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January 17, 2006

Hating on the Establishment

Glenn Greenwald, whose stuff is often excellent, has unleashed a breathtakingly misguided attack at The New Republic today. As one would expect, it's getting many a link, and those who long ago decided The New Republic a festering tumor attached to our body politic are excitedly congratulating Glenn for his bit of amateur surgery. But while the operation is technically impressive (no one disputes Greenwald's ability to turn a phrase), we're dealing with some serious malpractice here:

many establishment journalists have raging contempt for the blogosphere. It is a contempt grounded in the fallacy of credentialism and a pseudo-elitist belief that only the approved and admitted members of their little elite journalist club can be trusted to enlighten the masses. Many of them see blogs as a distasteful and anarchic sewer, where uncredentialed and irresponsible people who are totally unqualified to articulate opinions are running around spewing all sorts of uninformed trash. And these jouranlistic gate-keepers become especially angry when blogospheric criticism is directed towards other establishment journalists, who previously were immune from any real public accountability.

"Many." Here's a media critic's first lesson: "many" is a warning flag, a dodge, the most obvious and troubling sign of a trend piece. Many is not a percentage and it's not a list of names, it's an assumption masked as a measurement. And the next step for "many" is to become one: a singular (or single digit) example touted as an oft-replicated template. In this case, the lucky winner is TNR's Jason Zengerle (who, to be clear, I've never met, spoken to, or otherwise communicated with), who furnishes Greenwald's exhibit A:

This post from The Plank's Jason Zengerle – in which he opines with regard to the NSA scandal that "some of the outrage is in fact outrageous" -- illustrates the problem perfectly:

David Rivkin and Lee Casey, who both worked as lawyers in the Reagan and Bush I Justice Departments, take to The New York Times op-ed page today to argue that President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program is legal. "The program's existence has now become public, and howls of outrage have ensued," they write. "But in fact, the only thing outrageous about this policy is the outrage itself."

I don't know enough about the law to know whether Rivkin and Casey are technically correct (although the fact that Cass Sunstein, as honest a broker as you're likely to find among law professors, thinks that Bush may well have been within his legal rights makes me think that some of the outrage is in fact outrageous).


Zengerle says that he is incapable of reaching his own conclusion as to whether the President broke the law, but is nonetheless willing to dismiss the outrage over this scandal – and even label the outrage itself "outrageous" - based on nothing other than the say-so of Cass Sunstein. Without mentioning a single argument of Sunstein’s that he finds persuasive (indeed, without even indicating that he read any of Sunstein’s arguments), Zengerle turns up his nose at all of the protests over Bush's law-breaking as nothing more than the ignorant, base anger of the masses. After all, Cass Sunstein is an Approved, Credentialed and Important Person at TNR, so when he expresses an opinion, one can assume that it is likely correct.

Here's what follows the end of Greenwald's excerpt:

But, as a practical matter, I find Rivkin and Casey's argument utterly unconvincing.

The post, as you can read for yourself, then segues into a systematic excoriation of the Rivkin and Casey's case. There was no dismissal of outrage, only a tossed-off aside that some of it may be exaggerated. And the piece, in total, is of course an expression of outrage against fatuous attempts to defend the program. Some traitor.

What's most troubling about Glenn's attack is that the concept of expertise comes in as collateral damage. Zengerle's sin is to hold open the possibility that Cass Sunstein, one of the nation's top constitutional professors and a fairly consistent, if occasionally contrarian, liberal, may be better placed to evaluate the constitutionality of the NSA program than, say, Jason Zengerle. Quite the transgression. But compounding Greenwald's overreaction is that Zengerle neither condemns any particular parties nor draws a definitive conclusion. He took on an op-ed proclaiming the operation's legality, demolished its shoddy thinking, proclaimed himself open to further evidence, and closed the piece. This is the violation of Greenwald's bete noire?

Greenwald's a smart dude who thinks book learning laudable, so rather than accuse him of anti-intellectualism, I'm going to park this post a few blocks back, assuming an overly energetic populism that accidentally dips into the uglier, more Gingrichian elements of anti-establishmentism. As example, Greenwald, who repeatedly barks at Zengerle for simply dismissing, rather than disproving, opposing arguments, never explains why Zengerle shouldn't give Sunstein's opinion weight, preferring to simply diminish him as some establishment figure too intrinsically compromised to emerge on the side of the light. The reader is left to imagine the precise pointiness of Sunstein's head and the exact number of "Georgetown dinner parties" he's attended.

Now, Sunstein may have been (and in fact, was) wrong on the NSA, but the reason we all know that Sunstein was wrong on the NSA is because he's a smart enough, honest enough guy that the whole blogosphere felt compelled to methodically deconstruct his opinions. No one, as I recall, simply dismissed him as a hack and ignored the argument. That sort of contempt for recognized experts, which Greenwald toes here, has long been a favored tactic of the right. Examples of it make up the meat of Chris Mooney's much-beloved The Republican War on Science. The strategy is to diminish or degrade the opinions of recognized authorities by undermining the very idea of a recognized authority, often by simply mocking the concept as elitist and out-of-touch. It's been deployed, to great success, against biologists, climatologists, the media, and every other empirically-oriented institution with the audacity to compare rightwing spin to testable fact. if the leftwing blogosphere, in a fit self-inflating populism, begins making the same arguments, the resulting environment, what Digby likes to call the land of Focaultian competing discourses, will not be much to our liking.

TNR has many faults. A reflexive, often unthinking support for the Likud (or now, Kadima), an unwavering affection for interventionism, and an obsession with writing articles that serve no purpose than to tweak putative allies among them. But Zengerle, here, committed no transgression save asserting an openness to further evidence. And indeed, the entire foundation of Greenwald's argument, that TNR and other "gatekeepers" despise the blogosphere, is shredded by the simple fact that his post is populated with excerpts from The Plank, TNR's entry into the blogosphere, and thus admission of its importance. I've heard of (and been called) the self-hating Jew, but the self-hating blogger?

None of this is to hold TNR as above criticism, but Greenwald picked a strategy that panders to the worst, most easily accessible prejudices of his (or my, or any) readership. Decontextualized anti-elitism will net you a bestseller, a top-rated cable show, or a highly-linked blog post, but the long-term costs always, always, always outweigh the immediate adulation. Greenwald's a helluva writer and a smart guy, he can do better than this.

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"Many." Here's a media critic's first lesson: "many" is a warning flag, a dodge, the most obvious and troubling sign of a trend piece. Many is not a percentage and it's not a list of names, it's an assumption masked as a measurement. And the next step for "many" is to become one: a singular (or single digit) example touted as an oft-replicated template.

That's a great quip.

Posted by: Battlepanda | Jan 17, 2006 1:04:05 PM

I listen to experts on a variety of topics, and while I am not necessarily always convinced by them, I seldom dismiss them out of hand. I don't know that I would put 'media' in the category of experts though. Some individual members of the media are experts on certain fields, but overall I don't think that the members of the media are experts on the subjects they write about. I have seen articles that I am, if not an expert at least highly knowledgable about and they are frequently filled with errors. I am not talking about political bias or anything here, these are typically non-political topics and the errors are mundane.

I am not one of the 'out to get the media' people, but I also think taking what is reported with a grain of salt is wise, and demanding that we assure their expertise on anything they write about quite foolish.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jan 17, 2006 1:34:24 PM

I do think that Greenwald's general take on the 'established media' vs blogger world is near to target, and that TNR is one of those media houses that does seem to exhbit far to publicly its disdain for the internet world - and bloggers in particular.

TNR is a set of voices seaching for an audience these days: occasional excellent reporting and analysis mixed in a deadly combination with dross, hackery and hawkery of the worst kind. After decades as a subscriber, I finally gave up. "And I won't come back till its over over there". New publisher, new editor, new direction. Maybe they should just cease wasting trees and become a Salon-like presence, which might be of occasional interest. It does not matter that there might be some good people or some good insights (on occasion), the overall result is about as attractive to me as spending an evening at LGF.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Jan 17, 2006 2:18:58 PM

Ezra - I’m genuinely a fan of your work so I appreciate the nice words. Onto the matter at hand:

I think you’re attacking an argument I didn’t quite make. My point was not that Zengerle is an intellectual traitor on the NSA issue, but that he was being intellectually lazy by lauding Sunstein’s conclusion without so much as even citing (or perhaps even reading) a single argument made by Sunstein in support of that conclusion. Instead, based exclusively on Sunstein’s reputation as a Wise and Just Professor, he was ready to dismissively shoo away the outrage over this scandal because Sunstein decreed it to be misguided. That is the very definition of the Fallacy of Credentialism (“Person A is right because he has Credential X”), which really is nothing other than the slightly more respectable though equally fallacious first cousin of the Ad Hominem (“Person B is wrong because he is X”).

It is this same thinking which lead Michael Crowley this morning to proclaim that Sue Schmidt should be defended not because she was right about the Abramoff contributions (she wasn’t), but because . . . . she’s Sue Schmidt. Arguing that a journalist should not be criticized because she’s a respected journalist is no different than arguing that she should be ignored or attacked because she’s a respected journalist. You seem to object quite vigorously to the latter but very little, if at all, to the former.

I do not think my post is fairly accused of launching a mindless and populist assault on expertise or authority. Critiques of credentialism do not come from a place of populist anti-intellectualism. Quite the contrary. Credentialism is so destructive precisely because it is devoid of content and thought. If anything, reverence for a person’s argument based upon his credentials or reputation is a defining attribute of anti-intellectual populism. And conversely, demanding that a person’s arguments not be accepted unless they are persuasive on the merits -- which was the basis of my post -- strikes me as being the opposite of the populist rantings which you say is evident in my post.

Contrary to the viewpoint you seem to be attributing to me, I don’t think Sunstein should be dismissed or ignored because he’s too entrenched in the establishment or is some sort of pointy-headed intellectual. I think Sunstein’s arguments -- like anyone else’s -- should be listened to when they are persuasive on the merits and rejected when they aren’t.

Compare the reverent tone which Z showers on Sunstein (not on Sunstein’s argument, but on Sunstein himself) with the contemptuous tone he invokes when speaking of Jay Rosen. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Rosen’s criticisms of the Times for concealing the NSA scandal, Rosen’s argument was substantive and comprised of numerous rationale. But Z paid little attention to those arguments, spending the bulk of his response belittling Rosen’s credentials and making clear that he has barely heard of Rosen – as though those are reasons why Rosen’s criticisms of Bill Keller should not be taken seriously.

My problem with TNR is not that it is filled with ideological heathens or devotees of the Georgetown cocktail party circuit. It is that there is a pervasive attitude that only those people who fit within a very narrowly defined category are sufficiently well-credentialed and well-regarded to have opinions worth listening to. That attitude masquerades as a sort of intellectualism, but it actually is nothing of the kind. It is an anti-intellectual and quite vapid method for avoiding the substance of an argument and having matters resolved by appeals to one’s credentials and the esteem in which one is held. Whatever else that might be, it is not intellectual

Posted by: Glenn Greenwald | Jan 17, 2006 2:25:05 PM

Hey, at least he didn't call *YOU* a "a festering tumor attached to our body politic..."

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 17, 2006 2:43:09 PM

Ezra,
I have to disagree. I think Greenwald's post was a direct hit and aptly summed up the general distaste for all things blogged by ordinary reporters. One has only to look at the responses to posts to the WaPo's ombudswoman to realize that the very act of communicating via the internet is seen as a low class, uninformed thing to do. I routinely append my educational status, as well as my financial status, because reporters and newspapers seem to think that people who read or comment on blogs are of a lower order than themselves when in many cases the reverse is true.

By the way I can't *stand* your repeated use of the phrase "all done." It is especially irritating when your posts are bound to be followed by a number of comments from others indicating (often for good reason) disagreement.

YOu might want to work on another sign off like "over to you."

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Jan 17, 2006 2:49:38 PM

Greenwald's point is that the Kool Kids think:

"We control the Prom committee because, well, it's just that way, like it's been that way forever, and if some nobody wants to show up to the prom wearing a tux and shorts, well, that's not gonna fly? Right? I mean, BMOC himself, Joe Q. Stud, can do that, because he's one of us, but not some guy from band...who does that guy think he is?"

Yeah, I agree with Glenn. Fuck 'em.

Posted by: nova silverpill | Jan 17, 2006 3:07:16 PM

Given that Professor Sunstein lives in Chicago, I doubt he attends many Georgetown dinner parties.

That said, he is a wickedly smart guy who's forgotten more about Constitutional law than I'll ever know.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair | Jan 17, 2006 3:07:22 PM

Getting back to what drew Greenwald's (to me, justifiable) ire. The original TNR Plank piece had this:

"The idea that The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt--who almost singlehandedly exposed the avarice and venality of Jack Abramoff."

Did she? Forgive me if I might have my timeline somewhat incorrect, but wasn't she also somewhat behind the federal investigation into Abramoff -- to say nothing of the discussions concerning Abramoff/Delay's dealings in the Northern Marinaras. I know that Schmidt had a few recent high-profile (and good) profile pieces concerning Abramoff, but I was under the impression that she -- like many Washington journalists -- were reporting on the Abramoff scandal only when it became clear that there would be indictments.

Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen and Tapped -- all technically denizens of the blogosphere -- were more often than not ahead of TNR, the Post, the NYT and the news magazines on providing analysis, emphasis and perspective on Cunningham/Abramoff/Nigergate/etc...

I think Greenwald is ultimately correct on a larger point, as well. I think what threatens TNR -- legitimately -- is that they provide think pieces and op-eds, the caliber of which is often available for free on the INET. TNR can be fun, provocative and insightful -- but the barriers to entry for authors to provide that content to readers are less than before.

Further, there's a benefit for a news addict like me to follow authors who are not subject to Beltway "group think" ("Al Gore is still bitter over 2000", "Howard Dean is slightly wacky, even when we have to admit he was right six months later", "the problem with the Democrats is they have no plan, even though they didn't get us there and have no power to implement a plan even if they had one").

Posted by: Chris R | Jan 17, 2006 3:23:58 PM

The all done is part of a java template that allows the drop down "extended field," it's how the code came.

Glenn: I've no reason to disbelieve that that's what you meant, but it's not how it came out. Zengerle didn't shoo away outrage -- his post deconstructed an argument for the program's legality and simply said that Sunstein's arguments, given Sunstein's ability as a constitutional scholar, gave him pause in declaring it obviously illegal. And that was it! Learned Guy says X and that gives me pause about saying not X. That doesn't mean Learned Guy is right, but Sunstein has more than earned the right to be taken seriously and given some threshhold credibility. Had Zengerle taken it farther, saying, for instance, that Sunstein's analysis is obviously correct and the left is off base, you'd have a point. But he didn't. And so far as I can tell, that should be the nub of it.

As for the Crowley-Schmidt and Zengerle-Rosen stuff, Zengerle came off as a bit of an ass with Rosen and Crowley was overly defense with Schmidt. But Crowley's points weren't actually wrong, just a tad intemperate (as you and I have both been on occasion, I'm sure). Schmidt does some good and some bad, and if Crowley erred on the side of good, recent criticism has erred on the side of bad.

But saying that, in a few instances, TNR writers were too kind to colleagues or experts they judged under unfair assault isn't "raging contempt" for the "anarchic sewer" of the blogosphere. And that's my essential problem with your post: you lavished an extreme amount of outrage and contempt on a couple posts that didn't nearly merit the attention. Zengerle, in the parts you failed to quote, was literally on your side. Crowley thought Schmidt had done good work on Abramoff, a contention you didn't argue with.

It seemed, and seems, to me that you had a beautifully worded, withering assault on TNR all ready to roll but you just couldn't locate transgressions equal to your rhetoric. It's the opposite of the credentialism fallacy -- TNR is so derided as an anti-blogosphere, pro-establishment organ, that the incentives are always to far overstate the case without fairly or rigorously evaluating the evidence. TNR, as I said, has its problems, but contempt for the blogosphere (which they've not only joined, but often link to) isn't particularly one of them. If anything, the blogosphere's contempt and anger towards TNR far outweighs anything flowing in the opposite direction.

I've also a feeling that the natural floridity of your prose, which makes it so quotable and enjoyable, led your assault into rhetorical territory you may not totally feel (anarchic sewer?). I do the same (though not as eloquently). Nevertheless, the implications of such a damning attack against such a harmless admission of respect for an expert's opinion is dangerous. The fact of it is that experts need to be granted some a priori credibility in order for the term to be useful. Most folks haven't the time to nor training to evaluate every experts original work and, given the multiplicity and occasional dishonesty of the mediators, a strict prohibition on attaching weight to the words of experienced scholars and analysts will, in the end, be more of a hurt than a help to the intellectualism and empiricism we would both like restored.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 17, 2006 3:27:10 PM

Chris -- that's an interesting example. I love me my Tapped, but TNR's obsession with the Abramoff scandal has made Tapped's coverage look pitiful in comparison. We tend to do more policy coverage while the Plank is single-minded on scandal coverage. But because of the TNR narrative in the blogosphere, it's simply assumed that more traditionally progressive outlets have led the charge while they've reluctantly trudged behind.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 17, 2006 3:31:00 PM

If you've never heard of self-hating bloggers, you need to get around more.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! | Jan 17, 2006 3:32:01 PM

I've been a newspaper journalist for 22 years, Ezra, and I'm with Glenn: Our industry has worried far too much about credentials and not enough about the goods.

Now, worrying about credentials in other fields is certainly appropriate; indeed, the administration's outright hostility toward those with credentials is a big part of why we're in the mess we're in. But journalism isn't public health or intelligence analysis or (need it even be said?) rocket science. Anyone who's reasonably logical and analytical, and a good writer, can function reasonably well as a journalist.

Greenwald's point is that many of the best-paid journalists at some of the most highly regarded news agencies in the country aren't functioning even close to reasonably well. And as an employee of a moderate-size daily in a moderate-size market that has to depend on wire services for its national, D.C. and global reporting, I can tell by looking at what they produce that that's definitely the case.

Posted by: Lex | Jan 17, 2006 3:54:55 PM

Ezra,

The invitations are their way, old boy! Keep up the good work.

--The Georgetown Cocktail Party Circuit

Posted by: SavageView | Jan 17, 2006 3:56:03 PM

Ezra wrong, Glenn right, but at least they had a thoughtful argument about it, marshalling resources, etc.

Posted by: Pinko Punko | Jan 17, 2006 3:56:53 PM

You're all guilty of Z's crime. All this back and forth between Glenn and Ezra, and Ezra and Glenn, and not a word on Sunstein's actual argument.

Posted by: David | Jan 17, 2006 3:59:00 PM

Chris R. is on the right track with his allusions to a market model. Old-media pundits had a monopoly, or oligopoly, really, in which they competed -- in a genteel way -- for market share but cooperated to restrict entry. Along came a strong substitute -- bloggers -- with the two hallmarks of a free market, free entry and exit, and zero market power. They have to hustle. Consumers allocate their web-surfing minutes (hits) among the products on offer. To earn hits, a blogger must appeal to consumer tastes. I tried it, to little avail -- it's a lot of work.

To combat this competition, the erstwhile oligopolists must re-establish entry barriers and/or differentiate their product from that of the blog-polloi. The obvious way to re-estatablish entry barriers is to intone, "We're experienced and credentialed and wise and they are not." The problem is that experience and credentials don't always mean quality; that even if they do, quality and wisdom are in the eye of the beholder; and that many bloggers have better credentials anyway.

Maybe they should work on product differentiation. In fact, maybe they should work on providing a better product. Market research might show them that what blog consumers want is commentary that is thoughtful, doesn't sound as if it's mass produced by the talking-points-of-the-week club, and especially doesn't sound as if it's been approved by higher authority. Mainstream pundits have a powerful way to go about this, if they can tear themselves out of the country club. Bloggers depend on information in the public domain. Big-shot journalists have big Rolodexes. Maybe if they'd use them, and actually use some of that journalism experience to be journalists, and spend a little less time trying to impress each other, they'd provide good value and regain their place on top. As long as they take the lazy harrumph harrumph approach, they're doomed.

Posted by: Stuart Thiel | Jan 17, 2006 4:05:15 PM

Ezra:

Actually, I think Tapped has acquitted itself quite well (when one includes the "ancillary" pieces you link to frequently, which one *does* often read when reviewing a blog). TNR's Plank, while rather good and a must-read, occasionally and regretfully descends into Wonkette-like snark rather than providing actual analysis.

Here's a larger point which is more about journalism than anything else: media companies are ultimately responsive to their investors. WAIT. COME BACK, I AM NOT MAKING A CONSPIRACY THEORY. Here's the thing: when a newspaper or a cable net decides to cut costs, what they often cut first is investigative journalism, as they are often problematic and controversial and don't necc. consistently improve ratings or circulation.

Look at CNN: what is a safer bet for a middle manager there to make? A showbiz or legal show or a hard news show with investigative journalism? Certainly the former gets consistent ratings and will be favored, but the latter is precisely why CNN is presumably on our cable dial. So they dumb themselves down, try to be as non-controversial as possible and there we are.

I'm with Stuart: the one thing that helped Fox is that they immediately differentiated themselves with their coverage (more high energy, more "talk radio" programming, a bent in coverage). It isn't a coincidence, IMHO, that Fox doesn't have to cater to shareholders like MSNBC and CNN (Murdoch can take the short-term financial hit, but imagine persuading Time Warner or GE's investors on that one).

One of the networks should try the same and become more unpredictable and intelligent in their coverage. MSNBC is trying it with Olbermann and that's the #1 show on their network in the key demographic.

Which gets back to the original point: MBAs or those with a MBA-mentality, make those decisions. They frequently choose the safe route so they don't get fired. But that isn't how you become successful.

Posted by: Chris R | Jan 17, 2006 4:47:00 PM

Is David making a funny? Apologies if he is, but if he's not, then he's missed the point of Glenn and Ezra, which is entirely about the relationship between "professional" journalists & pundits and blogosphere types. The merits of Sunstein's argument are close to irrelevant, because the point (and this is where I think Ezra missed the boat entirely) is that, on the basis of nothing but Sunstein's legal disagreement with those who are outraged by Bush's actions, Z is all-too-ready to dismiss some (many?) of those outraged (it's even worse when you consider the part Ezra brings in, which is that he thinks that R&C are wrong - thus, by extension, the outraged are closer to being right).

To use a football analogy: 'I didn't see Sunday's game, but this dude I know who's a huge football fan says the ref was right about Polamalu's interception, so people complaining about the call are probably just bitter Steelers fans.' It doesn't fly at the corner bar, but it's SOP for many in the media.

Dammit, there's "many" again! Well, how about the examples identified above (esp. the WaPo right now), plus Okrent's embarrassing departure column (which, near as I could tell, actually dismissed Krugman's credentials on the basis of his supporters' presumptive lack thereof), plus NPR's ombudsman comically marshalling figures supporting the left blogosphere's complaint in order to dismiss said complaint? I mean, do I actually need to have concrete examples tallying up a majority of all journalists before I can use "many?" A plurality? Or how about solid examples of journalistic contempt for blogospheric arguments from every major national news outlet (I'll admit that I'm missing the LA Times; I think the Journal is exempt from this competition)?

Posted by: JRoth | Jan 17, 2006 4:57:20 PM

I don't think Cass Sunstein is a particularly honorable guy. I think he sucks up to the right in ways transparently designed to protect him from any future Republican block on his ambitions to become a federal judge. You see it all the time at the University of Chicago Law School.

Posted by: Mungafung | Jan 17, 2006 5:20:11 PM

This is a joke. Sunstein has long had an obvious Constitutional project - avoid the problematic issue of a not-very-democratic institution (the S. Ct.) making important decisions by having them punt such decisions as often as often as possible. It isn't necessarily wrong, but it means he is likely to privilege Executive and Congressional views on a matters like this more than that of the Court. Sunstein wants to defer to the more obviously democratic institutions on the wiretapping issue - wow, that's a shocker.

Sunstein should be used as a boundary condition in the other direction; if he thinks the Court should step in, it probably should.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jan 17, 2006 5:30:10 PM

Ken--the Georgetown Cocktail circuit quip is about TNR reporters, not Professor Sunstein.

Posted by: Rob W | Jan 17, 2006 5:39:24 PM

Sorry Ezra but when there is no way to distinguish between the credentials of Bob Woodward and Anne Coulter, then we do indeed have a problem. And the solution is to bypass the "crednetualars" who have failed us all so miserably. If Anne and Russ and Bill O had been squashed like the bugs they were I would agree with you, but since there is no credentialing in the real world that means anything, those who can argue win.

Ultimate Proof- Noam Chomsky the guy who no one would touch with a ten foot poll turns out to be dead right time after time. This guy was the first blogger, speaking to the wind and time has credentialed him in a way no organization Ivy or no could have.

The Blog medium attracts those who are truly interested in speaking and thinking and because there is no money on the table brings audiences to those who deserve them. Your colleague Matt Yglesias has stated many a time its not the Ivy education, the ultimate credential, that makes the success its rather the filtering process the Ivies do to find those who will be sucessful.

Posted by: patience | Jan 17, 2006 6:01:36 PM

Ezra, I've long been a fan of your work, and recently I've also become a fan of Glenn Greenwald's (after his guest-blogging on Digby).

I have to say I agree with Glenn in this case. I've seen "many" examples (there's that word again!) of credentialed pundits and experts and journalists making claims which turn out to have no basis in fact, and I think they've been getting away with this mainly because they operate using a one-way communication channel: they talk to the public, and the public can't talk back very easily. (Of course, the public CAN talk back somewhat via letters to the editor -- but I would imagine the most scathing rebuttals from the public are precisely the ones that DON'T get published.) The sparring which occurs in the blogosphere forces pundits to hone their arguments better.

Because the blogosphere is interactive, and because bloggers don't tend to get six-figure salaries, it offers greater quality than what we get from the traditional commercial media. Arguments in the blogosphere stand and fall on their own merits -- not on the credentials of the messenger. Meanwhile, many paid corporate journalists have turned out to be dishonest shills (Miller, Armstrong, Schmidt), or have failed to disclose their own involvement on stories they disingenuously report on (Novak, Russert, Woodward). I imagine the six-figure salaries have something to do with this.

I've been a news junkie for over 20 years, and I would say there has definitely been a sharp increase in the quality of debate and commentary in our public political discourse over the last few years, due to the level playing field provided by the blogs.

You and Glenn are great examples of the meritocracy which blogging has created. Keep up the great work -- and the sparring!

Posted by: GermanAndJamaican | Jan 17, 2006 6:16:22 PM

Perhaps Glenn's second example was more effective than his first, because Cass Sunstein, after all, is a legitimate authority in his field. The problem Glenn identifies is not so much respect for authority as it is a lack of respect for "non-authorities," i.e., someone the author has not heard of.

Posted by: Steve | Jan 17, 2006 6:24:39 PM

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