Sunday, May 15, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (3)

Hello, bemused New York Times readers

I'd like to thank Suzanne Nossel and David Greeberg for holding down the fort here at while I was away at my brother's wedding. Contrary to David's fears, their tag-team of insightful and provocative posts kept my traffic levels at very respectable levels. UPDATE: You can read David's final thoughts by clicking here.

Furthermore, I see that David made the most of his experience by writing about his guest-blogging stint in the New York Times.

"You should have a blog."

Apparently I push my opinions on my friends rather aggressively, because I often hear this remark.

Last week, I had my chance. My wife and I agreed to be "guest bloggers" - the online equivalent of what David Brenner used to do for Johnny Carson - for Dan Drezner, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who runs a popular libertarian-conservative blog,

How hard could blogging be? You roll out of bed, turn on your computer, scan the headlines, think up some clever analysis while brushing your teeth, type it onto your site and you're off.

But as I discovered, blogging is no longer for amateurs or the faint of heart. Blogging - if it's done well - has evolved into an all-consuming art....

I did have sympathy for the audience. They expected their usual diet of conservative commentary. Instead, they got a liberal foreign policy expert (Suzanne) and a liberal historian linking to Arts & Letters Daily ( and the History News Network (

One Dreznerite vilified me for linking to a piece by the liberal journalist Joe Conason ("Why on earth would you think that gutter-dwelling hack would have any credibility on this blog?").

At one point, Dan took time out from real surfing in Hawaii to post a note informing readers that he had two liberals subbing for him. He must have been watching the train wreck on his beloved blog with horror....

I wasn't the only newcomer to blogging last week. On the ballyhooed "Huffington Post," Gary Hart, Walter Cronkite and David Mamet dipped their toes in the blogosphere as well.

I don't know how they'll fare, but I doubt that celebrity will attract readers for long. To succeed in blogging you need to understand it's a craft, with its own tricks of the trade. You need a thick skin. And you must put your life on hold to feed an electronic black hole.

What else did I learn by sitting in for Dan Drezner? That I'm not cut out for blogging.

Some reactions to this piece from Ann Althouse, Sheila O'Malley, Bill Quick, QandO, Steven Taylor, Tom Maguire, and Pejman Yousefzadeh. My own jet-lagged thoughts:

1) Some useful links: Here's my explanation for why I invited Greenberg and Nossel to guest-blog. Click here to read Greenberg's Yalta article in Slate, and here to read Greenberg's follow-on post which contains the "moral cretin" comment. Having been in Hawaii and blissfully oblivious to the whole speech, I'm not prepared to comment on it one way or another -- but go read my colleague Jacob Levy's rejoinder to Greenberg and other critics of the Yalta reference in The New Republic Online.

2) For the record: I checked in on the blog/e-mail only once while in Maui (David, I was snorkeling, not surfing), and posted the public service message because I received a few e-mails from readers who were confused about exactly who was blogging. UPDATE: CNN got confused too.

3) My lovely wife, after reading Greenberg's essay, turned to me and asked puzzledly, "there are Dreznerites?" I'll leave it to the commenters themselves to answer that question [If the answer is yes, could you ask them if they'd be interested in buying wildly overpriced merchandise?--ed.]

4) I hate to break it to Greenberg, but in my writing experience, the worst invective I've ever received hasn't been from blogging, but from.... this Slate essay on Bush's management of foreign policy. Click here for some of the more amusing responses.

5) And c'mon, David -- my readers are quite familiar with Arts & Letters Daily and the History News Network (neither of which to my knowledge has an explicit or implicit political bias). And I've had a few conservatives question whether I provide a "usual diet of conservative commentary" in my posts (again, see that Slate piece of mine).

5) Finally, I would encourage David not to give up on blogging for the wrong reasons. I agree that blogging is a craft, but not one that requires hobbyhorses, shticks or catchphrases. In my experience, successful political/policy blogging does require an unusual mix of skills:

a) The self-confidence to post about anything and everything;

b) The willingness to post admissions of error after screwing up;

c) Having the courage to walk away from a half-baked post when you recognize that your thoughts are too inchoate to press "Publish.";

d) A very, very good internal editing mechanism [Thank you!--ed];

e) A recognition that blogging is like almost everything else in life -- a skill that improves with plenty of practice;

g) A saintly spouse.

Of course, Greenberg is a fellow untenured academic, which presents some perfectly valid reasons for not blogging -- but that's the topic of another post entirely.

LAST UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel posts her thoughts about blogging at here. And David Greenberg has asked me to pass on the following missive (after the jump):

I’ve just found a free moment. Because you said you’d be back Monday [It's true, I did--DD], I thought I’d do a final post today (Sunday). I was planning to flag the Times piece and say thanks and farewell. But now you’re back before I made my final post. So I was wondering if you might put up a few last thoughts from me. (In fact, please include this graf, because I want readers to know I meant to notify them of the Times piece.) So herewith:

(1) A big, big thanks again to you and to your readers. (“Dreznerites” was Suzanne’s coinage, meant as a term of endearment.) For all the harried moments I focused on in my Times piece, I really had a lot of fun doing it. Of course, I know full well that your readers aren’t monolithically conservative, or disproportionately mean-spirited; those were just the ones who chose to mix it up with me -- as is their prerogative, nay, their duty. Above all I was grateful for not just your readers’ indulgence but for their intelligent comments. As with the Yalta piece, they led me to clarify my arguments.

(2) I hope you and your readers realize that the Times piece was meant above all as a statement of my newfound appreciation for what blogging entails. I think reader Dustin Ryan Ridgeway is right to say that other bloggers’ commentary may have colored the reception of my piece. [He has a point--Glenn Reynolds took the story in the vein Greenberg intended--DD.] My god, I certainly wasn’t trying to “sniff condescendingly,” as another reader put it. My key point in the Times piece: good blogging “requires as much talent as sculpting a magazine feature or a taut op-ed piece.” I meant that sincerely.

(3) We may differ on the precise ingredients that make a good blog. But I should make clear that I don’t see hobbyhorses, schticks or catchphrases as bad at all. I like these things! Also, like you, I found that having a saintly spouse came in handy.

(4) I think most readers did appreciate that my Times piece was tongue-in-cheek. But for those who didn’t: No, I wasn’t really all that shaken by Dan’s quite sensible “public service message.” Nor did I really presume readers ignorant of my favorite sites -- though I own up to ignorance of a lot of blogs out there. And I’m a bit thicker skinned than perhaps I suggested (talk about schtick!). Sorry if my humor was lost on some.

(5) I certainly did not wish to imply that harsh discourse exists only in the blogosphere. The Internet as a whole facilitates hasty and intemperate posting and e-mailing -- something we’ve known since those discussions of “flaming” ten years ago. Slate constantly struggles to maintain a high-quality “Fray” that balances civility with freewheeling debates. And as I wanted to say in my Times piece (lines were cut for space): talk-radio and shout-TV, not to mention many of the books dominating the best-seller lists these days, prove that no medium has a monopoly on shrillness.

(6) Your own jet-lagged, tossed-off thoughts are remarkably eloquent and sharp. Another reason I admire you and other top bloggers. It really is hard to do well.

So -- and I think I can speak for Suzanne on this last note -- thanks again, and farewell. I hope to see you in bricks-and-mortar land sometime. And if you need a tenure letter, I’m there.

Warmest regards,


All emphases in original.

posted by Dan on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM


As a reader and not a commenter I would like to break my silence. David and Suzanne did a wonderful job while Dan was in Hawaii. Thanks David and Suzanne.

posted by: Wes on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I agree, the Drezner Quality Index was maintained in your absence.

posted by: François on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

RE: "there are Dreznerites?" I'll leave it to the commenters themselves to answer that question [If the answer is yes, could you ask them if they'd be interested in buying wildly overpriced merchabdise?--ed.]

Of course there are Dreznerites! And about the merchabise - where can we buyt some?

posted by: Tom Maguire on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I'm with Tom. Lay that merchandise on me.

posted by: Brian on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that Mr. Greenberg and Ms. Nossel were jumping in on a blog that a much different readership politically than they themselves? I remember Dan Drezner's guest appearance at Washington Monthly was a disaster (Through no fault of Dan's)

When one takes that into context, the chattering classes at the other blogs about Greenberg's article seem rather mean-spirited and unwarranted.

posted by: Dustin Ryan Ridgeway on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I think the problem was that David wanted to sniff condescendingly rather than engage in discussion about the topics he chose. There's a big difference between insinuating that Bush is part of some neo-McCarthyite conspiracy and making a substantive argument that his Baltics speech was bad foreign policy or bad history. Hey, at least he got a NYT piece out of it!

Suzanne started off in a similar vein, but redeemed herself with strong posts about anti-Americanism, the UN and Abu Ghraib. By the end of the week, I felt like I had learned something interesting about her take on those issues, and I wound up bookmarking Democracy Arsenel for reading along those lines in the future. Personally, I'd have liked to see her answers to the rest of the 10 questions that she posed.

So, an interesting experiment, something of a mixed result from my perspective. Welcome back, Dan!

posted by: Doug on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

With an exception, I'll let Pejman Yousefzadeh's comments stand in for my own. It's humbling, certainly, having someone of Greenberg's munificence grace one's daily reading.

However, Nossel's agitprop-like reduction of the anti-Bolton movement to David Letterman styled top-10 reasons was cause for eye-rolling numbness. What's next, Frank Rich explicating cultural nuances? Many indicators could be pointed to to better explain why factions on the left side of the political spectrum don't want Bolton in the UN position he's been nominated for. I'll offer but one, here, (a pdf but a very small one). Go to the fourth and final page to read the Bolton article, Bolton's prose is trenchant, concise and cogently illuminates critical concerns, it's also devoid of simplistic agitprop and pious reductions. Too, read the entire four pages since that particular issue of Risk of Freedom is devoted to the topic of transnational governance.

Nossel's top-10 reasons do not represent an offering for or a basis upon which discussion and debate can be reasonably forwarded, they represent more of an insensate barrier to any discussion, a form of low-brow agitprop. Wouldn't be worth mentioning, excepting this type of "offering" from various left and leftish confines is in fact so typical and indeed, ubiquitous.

posted by: Michael B on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Both Greenberg and Nossel did a good job but in the future it might be more interesting to have guest bloggers with different opinions who debate each other. Perhaps Brad de Long and Tyler Cowen. Or Greg Djerejian and Laura Rozen.

Incidentally I don't think the Drezner-Abu Aardvark discussion was a disaster at all. Both of them made some great posts which matters a lot more than some silly trolls in the comments section.

posted by: Strategist on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I guess we can disagree. I felt the comments section completely overran most of any interesting discussion. There's too much mind-numbing groupthink at Political Animal. Which is a shame because Kevin Drum is an excellent blogger.

posted by: Epitome on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]


Please tell Mr. Greenburg that he can get more responses to his blog posts if he doesn't inadvertently disable comments. When your computer doesn't work, always check to see if it is (a) plugged in and (b) turned on.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]


Consistently good writing here, yet I failed to see a difference between intellectuals - all kneeling, liberal to shoulder, at the alter of tenure.

I understand the pen vs. the sword, but when you boil down the words, it's simply mouth-jousting among deeply Liberal, associate-friends.

To be clear, it's literally impossible to find a genuine conservative inside academia. This should be obvious, since no true conservative would tolerate a sub-culture that feeds first and last at the public trough.

Then to say there's no implicit Liberal bias in this or that "art" - well, it just ain't so, since the very nature of the arts IS Liberal. In art, all things become relative, which not only allows rationalization, but encourages the perpetual game of mental musical chairs.

Worse, where the bullets hit the road, never will a Liberal be found. No, the Liberal "warrior" fights with his naturally big mouth - and only during or immediately after Starbucks.

And, no, I'm not being entirely facetious.

Meanwhile, if you see me in Wal-Mart, please, just keep walking.

posted by: David Baker on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Following is the context of the cretin remark David Greenberg references:

"I lost family members to Kadar Janos, and I've seen what life was like in the Warsaw Pact bloc.

"Anyone who thinks its "ugly" to point out what was done to millions of people at Yalta is a moral cretin."

Given that context, deeply personal and familial in addition to being more broadly political, for Greenberg to excise that context for purposes of making an entirely self-serving point is similarly dubious, to be kind. The cretin remark, thus, is not at all out of place. Yalta and post-WWII history, what could or could not be expected, can be debated, but Greenberg's reductionist and entirely dismissive "ugly" swipe deserves no serious commentary whatsoever. Hence, "moral cretin" is not at all inappropriate given the context within which it is formulated. And if that constitutes "trolling" then pity the superficially and naively decorous persons who believe so.

posted by: Michael B on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

As the author of the "moral cretin" post, let me just say that I'm primarily sorry that, as noted above, Dan Greenberg clearly didn't understand the context, much less use it, and secondarily sorry that he didn't quote me by name or cognomen.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Greenberg's full line is

"This time I got a lot of responses - abusive ones. Sample: "Anyone who thinks its 'ugly' to point out what was done to millions of people at Yalta is a moral cretin."

I happened to disagree with Greenberg's comments on Yalta, but I thought his quoting of the statement above was pretty reasonable (and its pithy as well).

I mean, if he really wanted to show Dan's readers in a bad light, he could have reposted a message that suggested nuclear genocide for the ME.

He also pointed out when Dan was threatened on the Washington Monthly blog. Furthermore, most of his article is just a comment on how hard it is to blog (regardless of political views) and keep up a flow of new articles each day.

The one thing that I thought was wrong was when he said that Dan's posts seemed to average 50 replies . That is definitely not so. Unless there are exteral trackbacks on a really inflammatory topic, its pretty unusual for Dan to crack 50.

posted by: erg on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Sorry, David Greenberg. Dan Greenberg was an old favorite Playboy writer, back when you actually could read Playboy for the articles.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

'Worse, where the bullets hit the road, never will a Liberal be found. No, the Liberal "warrior" fights with his naturally big mouth - and only during or immediately after Starbucks.'

Yeah, thank god for brave warriors such as Bush, Cheney, Bolton & Co. No deferments for those brave folk !!

posted by: Jaffe on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I really enjoyed reading Dan's post on Kevin Drum's site and the two guests on this site. There is no much preaching to the converted going on, I hope we can put a higher value on discussions across party lines or hearing opinions from people in the middle. To me the most important lesson here is how great it has been to have some actual debate - not whether blogging is hard, or if someone was called a "cretin". Thank you Drum, Drezner, Greenberg and Nossel!

posted by: Jack on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I thought that the biggest problem with bringing a liberal like Greenberg here was not solely the political positions he brought, but rather the combination of the knee-jerk liberalism with a lack of blog-savviness. It led to the humorous attempt to use a Joe Conason article to try to convince the readers. The equivalent would have been for Drezner, while over at Drum's site, to use a quotation from Ann Coulter to try to convince the lefties there. You just lower your credibility by about 95%, which pretty much ruins the rest of the short time guest-blogging...

posted by: Al on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

If we dismiss something simply because the politics of the writer are glaringly obvious, then we will only be able to arbitrarily agree on a precious few writers, we don't perceive as having a bias. We should focus on what is said, not who says it.

posted by: Dustin Ryan Ridgeway on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Dustin, you've got a good point --- one doesn't listen to Rush Limbaugh for balance and original reporting. I think this will be --- or at least could be --- instructive to both David and Suzanne by exposing them to a community of readers who actually question some of their unstated assumptions, like "abu Ghraib is torture of the worst sort" and "we Progressives have a lock on the moral high ground."

Last night I was pretty disgruntled about being singled out as abusive, but this morning I think David wouldn't have been so struck by my comment if the mention of Kadar Janos and the Warsaw Pact didn't remind him of what the Yalta agreement led to.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Re the guest bloggers: had no objection to the subjects or the political perspectives but, Jesus, could someone show them a dictionary entry for "pithy"? How about "wit?" Not a trace of your trademark irony, Dan, and more's the pity IMO. Welcome back.

posted by: Kelli on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Dan, the difference between you and David Greenberg is that when you wrote for Slate you read the comments posted in the Fray. Regular Slate writers never do this, haven't for years. So Greenberg's exposure to your comment section may have been more of a change for him than people think.

posted by: JEB on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Suzanne Noelle's posts were more interesting than her husband's, and she was not at all condescending. Her questions provoked more responses, and reader comments on the responses of others, i.e., she got people more involvied with the subjects of her posts than her husband, who sometimes managed to make himself the subject.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

One of the interesting things about the guest bloggers is that they apparently buy fully into this idea that individual Americans have segregated themselves completely into their own ideological communities, and have no meaningful contact with other viewpoints. So it was this huge issue for them to be guesting on a blog that was run by someone on the right. They beat that idea into the ground, and it seemed at times they were trying to reform people they believed (not necessarily accurately) were far to the right of themselves. They seem to have come in with an agenda that wasn't necessary.

A focus on style, rather than on ideology, would have been welcome. Brevity is especially good for blog consumers.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I'm the one who made the point about Joe Conason, and the Ann Coulter reference is exactly right. Both are "journalists" of the same stripe, simply different teams. And I was vilifying Conason, not David, so there's a bit of a reading comprehension issue going on there.

posted by: Matthew Cromer on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Greenberg's apparent belief that he upset people by varying from right-wing dogma did strike me as rather odd. There are countless "rah, rah, Bush is the greatest" rightie blogs out there. I read this blog because it isn't one of them. I assume that most of your readers come here for the same reason, and would be extremely disappointed to see a guest blogger turning the space into a catalog of RNC talking points.

Matthew, there is a huge difference between a journalist like Conason, who researches his work and respect facts, even while he has an ax to grind, and a hack propagandist like Coulter who has no respect for the truth.

posted by: Alex on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Anyone who sees Joe Conason as the liberal equivalent to Annie Coulter is smoking funny cigarettes. The liberal equivalent to Annie Coulter is Ward Churchhill, who is mostly ignored by liberals, but managed to crack the best seller list by selling to the dittoheads on the loony left.

Conason is partisan, sure. He's not a bomb-thrower. More the liberal equivalent to William Safire.

posted by: jack on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

This time I got a lot of responses - abusive ones. Sample: "Anyone who thinks its 'ugly' to point out what was done to millions of people at Yalta is a moral cretin."

I posted again to clarify my point - that the Yalta agreement wasn't what consigned Eastern Europe to Soviet oppression.

This is the quote from Greenberg's article, in its fuller context.

I don't see a thing wrong about how Greenberg used the quote from the poster. Clearly what Greenberg objected to was the notion that it was what went on at Yalta that caused the ugliness described, not that there was no ugliness.

I don't think the point is hard to grasp.

posted by: frankly0 on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Yalta itself is not all that difficult to grasp.

Greenberg's point, in his Slate article, is that what occurred in Eastern Europe was already a fait accompli, due to the presence of Soviet troops. Nonetheless, even if such a fait accompli is accepted without critique, without further ado, Yalta did formalize the geography, thus is synonymous with the notion of a fait accompli and the manner in which the geography was carved up (regardless of where one might be in that discussion).

Further, Greenberg is explicitly attempting an analogy with Hitler's rise to power in Germany, prior to WWII, when he (Greenberg) invokes the 'stab in the back theory.' Ah yes, the Bush or Bush/Blair=Hitler meme, done with a measure of subtly, but the analogy and equivalence is there, rather overtly.

Further still, the President was speaking to an audience in Latvia, not in the midwest, USA. That context and the general tone of the President's speech is yet another aspect that Greenberg is not terribly attentive to.

The President's Latvian speech.

Greenberg's Slate article.

Whether it's difficult to grasp or not I'm unsure, but Greenberg has established a certain narrative, one that possesses a modest degree of sophistication. Yet it's a poorly formed narrative given the overall history and contexts being addressed, but one that serves his purpose. A thoughtful reading of Greenberg's intent in the Slate article, of the President's speech and of history and contemporary events will lead most, I suspect, to a similar conclusion. (And Greenberg's throw-away line about a revanchist view of the Vietnam conflict is particularly risible, a line he uses to further his claim about a 'stab in the back theory' and thus furthering the analogy alluded to above.)

posted by: Michael B on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I followed the trail of Greenberg's tip in the Times, found the entry on Bolton, below, where I posted the argument that he cannot be UN ambassador because he represents Zionism, which is incompatible with what it is to be American, and, apart from greatly increasing national insecurity, will heap mountains of loathing and hatred on us as an exposed pariah nation.

The longer text of the argument, documenting the complicity of the New York Times, is at:

The charges have been referred to the Time's public editor, Daniel Okrent, with private e-mail reply of proper reading and referencing. They include high treason, manipulation of mass psychosis, and delusional relation to reality -- displays for all to see for all time.

Sid Thomas, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Phikosophy
SUNY - Binghamton

posted by: Sid Thomas on 05.15.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?