Industry stars compare notes

The late Abbie Hoffman had a routine he would use when asked by, say David Susskind, about Yippies. Hoffman would offer to show how a Yippie stands up or scratches his head, and then perform the act. I think about Hoffman’s shtick whenever I hear someone, say Tom Brokaw, ask how bloggers viewed a debate or what they think about the election.
Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion by three leading bloggers — Wonkette, Daily Kos, and our own Hindrocket — in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The comments of the panelists (a liberal satirist, a leftist activist, and a conservative commentator) covered two broad areas — blogging and current political events. I found that there is a shared “blogger” view about blogging. As to the question of how leading bloggers view current political events, the answer seems to be, pretty much like commentators from other media except more insightfully and, in Wonkette’s case, more humorously.
Before expanding on these themes, let me talk a little bit about the two non Power Line panelists. Wonkette is Ana Marie Cox. She describes herself as a former (“fairly unsuccessful”) free-lance journalist who aspires to be the “prom queen of Washington.” She doesn’t say she has accomplished this, but thinks she’s at least in the running, given the lack of competition. In this regard, let me add that Wonkette is stunningly attractive in person, although not as attractive as her adversary Michelle Malkin (just kidding on the last point folks; I’ve never seen Michelle in person and I leave those calls to Rocket Man in any case). Wonkette is a satirist. Her role, she says, is to throw spit balls at the “kids” in the front of the class.
Kos is Marcos Moulitsas. His blog, the Daily Kos, gets about 750,000 visits a day (roughly five times what we get). That’s remarkable, especially for a guy who a few years ago was “stuck in a dead-end job” and who thought he could “die happy” if his blog ever got 100 visits. Kos is a liberal activist. He sees his blog simply as a tool through which he can fill that role. To me, Kos looks like he’s about 22 years old, but he says he’s a veteran of the first Gulf War, so he must be considerably older. Kos strikes me as extremely intelligent and shrewd. I’m guessing he’s pretty ruthless too. And, although he seemed a bit nervous at first, he did quite well in the discussion even though he probably doesn’t have extensive public speaking experience. If he remains an activist, I predict that he will be an extraordinarily influential one for decades to come.
It was disappointing to hear Kos say that he has learned “absolutely nothing” from the fall-out over his infamous comment (“screw em”) in response to the butchering of American civilians working in Iraq. On the other hand, I’m not aware that he has made any similarly contemptible remark since, so maybe he actually did learn something.
Back to last night’s discussion. As I said, there was near unanimity in the responses to questions about blogging. This wasn’t surprising. The three panelists have all achieved great success in the same new racket. I imagine that 55 years ago, the heads of the three major television networks agreed about most questions concerning their fledging industry. Some examples from last night:
Q. Is blogging “proper” journalism?
A. We don’t consider ourselves journalists, and don’t care to be, though some bloggers are.
Q. What about the fact that there is no filtering in blogging?
A. There is filtering through readers and other bloggers. It occurs after the fact, but corrections are made immediately.
Q. What about the CBS story?
A. It shows the power of the medium. The resources available to the networks are vast, but the bigger blogs have a resource that counterbalances this — the input of thousands of extremely smart and knowledgeable readers.
Q. Are you concerned about censorship or lawsuits? (my question)
A. No
Q. What are your responsibilities to readers?
A. (By Kos and Rocket) To get the facts right and correct mistakes promptly. Beyond that, there are no responsibilities, and we bridle at being told otherwise.
Q. What happens after the election?
A. A little time off, if possible, then business as usual. We’re here to stay. Kos was more specific. He said that, if Kerry wins, his task will be to defend him. This raises the question of whether Kos intends to defend Kerry if, for example, he continues to pursue President Bush’s basic policy in Iraq for several years.
Q. Is blogging a stepping stone?
A. Not really. Kos would like to write some books. Wonkette would like to work less and get paid more.
Q. Does blogging really matter; not that many people read blogs?
A. Readership is greater than you think. Moreover, the readers we get are important for our purposes — opinion shapers (Rocket); journalists (Wonkette); fellow activists (Kos).
Here are samples from the political portion of the discussion:
Q. How useful are political conventions?
A. Wonkette — It’s a show. What matters is how good the show is.
Rocket — It’s a trade show in which the parties display their wares.
Kos — It’s bad tv. The important stuff is the behind-the-scenes “training of the troops.”
Q. How useful are the debates?
Rocket — They’re the only chance you get to hear the candidates if you don’t live in a swing state.
Kos — There’s too much spin. People should have the chance to make up their mind about who won before they hear spin.
Wonkette — Bloggers are the only people who get stuff out quicker than the professional spinners. Plus the drinking games (take a drink every time a certain cliche is uttered) are fun.
Q. What about the 527 organizations?
A. Rocket — Campaign finance reform is unconstitutional. The current system creates an interesting dichotomy. The campaigns do the positive ads; the 527’s do the negative ads.
Kos — I no longer like campaign finance reform. I like the fact that, with the 527’s, people are “buying” ideology not influence. (A very good point, I think)
Wonkette — As a satirist, I enjoy seeing how “low” the campaigning gets.
Q. Who are your favorite and least favorite radio talk show hosts?
A. Wonkette — Rush is both my favorite (a great entertainer) and least favorite.
Rocket — Hugh Hewitt is my favorite; I don’t listen to anyone I don’t like.
Kos — Favorite is Randi Rhodes; least favorite is Sean Hannity.
On only one topic was there serious clash among the panelists. That was the campaign against Sinclair Broadcasting, which is about to air a program adverse to John Kerry’s interests. Kos has organized a boycott of sponsors and was pleased to report that Sinclair is being sued. Rocket responded that this is another instance of the left’s attitude that, when it comes to protecting free speech, it all depends on who is speaking. Kos countered that the right wanted to pressure theatres into not showing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 and that the left has simply been more successful. My view is that the attack on Sinclair, especially the lawsuits, represent a major escalation. The right is capable of this kind of “success” too so we may witness a race to the bottom with free, robust speech the loser.
One last observation. I was amused that, after the debate, several people obtained autographs from Wonkette and Kos. I don’t think Rocket got to sign any though, our political side being badly outnumbered. In fact, Rocket had to spend most of his post-debate time trying to reason with a lady who wondered why the U.S. doesn’t attack itself, since we have weapons of mass destruction (actually I thought Jimmy Carter tried that). In any case, to use Kos’ phrase, I could die happy if anyone ever asked me for an autograph.
UPDATE: I’ve received a number of emails questioning whether Wonkette has any merit as a satirist, or even deserves that label. One was from Roger Simon, who has written satire for the likes of Richard Pryor and Lilly Tomlin. I have no opinion as to Wonkette’s merit as a satirist because I don’t read her blog. I thought she was quite funny at times last night, but more in the “wise crack” sense than the satire sense (I think that’s a legitimate distinction). I included a few of her remarks in the Q and A section of my post. This may help readers unfamiliar with her blog decide whether they wish to check it out.
HINDROCKET adds: This was a very fun evening. The Morning Call newspaper, which sponsored it, reported on the event here. The highlight for me was that Deacon drove all the way up from Washington. The other pleasant surprise was that both Ana Marie and Markos, with whom I could hardly disagree more profoundly on political issues, turned out to be very nice as well as extremely intelligent people. We took a break from politics and hung out together in the hotel bar for a while. We shot a couple of nice photos, which I will post when I get home from my current business trip tomorrow night, but in the meantime, here is one from the Monrning call. The moderator from the paper is on the left, followed by Ana Marie, me, and Markos.