09/20/2005: The *Blog Media*
From Peter Daou (Daou Report) : "Rightwing bloggers will do everything in their power to prevent another Katrina triangle, where the confluence of blogs, media, and Democratic leadership exposes the real Bush and shatters the conventional wisdom about his ability to lead."
"...After a year of my life spent at the intersection of pre-blog and post-blog political thinking, and with Bush getting the second term he craved, one question has preoccupied me since last November: What is the scope of netroots power? Put differently: How influential are bloggers?
It’s a difficult question to answer. First, there’s no consensus on metrics. Second, blogs serve many purposes, some of which are more social than political. Third, the use of the Internet in political campaigns cuts across so many areas that it’s easy to confuse netroots influence in the communications and messaging realm with other Internet-based political applications such as organizing and fundraising. Fourth, ‘influence’ is a hazy term.
It might be easier to approach the question by setting a more specific, and admittedly somewhat arbitrary, definition of political influence: the capacity to alter or create conventional wisdom. And a working definition of “conventional wisdom” is a widely held belief on which most people act. Finally, by “people” I mean all Americans, regardless of ideology or political participation.
Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.
Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more importantly, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. It’s a virtuous circle for the netroots and a source of political power. The netroots can also bring the force of sheer numbers to bear on a non-compliant politician, reporter, or media outlet. Nobody wants a flood of complaints from thousands of angry activists. And further, bloggers can raise money, fact-check, and help break stories and/or keep them in circulation long enough for the media and political establishment to pick them up.
Blog Strategies, Left and Right
Working within the triangle construct (netroots + media + party establishment = CW), bloggers and netroots activists on the left and right have very different strategic imperatives.
With a well-developed echo chamber and superior top-down discipline, the right has a much easier time forming the triangle. Fox News, talk radio, Drudge, a well-trained and highly visible punditocracy, and a lily-livered press corps takes care of the media side of the triangle. Iron-clad party loyalty – with rare exceptions – and a willingness of Republican officials to jump on the Limbaugh-Hannity bandwagon du jour takes care of the party establishment side of the triangle. The rightwing netroots, therefore, is already working within the triangle on most issues. Their primary strategic aim is to prevent the left from forming its own triangle, as occurred with Katrina. It’s a defensive posture, with the goal being the preservation of the status quo. Which explains why the right is profoundly hostile to dissent and why the pretense to libertarianism is common: “independent thinkers” don’t like to be seen as defending the powers that be.
The triangle construct also explains rightwing bloggers’ relentless attacks on the “MSM” and on anyone who contends that the media is conservative. In a nation dominated by shrill rightwing voices, with all branches of government in the hands of Republicans, and an ineffectual press corps, the “liberal media” myth is so absurd that it requires no rebuttal. But the right desperately needs to keep the media from doing what they did in the aftermath of Katrina: tell the unvarnished truth. They need to block the left from building the kind of triangle that Katrina generated, where outspoken left-leaning bloggers are joined by leading Democrats and reporters who have no choice but to describe the catastrophic results of Bush’s dismal leadership. The result in Katrina’s case is a major political crisis and a dramatic shift in public perceptions, a body blow to the long-standing conventional wisdom of Bush as a "resolute leader" and a protector.
Whereas rightwing bloggers can rely on their leadership and the rightwing noise machine to build the triangle, left-leaning bloggers face the challenge of a mass media consumed by the shop-worn narrative of Bush the popular, plain-spoken leader, and a Democratic Party incapacitated (for the most part) by the focus-grouped fear of turning off "swing voters" by attacking Bush. For the progressive netroots, the past half-decade has been a Sisyphean loop of scandal after scandal melting away as the media and party establishment remain disengaged.
It would seem reasonable to conclude, then, that the best strategy for the progressive netroots is to go after the media and Democratic Party leaders and spend less time and energy attacking the Bush administration. If the netroots alone can’t change the political landscape without the participation of the media and Democratic establishment, then there’s no point wasting precious online space blasting away at Republicans while the other sides of the triangle stand idly by. Indeed, blog powerhouses like Kos and Josh Marshall have taken an aggressive stance toward Democratic politicians they see as selling out core Democratic Party principles. Kos’s willingness to attack the DLC is mocked on the right, but it is precisely the right’s fear that Kos will “close the triangle” that causes them to protest so loudly. Similarly, when Atrios, Digby, Oliver Willis, and so many other progressive bloggers attack the media, they are leveraging whatever power they have to compel the media to assume a role as the third side of their triangle.
Bloggers & the Bush Legacy
Setting aside 2006 congressional prospects and the remote hope for progressives that Bush will be impeached, the grand political battle of the next three years is over Bush’s legacy.
For rightwing bloggers who have fiercely defended one of the most controversial and polarizing presidents in our history, their fortunes will rise or fall with his approval ratings. The blind allegiance to Bush and the furious assault on his detractors will be vindicated if he leaves office with popular support.
Rightwing bloggers will thus do everything in their power to prevent another Katrina triangle, where the confluence of blogs, media, and Democratic leadership exposes the real Bush and shatters the conventional wisdom about his ability to lead. And they will struggle mightily to boost his poll numbers, whether it means ignoring the reality of the Iraq fiasco or the terrifying implications of the bungled federal response to Katrina.
For progressive bloggers who see a president presiding over the collapse of America's credibility, the urgent work ahead is to cement the post-Katrina impression of Bush as a failed president. Whether or not they succeed depends to a large extent on their ability to compel the media and Democratic establishment to stand with them and speak the truth.
* I also sought the advice of other bloggers, male and female, who chose not to be named in this piece.
Hat Tip to The River City Mud Bugle
Karen on 09.20.05 @ 06:14 AM CST