Saturday, June 7, 2003

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Hugh Hewitt's Weekly Standard piece on the Blogosphere begins as follows:

Joshua Micah Marshall is frustrated. He's the young-Blumenthal-in-training of partisan punditry, but in recent days his favorite story line can't get any traction. "It's amazing what it takes to start a feeding frenzy these days," he lamented at TalkingPointsMemo, his web log, last week.

Marshall has been flogging his Tom Delay-is-Magneto story for what seems to be a year, and it has been largely ignored not just by elite newspapers, but also by the blogosphere. An opinion storm requires certain ingredients to conjure it, and in the world of the blogosphere in 2003, you need one of the Big Four to buy in.

The Big Four are Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and The Volokh Conspiracy. These four sites are usually visited by news junkies many times a day because they are staffed by bright people and continually updated, and thus they can guide the chattering class to a breaking story or even a hitherto ignored story. Trent Lott is no longer majority leader in part because these superpowers of the blog filed and fueled the story of his remarks at Strom's birthday bash.

There are a few problems with this story.

First, it conveniently overlooks the fact that Josh Marshall was the first blogger to jump on the Trent Lott story. He also was instrumental in generating the drip, drip, drip of small stories that fueled the media and online frenzy. I agree with Hewitt that had the Big Four not gotten involved, the story may have died. To deny Marshall his due on Lott distorts the facts, however.

Second, it overlooks the fact that at times the Big Four have raised a stink about an issue, but the earth did not move. Sullivan, for example, took up Rick Santorum's problems with homosexuality (but not homosexuals!!) story, as did Volokh and InstaPundit. Bush issued a statement and that was that.

Third, to claim -- as Hewitt does later on in his essay -- that the Big Four will affect the Democratic primary is absurd. Democrats are not going to follow the lead of conservatives, neoconservatives, or libertarian hawks when they consider their candidate. Marshall will have a much greater influence -- if he wants to exercise it -- on the Dems. [What about the general election, or future Republican primaries?--ed. That's another story.]

I'm not saying that blogs -- particularly the ones Hewitt mentions -- don't matter. I'm saying that the Hewitt essay contains as much wish fulfillment as it does prognostication. Even Sullivan sounds more hopeful than assertive in evaluating Hewitt's claim.

[You're just upset you're not one of the Big Four, aren't you?--ed. Only if they have cool warm-up jackets.]

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel adds further thoughts about how the Blogosphere operates. And Glenn Reynolds e-mails that this is the closest he gets to a warm-up jacket.

posted by Dan on 06.07.03 at 04:25 PM