November 04, 2004

The Ties That Bind

The day after the election, I linked to a piece by Charles Johnson declaring the big leftyblogs among the losers on election night.

Chuck Olsen left a comment:

Yeah... not only can you not blame lefty blogs, you can't blame blogs - period. Information is instantaneous and ubiquitous, and we demand that. The internet is the fastest conduit, blogs are part of the internet, etc.
I'm not sure that either I or Charles were "blaming" anyone, merely observing.

But Chuck's comment introduces another question; blogs are indeed a conduit - but a conduit for what?

Where do blogs come from?

Johnson's observation - I think it's a fair one - is that Atrios, Willis, Kos, Josh "ua Micah" Marshall, the giggly fratboys at Pandagon, and Wonkette more or less parrot whatever the current lefty talking points are. It might be argued that the big right-wing blogs do the same - but I think there's a difference.

When you read a source, ask yourself two questions: What's the person's motivation? And if you follow the money, where do you end up?

Let's start with ideology.

So where do the big leftybloggers come from? Many of them are parsimonious about biographical details; we only learned Atrios' identity at the Democrat convention. But the MO seems to be pretty consistent: most of the big leftybloggers are young, male, big-league university educated, and life-long lefties; Duncan "Atrios" Black and Matt Yglesias are both Ivy-Leaguers

It's worth noting that many of the biggest conservative blogs are run by 9/11 liberals (Reynolds, Catalano, Johnson), former radicals (Powerline), or long-converted apostate liberals (Lileks and, among many bigger names, myself). The biggest right-wing blogs are written by people with incredibly broad perspectives on politics - they're looked at the fever swamp from both sides now. There are a few lifelong conservatives among the bunch - Captain Ed is a good example - but there's a lot more variety among the backgrounds of the big conservative bloggers.

Now, let's follow the money.

The biggest of the leftyblogs depend for their livelihood on the upper reaches of the American left. Atrios and Oliver Willis both work for Media Matters, George Soros' house organ. Yglesias and Drum both work for lefty publications. Kos' income comes from consulting for Democrats. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but it's worth knowing when gauging a source's credibility.

As to the major conservative bloggers, I'm trying to think of a single one that works in politics. Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh are law professors. Hugh Hewitt is a talk show host, but commenting on politics isn't the same as being in politics. The Powerline guys are attorneys, and fairly busy ones at that. Charles Johnson is a software guy. Michele Catalano seems to be a mom - in years of reading her, I can't recall noticing if she has a job outside the home [UPDATE: Readers inform me I'm wrong about this - Catalano works in law], but I feel safe in saying she doesn't work in politics, and if she ever did, it wasn't for a Republican organization. Captain Ed is a manager in the service sector. Lileks, of course, is not just a columnist, but works for the most embarassingly liberal newspaper between New York and LA; it's safe to say he doesn't get paid for his politics (although it's a stretch to call him a political blogger...). The point being that while the big leftyblogs are pretty much house publicity organs for the left (Atrios, Kos and Willis literally so) or owe their livelihoods directly to lefty institutions (Yglesias, Wonkette, Drum), the biggest conservative blogs are independents with day jobs that have nothign to do with politics.

Do the various bloggers' motivations affect what they put out? I'll let you be the judge. Perhaps that's why I prefer most of the local lefty blogs to the national ones; some of them seem to have lives outside politics. Many are better writers (although it's hard to see how anyone could be a more cursory writer than the likes of Willis or Atrios).

Not to say I agree with any of them. I'm just saying.

Do you assess a blogger's motivations when assigning credibility to their output? Do they matter to you?

(Full disclosure: I design software. For a credit card company. I've never earned a dollar from politics. And I was a Democrat, although only until I learned better...)

Posted by Mitch at November 4, 2004 02:02 PM | TrackBack

Expanding on the thought of losers this election... I think we can say that the Star Tribune poll is absolutely a loser this election. Once again, another election proves that it is irredeemably biased against Republicans. Quite possibly intentionally. It has been off by the same margin for how many elections now?

Posted by: Eric Anondson at November 4, 2004 04:34 PM

FWIW, and it's sad that I can remember stuff like this and not where I park my car at Fleet Farm, but I believe Michele does have a job outside the home... something involving writing and the legal system, but I can't remember what exactly.

Posted by: Steve Gigl at November 4, 2004 05:23 PM

As Imperial Minister of All Things Trivial, I do believe Michele is some sort of law clerk.
(don't ask me how I remember this stuff)

Posted by: Mary at November 4, 2004 10:05 PM

Hmmm.... I'll have to come back to these thoughts after I'm through my current hell. I'm all for independent thought. Hinderaker has been very politically involved in the past. Those pictures of him with Colin Powell and Gorbachev weren't random encounters. Anyway, even if you weren't blaming bloggers for the exit poll thing - somehow that little gremlin has been out there in the media and it's ridiculous. Jeff Jarvis and Reynolds have much more on this.

Posted by: Chuck Olsen at November 5, 2004 05:14 AM

"I'm all for independent thought. Hinderaker has been very politically involved in the past. Those pictures of him with Colin Powell and Gorbachev weren't random encounters."

John's been active, indeed. But he's never depended on politics for his entire livelihood, to the best of my knowledge.

There's a picture of me with Bob Stinson out there, somewhere. Doesn't make me a coke dealer.

Posted by: mitch at November 5, 2004 05:34 AM

Yes it does. :-)

Likewise, I work for public television. Am I a shill for public television? Can we both agree you can be involved with something and not be a slave to it?

Posted by: Chuck Olsen at November 5, 2004 08:36 AM

Of course you can. Point being, though, that I'd have to consider that when you were writing about PTV-related issues when and if I needed to determine your degree of shillitude. Speaking of which, tell Eskola he still owes me for that bag of flake I fronted him in '86.

I don't think Atrios and Willis do a particularly good job of proving that income <> slavery, either.

Posted by: mitch at November 5, 2004 10:58 AM

For the record, I do not receive any money from...well, anyone but Joe Gandelmann, and his $20 won't be allowing me to retire anytime soon.

However, I would be open to a fat contract from Media Matters.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke at November 5, 2004 11:39 AM