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Anti-Blogger Rhetoric: A Sign of What the Blogosphere Is Doing Right

5 years ago
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If success breeds contempt, then bloggers are finally making it big.

Consider this study in contrasts: During his first White House news conference last year, President Barack Obama called on a liberal blogger, Sam Stein, and CNN recently hired conservative blogger Erick Erickson to provide on-air commentary. On the other hand, despite such inroads, "bloggers" in general have increasingly become scapegoats and bogeymen for the mainstream press and politicians.

For example, while praising print media last year, Obama juxtaposed the traditional media with the New Media by voicing reservations about the ethics of blogging: "I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding," he said.

Sarah Palin Could it be that the president (who until recently was thought to be tech-savvy) is not happy with the online criticism he has received? Perhaps any modern-day president, regardless of party, would be unnerved by the power of the nascent New Media -- and of citizen journalists -- to gin up dissent.

To be sure, the anti-blogger demagoguery is bipartisan. The "just a blogger" trope has been used by Democratic and Republican politicians to discredit unflattering stories that originated in the blogosphere.

While defending South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley from accusations she had an affair with a prominent South Carolina blogger, former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska said: "Nikki categorically denies the accusation that was spewed out there by a political blogger who has the gall to throw the stone, but then quickly duck and hide and proclaim he would not comment further on the issue. Quite convenient."

It's no surprise that Palin would defend Haley -- she recently endorsed her. And I have no idea whether the allegations are true or fabricated. What caught my attention was Palin's use of the term "political blogger" as a pejorative -- as if that, in itself, discredits the critic.

This seems to be a trend with Palin, who now mocks bloggers with regularity. During an interview on Fox News, she criticized the media for taking cues from "some blogger probably sitting there in their parents' basement, wearing their pajamas, blogging some kind of gossip or -- or a lie."

She ought to know better. The "pajamas" reference was famously employed as a dismissive insult against conservatives by former CBS News executive Jonathan Klein, who ridiculed bloggers questioning Dan Rather's bogus Air National Guard memos, saying: "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at '60 Minutes'] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."

In that instance, the mainstream media finally did take their cues from bloggers, and in so doing finally got the story right. The blogosphere was hardly intimidated. Out of that episode grew a conservative online outlet, Pajamas Media, run by Roger L. Simon, and Klein himself is now president of CNN, which recently hired Erickson to provide commentary.

On yet another occasion, Palin referenced "bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie to annoy me."

In fairness to the former vice presidential candidate, she has every right to be angry with some bloggers. She and her family have endured scurrilous attacks, including one from a liberal blogger who "broke" the bogus story of her divorce. Worse yet, right after her nomination as John McCain's running mate, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic invented a new type of "birtherism" when he went on a bizarre and misguided quest to prove Trig was not really Palin's baby. Sullivan went so far as to demand a paternity test.

On the other hand, it was blogger Adam Brickley (my former intern) who began the "Draft Sarah Palin" blog -- and was widely credited with helping to bring her, then an obscure governor from a distant state, to the attention of the McCain campaign. One could argue that Palin owes her fame to a blogger.

According to Maegan Carberry, who has been both a mainstream reporter at the Chicago Tribune and a blogger at Huffington Post, part of the problem is a failure to distinguish between the different types of bloggers: "Are we talking about the Josh Marshalls or Erick Ericksons? Are we talking about the Chris Cillizzas? Are we talking about the proverbial kid in PJs in his parent's basement?" she asks. "I appreciate the need to establish a trusted brand, which is harder for individuals than decades-old institutions."

Ultimately, bloggers must establish their own credibility if they are to be trusted. As such, they have an incentive to strive for accuracy. But should the accurate and honorable ones face constant criticism that should rightly be aimed at the irresponsible ones?

Clearly, Palin has been both attacked and supported by bloggers. As such, one would hope that she wouldn't paint with a broad brush. Instead, she and others seem to relish going after bloggers the way Spiro Agnew enjoyed blasting the "nattering nabobs of negativism."

But it's not just the politicians who are guilty of this. Mainstream journalists have increasingly gotten into the act, as well. On MSNBC's "Hardball" recently, Howard Fineman said he believes Rand Paul's now infamous Civil Rights Act gaffe had "something to do with the Internet age and the blogging age," adding that there are "a lot of blasting position papers out there. It's a lot of saying, 'I feel great because I've made this statement.' But the fact is, nobody's cross-examining you" about that statement.

Aside from the fact that Paul's comments had nothing to do with blogging, Fineman (who works for Newsweek, which is in danger of going out of business) clearly thinks bloggers just spew opinions without any accountability to readers. For better or worse (and trust me, I could do without some of the comments people leave on my blogs), online writers and bloggers are much more accountable to readers than was the case in the supposedly halcyon days of traditional journalism. It is a mistake to yearn for a time when the only hope a reader had of responding to a "serious" journalist was submitting a letter to the editor and hoping it got published.

As Tim Fernholz, staff writer at The American Prospect magazine, explains: "Many public figures, especially those in the older generation, confused the medium and the message, equating anyone who publishes solely on the Internet with the craziest people who publish solely on the Internet. It's as if someone read the Weekly World News and then criticized The New York Times for also being printed on paper -- two totally different products, but ignorance leads to broad brushes."

Other bloggers see the media criticism of bloggers as sour grapes. "At least with newspapers, magazines and TV, they had producers and editors they could count on to keep the blemishes covered," said Andrew Griffin, an Oklahoma-based conservative blogger who was a reporter for various outlets, including a Gannett newspaper in Louisiana. "But now, bloggers and online journalists -- the responsible ones, anyway -- are covering the hard news stories that the Big Paper editors ignore or don't have time for. We have broken stories at my two websites that to this day have been ignored by the local Big Paper and the lapdog TV stations."

In recent weeks, Bill Clinton voiced concern over anti-government rhetoric, and Rand Paul voiced concern over anti-BP rhetoric, yet nobody -- not even the bloggers themselves -- seems terribly concerned about all the anti-blogger rhetoric. As Erickson, who runs the popular conservative blog RedState, told me: "Bloggers have always been under rhetorical attack. It's no different from people attacking the media in general -- everyone paints with a broad brush. It comes with the territory."

This all makes me wonder if, ultimately, the "blogger" brand will be destroyed. Will bloggers be forced to find a new name for what they do -- just as many liberals now insist on calling themselves "progressives"? Is blogger the new lawyer? Will we have to say, "No, Buffy, I'm not a blogger. I'm an online opinion journalist!"?

Of course, bloggers have no union reps to defend them, and there is no Blogger Anti-Defamation League or watchdog group to turn to. And because many political bloggers are more loyal to their ideology than to their profession (or avocation), bloggers rarely defend others of their kind. Case in point: When CNN hired Erickson, the liberal blogosphere went nuts. And when Jane Hamsher, founder of the progressive blog FiredDog Lake defended Erickson as an "honest broker," the left turned on her, too. More recently, conservative bloggers ravaged Will Folks, the blogger who wrote that he had had an affair with Nikki Haley.

Still, some actually see these attacks as a positive sign. "Criticisms of a blogger's credibility further justify their entrenchment in our country's conversation, because once you become a scapegoat in the news cycle it means influential people are paying attention," Maegan Carberry told me. "If something isn't credible or relevant, high-profile figures would not acknowledge it at all."

Chuck DeFeo
, chief executive of Campaign Solutions, a top online strategy firm (and formerly my boss at, agrees: "As bloggers have expanded their audience and their influence, their ability to impact public opinion has become as strong as some in the mainstream media. With that influence comes the likelihood that some in power not only won't like what you have to say but, more importantly, they now need to respond."

Of course, not everyone would say the attacks are a form of flattery. What is clear, though, is that the hostility toward bloggers isn't merely relegated to politics. Just the other day, Yahoo! chief executive Carol Bartz publicly told a tech blogger to "f--- off." Those words are not unusual for a blogger to hear, mind you, but what is unusual is for someone to say it while on stage. And it's not a convincing argument.

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I believe it is misunderstood when Palin uses the same descriptive wording to put down some negative remarks that were previously used by a Left leaning blogger. This is deliberate. This is her way of turning their own words back at them. Palin is pretty much the person she presents to the public. I do not think she spends a great deal of time trying to come up with "zingers" (very difficult for someone who is not accustomed to trashing people) and just tosses negatives back by using their language to refute their claims.

June 17 2010 at 2:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am not sure if anyone remembers the old saying, don't believe everything you read in the newspaper... I do find their lumping all blogs in a catagory marked unfit reading to be a bit extreme and undereducated of them. What I see here, is a few government issued people upset that their choice to be a public figure got to be to much for them and they don't want to hear that people do not like them. I also see that these same people want to take away the right to voice our dislike of them and their policies and call us all here dangerous for saying what we think. Your opinions written here are of the same classification as blogging. All I see here are more rights being questioned with loud mouths who can dish it out but not take it.

June 01 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Palin appears to act and speak inflammatory as to draw the attention of all , including bloggers, to keep herself in the news and to avoid being forgotten, past, done , over, irrelevant. She refuses to be productive and positive, rather to be controversial to ensure her place in the limelight and avoiding obscurity where she belongs.

June 01 2010 at 10:55 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

I think the president was right in saying:

"I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,"

That is indeed what I see in many cases. You can look at what THIS site has had to do in order to get a handle on what goes out into the blogosphere. On the internet, words matter, even if they are correct or not. Opinions can be just as easily made on bad infomation as on fact. Blogs help in perpetuating misinfomation. Attempts to control this, only comes off as censorship. If this is how one gets their news, we are in big trouble no matter how we choose to handle it.

May 31 2010 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I read the articles that interest me. Generally speaking the bloggers are very naive and un-informed and just " parrot" the unsubstaniated views of other un-informed people.A perfect example is this Legisalation in Arizona.The Ninth Circuit Court of appeals which is that district has already upheld that any State Legislation that mimics the same Federal Legis;ation and does not increase the enforcement of it and/or any Penalties is valid. The Arizona Legisalation mandates that it has to be a secondary offense which means that they have to be legally stopped for something else. It also provides a Penalty of a misdeameanor. The same Federal Legislation mandates that an immigration officer can stop you on the basis of "SUSPICION" and the Penalty for not having Documentation is a "FELONY".So either the Boycotts are based on a disregard for the Law or the Ignorance of it. How does one blog reponsibly if they are ignorant of or disregard the Laws?Its that simple.

May 31 2010 at 4:13 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

Sigh. Blogging is a platform, a publishing method. Condemning or exalting bloggery as bloggery is as ridiculous as doing the same for content found on wood pulp. I've read really smart stuff on paper and really stupid stuff on paper. Ditto about what I've seen on blogs.

It is true that the ease of blogging allows many, many more people to make widely public their thoughts. But the credibility (or lack) of those thoughts owe nothing to the operating system or the GUI we use to read those thoughts.

May 31 2010 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The line is really vague between criticizing a person's ideas and criticizing the logic of the subject/author. My idea of a personal attack is mainstream, but who is to judge whether it gets a little to critical? By the way, how come you didn't think of this civilogue a few years ago when all the hate spewed on Bush for eight years? What did the Church Lady of SNL used to say? "Isn't that convenient...."

May 31 2010 at 2:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

PLEASE, let's not use such a fallacious term as "citizen journalists"! The bloggers are most certain, for the most part, NOT journalists in the finest traditions of the historic profession. They are not bound by facts, they are responsible to no one and they too often subscribe to Vance Packard's sick adage that, "If a story SOUNDS good, run with it. If you have to run a "correction", that will make another good story." (Writing as a foreign correspondent of a bizarre birth "story" in pre-Communist China.)

Unfortunately, the Government is too often too willing to give its imprimatur to such silly "citizen journalists". A couple of years ago, it gave press credentials to a 70+ year old grandmother with no writing experience, but wanted to be a "citizen journalist" to go to Iraq to write a blog about the "truth" of America's involvement, something she insisted was being ignored by the legitimate press.

May 31 2010 at 2:56 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

If the liberal media were not so apparently biased to the left and were honest in their own news reporting there would be no need for the pundits of FOX etc. or the bloggers, who seem to be drawing the ire of those who do not want their political biases made public.

May 31 2010 at 2:32 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

I find it difficult to determine which bloggers are accurate and dependable. Many completely discredit themselves with errors and editor would have caught. Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one.

May 31 2010 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ruth's comment

Ruth..........have you read a newspaper lately? No one is catching errors. They wouldn't recognize one. The majority of Americans are coming up through our subpar public education system. I took care of 3 children for a time, and I would review their graded papers to go over their errors with them. You would be shocked at the number of errors I found, versus the number of errors marked by the teacher. Perhaps this is manipulation of grades in order to get a higher rating in the state and national standings for their school, but in my heart, I know it is the failure of our teaching methods and standards. If the teacher never learned something correctly, how do they recognize when the student makes an error?

June 17 2010 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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