Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Triangle: Understanding YearlyKos

If you judge by traditional media accounts of the 2006 YearlyKos convention, it's about the anti-establishment netroots (the outsiders) going 'mainstream' and becoming the establishment.

Adam Nagourney and Maureen Dowd each take that approach, as do other reporters covering the gathering.

"There were the bloggers — nearly a thousand of them, many of them familiar names by now — emerging from the shadows of their computers for a three-day blur of workshops, panels and speeches about politics, the power of the Internet and the shortcomings of the Washington media. And right behind them was a parade of prospective Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders, their presence a tribute to just how much the often rowdy voices of the Web have been absorbed into the very political process they frequently disdain, much to the amazement, and perhaps discomfort, of some of the bloggers themselves.

They may think of themselves as rebels, separate from mainstream politics and media. But by the end of a day on which the convention halls were shoulder to shoulder with bloggers, Democratic operatives, candidates and Washington reporters, it seemed that bloggers were well on the way to becoming — dare we say it? — part of the American political establishment. Indeed, the convention, the first of what organizers said would become an annual event, seems on the way to becoming as much a part of the Democratic political circuit as the Iowa State Fair."
"Mr. Moulitsas assured me he didn't see himself as a journalist, only a Democratic activist. "I don't plan on doing any original reporting - screw that. I need people like you," he said, agreeing that since he still often had to pivot off the reporting of the inadequate mainstream media to form his inflammatory opinions, our relationship was, by necessity, "symbiotic."

As I wandered around workshops, I began to wonder if the outsiders just wanted to get in. One was devoted to training bloggers, who had heretofore not given much thought to grooming and glossy presentation, on how to be TV pundits and avoid the stereotype of nutty radical kids.

Mr. Moulitsas said he had a media coach who taught him how to stand, dress, speak, breathe and even get up from his chair. Another workshop coached Kossacks on how to talk back to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. "One of my favorite points," the workshop leader said, "is that the French were right."

Even as Old Media is cowed by New Media, New Media is trying to become, rather than upend, Old Media. Ms. Cox has left her Wonkette gig to be a novelist and Time essayist. Mr. Moulitsas and Mr. Armstrong wrote a book called "Crashing the Gate," and hit "Meet the Press" and the book tour circuit. Mr. Armstrong left his liberal blog to become a senior adviser to Mr. Warner. What could be more mainstream than that?"
Nagourney and Dowd miss the point entirely. In a series of essays describing a 'Triangle' of political power, I attempted to assess the scope of netroots influence. The premise of my piece was that the online community (communicating on blogs, message boards, etc.) was a new power structure, independent of the political and media establishment. The question was about the limits of its power, not whether it would merge into one or the other existing power structures:
"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. 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. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy." (Triangle, illustrated)
YearlyKos is certainly a milestone in the growing legitimacy of the blog world. But Dowd and Nagourney seem to believe that cross-pollination among the netroots, the traditional media and the political establishment somehow represents the annexation of the netroots by the establishment. That's like saying the political establishment is becoming the media because of politicians-turned-pundits.

The blogosphere is a new power base, a stand-alone entity with its own ethos. Within that sphere, stratification and the emergence of a hierarchical structure are increasingly relevant topics of discussion. That said, the real question for the progressive netroots and the establishment media alike is whether or not the online community will prevail upon the media to stop caving in to rightwing pressure. It's a war between two distinct centers of political power and the media's strategy appears to be a hodge podge of misunderstanding, misstating, and marginalizing the blogs.


Blogger Wil Wheaton said...

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Nagourney and Dowd miss the point by design.

6/10/2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger Gibbon said...

These arguments are similar to the old "bloggers are just wanna be journalists - Kos will sell out for a national press column - but this won't happen because he hasn't paid his dues in the journalism trenches".

6/10/2006 2:28 PM  
Blogger bluememe said...


I completely agree with you on the larger point. I also think that MSM folks like MoDo will only become more hostile to us as our influence grows, as I have argued before.

I just wanted to quibble with one thing you said:

"That's like saying the political establishment is becoming the media because of politicians-turned-pundits."

I wouldn't dismiss that conclusion so quickly. The relationship between the pols and the press has become so incestuous that I think one could make an interesting case for your triangle collapsing into a diad. And it isn't just poli-pundits. Roger Ailes (the real one, not the blogger). Tony Snow. The co-option of countless "journalists."

Anyway, I think it is probably asking too much to expect the NYT and the rest of the MSM to get it. There are a slew of other big issues they don't get and don't cover at all (see., e.g., the cricket-chirps that greeted RFK Jr's election fraud article.) At this stage of the game, we should be happy they spell the names right.

6/10/2006 5:00 PM  
Blogger Gen. JC Christian, Patriot said...

You've nailed it, and it's incredibly empowering.

6/10/2006 6:25 PM  
Blogger amberglow said...

i wonder tho, if ensuring the old media press was there and covering it, and also the attitude of "we're now a force to be reckoned with, a player at the table, etc" isn't itself creating that kind of coverage?

i don't see anything about separate structures or independence from existing politics or party or media, really--i see a new counterpart to the right's organizations and pressure groups. And the politicians having parties there and being treated like celebs is certainly feeding that for me.

6/10/2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger amberglow said...

what do you think of this post at My Left Wing, about how yearlykos is being presented in the media as "left" because the center line has moved so far to the right?

6/10/2006 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Barea said...

Ok, I left a lot longer version of this on my own insignificant blog (
but here I'll state the highlights:

1) Media is the FOURTH Estate. Blogs would then be the FIFTH. No triangle.

2) Libel law arose out of two politicians creating newspapers to attack each other. No independent power centers.

3) If the same people rotate through all the groups, then the groups become indistinguishable.

The fun stuff I left out.

6/10/2006 11:33 PM  
Anonymous TJ said...

Their explanation of the phenomena only helps to further show that they still don't get it, it's bigger than a handful of the well known *defecting* to the mainstream.

6/11/2006 4:51 AM  
Blogger Avedon said...

Much as I like your Triangle as a way of examining the dynamic of getting liberal/progressive topics and takes into the larger public discourse, I don't think "new power structure" has much to do with it.

What we're really talking about here is a large number of small news carriers that have a lot of opinionating in them. They've managed to inject themselves into the consciousness of Big Media and politicians to an extent that is unusual for small press news organs on paper (many of which would never be daily and never have a circulation of 1000, if that). That doesn't mean they/we are a new power structure.

It's just that a small corner of the media has managed to catch the eye of some people in the big corner.

6/11/2006 11:11 AM  
Blogger Peter Daou said...

Avedon - even though you and I agree on a lot of things, I disagree here. You describe it as "a large number of small news carriers that have a lot of opinionating in them."

By the same token, a university is just a bunch of buildings with teachers and students in them.

The online community is organized in such a way as to have emergent properties. Out of the components and the way those components are put together, a new entity is created.

If I understand you correctly, the blogosphere is simply a collection of small media outlets and thus a subset of the media, a "small corner of the media" as you describe it.

I really think it's something different: a combination of people, technology, and activity, organized under certain rules and norms, that functions as a stand-alone entity.

6/11/2006 11:40 AM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

It is in the nature of being a sell-out to assume that everyone is a sell-out. From this perspective, anyone who hasn't been absorbed into the established elite simply hasn't had their price met, yet.

You see, there really aren't any issues of merit outside the stream of bought and paid for opinion. Such folks view centers of dissent independent of established channels as nothing more than marketing springboards for careerists like themselves. They simply don't credit folks like Duncan, Markos or John as being about anything other than the same narrow self promotion as themselves. Since they went where the "juice" was (money, prestige, influence, etc.), they presume that is what the upstarts are about as well.

This sort of cynicism is a psychological necessity for such people. Doubtless once upon a time, the likes of Nagourney and Dowd considered what they did as a calling more than a meal ticket but that was long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

The days when critical investigative journalism and trenchant dissent, as opposed to toadying to established memes and "witty" cocktail chatter, could be ridden into a journalistic sinecure are long gone. If Nagourney, Dowd, et al were to admit for moment that others might not be playing by their rules, that the blogosphere represents something more than a group of wannabes scheduled for assimilation, they'd have to revisit their own decision to transform themselves from journalists into dancing monkeys.

Considering their payscale, I imagine this is yet one more question they prefer not to probe.

Besides, from their perspective anyone who consciously chooses the role of Don Quixote over that of paid concubine to the power elites is a fool. They justify their privilege by a bogus meritocratic argument. This being that they occupy their positions due to their exceptional smarts, talent and ability. Certainly not because they are exceptional suck-ups and panderers to ruling prejudices.

It follows from such self serving illusions that anyone taking a different course, anyone who fundamentally challenges the status quo, is foolish, mediocre and incompetent, worthy only of ridicule.

As their coverage of YKos testifies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ridicule the left blogosphere. Markos, et al, are manifestly not fools nor lacking in talent or competence. We are now well into the second stage of their denial. The "everybody has their price" stage. Close cousin to the "everybody does it" cop out.

Shorter version. Expect a lot more of this kind of self justification masquerading as coverage of the left blogosphere.

The moment is approaching though, when these time servers will be forced to recognize that some of these skilled, savvy folks are actually out to shake the foundations of their house. That's when the fireworks will really begin.

6/11/2006 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloggers would do well to read some history. You're much more like a return to the pamphleteers than anything else. Hardly new, and it's unclear why you would actually rise to dominate politics in a positive way.

6/11/2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

Bloggers would do well to read some history. You're much more like a return to the pamphleteers than anything else. Hardly new, and it's unclear why you would actually rise to dominate politics in a positive way.

I went back and scanned the original post as well as all comments. I discovered something interesting. No one, other than the poster above, said anything about "rising to dominate politics."

This word choice tells us far more about anonymous than anything else. Considering that Anon is such a history buff, I wonder whether Tom Paine qualifies as positive or negative?

6/11/2006 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without traditional media you have no blogosphere - all I see in the blogosphere is opinions (and you know what Bukowski said about that) and links to news stories, i.e., blogs are as important to the political process as Matt Drudge is to the news gathering process: sure, he breaks a story sometimes, but for the most part he regurgitates via hotlinks to whatver he pleases. After Moveon crashed and burned, I lost a lot of interest in the Internet as a powerful means of organizing - as soon as people have to actually get off their ass and do something, you lose them...

6/12/2006 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Gideon S. said...

MoveOn crashed and burned, Anonymous? How so?

6/12/2006 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did Moveon crash and burn? I guess it's because they proved themselves to be completely impotent against the republicans - and useless at the end of the day...

6/13/2006 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Gideon S. said...

Anonymous blathered:

How did Moveon crash and burn? I guess it's because they proved themselves to be completely impotent against the republicans - and useless at the end of the day...

Still doens't answer the question I posed.

Get into specifics. Site some facts. If you can.

6/13/2006 11:19 PM  
Anonymous Gideon S. said...

Hey, Anonymous: I'm still waiting for you to defend your arguments with facts.

6/14/2006 6:47 PM  

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