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February 25, 2007

The Blogosphere Joins the "Freak Show"

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Dems08blogpulse This graph from Nielsen's blogpulse shows the rate of blog posts that mention top tier '08ers. It tells a sad story about the state of political blogging.

Hillary Clinton's trend line shows two local peaks; her announcement on Januray 20th, and the recent Obama-Geffen-HRC dustup.

Obama's trend line shows five peaks; one for his exploratory announcement, one for Hillary's announcement, one for what I think is the bogus "madrassa" story Joe Biden's "clean" gaffe, one for his official entrance, and a fifth for the aforementioned dustup.

Edwards' trend line is harder to visualize, because his peak is much lower than Clinton's or Obama's. But if you look at it on its own you'll find five peaks; his announcement, a secondary bounce for Hillary's announcement, the Amanda Marcotte Saga, Amanda's resignation, and another recent boost along with Obama & Hillary when David Geffen popped off.

During this time, Barack Obama gave a speech to Families USA in which he forthrightly called for universal health care (something he hadn't done previously); John Edwards has had two "days of action" where he urges his supporters to "be the change", one on Energy and one on Health Care; and Hillary Clinton has held numerous public appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire where Iraq has been a prime focus of media coverage. Using blog posts as a measure, none of these are as important as what some Hollywood fundraiser said to Maureen Dowd, or whether Joe Biden, during the course of being on the record all the time, makes a poor choice of words once in a while.

If this sounds like an indictment of the blogosphere, that's because it is. Everyone gets a pass on the madrassa story and l'affair du Marcotte as they were both nakedly partisan attacks that needed defending, but both DailyKos and Talking Points Memo devoted front-page posts to the tit-for-tat. The post to Kos, by frontpage editor MissLaura, consists entirely of coverage-of-the-coverage trying to discern which papers declared "winners" and losers (in fairness, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly used it as a chance to bemoan the obscene length of campaigns, and Atrios used it to remind everyone that political gossip columnists are not your friend). Now, going 2-for-4 may get you into the playoffs in the NBA Atlantic, we'd all be much better of if we simply ignored coverage that pointlessly elevates intraparty squabbles; after all, between the occupation of Iraq, rising inequality at home, and a Congress that's actually trying to do its job, there's plenty of meatier news that will still to hold readers' attention.

Look, we all hate the gossip, horse-race coverage, and backseat-driving that dominates national coverage of Presidential campaigns. The whole point of the blogosphere, I thought, was to create something better, where campaigns could reach an audience that was willing to make an effort to avoid the punditocracy, he-said/she-said/we're-clueless coveraege, and poor frames that dominate TV & newspaper coverage, and maybe force traditional media outlets to re-think the way they approach the news. Instead, it looks like the blogosphere is letting itself be subsumed into existing campaign paradigms. We can do better than that, people.

February 25, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

A lot of blogging is about fighting. I mean, it is fighting, conflict driven, and any fight or provocation will have a leg-up over other kinds of story. That leads to big reactions to stuff like the Geffen tiff. Ezra's better than most about trying to stick with more substantive stuff. The candidates don't always make that easy when it comes to covering politics. Obama coming out for universal health care got about as much coverage as it should have. In the Democratic primary that's a bit like the Pope coming out in favor of Sunday mass. And so on with the other examples you give; not really that newsworthy. You have to work at it to find the substance sometimes.

This isn't to disagree with your complaint.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 6:06:42 PM

Look, we all hate the gossip, horse-race coverage, and backseat-driving that dominates national coverage of Presidential campaigns.

Wrong. Some people hate it. Most people--and this especially includes political junkies--do not. This doesn't have anything to do with "existing campaign paradigms," and has everything to do with a little something called "human nature."

The liberal blogosphere, as a whole, was never about this avoid-the-punditocracy nonsense. In fact the blogosphere can be thought of as little more than ten million little pundits bloviating to each other. There are gems in the rough, of course, like this site--but they're just that, gems. In the rough.

Posted by: Korha | Feb 25, 2007 6:23:26 PM

You have to work at it to find the substance sometimes.

That's certainly part of the problem. But, there's campaign news out there that isn't gossip. But there are fights and then there are fights, and the David Geffen thing just seemed lame all the way around. If everyone had responded by covering the substance of the latest events from both candidates in Iowa and New Hampsire we would have all been better off.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 25, 2007 6:40:27 PM

The liberal blogosphere, as a whole, was never about this avoid-the-punditocracy nonsense.

Well, maybe it would be better put that it was about replacing the punditocracy with a punditocracy that focused less on trivia. And it sees to have failed even at that.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 25, 2007 6:58:05 PM

Let me see, I am currently at 106 feeds. Subtracting the top twenty high-traffic feeds, I doubt that Geffen was even mentioned once on 75 percent of the others. Of course, neither was Edwards "Be the Energy" or whatever day. However my economics blogs are still discussing inequality.

The blogosphere is not an arm of a political organisation.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 25, 2007 8:08:06 PM

Another reason to give everybody a pass on the Amanda/Melissa stuff is that those issues actually involved bloggers themselves. You'd expect an issue like that to be hotly discussed within the community most affected.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 25, 2007 8:30:48 PM

but, it's human nature and a guilty pleasure to indulge in some gossip. I am not a person who loves gossip or anything but, I do find it fun sometimes when something happens. It breaks up the boredom of a long dark winter. I suppose some part of me, the devilish part, likes it when there is something snarky or mean about Hillary. And always the hope of her campaign imploding.

Posted by: vwcat | Feb 25, 2007 8:46:25 PM

The blogosphere is not an arm of a political organisation.

I'm not saying it should be. But considering the amount of criticism left-of-center bloggers have heaped upon publishers of faux scandal pieces about Romney's Mormonism (such as yours truly) or polygamous ancestors (such as Yglesias), one would think faux scandals like the David Geffen business would also be subject to similar scrutiny.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 25, 2007 9:20:37 PM

Another reason to give everybody a pass on the Amanda/Melissa stuff is that those issues actually involved bloggers themselves.

This has gotten even funnier. Number one, there was no apology from Marcotte. Secondly, she has now ginned up some fantastic story about a grand conspiracy by the conservatives to deny the Democrats interoots money. It was their doing. They all got together around a kitchen table and made this elaborate plan and Marcotte and McEwan were simply innocent pawns in their grand scheme and she blames everyone but herself. I'm not making this up, folks. You can't invent this kind of entertainment.


Sunlight is, indeed, the best disinfectant.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 26, 2007 11:41:50 AM

Well, I've been writing substantial posts about Obama and Edwards (also here) both, as well as on the question of why the socalled liberal blogosphere is so much more likely to spend time on gossip rather than substance.

But then I'm a socialist.

Posted by: Martin Wisse | Feb 26, 2007 12:18:48 PM

Keep up the good work, Martin :).

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 26, 2007 12:37:30 PM

This is way off, Ezra, and extremely naive. No, it wouldn't be better if "we simply ignored coverage that pointlessly elevates intraparty squabbles." The stupid stories, like Maureen Down using David Geffen to continue her Hillary-hate, need to be pointed out for the stupidity that they are. Because the fact is, it is the stupid stories that control the mainstream discourse, the Maureen Dowds, Chris Matthews, Frank Rich, Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, David Broder, ad nauseum. It is the stupid stories that destroyed Al Gore (invented the Internet, was the model for "Love Story," etc.) and John Kerry (speaks French, goes wind-surfing, said "I voted for it before I voted against it"), while we highly principled liberals sat back and ignored them. If you want to let liberals' enemies continue to control the discourse, go ahead, just look the other way and ignore them. But it won't work.

Posted by: bobbo | Feb 26, 2007 1:07:53 PM

The stupid stories, like Maureen Down using David Geffen to continue her Hillary-hate, need to be pointed out for the stupidity that they are.

But, a sizeable amount of blogosphere coverage didn't point out how stupid it was ... it simply covered it as campaign attacks. Check out the TPM post, it's just "the gloves come off ... Obama response". That's totally feeding into beltway campaigning.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 26, 2007 1:34:44 PM

Sorry, Nicholas, thought you were Ezra. Yes, it is true what you say, the blogosphere does make the mistake of reinforcing the stupid narrative. That's the problem. That's why it's all the more important not to ignore the stupid narrative but to point out how stupid it is.

Posted by: bobbo | Feb 26, 2007 2:52:29 PM

Sure ... I would be all for that if 100% of the posts on HRC/Obama/Geffen were to point out just what a tempest in a teapot it really is. But they weren't.

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