Blogs and the establishment media

Much of the media's anti-blog hostility is rooted in less than noble sentiments.

Published June 27, 2007 1:58PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Due primarily to discussions and promotions by blogs -- a campaign catalyzed by Jane Hamsher -- A Tragic Legacy became the #1 Best-Seller on Amazon's Non-Fiction list last night, and currently sits at #2.

Exactly the same thing happened with my first book, How Would a Patriot Act? -- it was ignored almost completely by establishment media outlets (not a single review, television interview, etc.), but nonetheless was pushed to the top of Amazon and the NYT Best Seller-List exclusively as a result of blogs. And other books pushed almost entirely by blogs have achieved similar success.

One can debate the true influence of blogs and whether they will continue to grow in size and influence. But what seems beyond reasonable dispute is the fact that nothing can match bloggers and their readers in terms of political interest, intensity and energy. And, most importantly, the ability of blogs to be self-sustaining is growing rapidly.

Blogs are increasingly able to engage in their own in original reporting and widely and effectively to disseminate opinion and information without reliance on establishment media organs. If anything, establishment media organs are growing increasingly dependent upon blogs to sustain interest in their products. And one should not underestimate the vital role this development plays in so much of the establishment media's hostility towards bloggers and their endless reliance on caricature to belittle and demonize blogs.

Luke O'Brein, of Wired's superb 27B Stroke 6 blog, yesterday attended a panel discussion entitled "Can Blogs Be Trusted?", at which Jason Zengerle of the sickly New Republic warned of the grave dangers posed by bloggers. O'Brein reported:

New Republic Writer Warns of Wily Blogs

To blog a conference seminar entitled Can Blogs Be Trusted? is an exercise in ontological absurdity. To listen to The New Republic's Jason Zengerle announce that "If you're going to blogs for straight facts, per se, I don't think they're the most reliable resources," gives us the Fear. Can I trust that I heard him correctly? Can I trust him at all? After all, he blogs, too.

Zengerle described a lawless landscape of political bloggers playing loose with facts to advance an agenda, savaging above-board media outlets such as The Politico for revealing unsavory trashtalk involving Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Gen. Peter Pace. No better than mercenaries, these hatchet men, they should be eyeballed cautiously, Zengerle said.

For reasons that are more self-evident than anything else, Zengerle's anti-blog claims here are as incohernet as they are hypocritical. Somewhere along the way, TNR convinced itself that it was a bastion of agenda-free, fact-loyal journalism, notwithstanding its decades-long crusade to purge the Democratic Party of its insufficiently reverent elements, its devotion to Joe Lieberman, and its now-humiliating pre-war defense of George Bush's invasion of Iraq, where it railed against "the intellectual incoherence of the liberal war critics," accused war critics of having their true "abject pacifism" revealed, and -- as always -- claimed to represent "the views of mainstream Democrats rather than those of angry street demonstrators."

And that is to say nothing of Zengerle's own "lawless" past of "playing loose with facts to advance an agenda," whereby he published a fabricated email from a blogger list which he claimed to have received from three different sources -- an extremely unlikely event which neither TNR nor Zengerle, to this day, have ever explained.

There is simply no question that so much of the establishment media's hostility towards (and purported "concern over") blogs is grounded in the role blogs play in scrutinizing their conduct and offering an alternative to replace the opinion-making monopoly they held previously. Here, a year later, in an anti-blog article in Mother Jones, is Zengerle petulantly complaining that blogs detected and then wrote about the fabricated email he used:

When The New Republic's Jason Zengerle blogged about the Townhouse email, "The Kos" urged readers to cancel their subscriptions, writing, "It is now beyond clear that the dying New Republic is mortally wounded and cornered, desperate for relevance. It has lost half its circulation since the blogs arrived on the scene and they no longer (thank heavens!) have a monopoly on progressive punditry. We have hit their bottom line, we are hitting their patron saint hard (Joe Lieberman) and this is how they respond. By going after the entire movement." Many of Moulitsas' followers -- Kossacks, they call themselves -- then filled Zengerle's inbox with all manner of invective. . . .

During the Townhouse fight, Zengerle was slammed both politically and professionally, with some comparing him to the infamous New Republic fabricator Stephen Glass. "It was like, how can we discredit Zengerle?" he says. "The same way that if you're running a political campaign you would say, 'How can we discredit John Kerry?'"

In almost every case, media figures who lash out at bloggers -- purporting to offer some sort of objective, terribly worried critique about the "recklessness" of bloggers -- were themselves the subject of criticism and exposure by blogs. Zengerle is not alone. From Jonathan Chait to Dan Gerstein to Richard Wolffe (seen here valiantly defending the integrity of the White House Correspondents Dinner from the criticism of bloggers), those who have assigned themselves the role of warning about the Dangers of Bloggers are clearly fueled, at least in part, by having been the target of blogger scrutiny and critique.

"Bloggers," like every other group, include some irresponsible members, and can benefit from meaningful and vigorous criticisms. But the vast bulk of anti-blogger hostility -- particularly the criticisms offered by establishment media figures -- are motivated not by any genuine concern over journalistic ethics and responsibility (witness how steadfastly they ignore their own breaches), but instead by the fact that bloggers have shined light on the mistakes and corruption in their profession which previously festered in the dark, and by the fact that blogs are increasingly rendering what they do less important, and in some instances, even irrelevant. This amazingly whiny and substance-free attack on bloggers by Joe Klein in Time -- following months of constant criticism from bloggers about Klein's "journalism" -- illustrates this self-absorbed process perfectly.

For the foreseeable future, large media organizations will be necessary to enable cetain types of critically important investigative journalism. There are some truly superb and courageous journalists whom bloggers cannot replace. Indeed, so much of the blogger critique of the media is grounded in a desire for more of that. And there are many journalists who are receptive to the work of bloggers and use it as a resource. But the overwhelming sentiment towards the work of bloggers from media figures, especially our media stars, is to scorn it except when they ignore it. Their self-interest in relegating blogs to the "unserious" fringes is obvious and overwhelming.

But blogs are on their way to becoming self-sufficient, to enable -- entirely apart from media institutions -- the widespread dissemination of ideas, narratives, and viewpoints that the media excludes from our rotted public discourse. That development plays no small role in the increasing hostility one witnesses towards blogs from those who thought they had an entitlement to conduct and shape -- without any challenge or criticism -- how our political discussions proceed.

UPDATE: For those inclined to ask a question in the "why-are-you-talking-about-your-book?" genre, please see here.

On a different note, I will be on with Rachel Maddow tonight -- beginning some time between 6:05 and 6:15 p.m. EST -- to discuss the book. You can listen or get local listings here.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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