February 14, 2005,
I've been doing this for a long time now. By "this" I of course mean eating while I type.
But I also mean this Internet thing. This column in fact pre-dates NRO itself and NRO is now considered one of those ancient landmarks of the Internet, like some old city that has been razed and rebuilt so many times nobody remembers why certain streets have the names they do. I remember when the first blogs started to appear and I was not particularly bullish on their chances for success. Of course, I was wrong about a great deal and right about only a little and I changed my opinion on them a long time ago. I still don't think they will ever "replace" Big Media and they will never be money-making as in capable of generating livable income for anything but the top .0001 percent of bloggers. But other than that, they really are a much bigger deal than I originally imagined.
Exhibit A, of course, is the resignation of Eason Jordan from CNN. For a week the bloggers chased Jordan the way Brad Davis chased "Rifki" in Midnight Express.
Jordan's head will hang alongside Howell Raines's, the editor of the New York frick'n Times and four top executives at CBS News. The blogosphere can also take credit for Dan Rather's demotion to "fry guy" at the CBS cafeteria. That is a big deal.
But what I find particularly interesting is that these and other accomplishments were achieved by generally conservative or non-left-wing bloggers. What makes that remarkable is that the lefty bloggers are every bit as good at this game as the right-wing ones are. I may not like some of them, but it would be silly to claim that they aren't good at what they do and even sillier to suggest that they aren't as hungry as the conservatives. The notion that the Daily Kos wouldn't chase down similar prey if given the opportunity just doesn't pass the smell test. Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum are just as tenacious about finding damning quotes, contradictions, and old gems on Nexis-Lexis as anybody on the right. There have to be other factors involved.
The most obvious one is that the Right's hunting preserve is teeming with big game. Until Jordan quit on Friday, the lefty bloggers were dancing around the victory fire chanting in triumph over bagging this Jeff Gannon guy from Talon News. I'm extending this metaphor too far, I'm sure, but their celebration makes me wonder how so many brave warriors can eat their fill off the carcass of a chipmunk. I confess that at first I thought this sounded like a real story. But it's turned out to be more than a little sad. While I don't necessarily think Gannon should have been credentialed, even with a day pass, at the end of the day this is one of the ho-hummiest media "scandals" to come down the pike in a while. If the guy hadn't changed his name and registered on gay porn sites, this would have been one of the dullest hullabaloos of all time. And besides, let he who has never registered with a gay military porn site under a different name cast the first stone. Actually, someone will have to explain to me why conservative opinion journalists can be literally outed out of the White House press room while liberal ones get lifetime achievement awards from the National Press Club.
Of course, the lefty bloggers are determined to make Gannon into a huge story. But no matter how many times the great hunters say "Did you see the size of that chipmunk!" and no matter how much parsley you garnish the plate with, it's still a chipmunk.
What's more interesting is what this whole episode says about the nature of the establishment media itself. We keep hearing that the blogosphere is the new "alternative media." This raises the question: alternative to what? For the right-wing bloggers, they are the same sort of alternative that NRO has been for near a decade now and that National Review has been for 50. Conservatives still see ourselves as the out-party when it comes to the media establishment. Sure, we appear on op-ed pages and as talking heads, but almost always in the spirit of "the other view." This tokenism rarely extends to the executive suites or to the editorial offices.
When we see the media establishment we see a vast confluence of ideas and institutions built up around a whole host of assumptions about the role of government, race, foreign policy, economics, sexuality, etc. Left-wingers, on the web and elsewhere, don't see the same thing. Their criticisms invariably have to do with "disappointment" that the press is being intimidated by the forces of reaction and warmongering. "What liberal media?" they ask. I'm speaking in enormous generalizations of course, but they believe the establishment media's failure has been a lack of resolve in standing up to the right.
This has enormous consequences for how the Internet plays out for the Right and Left. The Left must either focus entirely on the conservative media or it must move even further to the left so it can get out of its clinch with the mainstream media. You can't punch the New York Times if you're hugging it. So far it's done both. David Brock nipple tucked away for a rainy day and his gang spend all their time expressing shock that conservatives are conservative and trying to prove we're all liars or some such. It was this strategy that led to the bagging of Jeff Gannon. Meanwhile, the Daily Kos and its lesser imitators are moving what we call liberalism to the left. They're doing this mostly by pulling the Democratic party to the left. Michael Barone points out that this is good news for Bush.
I think it may be a sign of even better news for conservatives. Looking from a broad, historical perspective all of this seems to be of a piece with the gradual movement of America to the right. Raines, Rather, and Jordan were victims of a new era they were old growth that couldn't handle the new climate. Fox News is new growth. So is NRO. And so are all of these blogs, on the left and the right. But the evolutionary strategies are markedly different. The Left seems to want to be where conservatives have been for most of the last 50 years: shooting from the outside in; questioning fundamental arrangements and assumptions about the role of government; griping about media coverage; standing athwart history, yelling stop. Meanwhile, conservatives have had enough of that. We're slowly, inexorably, moving in on, or replacing, the ossified institutions of the old regime. It will be a long, long struggle and I still think liberals have the commanding heights. But the good news is that for the first time in our lifetimes, the liberals look like they want to switch places.