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Bloggerheads

By Russ Smith | Posted 6/21/2006

Last month my 13-year-old son Nicky began wearing a T-shirt featuring the message BOMB THE BLOGOSPHERE. He bought the "delicious blue" garment with a "delightfully subversive design" from the web comics site Questionable Content, which promoted the $17 item by claiming it was a "perfect way to show your disdain for the ‘blogosphere’ (or at least the TERM ‘blogosphere’)." The word "subversive" is largely devoid of meaning in 2006, especially when used to hawk merchandise, but seeing that logo day after day got me thinking about how much time I’ve wasted in the past year reading blogs about politics, pop culture, and sports.

After returning from Delhi a few weeks ago I realized that the informative and entertainment value of blogs and stand-alone web sites (Salon, for example) maxes out at a certain point. There wasn’t much time in India to use the business centers in hotels, so I limited internet sessions to check baseball scores and briefly peruse the Sun, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post.

Skipping the Manhattan-based Gawker.com--the popular media gossip venue that is much like the New York Post’s Page Six except that it’s not constrained by "decency" issues, so writers can make jokes about fist-fucking and Anderson Cooper’s sexuality--was a relief. Likewise with The National Review’s online "The Corner," a rolling daily blog that regularly digresses from political topics to ponder television sitcoms, fundraising appeals, bad ’80s rock bands, and very stupid arguments about the merits of the Star Trek franchise. One conservative editor, on the promise of anonymity, told me last week that The National Review "has embarrassed itself by continuing ‘The Corner.’"

It’s completely a nonpartisan irritation, and I doubt I’m alone in feeling this way. This certainly isn’t an endorsement of the elite media and its own biases, but rather a decision to keep the clutter out of my daily routine. Markos Moulitsas, who runs the immensely popular left-wing blog The Daily Kos, was given the star treatment earlier this month when mainstream reporters and pundits jammed the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, and fully enjoyed the "dead tree" attention as well as an appearance on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press. I can’t stand the celebrity-soaked writing of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, but her June 10 column, a slightly sarcastic take on the "blogosphere" and Moulitsas in particular, was reasonable and a welcome relief from her standard fantasies about "Rummy" and his boss, the "Boy Emperor."

One of Dowd’s comments was "Technology has enabled the not-meek to inherit the earth, and Democrats and others who refuse to drink the cyber-Kool-Aid will, Mr. Moulitsas said, go into the old ‘dustbin of history.’" Mr. Kos was not amused. He told a blogger at Seattle’s weekly The Stranger, "Maureen Dowd is an insecure, catty bitch . . . I reach more people than most of these publications that are interviewing me--I don’t need them." Dowd has run out of original ideas, in my opinion, but common manners preclude most critics from denouncing her as "an insecure, catty bitch."

That’s mild, of course, in comparison to Moulitsas’ now-legendary January 2004 statement after four American contractors were killed in Fallujah. "I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries," he said. "They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them." How charming. If the employees killed were from another country, say France or Germany, it is unlikely the web guru would refer to them as "mercenaries."

The Washington Times’ Wesley Pruden, an old-media conservative who attended the convention, wrote on June 13: "Kos and his camp followers believe they are the future of the Democratic Party, but Kosistan is so far out in the solar system, somewhere beyond Pluto, that Hillary Clinton is regarded as the ruling goddess of the vast right-wing media conspiracy. She was not wanted here and would have endured citizen’s arrest if she had dared show up."

It’s likely, now that the mainstream media has discovered bloggers, many of these men and women, once derided as insipid loudmouths who didn’t even graduate from journalism school, will form the pool of future recruits for dailies and weekly magazines. Already, Andrew Sullivan, whose web site once was headlined with the motto "The Revolution Will Be Blogged," has hooked up with Time, as has Ana Marie Cox, who once wrote Gawker’s sister site Wonkette.

Slate political reporter John Dickerson, who made a reverse move, defecting from Time, was on target when he wrote June 12, "There is no doubt about the swoon--the mainstream media is now as taken with bloggers as it was with John McCain in January 2000."

I suspect that the surfeit of blogs that currently hold the attention of readers in this country and others has peaked--although those devoted to politics will probably climb until November’s midterm elections are completed--since there’s only so much time in a day to feed the habit. The popular and/or talented bloggers will land on the web sites of the dreaded elite media and the others will fall back to a limited audience. And then, one hopes, annoying characters like Moulitsas and "The Corner" conservative bigot John Derbyshire will fade away.

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