Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 19, 2010
POLITICS: No Quarter: How Left-Wing Blogs Seek To Destroy Rather Than Debate
If you have been reading or writing blogs for some time, you may recall the early, heady days of the blogosphere back around 2002-03. Many of us old-school bloggers started back then (I started writing baseball on the web in May 2000, and political blogging in August 2002; RedState wouldn't be founded until the summer of 2004). The blog world was a small town in those days, where everybody knew everybody, nobody was too big to respond to emails, comments or trackbacks (remember trackbacks?), and for all the fire of political debate, there was a broad-based sense that blogs constituted a community of interest that crossed party lines. Bloggers were glad to see recognition given to blogs and bloggers, engaged in debate across ideological lines, and in some cases informal alliances sprung up, as when blogs on the right and left alike united to drive media interest in ousting Trent Lott as GOP Senate Majority Leader after the 2002 elections over his comments about Strom Thurmond. Sites like The Command Post, which followed the blow-by-blow of the Iraq War, featured contributors from both sides of the political spectrum (myself included, along with others who would later become contributors at RedState). I don't want to overstate the degree of comity or idealize that era, but there was at least some degree of prevailing ethos that bloggers - amateurs using the internet to gather news and offer citizen punditry - had something in common even when their partisan and ideological interests diverged.
Those days are long, long gone. The coordinated and utterly predictable left-wing assault on CNN's hiring of RedState leader Erick Erickson over the past few days is merely the latest illustration of how the left side of the blogosphere sees it as its role not to debate conservative bloggers and pundits, but to destroy us and preclude us from being heard. Nobody on our side of the aisle should be under any illusion about the depths of personal enmity harbored towards us by the left blogs, nor the fact that they will spare no effort to go after us personally. These are not good people, they are not our friends, and they mean us harm.
It's debatable when and why the change came in the blogosphere, although it's clear it was driven from the Left - in many ways, with a few exceptions like Erick and the HotAir and BigGovernment sites, the right-wing blogs are the same collection of amateur part-timers, with the same leadership and the same demeanor and methods as we had in 2002. Partly it was the Left's increasing bitterness after their thumping in the 2002 elections exposed the fiction of their view that Bush's victory in 2000 was an illegitimate aberration. Partly it was the increasing partisan temperature that came with the Iraq War. Partly it was the nature of the Online Left as people: dissatisfied with the existing order of society, often childless and thus with more time on their hands and fewer checks on perpetual immaturity, apt to treat the personal as political and the political as personal, and frequently irreligious and tending to put politics in the place where others put religion. Perhaps the influence of Markos Moulitsas as the leading figure in the left-wing blogosphere could be blamed as well, although I regard the explosive growth of Daily Kos more as a symptom than the underlying cause.
But most likely the largest cause of all was money and the lust for power. With its party leadership discredited and its official organs subject to campaign finance laws that don't regulate blogs, the Left began pouring serious money and man-hours into the blogosphere after the 2002 elections. Billionaire George Soros (also a chief funder of think tanks like John Podesta's Center for American Progress, founded in 2003) was the most prominent of these donors/investors, but hardly the only one; Arianna Huffington was another. Left-wing interest groups like SEIU and other unions mustered advertising dollars for major left-blogs, effectively putting them on retainer. That gave the blogs the tools to do activism, polling, fundraising, investigative muckracking, and simply to generate a lot of ways to go after people and waste their time. Daily Kos, TPM, MediaMatters, ThinkProgress.org, the Huffington Post...these sites were increasingly staffed by full-time employees, tasked with taking out people on the Right, in MediaMatters' case explicitly focused on conservative pundits. One by one, major left-bloggers became professionalized. Moulitsas lived off "advertising" revenue, Glenn Greenwald (already independently wealthy) got hired by Salon, Kevin Drum by Washington Monthly, Ana Marie Cox by Time, Phil Carter got paid by Slate and the Washington Post, people like Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Oliver Willis got blogging jobs straight out of college, funded by various combinations of employment by supposedly non-partisan mainstream media organizations (the Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly) and left-wing funders; others like Jane Hamsher and John Aravosis also apparently work full-time as bloggers. Today, the WaPo employs both Klein and TPM veteran activist Greg Sargent; Washington Monthly employs Steven Benen; HuffPo employs a variety of people, including Klein's former co-blogger Nico Pitney. And a host of left-wing bloggers are regulars on MSNBC, a putatively major cable news network. By contrast, sites like RedState and the New Ledger are staffed almost entirely by volunteers with day jobs outside politics.
The professionalization of the Online Left created a sense of entitlement - left-bloggers tended not only to crusade for their policy goals, but to work for a personal seat at the table for themselves and their colleagues, becoming an interest group of their own and thus even more personally invested in the accretion of power to their own side. Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong even wrote a book entitled "Crashing the Gate" about their drive to gain power within their party. Today, left-bloggers are feted at the White House. One of the most incendiary left-wing bloggers, Matt Stoller, got a job working for Florida Congressman Alan Grayson.
What disappeared along the way was any semblance of a sense that left-wingers should debate the Right, or even accept as legitimate the existence of conservative bloggers and pundits as participants in public debate. An early sign of this came when the Washington Post hired Ben Domenech, another of RedState's founders, in 2005. Never mind that WaPo was trying to pair him with a liberal writer, or that WaPo has always had a liberal editorial page and many more liberal than conservative op-ed writers; the Online Left started a viciously gleeful, single-minded crusade to get Ben fired, coming up with one ridiculous attack on him after another. Unfortunately, they eventually found one that stuck (some plagiarized movie reviews from his college-age years), he had to leave the job, and WaPo never replaced him with another conservative blogger. Yet when the paper hired Klein (who had volunteered with the Dean campaign in 2004) and Sargent, and essentially presented them as nonpartisan pundits (as compared to the "Red America" tagline on Ben's columns) conservatives complained and continue to poke fun at them (I know I have), but never made anything like a similarly coordinated effort to get them fired. Not that we couldn't have spent time digging through their archives for choice tidbits like Klein Tweeting "f**k tim russert. f**k him with a spiky acid-tipped d**k" (although Klein has prudently buried most of his old blogs, see here, here and here).
The effort to not only disagree with conservatives but agitate to have them driven from the public square is endemic with these paid, professional left-bloggers. Sargent, Greenwald and Benen complain constantly about Dick and Liz Cheney being permitted on TV and covered in the press. Left-bloggers pressed MSNBC for some time to get rid of Pat Buchanan, despite (1) the network's overwhelming leftward tilt and (2) the fact that Buchanan isn't even a particularly good or representative spokesman for the GOP or conservatives. They campaigned to get Lou Dobbs, a populist who's similarly only vaguely conservative, off CNN. There's been a long-running campaign to attack the advertisers for Glenn Beck, and with a fair amount of success despite Beck's sterling ratings. The common thread is that the Online Left isn't content to debate these people; they want them to be defunded, unemployed and unheard by the public, while they themselves reap funding from like-minded donors and interest groups.
(In the extreme example, conservative blogger Jeff Goldstein received sufficiently threatening emails towards his then 2-year-old son from a mentally disturbed left-wing stalker that he obtained a restraining order against her.).
Which brings us to the energy and bile that these paid tools of the left have directed at CNN - which is trying to reach out to the viewers that have consistently made rival FOX News the cable-news ratings champ - in an open effort to get Erick's hiring rescinded and ensure that CNN's viewers are not exposed to his opinions. The volume of material churned out by the left blogs, especially the paid ones, is too massive for me to excerpt or link it all here, but I'll offer a few samples:
-An organized campaign to flood CNN, especially its Twitter feed and those of its employees and on-air personalities, with complaints, and to pressure its advertisers to try to get Erick fired, was ginned up by nasty, foul-mouthed left-blogger Shoq. The campaign includes a "DumpCNN" Twitter feed (at last check: 89 tweets just since Tuesday). Some sample tweets from Shoq and DumpCNN:
-Eric Boehlert, paid staffer for Media Matters, has griped at length about Erick's hiring on his Twitter feed and the MMFA website, comparing him unfavorably to such solons of non-partisan news commentary as former Clinton campaign staffers Paul Begala and James Carville (while ignoring entirely why CNN wanted Erick - not just as an effort to win back viewers from Fox but because of his growing influence as an activist voice for the next generation of Republicans). Boehlert promoted the "DumpCNN" twitter feed and tweeted complaints at CNN. Perhaps Boehlert's most hilarious tweet was his claim that "the weird part is the Left doesn't have an Erick Erickson for CNN to hire; somebody that hateful and unethical to pontificate." (Apparently he's forgotten, among too many other examples to cite here, Moulitsas' famous reaction of "screw them" to the death of American contractors in Iraq).
-Moulitsas' initial reaction on Twitter was a lame joke, before stepping up to gripe, "HIs dream job is Al Qaida. CNN just a stepping stone." See also this, this, and a handful of retweets of other people.
-Greenwald similarly started off with something lame, then got gradually unhinged:
-Salon was similarly apoplectic: "What was CNN thinking with latest hire?" The Salon article called Erick a "spinner," which is kind of a ridiculous argument considering that CNN already employs Begala and Carville; Begala is the Platonic embodiment of spin. But the Salon article nonetheless admitted that "Erickson is remarkably well plugged into the Republican establishment these days, and is a good barometer of where tea partiers will end up -- he was one of the earliest supporters of both Doug Hoffman and Marco Rubio, for example."
-Willis pestered Ed Henry of CNN on Twitter here, here, here, and declared here, "feel like ed henry is reading now and realizing what a mistake he made defending erickson. heh." More Willis tweets here, here, here, here, here and here.
-Benen tweeted that "CNN's Erickson hire marks a genuinely sad for American journalism" and went after Erick's hiring at length from his paid position at Washington Monthly here, naturally with the disclaimer he always adds, when arguing against putting conservatives on television, that of course he's not against putting conservatives on television, just whoever he happens to be writing about in a given post.
-Greg Mitchell, formerly of the defunct Editor & Publisher, complained about CNN even wanting to recapture viewers disenchanted with the network's reputation for disdain for conservatives and conservative viewpoints: "Why are those "the very people" John [King] hopes to reach?"
-Atrios, at one time a prominent left-wing blogger, whined, "dear cnn, "the best political team" by definition cannot include someone as stupid as erick erickson" Atrios then went on to tweet his complaints to CNN's Twitter feed while passing along something Erick supposedly wrote "Three days before CNN hires" him, although the post was obviously dated 2008.
-Crooks and Liars went after Erick at length here:
Red State is the heavily-funded, longstanding arm of the Republican wingnut online noise machine. Erickson is a propaganda-spinner, a liar and a troll.
I don't know where these guys get their ideas about RS' funding. If we were enormously well-funded, I think I'd know about that. The post that had to be edited for failing even Crooks and Liars' low standards for accuracy when it claimed:
When I worked for CNN Interactive, RedStaters were paid to troll our political discussions and disrupt them, especially during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Back then, CNN locked them off the site. Now they pay them to troll in real time, on the air.
RS, of course, wasn't founded until 2004, and Erick's still the only paid blogger on the site; the idea that we could pay people to comment on the CNN website is ludicrous on its face. (The post now claims that "Freepers" were paid to do this, but as far as I know, FreeRepublic has never had that kind of cash either).
-More examples from lower-level left-wing blogs here ("What in the hell is CNN thinking? And John King? Is he harboring a grudge against Glenn Greenwald and to get back at him has employed someone who would be more at home in the hate talk ghetto?"), here, here (for a reaction of " shocked discuss"), and here.
Conservatives, of course, have our own grievances with media bias, but one longstanding difference is that we generally don't argue against major outlets employing liberal commentators who are labeled as such; the problem more typically is a 1-2 punch of not pairing them with good, or any, representatives from the Right, while passing off liberals and former Democratic staffers as objective journalists. It might be a good thing for the networks and major newspapers to put more bloggers, from both sides, on the air and in print, and let the consumer decide. But to the Left, that means only bloggers from their side need apply, and you risk an organized campaign against your sponsors if you try to give a conservative blogger a job. This is a mindset that goes all the way up to the President of the United States, who despite receiving mostly worshipfully deferential press coverage during his run for the presidency was and is obsessed with Fox News.
Ironically, while most of the ire directed at Erick has been fueled by a handful of his more bomb-throwing posts (I don't dispute that he's provocative, and has even used the "f" word on very rare occasions his tweets, albeit never on RedState, which has an anti-profanity site policy we all support), many of the people doing the complaining produce vast volumes of far more offensive and foul-mouthed stuff; they just rely on the fact that nobody on the Right has paid staff with the time to comb through it all. Meanwhile, besides being a hugely influential activist, Erick's been campaigning actively both against corruption in the GOP establishment and things like birtherism at the grassroots, and has taken his share of flak for those stands. As a city councilman, he's also an elected official dealing with the problems of government at the ground level. But then, none of this is really about Erick at all; it's a replay of the attacks on Ben and will be repeated again whenever a conservative (an actual one, not a neutered yes-man like David Brooks) gets televised or published outside of explicitly conservative media. And especially when it's a conservative blogger. They're not interested in debate. They're only interested in destroying us.