Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal has written an attack on blogs called The Blog Mob — “Written by fools to be read by imbeciles.” Rago’s criticism of blogs is well-founded in the sense that most blogs are quite bad. And even the best blogs that provide general commentary operate at a disadvantage to the extent that they provide instant analysis. Other things being equal, an opinion or analysis piece published one hour after the event in question will be less thoughtful and less well-written than something executed the next day and published only after an editing process. The extent to which those in traditional media are actually taking serious advantage of the extra time and editing is another matter.
And Rago overlooks the ability of blogs to provide follow-up analysis. Typically, a traditional opinion journalist devotes one column to an event and then moves on. Bloggers stay with a story and thus have the opportunity to improve their “first cut.” In the end, their writing on the subject may well involve more thought than the MSM columnist’s. The extent to which bloggers take serious advantage of the extended process is another matter.
Rago has also overlooked an increasingly important blog phenomenon — the specialty blog. The example I always use is the confirmation process for John Roberts and Samuel Alito. In Roberts’ case, the MSM did a great job of unearthing old memos he had written on a variety of legal issues. With Alito, the MSM (perhaps with the help of certain interest groups) identified many controversial opinions he had written during lengthy service on the Third Circuit. But when it came to analyzing these materials, the MSM could not compete with blogs like Scotus blog (which is now presented by my law firm) and Bench Memos that are written by law professors, Supreme Court practitioners, former Supreme Court clerks, etc. A legal correspondent (and for that matter ordinary lawyers like the three of us at Power Line) simply doesn’t have the expertise to provide quick and cogent analysis about, say, a Roberts memo on the theory of “comparable worth” in employment law or an Alito opinion on the antitrust implications of “bundled discounts.” That’s why the head of a major news organization in Washington D.C. told me that legal specialty blogs were her first stop every day for coverage regarding Roberts and Alito.
Meanwhile, E.J. Dionne (with whom we rarely agree) has given a very thoughtful lecture about the interplay between traditional media and blogs. I hope to comment on Dionne’s piece later today.
JOHN demurs: By sheer coincidence, I happen to be qualified to provide a quick and competent analysis of Judge Alito’s opinion on “bundled discounts.” And Paul is being much too modest; he most certainly could comment authoritatively on “comparable worth.” Generally, though, Paul’s point is well-taken. On most legal topics, the three of us are quite “ordinary.”
To discuss this post, go here.
JOHN adds one more thing: I made this comment at the Forum earlier today:
The only thing I know about Joseph Rago is that he graduated from college within the last year or two. One could easily ask, why in the world should anyone pay attention to the musings of a wet-behind-the-ears barely-post-teenager? Compared to Rago, Scott, Paul and I are Socrates, Aristotle and Plato!
The point, though, is that what counts is the value of a writer