrogance that has given us so much MSM misbehavior, including the Olympian disdain that prompted Dan Rather to talk about those “those guys sitting around at 2:00 AM in their pajamas”? Oh wait, she’s also NYT, or was.

It could only get surreal from this point on. Her first three commandments were elementary, known to anyone in the room, perhaps useful to recall, but hardly keynote timber. But then the whopper: “Fourth commandment: If you are wrong, acknowledge it prominently, and follow up with further stories.”

Silence. My jaw dropped. Even she squirmed, distancing herself sotto voce from the NYT editorial policy on this. This woman wrote for a paper with a scandalous record of “correcting itself,” with some of the worst misreporting on its record, including the Holocaust on the back pages just to name one of the more staggering… Nor does it have any institutional memory of such catastrophic failures, as it careens into a similar lack of understanding and a systematic downplaying of another round of genocidal ferocity aimed at Jews.

One of the main causes of the blogosphere’s success comes precisely from the brick wall that descends from the MSM any time serious corrections are in order. The case we work on at Second Draft, that of the “martyr” Muhammed al Durah is one that had spectacularly destructive initial impact and never got “followed up” on even as plentiful evidence emerged that the media had gotten it wrong emerged… with few exceptions that really went nowhere, for five years now. Embarrassingly wrong. Anyone who has read Renata Adler on the combination of superciliousness and arrogance that characterizes the NYT attitude towards self correction had to laugh at this lesson in MSM ethics. Or cry.

After all, what characterizes the blogosphere — and may explain Miller’s terrified attitude towards it — is that if you have a thin skin, you’re doomed (well, not so Juan Cole — added). Don’t expect polite coddling, don’t expect to escape correction — immediate correction — if you mess up. Bloggers are accustomed to a level of give-and-take which the MSM has systematically insulated themselves from — with tragic consequences. (Could we say that blogging is on one level the record of letters to the editor that the MSM refused to publish?)

Next, Part IV: Who’s in What Century/Millennium?

PJs II: Morning Panels — There’s Something Happening Here

This is the continuation of my long multi-part post on the “Open Source/PJ” media launch at Solomonia last November. I have divided them up differently this time and made slight changes.

First Panel: Whimper of Joke?

I didn’t check the program, trusting that it would be stellar. We finally sit down, at our tables with outlets and wireless, and then have Roger and Charles tell us about OSM. Good stuff. I’m following on my computer — what a great way to take notes at a conference, look up anything I want while the speaker speaks. And then the first panel. Lifestyles.

Lifestyles? I look up from my computer and watch in astonishment and growing horror as a bevy of smart beauties take their seats, introduced by a witty moderator, each one a specialist in that great lifestyle arena — fashion. And behind, occasionally adding a comment in a disembodied voice, the great Manolo, whose Dadaesque blog on shoes and other fashion accessories I quickly visited.

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “the last time I looked in my computer, France was still burning (smoldering the MSM would insist), and we’re listening to what?”

I look at Pedro with astonishment. He smiles at me and raises his eyebrows. Then the panel begins with Elizabeth Hayt, fashion columnist for the NYT and author of I’m No Saint : A Nasty Little Memoir of Love and Leaving (2005) and when asked the very deep question “what do you think the blogosphere means for fashion?” replied with refreshing if somewhat disconcerting candor: “I’m not sure why youíve asked me here, I don’t blog, I don’t even think blogging is useful, it’s for rich people with too much time on their hands.”

I blinked. Excuse me? Wait a minute, whatís going on here. Isnít this woman making a fine career in fashion, that field for people with too little money and too little time on their hands? Did I go to the wrong place. Is this the People Magazine blog launch?

Pedro leaned over and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “It must be a joke.”

fashion panel

I looked around to see who got it. The faces were wonderful. Some staring in disbelief, some smiling, some annoyed, the people with computers started to work… Sol had a poker face with the traces of a bemused smile on the edges of his lips, no way to tell what he’s thinking; Tom Bowler pulled his glasses down and a blank stare descended over his face. One of our tablemates leaned forward and whispered in Pedro’s ear: “I think theyíre waiting for Larry Kudlow.”

The situation became particularly surreal when the nice looking blonde girl on the panel, began talking about the make-up styles of celebrities: “I trash them every Saturday.” Stunned silence. Some people started moving uncomfortably in their seats, others looked bemused and, others like Pedro, were slowly becoming aware that the joke was on us. I felt like the Roman soldiers in Life of Brian trying desperately not to laugh as Pontius Pilate talks about his fwend Biggus Dickus and his wife Incontinentia Buttox. I wondered how many people out in cyberspace were dropping out in astonished dismay.

As Austin Bay put it later, in an interesting conversation with me, neo-neocon and Pedro, Elizabeth Hayt “was quite admirable in her lack of curiosity.”

What? New York Times? Uninterested in the world around it? How can you say that?

Second Panel: Which Century are We in?

The second panel was good, although much of the discussion revolved around the kind of sports thinking that Charles had deplored in his opening comments. It does not help to think in terms of liberal, conservative, right, left, the two teams that you try to “balance” in order to be “fair” or “objective.” And yet the panel had been stacked to give us those 20th century notions center stage, especially with David Corn and John Podhoretz (author of Bush Country : How George W. Bush Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century—While Driving Liberals Insane) who started going at each other before we even heard from Claudia Rosett.

Much reworking of the old debates about objectivity and facts vs. opinion and partisanship, about the difference between gumshoeing (what the best of the MSM claims to do — gathering facts) and thumbsucking (what the worst of the blogosphere thrives on — ruminating narcissism). Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club illustrated the sterling quality of the best bloggers, ferociously smart, modest of demeanor, thinking about the question he’s been asked, speaking in paragraphs.

He explored what it is that makes information as accurate as we can shape it, how we pursue theories (I’d prefer to call them “working hypotheses” — like, is the first panel an intentional joke?) and see how they firm up over time as we take in more data (after five minutes, apparently not), how we need to think about what would have to be true in order for what we (or someone else) think has happened to also be true (someone thought this would be a great way to show OSM’s broad spectrum of interests, and managed to convince the board). Listening to Fernandez was in some ways like revisiting the very exploration of thinking about reason and reality-testing in the 16th and 17th centuries, that made the West an open society, the place where both modern academia and modern science were born after the advent of printing.

The discussion ended with an observation on the difference in our idea of whatís going on in Iraq that we get from bloggers there and from the MSM here, prompting Podhoretz to make the classic “right-wing” argument that we really won the Tet offensive, and that the MSM (thank you uncle Walt), took it away by presenting it as a catastrophe, an observation that Austin Bay affirmed later that afternoon. But to bring this argument up to speed, John took it a step further, proffered the interesting analogous argument that, had there been bloggers in Vietnam, we would have won the war. Interesting, perhaps going too far. Worth a thought, an exploration.

“Oh yeah,” responds Corn in classic “left-wing” style, “well what about Latin America?!?”

“Oh yeah,” says Podhoretz, “well what about Irving Stone!”

And with a crescendo into the puerile arguments that have produced our current state of self-ghettoization, the panel came to an end with a promise to look further into these matters. (I hope OSM follows up on this one.)

At lunch we talked about the morning sessions, and I remarked about how it would be nice to know the statistics about who was following the webcast, and be able to trace what I suspected — looking at the members of the audience “drop out” — was a precipitous drop-off as the first panel went on. “It was webcast?” one of our table companions gasped, blushing bright red.

Ouch.

On the Leftern Blogosphere, Self-Criticism, and Juan Cole

Sisu and Solomonia have an excellent combination of blog posts on the Juan Cole to Yale development. It raises all kinds of issues about the tone of blogging, the response to criticism, and the incredibly thin skin and readiness to abuse (to protect that thin skin) on the left. As Sissy points out, in a comment that links the Left with the French and the Arabs: they are waking up (barely) “on the wrong side of history.” Fascinating developments.

Fashion Advice to the Ugly: I’d Rather be in my Pajamas

[This is the first of a series of 6 segments on the OSM Launch in New York last November.]

Fashion advice for the ugly: I’d rather be in my pajamas.

Ask not on whom the Joke is; the Joke is on Us

Everyone writes with an audience in mind. To some extent, what we write says something about what we think of that audience: Are we condescending? Demagogic? Demanding? Generous? Some of the above?

Bloggers, especially the political bloggers who form the core of the new Pajamas Open Source Media, got their start by writing to an imagined audience that wanted to hear what they had to say even if, initially, they had no idea how large an audience that might be (and any expert in the MSM would have told them to forget about it). Above all they broke the matrix of MSM mimetic desire, the now suffocating arrogance of the gatekeepers of public discourse, those who get repeat parts in the public discussion, those who adhere to the powerful, if invisible, consensus as to what the “public” wants (entertainment, lifestyle issues, national news, all packaged professionally) and what they need (images that encourage respect for other cultures, that do not give fodder for right-wing warmongering).

I once read about a fish that is programmed to follow the fish in front of it, so that they all follow each other and the whole school moves in a kind of Brownian motion. But when experimenters took one fish and pithed the part of the brain that made it follow other fish, it swam off in any direction and drew in its wake the rest of the school. Although far from pithed, or random motion, the bloggers who form the core of PJMediaís initial launch group, and those who read them, are not random swimmers followed by mimetic idiot(arians). They are mavericks followed by independent thinkers, and they do break out of the Brownian motion of the MSM. No phenomenon illustrates better the workings of the invisible hand in the market place of ideas, than the sudden, stunning, and salutary rise to the top of the blogosphere of such independent minds as Richard Fernandez, Glenn Reynolds, Charles Johnson, Roger Simon, Michelle Malkin, Pamela … the list goes on and on.

So going to the launch of PJMedia promised to be a delightful experience. It was like going to a convention of people, all of whom, were they at the procession where the emperor paraded naked, would have said — indeed they have said — “Daddy, why is the emperor naked?”

But every time a grass-roots movement institutionalizes, or as Max Weber says, goes from charisma to rationalization, certain dangers emerge. This week we’re studying heresies in my medieval French history course. Repeatedly movements that started out charismatic, independent, passionate, gained immense popularity thereby, and got drawn in the direction of institutionalization that all too often distorted the very source of their initial strength. Francis of Assissi, pressured to form an order by the Pope Innocent III in the early 13th century, ended up distancing himself from his own order, so unhappy was he with the results; and before the century was out, institutional Franciscans were executing spiritual Franciscans for heresy. Now modern grass-roots movements like the blogosphere need not be as extreme in their demands, nor as violent in their transformation, but… you get the idea. And since Pajamas Media was such a nice term — like the Lollards or the Quakers, a name given to the group by disdainful outsiders and accepted by the group as a way of turning the insult around — the idea that it would be discarded in favor of something more neutral made me uneasy.

Would the process of institutionalizing contribute to shifting from a primarily free-wheeling discourse that rewards plain talk and common sense to one that worries about who speaks rather than what they say. As OSM becomes a portal to the blogosphere, it runs the risk of shifting attention in this direction, and ending up more as a gatekeeper than a portal. How much effort will now go into catching the eyes of the institutionally powerful decision makers, rather than into addressing the very audience of plain-thinkers who raised them to prominence? This can be the beginning of the slippery slope of mimetic desire that leads to a group of people who, taking their cues from above, end up praising “the emperor’s new clothes.”

Pushing that thought to the back of my mind, with the prospect of hanging with all the lively independent minds, I made my way over to the W hotel on Wednesday night with Pedro Zuquete (my partner in crime), just glad to be there.

Getting Warmed Up: The Root Causes of Terrorism

The first evening, after spending a delightful time with, among others, Sol (Solomonia), Pieter Dorsman (Peak Talk) and Stephen Green (Vodka Pundit) on the lobby of the W, Pedro pointed out David Corn of The Nation to me.

“We used one of his writings to illustrate the PCP (Politically Correct Paradigm) slogan, poverty breeds terrorism.”

“Really, so what’s he doing here?” I asked, thinking that that was a pretty idiotarian position to hold.

“He’s the token leftist on the steering committee.” (On the panel the next day, Corn referred to himself at the “token liberal”).

“Great, let’s ask him if he really thinks that.”

We finally reached him by “joining” a conversation between him and Pamela, of (don’t mess with) Atlas Shrugs.

“Is it true” I said, with the kind of incredulous tone that tends to make people defensive, “that you think poverty breeds terrorism?”

“I didn’t say that,” Corn responded quickly, “I said that addressing poverty is a way among others to reduce terrorism. I didn’t say that poverty breeds terrorism [ah, cyberspace is so merciless]. I’m just arguing that if you have programs and help the economic situation, then you’re going to reduce terrorism and… the influence of jihadis,” he said, gesturing to us as if to say, ‘you know, the people you’re so worried about’).

“That’s not helping, that’s extortion money,” Pamela shot back without missing a beat. Pure PCP vs JP. This was going to be a lot of fun.

Genealogy of the Blogosphere: Swedish Example

It has been my contention since I first encountered the world wide web in the early 1990s that it represented the equivalent for the late 20th and 21st centuries what the printing press did for the late 15th and 16th centuries, along the lines of analysis first articulated by Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy and laid out in great historical detail by Elizabeth Eisenstein in The Printing Press as a Agent of Change. And when I discovered the emergence of the blogosphere in the first years of the aughts (00′s), I felt like I was looking at a detailed expression of the process.

Among my working hypotheses on the origins of the blogosphere as a political force, concerns the frustration that people felt with the inadequacy of the MSM coverage of events they knew something about, and the MSM’s reluctance to publish serious criticism. Many a blog, I imagined, arose from people’s anger at not getting their letters to the editor published, something that Harry Forbes confirmed at our last blogger’s meeting.

Now, from a Swedish blogger we get another confirmation of this problem, one that links the issue to the way the media has handled the Arab-Israeli conflict after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000 (the main focus, so far, of The Second Draft). In a chapter of a long essay on the Swedish media’s handling of the conflict, this blogger writes in “Media critics complaints go bloggers” how the pervasive bias of the media for the Palestinians and against Israel (what we call the PCP), seconded by the protective layer of “officials” who are supposed to supervise the media (a phenomenon fully visible in the Al Durah affair), drove him and others to blogging.

And so the bloggers arrive on the scene. A blog like this is described as a weblog (blog is an abbreviation of web-log) where every day anonymous (or not) individuals or groups can comment on daily topics, like the media. And then the readers of the blog can usually comment on it. An easy and cheap way of getting messages out about what’s on your mind, while having a dialogue as well and exchanges of thoughts, on an international as well as local level… I too started a blog as a test run. In less than 6 months I had some 6000 hits and readers. So it’s easy to see – you do get your message out, both the political as well as the media complaints. Some Swedish politicians adopted this new tactic as well, and started blogging. Leftist Ali Esbati for example, the former youth leader of the Left party, tended to censor lengthily the well-written comments that was too hard for him to understand and respond to.

Read the rest not only of this segment, but the entire essay. A fascinating insight into both the stranglehold that a PCP-driven MSM hold over Swedish society, and the role of the blogosphere in opening up a space where serious thinking and reality testing can take place.

And of course, the kind of problems our Swedish blogger ran into with his national press repeats all over the world. For an analysis of the way the BBC and our own PBS essentially operate as Dhimmis, see Hugh Fitzgerald’s latest at Dhimmiwatch (hat-tip Sliwa News).