January 21, 2007

Blogs and politics

Filed under: map, politics — ubikcan @ 11:54 am

One depressing aspect of being away for an extended length of time is all the magazines and newspapers that pile up in the meantime (depressing because of course you’ve paid for them and feel obliged to plow through them all!).

So I’m just getting to this piece from last November in the LRB (damme why I pay if they’re all available for free online!). Interesting to get the British perspective on US politics:

Lanchester sardonically blames the blogs for misleading him into thinking that Kerry had won in 2004:

I blame the blogs. Specifically, for getting my hopes up in the first place, I blame electoral-vote.com, which had an interactive map of poll results arranged state by state, and mysterypollster.com… For the misleading data on the night, I blame Wonkette, a lively political blog which in those days was written by Ana Marie Cox. These blogs are all, broadly speaking, aligned with the Democrats, even if they aren’t examples of the foamingly furious anti-Bush blogs which are the left equivalent of the right-wing talk-radio shows.

Later on however he cites with equal enthusiasm the accuracy of the “spread betting” indexes and their prediction that the Dems will take control of the House of Representatives (his piece was written before the election on 20 October). What the spread betting didn’t get right of course (reflecting CW as it does) is that the Dems would also take the Senate.

Lanchester is keen on the West Wing (RIP) and mentions the story in which Josh has an imbroglio with a blogger, asking her to keep the call off the record, only to face the realization that “a blogger isn’t a journalist”:

A blogger isn’t a journalist, not quite; more like a diarist with a megaphone. Blogs are more lively than accurate, and more responsive than responsible. But that is for the most part a good thing. There is a fundamental difference between the way the blogosphere talks about itself – heatedly, constantly, and with a never wavering belief in its own importance – and the way the MSM, or mainstream media, cover it: wearily, knowingly and knowing better. Each side falls on mistakes made by the other as if they were decisive proof of the other’s uselessness and irrelevance. The MSM point out that the blogs cocked up the election result, and don’t break much actual news. The blogs point out that the MSM ignored Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House, or treated it as an embarrassment, when it was in fact the most powerful piece of political comedy (and political theatre) since the Cheney administration came to power.

The most common MSM objection to the blogs is that they only talk about each other, and have a wildly exaggerated sense of their own importance. It would be hard to deny the partial truth of that; the bloggers are very revved up about blogging, and there is a technological factor at work too. Because blogs link to each other, and because the etiquette or blogiquette is that you link back to a blog that links to you, a great deal of traffic is passed from blog to blog. The unkind MSM way of regarding this would be to call it a circle-jerk; it might be more accurate to say that it has the effect of an echo-chamber or auditorium.

While there is some truth in this, the distinction isn’t quite right. Blogs link to each other, but aren’t inwardly focused (the echo-chamber accusation is pretty obsolete if it was ever true). Blogs link just as much to the MSM, to disseminate stories just as much or more than to criticize them. Plus, blogs seem to have interesting political connectivity, which might be what Lanchester means, that is lefty blogs link to other lefty blogs and righty blogs to righty blogs as this image from 2004 indicates:

This shows the liberal and conservative blogospheres and how little they connect with each other. However, there have since emerged some more connecting tissue (Chris Bowers mentions HuffPo, Glenn Greenwald, Americablog, and Crooks and Liars which monitors the media for errors and spin).

(Whether blogs are or should be journalists and the differences afforded by both I’ve discussed previously. Suffice it to say that I support the idea that freedom to protect sources and publishing should extend to blogs as well, as they provide political commentary and reporting.)

Lanchester does give credit for lefty blogs taking Trent Lott’s scalp following his speech at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday (and we should depressingly add that of Dan Rather by righty blogs although that was based on missteps rather than racist comments or even factual errors), but as for what the netroots can do there’s much more:

1. Raise cash, lots of it, for netroots candidates. ActBlue has raised over $18 million dollars since 2004, starting with the whole moveon.org thing.

2. Get out the vote tools. GOTV analyses are now possible using all those lovely map mashups we know so well, such as Fairplan.

3. What’s also interesting here is the analysis of the redistricting and the identification of voting pockets; a micro-politics of voting. It used to be said that the GOP “controls the maps” because they controlled redistricting, but now these maps are in everybody’s hands to the extent that a very detailed analysis can be made of where the voters are for GOTV. And redistricting does not always work as the GOP found in Texas.

3. Googlebombing. Now this is interesting. This means linking or citing an article or web page to move it up in the ranks. One of the CW on John McCain is that he’s a socially liberal. Here’s Lanchester:

[Speaking of Mark Foley and its possible effect on the results] It’s always depressing when it takes a wholly irrelevant furore to concentrate an electorate’s attention on the failings of a ruling party. However, anything which weakens the position of the Christianist right is, from a planetary point of view, a welcome development. It might well help John McCain, too, who is the nearest thing Republican politics has – I don’t say that’s very near – to honest Arnie Vinick [the socially liberal GOP candidate played by Alan Alda on the West Wing]

However, this is not really true. McCain is quite, even very, conservative as an amazing googlebombing campaign aims to show:

Six days ago, I asked you to assist with a Googlebomb campaign targeted exclusively at Arizona Senator John McCain. I am pleased to report that in a very short period of time, this campaign is going quite well.

Anyone is free to do this of course, but it takes a community–a netroots–to achieve success. The upshot is this:

You should be pleased to learn that our efforts to engage in search engine optimization for John McCain are coming at a time when McCain is already starting to fade. Consider the following:

No one is so big, so loved by the establishment media and the punditry nexus that s/he can’t be taken down several pegs by the grassroots and netroots. This is especially true of McCain, champion of Sunday talk shows, because the Republican netroots and grassroots are fairly anti-McCain themselves, even though he has tried to suck up to them.

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