June 03, 2004,
The notion that forced "diversity" is always a noble goal is now so entrenched in American life that some people think even blogging should conform to its rules. Obviously, this is absurd; it's hard to imagine a more essentially free-market activity than setting up your own website to comment on and deconstruct the news, without permission (and certainly without the approval of) from the media establishment.
Anyone can do it. But that doesn't mean they'll necessarily attract the same attention the biggest bloggers get, and apparently this rankles some people more than I ever imagined.
Last weekend I organized and moderated an evening of double panels here in L.A. for the American Cinema Foundation, which promotes free speech and liberal democracy around the world through filmmaking. These days that means the ACF is a right-of-center organization; or, as many on the left would see it, a far-right fascist entity filled with neocon crazies.
It's Raining MenAnyway, no one seemed to mind much that the first panel ("Hollywood Insiders Take On Hollywood") consisted entirely of men (sitcom writer and NR columnist Rob Long; Hollywood, Interrupted co-author Andrew Breitbart; former UPN programming president Mike Sullivan; and Sitrick and Company crisis-p.r. expert Allan Mayer) who, with the exception of my old friend Allan, were all right-wing men at that.
The blogging panel, though...what a hornet's nest of outraged opinion this one stirred up. Some people seemed to think the blogosphere should be like academia, where outreach programs to find the perfect lesbian woman of color sociology professor are taken very seriously indeed.
Because this panel was called "L.A. Bloggers Take on Politics and the Media," I tried to make it reasonably balanced politically, so I invited Reason media critic Matt Welch, who's vaguely libertarian but is voting for Kerry; Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs and screenwriter/mystery novelist Roger Simon, both of whom run anti-Islamofascist sites and (although basically Democrats) are probably voting for Bush; Moxie, a freelance writer/photographer and staunch Republican; Kevin Drum, who used to run his own left-of-center Calpundit blog until it was annexed by the neoliberal Washington Monthly; and Slate's Mickey Kaus, who may not like Kerry but is planning to vote for him anyway.
The panel was basically evenly divided, and in the strictest sense probably tilted left. (Although as Mickey always points out, "If I'm on the left, the left is in big trouble.") But there was a storm of protest that, to use some of the more polite terms I came across, the bloggers represented were all warmongering, Arab-bashing, Republican turds.
I thought this was especially unfair to Mickey Kaus. It's true he once listed "the complete telephone books of all major American cities" among candidates he preferred to Kerry, but since he's sticking with his party, doesn't that make him a more loyal Democrat than most?
"Not really," said Mickey, when we talked about this. "But it's a good point rhetorically. I may use it!"
I did congratulate myself that with Moxie, I'd at least managed to represent the 20 percent or so of bloggers (or at least blog readers) who are women, according to a recent Blogads survey. But since she was by far the hardest right of the bunch, I doubt the Sisterhood was pleased.
WHAT A CRAZY MARKETPLACEPeople seemed to appreciate her shiny blonde hair and short pink dress, though, along with Charles Johnson's black leather jacket. "Remember when deranged neocons all dressed like Phyllis Schlafly and Jim Bakker?" one of my own blog's commentators asked. "Moxie's clearly going for the Ann Coulter look...and Charles Johnson's Ozzy [Osbourne] duds perfectly accentuate his paranoid and deranged reportings. All in all, much better in the style department these days, crazies!"
Thanks! But I began to get a little snappish at the constant suggestions, even after the event was over, that I invite more leftist bloggers. Some hapless commenter mentioned on L.A. Observed, our local media gossip site, that Lying Media Bastards is popular, plus the guy who runs it even has a graduate degree in media studies. But I noted that with just 30 links, Lying Media Bastards is only about one percent as big as Little Green Footballs, so describing it as popular is a stretch. And ten points off for the graduate degree in media studies.
I don't know why the harsh, marketplace reality is so difficult to understand, but if you want to attract an audience to a panel event, you need panelists who more than a few people have actually heard of. Little Green Footballs has just over 3,000 links; Kevin Drum's Washington Monthly blog just under 2,000; Roger Simon has 745 links; Mickey Kaus, 657; Moxie has over 500 links; and Matt Welch, whose own blog has around 500 links, also posts to Reason's Hit & Run blog, which has over 900. To put this in perspective, one of the loudest complainers was an obscure leftist blogger with just 18 links, who was furious I hadn't invited him to be a panelist. (And also that none of the featured panelists link to him.)
"Insert sound of stomping saddleshoes here," an LGF commenter noted about all this, "along with some sniffing."
The Hateful, Blue-Eyed CrowdThe most controversial blogger was also the biggest: LGF's Charles Johnson, a web designer and former jazz guitarist who used to tour with Al Jarreau. Johnson scours the Arab press (often via translations from MEMRI.org) for the latest anti-Semitic blood libel, and regularly links overlooked news stories about anti-American Islamic posturing. Because LGF lifts up rocks and shines a very bright flashlight on the hatefulness found there, Johnson is regularly accused of running a racist hate site.
For a reality check, I scanned LGF yesterday. Johnson noted on June 2 that Palestinian terrorists are frustrated by the Israeli fence (he approves); that the ACLU has successfully sued L.A. County for featuring a small cross in the L.A. county seal (he disapproves); that he's skeptical whether Iran has really closed its nuclear program; that Reuters is revealing more pro-terrorist bias; and that a link to a Middle East Quarterly story about a Muslim Students Association speaker who declared his intent to see Islamic law in the U.S. some day should be read by all journalists: "Because it sure would be nice if you guys would stop quoting enemies of America as if they were reasonable, moderate human beings. Sheesh."
Now I wouldn't expect LGF to be popular in Saudi Arabia, or even most U.S. newsrooms, but I've never seen any posts that would justify calling it a hate site. And yet there was enough nervousness that one of Johnson's many enemies might take a shot at him onstage that the ACF hired an extra security guard for the event and also searched bags.
I didn't think this was really necessary. After all, targeted assassinations are an Israeli thing; people LGF criticizes prefer instead to randomly slaughter as many civilians as possible. But there were no problems, and Johnson was relieved the audience Q&A session didn't turn into an LGF-bashing event, as he'd feared it might. "Sometimes it's tough being an odious Neanderthal," he said.
Of course, no event like this would be complete without complaints about its racial composition. And sure enough, I got some. "Never mind the progressives on that panel how many bloggers of color did you have?" one of my commentators huffed. "Didn't think so."
Bloggers of color. Now there's a concept.
My sister, who has a habit of noticing odd facts, did point out to me later that "everyone on stage for the Hollywood panel had blue eyes." Strange but true! And, if you take your victimology seriously enough, possibly unfair. But about that, at least, no one complained. I guess brown-eyed people haven't figured out their identity politics yet.
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.