Friday, September 24, 2004

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Do blogs penetrate the campaign cocoon?

Jay Rosen has a must-read post that relates a Philip Gourevitch lecture on what it's like to cover a presidential campaign. Gourevitch comes across as the grown-up version of the Lindsey Lohan character in Mean Girls, applying his strengths as a foreign correspondent to a new situation: "The presidential campaign as a foreign country visited for the first time by our correspondent."

The two parts I found particularly informative:

"A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show," he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event.

The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. The bubble is a physical thing: a threshold your body crosses. If you are part of the traveling press corps, sticking with the candidate through the swing states, then you have to be swept--screened for weapons and explosives--or you cannot be on the bus. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand....

"Right there they have you," Gourevitch told our crowd of about 50 journalism students and faculty. "Outside the bubble you cannot go because then you're dirty again and have to be checked by the Secret Service." Under these conditions, he said, "no spontaneous reporting is possible."

You cannot jump into the crowd with an audio recorder and find out why those people were chanting what they were chanting before they were shown away by security guards. Accepting this limitation--a big one--becomes part of the bubble.

While it's tough for the press to leave that bubble, it's becoming easier for outside information to enter it:

Gourevitch joins the bus, and trudges through the morning's events. Nothing but photo ops and words heard a hundred times that week. There's a break and he pulls out his notebook. Then he realizes not a single thing happened that is worth writing down. But the other reporters have opened their laptops and they are springing into action. They found nothing to write down either. They're checking emails, pagers, and the Net because they "receive" the campaign that way. The bubble is made of data too.

A trail of meaninglessly scripted events is taken for granted, the emptiness at each stop is tolerated, in part because things crackle and hop so much in the information sphere.

I wonder if blogs are part of what these journalists check.

Read the whole thing -- and then go read the debate between Glenn Reynolds and Virginia Postrel over whether blogs focus too much on media criticism. This point by Postrel rings true:

Many of the best policy blogs have almost no media criticism, nor do they go looking for political scalps. They don't even constantly write about the superiority of blogs. That's why you almost never read about them. Reporters and media critics are bored, bored, bored by the very sort of discourse they claim to support (a lesson I learned the hard way in 10 long years as the editor of Reason). They, and presumably their readers, want conflict, scandal, name-calling, and some sex and religion to heighten the combustible mix. Plus journalists, like other people, love to read about themselves and people they know.

UPDATE: For more on the metaphysics of media coverage, check out John Holbo's marathon post on the topic.

posted by Dan on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM


Reynolds is a hack of unimaginable proportions. I'm not sure why anyone botherse to link/argue with him. Well, i mean its obvioussly because he has large and extremely stupid following, but still, self-respect, where'd that go? Reynold's (and his audience) is too stupid to deal with anything other than "evil liberal media". It's such an ingrained meme, that they feed off it. Facts on the gorund be damned.

posted by: Jor on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

So I read Postrel's thoughts before posting my last comment, but i just now read InstaHack's. My god, no matter how low you set your expectations, he never fails to meet the challenge, and sink below. Dan, its pretty obvious you don't put any value in his shodddy arguments .. so why link to him!

I wait for InstaIdiots hour-by-hour analysis of the Media and WMD reporting post-war, or the Niger memo forgery investigation. Cause, obviously RatherGate is the mmost importnat think facing this country. InstaHack really has no shame, none whatsoever. Let's face it, the media is incompetent. Evereyone knows this. They sell a prodduct that only has value based on its social utility (water-cooler talk), not on the value/accuracy of the actual information. Big surprise, the media fucks shit up -- I think we might have just had a war cause of that. InstaHo's outrage, truly is so, so, so, patheticaclly hackish, its beyond words.

posted by: Jor on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

The inherent openness of the blogosphere creates a free-flow of public contributions on BOTH media criticism and ernest policy discussion. For political journalists, I have to believe it's just another legitimate source, but increasingly a preferred source for assessing the public tone.

If campaign reporters feel so isolated by the cocoon, you would have to believe political blogs are an essential tool in their kit.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

The sheer number of anti-CBS posts is a meta-story on a meta-story of the election story. "Look over there" in the extream.

I'm somewhat reminded of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"I'm being oppressed."

posted by: TexasToast on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]


"obviossly," "gorund," "shodddy," "mmost," "importnat," "prodduct."

Before you describe other people as "stupid," perhaps you should take a breath and learn to spell or, at least, spellcheck. Your ad hominem rant and this carelessness makes it difficult to take you seriously.

posted by: Pavel on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Virginia, who has a gift for this kind of thing, nails a key and much-overlooked point. Most journalists, and especially most electronic journalists, would as soon cover a symposium on 18th century Bulgarian poetry as they would a discussion of government policy.

This is evident every time one of these journalists gets into an on-air discussion of policy in almost any area. They don't know anything. They cling to the one thing they sort of know -- the relation of the policy under discussion to the next election -- as a drowning man clings to a piece of wood. They love guests like James Carville and Ken Mehlman, and don't really know what to do with guests who work on policy for a living.

Your Aaron Browns and Paula Zahns, given a choice, would rather be doing stories on Laci Peterson and Chandra Levy -- because it is entertaining, and grabs a larger audience, and allows them to emote in ways that discussions about the deficit or the future size of the Army don't.

Small wonder campaigns spend so much time on efforts to manipulate the media. They know by experience it can be done.

posted by: Zathras on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Postrel debates Reynolds? Why does she waste her talent? And why does Drezner bother to mention Reynolds?

Postrel does nail it, not just for blogs, but for any kind of media. People claim they want serious, thoughtful discourse, but their actions belie their claims. Just as people claim they dislike negative campaigning, even though their actions reward negative campaigns again and again. Which is why Reynolds grabs as much attention as he does.

And why does anybody who reads blogs care whether campaign journalists pay any attention to blogs? This is insecurity talking. Is there any evidence that either the public or the campaigners take campaign journalists seriously?

posted by: S. Anderson on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Since Drezner describes Krugman as "shrill", does he ever apply similar adjectives to Reynolds's tone? I'll grant that Reynolds isn't writing a newspaper column, but doesn't his consistently snide, sneering, adolescent tone get in the way of his already thin content?

posted by: S. Anderson on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

I don't know - or care - if the campaigns
are reading blogs. The important thing is
that lots of other people ARE reading them.

With an effect much like that of the
Protestant Reformation. Us common folk
now have alternative sources of data. We
can read scripture for ourselves without
"analysis" by our "betters".

No wonder the legacy media is stone walling
on blogs. Eventually they are going to have
to find new employment elsewhere.

Since the Muslim world still has controlled
media I would humly submit that the MSM learn
to read and write Arabic. Chinese would be
a good choice for them too. I'd suggest
Russian but there are way too many cases.

posted by: pragmatist on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Oh how the left dost protest too much. I guess after a decade of indignate swearing up and down that there is no media bias, suddenly the new story is, 'yeh but they do it too'. Sadly Fox took that 'highground' five years ago. You guys can bitch and moan about Reynolds all you want, but nobody is given him a three and a half hours of free government owned network bandwidth a week to spew whatever one-sided 'news stories' he feels like. The only reason anybody knows Reynolds name is because a whole lot of people were interested in what he had to say and went out and found him. No advertising during the Superbowl for Instapundit or Drudge.
The real story of this campaign year is going to be how the Left's utter disdain for the average American came raging to the surface. Im proud to be one of the torch wielding peasants metaphorically dragging Viscount De Rather to the guillotine.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]


I agree that most reporters hate real policy debate and would do anything to avoid it. I am somewhat surprised that they are apparently so shocked at how dull a campaign is. It's not a debate, at least not at that level. Candidate appearances are a long-running Broadway show, and if you go backstage at Cats on Tuesday and again on Thursday you should expect to see pretty much the same things. As far as I can tell the only reason that reporters are there is in case there is a gaff or an assasination.

For some reason political beat reporters lack the professionalism of movie reviewers (who try to review cop buddy movies as though they have not seen 500 of them before) and sportswriters (who try not to be too much Inside Baseball) Maybe its because the audience never seems to complain.

posted by: AlanB. on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

The level of comments at this blog is really deteriorating, as the ratio of mindless insult ("Instahack" etc.) to substantive comment grows.

posted by: y81 on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Mark Buehner (12:16 PM) "The real story of this campaign year is going to be how the Left's utter disdain for the average American came raging to the surface."

Honey, You are so clueless. C'mon up to my neighborhood in Southie (South Boston) and try spewing that crap to a barfull of lifelong democrats. These are real workingclass guys and union members, who would get a wicked kick out of taking that torch your wielding and putting it where the sun don't shine. I wouldn't recommend tonight, tho. If you start that crap when Manny is up, you may not be around to whine tomorrow :)

posted by: Mac'scousinMc on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Mac'scousinMc, i'll be happy to make the deal if you stop in and have a few pints on the Southside of Chicago with my copper buddies and me. Sure there are plenty of democrats in our crowd, but you think they believe for a second wind surfing John Kerry would be caught dead south of the Stevenson if he wasnt fishing for votes? Lets get real. Teresa and John Kerry are the biggest WASP snobs that ever hit the campaign trail, but they arent even the worst. These moonbats would rather drown themselves in a gallon of wheat grass than roll ten frames, or god forbid go to a jingoist flagwaving Irish parade.
You watch, if Bush wins this election all that crap the Euro-snobs say about fat, stupid, ignorant Americans will be showing up everywhere from the LAtimes to NPR, with plenty of it spilling onto talk radio and op-eds.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

I just read Hobos's post on biased and found it to be very good.

There was one comment in the post I would love to see a discussion on. He said, "Economically,
we understand that a free market is supposed to be optimal for the production of wealth and acceptable for its distribution". This statement gets to ther real heart of the problem I have with most conservative economic commentary. The point I would raise is that there is no such thing as a "free market". Every market depends on government and the
question is what is the optimum mix of govt and private activity. But so much I read in "conservative" sites is based on the premise that all govt is bad and that the world would be better off with no govt. How anyone can believe that is beyond me, I often think that such people still think the world really works the way they were taught in intro economics.

I would love to see a response to this point of view by Drezner. My point is that both govt and private markets produce both bads and goods, and
the basic assumption I see is that govt is all bad and private is all good.

posted by: spencer on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

I don't mean to move from trashing mainstream journalists to trashing bloggers, really. In truth, I often find useful or at least interesting things in all of the blogs I read. Maybe my sample is unrepresentative, but Instapundit is part of it (part of his background is in the intersection of law and technology, a subject I regard as important but know little about. Plus his site's links are handy and more comprehensive than other blogs').

What I don't like much is when bloggers yield to the evidently powerful temptation to give voice to their alienation -- usually from people they think they disagree with but don't actually know. A certain amount of alienation is inevitable in a country as large, diverse, and rapidly changing as America is; I just think people ought to recognize it for what it is and regard it with some composure instead of putting it on display like a convert who has just read John 3:16 for the first time. Glenn Reynolds is as guilty of this as anyone, especially in his comments on the major media and the Kerry campaign. The only people Dan Drezner treats this way are those who think outsourcing might be some kind of problem.

posted by: Zathras on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

"My point is that both govt and private markets produce both bads and goods, and
the basic assumption I see is that govt is all bad and private is all good"

Government is the embodiment of power and all power corrupts. That is the cost of government. Now that doesnt mean that all government is bad and all private enterprise is good. It means that corruption and incompetance go hand in hand with government, and that must be recognized when balancing your mix. A true capitalist recognizes that the minimum sustainable amount of government that creates a level playing field is the ideal. The problem is that government inherently grows to fill any vacuum. And hence the objective of leveling the playing field quickly transforms into the objective of some particular outcome, which the market almost always abhors. Your market becomes increasingly inefficient.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Reyenolds pulls a RatherGate!

This truly is hilarious. I hope the rightwing thoroughly investigates and gets to the bottom of this.

posted by: Jor on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Mark -- good start. I will reply with 2 points.

On govt corruption -- it takes two, almost every case of govt corruption I have ever heard of involves a private firm or individual trying to
corrupt the govt. It is really rare, and I mean really rare, for one govt to corrupt another govt.

Is a level playing field the ideal? George Bush has all kinds of advantages because he was lucky enought to select wealthy parents. If he did not have an "unlevel" playing field he probably have ended up as a Wal Mart manager not President. If you really believed in a level playing field you would want to take away every advantage he gets from his wealthy family and leave him with the same resources as an average person. That would be creating a level playing field -- right?My parents were school teacher in the hills of eastern Ky. do you really believe I compete with Bush on a level playing field?
So maybe you do not really believe in a level playing field.

posted by: spencer on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

"On govt corruption -- it takes two, almost every case of govt corruption I have ever heard of involves a private firm or individual trying to
corrupt the govt. It is really rare, and I mean really rare, for one govt to corrupt another govt"

Study the city of Chicago, you'll find every level and every kind of corruption known to man. From government employees stealing paper clips to commisioners hiring unqualified family members to sweetheart contracts to political cronies worth billions. There are many chances for corruption built right into government that dont have anything to do with the privite sector but ultimately act as a form of friction on society and business.

"Is a level playing field the ideal? George Bush has all kinds of advantages because he was lucky enought to select wealthy parents. "

That has nothing to do with a level playing field, that is simply how life works. Some of us are born with more brains, or special abilities, of course no-one advocates restraining such things. Its like a monopoly game except different people start with different amounts of money, but everyone still moves the same distance depending on the dice roll, and the same rules apply to everyone. That is a level playing field.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Yes, Dubya was definitely on a level playing field with the rest of us. I'm sure Mark's straight-C report card has landed him an MBA from Harvard too.

posted by: Jor on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Right on, Virginia!

Comments have been way up over at Fistful of Euros, and no wonder. We've written about German nationalists gaining votes - not as many as French nationalists routinely clock up, but hey, when's the last time French nationalists started a world war? Le Pen lacks that certain weiss ich nicht was. Plus we've been loudly advocating opening the gates of Vienna and letting in the Turks, a mere 421 years later. If we really want to stir the pot, we'll say something snarky about Iraq, but we'll probably wait for Sweeps Week to do that. And on at least one category we lose out: a sex scandal would apparently do wonders for traffic, but Over Here we're too busy having sex to be scandalized. So there.

posted by: Doug on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Gourevitch comes across as the grown-up version of the Lindsey Lohan character in Mean Girls

Jesus Christ.

posted by: EH on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Even Milton Friedman sees the luck of being born to the right parents as being a problem for free markets. I'm sorry Mark, your answer does not address the question. Because that is the way the world works has nothing to do with the question of an even playing field.

Ok in the case of Chicago you give a good example,but it still falls withing my question of being an exception rather than the rule.

posted by: spencer on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

Good morning, I am new to this site. I have just learned about this from :Q-. I am going to read on and it's very interesting to know.

posted by: Skiurlaub on 09.24.04 at 01:11 AM [permalink]

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