Remember when the brave bloggers of the “progressive blogosphere” were going to lead the resistance against the forces of evil personified by the MSM? Those brave souls were going to fight for truth, justice and the American Way (although what the first two have to do with the third is questionable.)
So what happened? Did Lex Luthor zap them with kryptonite? Did the Joker blast them with laughing gas? Were they kidnapped by Islamofascistcommies?
Philosopher/Poet/Revolutionary Leader Lambert at Corrente has been talking about the nearly-complete meltdown of the progressive blogosphere and calling for the formation of Progressive Blogosphere 2.0 for months now. Last Thursday Corrente hosted a symposium on the topic, featuring Big Tent Democrat from TalkLeft as a guest blogger. I highly recommend you read both the post and all of the numerous comments.
Well? What are you waiting for? Go read it, then come back here. I’ll wait.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so I’ll just drop a few ideas of my own. As I see it, what went wrong with PB 1.0 and what PB 2.0 needs to look like boil down to these issues:
Infrastructure is the hardware and software that makes the blogosphere possible. The “tubes,” and the servers are the hardware, and the software is wordpress and other similar programs. With few exceptions, all of it belongs to large “for-profit” corporations. This is a point-failure threat, as the recent attacks on Google bloggers have shown. These telecommunications corporations (Telecoms) do not share our interests, and often oppose them. Short of self-financing our own Telecom, the only protection available is government regulation.
Blog ownership was one of the primary failure points of PB 1.0, and remains a failure threat in the future. At the beginning of this primary election campaign, a handful of people controlled most of the progressive blogosphere. These are often referred to as “A” list bloggers. Everything was great when we shared common interests, when it was “us” against the evil Bush administration. The problem became evident as soon as our interests diverged and people chose sides. Suddenly, editorial control of blog content became an issue. Another problem was the personal ambitions of the bloggers themselves. A few seemed to sell-out in hopes of fame and financial reward.
Blog membership consists of individual diarists, commenters, and those who just lurk and read. Although they comprise the vast majority of the denizens of Left Blogistan, they have no rights and only as much input as they are permitted by the blog administrators. Unrestrained they can be a mob. Even democratic tools like the power to recommend and/or troll-rate diaries and comments can be misused by the mob if no control is exercised.
And yet, “control” can be just bad when it becomes censorship. This brings us to the key issue – blogger ethics. In order for a “progressive blogosphere” to succeed at its purpose, it must be firmly wedded to ethical standards. First and foremost must be reverence for truth and honesty. Second in importance (just barely) is the concept of fairness.
Truth is not a matter of opinion, even though it may at times be disputed. Fairness requires equal treatment for everyone, even those you don’t agree with. Far too often the last few months we have seen truth confused with opinion and fairness nonexistent. Although this post isn’t about either Hillary or Obama, they provide relevent examples.
Early in the primary campaign, it was apparent that “A” list blogs did not care for Hillary. But the coverage was relatively fair until Edwards dropped out making it effectively a two-person race. Some of the “A” listers were overtly supporting Obama, the rest leaned toward Obama while claiming neutrality. The difference in these positions could be described as “sins of commission” versus “sins of omission.”
If we look at a few of the big stories during the campaign we can see the difference. Remember the picture of Obama in Somali garb, the allegedly “darkened” photo and the doctored “war room” video? Each of those stories was prominently featured on the sites that were overtly supporting Obama, even though the sources and/or basis for each of those stories was questionable. Those are examples of sins of commission. But the supposedly “neutral” sites ignored the stories, even when they were debunked. Those were sins of omission, because those “neutral” sites claimed to be interested in promoting truth and exposing hackery.
Then there was the ABC debate, and the RFK comment by Hillary. The only thing shocking to Hillary supporters about the ABC debate between Hillary and Obama was that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous treated Obama like a Democrat. They asked him some tough questions about some non-policy issues such as his relationship with Rev. Wright. Hillary had been getting raked over the coals by debate moderators from the beginning of the campaign, and the treatment was so one-sided that Saturday Night Live even did a skit about it.
But this time the blogospheric reaction was different. One supposedly “neutral” site (let’s call it “Thieves and Prevaricators”) was so outraged it did at least eleven separate posts in two days regarding the debate, none of which discussed how the candidates had done or who had won or lost. There were calls for a boycott of ABC, protests were organized, and Obama used the debate as an excuse to refuse any further debates.
Compare that to the RFK assassination comment by Hillary to the editorial board of the Argus Courier at the end of May. It was obviously a fauxrage story and was prominently pushed by the overtly pro-Obama sites, but it received zero coverage by “Thieves and Prevaricators.” They didn’t push the story, nor did they denounce it. They simply ignored it. So did the other allegedly neutral “A” listers. That’s a sin of omission.
If truth and fairness are to have any meaning, stories should meet certain standards. Anonymously sourced stories with inflammatory content should be highly suspect, not the basis for major coverage. And any story that requires that the plain meaning of a statement be interpreted in order to have a nefarious purpose should be rejected. But a truly progressive blogosphere must also be willing to call bullshit on its own members when ethical standards are breached.
Then there was a major “sin of omission” by certain major bloggers regarding commenters on their sites. Obama supporters were allowed to misuse the ability to recommend or troll-rate others to suppress Hillary supporters. Even worse, they were permitted to be abusive and even threatening in comment threads. Name-calling and personal attacks became common. It was truly mob rule. Ultimately, many Hillary supporters were driven from those places and ended up at new blogs, such at The Confluence.
But there is another concern that covers several issues: the astroturfing of the blogosphere. Any regular visitor to Left Blogistan can bear witness to the speed at which Obama talking points are spread throughout the entire community. I will provide a personal example.
Back in March, when the Rev. Wright story first broke, it was announced that Senator Obama was going to give a speech on the subject of race in America. Strangely, this speech was not timed for a primetime audience, but I digress. At that time, I was a regular at Balloon Juice, which by then had degenerated into a CDS infested place for Obama supporters to get their daily kool-aid fix.
Even before the speech began I posted a snarky comment gushing about how wonderful and stupendous the speech was. I called it something like “Teh Greatestest Speech Evah.” I must have been psychic. Obama was still speechifying when the reviews began coming in. They weren’t just positive, they were orgasmic. Two separate commenters claimed to have been moved to tears just reading a transcript of the speech. But now the only thing people remember from the speech is poor grandma being thrown under the bus.
But the immediate “reaction” to the speech crystalized a notion I had had for weeks. I had noticed numerous nearly identical comments being posted under different names simultaneously on different blogs. I started to watch for it and by the time of the ABC debate I had three windows open at once so I could quickly switch between comment threads on separate blogs. Watching the debate in real time while monitoring the comments made it obvious that someone, somewhere was directing the dissemination of talking points.
Anyone who has endured Obama trolls knows the way they all regurgitate the same tired memes, often word-for-word. Frequently, these trolls appear and disappear as if they are on shifts, with one replacing another right on the hour. Prove it, you say? I would if I could, and it doubtlessly will be proven some day in the future. But even if these astrotrolls don’t exist, they will someday if preventative measures aren’t taken.
Each of the issues mentioned here is worthy of a much longer post, or even a doctoral dissertation. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, nor even some of them. The key here is to begin a discussion where we identify the problems and the causes thereof. Then we can begin to address remedies.
So have at it, discuss!