Blogorrhea, Or Why the "Press" Hates Blogs
The Blog Mob
"Written by fools to be read by imbeciles."
BY JOSEPH RAGO [The Wall Street Journal]
Wednesday, December 20, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
Blogs are very important these days. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one. The invention of the Web log, we are told, is as transformative as Gutenberg's press, and has shoved journalism into a reformation, perhaps a revolution.
The ascendancy of Internet technology did bring with it innovations. Information is more conveniently disseminated, and there's more of it, because anybody can chip in. There's more "choice"--and in a sense, more democracy. Folks on the WWW, conservatives especially, boast about how the alternative media corrodes the "MSM," for mainstream media, a term redolent with unfairness and elitism.
The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps....
You've got to understand that, ever since books supplanted scrolls, around the time of Plato, there has been a classism involved with them. Even before the print media existed, there was an elitism involved in the power of the written word.
With the coming of movable type (printing had existed prior to Gutenberg), the ownership of a press created both a physical and intellectual elite. There is and was a certain esprit de corps among those "in print," that is to say, on PAPER.
Mimeographed newsletters and self-published books were always looked on as a threat to the primacy of the print elite, but they were more objects of derision than any serious threat. Ditto xerox machines. But then came the blogs.
And the blogs broke that monopoly. As the web for a moment created a "mob" moment back in the mid-90s where some hobbyist in Eugene, Oregon could have every bit as impressive a web presence as, say, the Cannes Film Festival, or the Nation of Egypt, so, the blogs have created a truly democratic press, in which the only barrier to publication was the willingness of the writer.
It was a medium, merely: whether the writing was sublime, or crap, that was not the issue. What WAS the issue was that the blogs had broken above the salt, and the mainstream "journalists" didn't like it. Worse, the blogs began MOVING the news, and changing the editorial decisions that are the difference between what you see (The Anna Nicole Corpse Corps) and what you don't (The War in Iraq, for instance).
Indeed, it's been a brave new world ever since the blogosphere noticed that Trent Lott was over-effusively praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 Segregation Party candidacy, and refused to let the story slide. The Washington press corps -- infected, perhaps, with the greatest degree of "print" elitism on the planet -- struck back famously (or, infamously, if you like) this week. And the blogosphere took note.
But, uncommented, was an editorial at the end of 2006 in the WALL STREET JOURNAL (the second-most circulated newspaper in the USA, behind USA TODAY), calling us morons:
Leftward fatuities too are easily found: The fatuity matters more than the politics. If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad's judgment of newspapering--"written by fools to be read by imbeciles"--they have also demonstrated a remarkable ecumenicalism in filling out that same role themselves.And who, you might ask, so cravenly hides his elitism behind the words of a dead author (appropriately, the author of "Heart of Darkness," and, inappropriately, Conrad's comment on British tabloids of the late 19th century)?
"Mr. [Joseph] Rago is an assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal," quoth the WALL STREET JOURNAL.
Here's some of the highlights of Rago's elitist screech:
"Nobody wants to be an imbecile. Part of it, I think, is that everyone likes shows and entertainments. Mobs are exciting. People also like validation of what they already believe; the Internet, like all free markets, has a way of gratifying the mediocrity of the masses."
Or consider this (note HIS use of "MSM"):
"Certainly the MSM, such as it is, collapsed itself. It was once utterly dominant yet made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas. Still, as far from perfect as that system was, it was and is not wholly imperfect. The technology of ink on paper is highly advanced, and has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness.
"Of course, once a technosocial force like the blog is loosed on the world, it does not go away because some find it undesirable. So grieving over the lost establishment is pointless, and kind of sad. But democracy does not work well, so to speak, without checks and balances. And in acceding so easily to the imperatives of the Internet, we've allowed decay to pass for progress."
To which I reply: elitist scum, the best of the blogosphere is as good as the best of the print world, and, conversely and irrefutably, the worst of the print world is no worse than the worst of the blogosphere. We are arguing pixels and picas. The argument is absurd on the face of it, and yet, there is more than a little of the braying of the gored ox to it.
Because the blogs are, for the moment, democratic, and, therefore, a meritocracy. The best draw their own following, just like newspapers, just like magazines. And this offends the editor of a newspaper whose success depends on its wide and diverse readership. But then, as we'll see tomorrow, being a media elite means that the elite can do 'favors' for their buddies. But meantime, the infamous Tony Snow CSPAN gaggle, like the WSJ editorial, and a thousand other snarks (including the TIME magazine "punt" on having to acknowledge the influence of the blogs, but refusing to do so, expanding the person of the year to "everybody" so that the blogs would remain third-class citizens) has done nothing to refute the perception that the "MSM" "journalists" hold the blogs (and, therefore, their writers) in disdain and contempt:
Tony Snow and White House Reporters Slam The 'Hateful,' 'Polarized' Blogosphere [from ThinkProgress.org]
In a press roundtable at the National Press Club tonight, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow led a discussion with White House correspondents about the impact of the internet on their respective jobs. Their conclusion? They don't like being challenged by blogs.
NBC News' David Gregory bemoaned how political coverage has "become so polarized in this country because it's the internet and the blogs that have really used this White House press conferences to somehow support positions out in America, political views." Tony Snow admitted he sometimes reads blogs ("I'll occasionally punch it up") only to find "wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out."
And that's why "blogger" has supplanted that other "gger" word as the epithet of choice among the elites.
Perhaps this was what Tony Snow meant when he eschewed "hugging the tar baby."