Getting Real

According to Editor & Publisher, the upcoming Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas (June 8-11) will be previewed in this weekend’s New York Times magazine. The preview is by Matt Bai, who will ask if bloggers can get real. [Update: Here’s a link to the article.]

Bai himself will serve on a panel covering mainstream political journalism, which he likens to “being the Dunkin’ Donuts spokesman at a cardiologists’ convention.”

Bloggers with pseudonyms—he mentions Georgia19 from Chicago–have suddenly becoming influential. Bai comments: “In this way, Daily Kos and other blogs resemble a political version of those escapist online games where anyone with a modem can disappear into an alternative society, reinventing himself among neighbors and colleagues who exist only in a virtual realm. It is not so much a blog as a travel destination….”

You might want to wear your asbestos suit to the convention, Matt.

Bai says the convention marks a unique opportunity for Democratic politicians, who are trying to get a grip on the blogosphere, to actually meet and greet the actual bloggers: “Here , at last, is the impersonal ballroom with garish lighting and folding round tables, the throng of attendees whose hands can be shaken and shoulders gripped. Here is the Netroots as just another influential lobby to be wooed and won over, like the steelworkers or the Sierra club.”

While bloggers may reject this notion, Bai comments that “the politicians may understand the real significance of this first bloggers convention of its kind better than some of the bloggers themselves, who imagine that cyberpolitics is no less than a reinvention of the public square, the harbinger of a radically different era in which politicians will connect to their constituents electronically and voters will organize in virtual communities.

Is that what we’re really about here? Some of us, maybe, but I think there’s a lot more to political blogging than virtual organizing. I think it’s more about taking political discussion away from mass media and giving it back to We, the People.

“Politicians know that politics is, by its nature, a tactile business….at the end of the day, partisans will inevitably be drawn to sit across the table from the candidate they support or oppose, just as votes will still be won and lost in banquet halls and airport hangars….That’s because politics, like dating, is as much about the experience as it is about the winning or losing.”

Sure there is still plenty of politicking going on in banquet halls and airport hangars. But these days most politics happens in media, not in the flesh. And the biggest part of that media is electronic — television and radio — with political hacks and professional insiders serving as the self-appointed proxies of We, the People.

In the mass media age political discourse devolved into something like puppet theater. We turn on the little puppet theater box in our living rooms and watch representative partisans bash each other like Punch and Judy. And we know their strings are being pulled by more powerful forces hidden behind the scenery. The performance may be entertaining, but the audience can only watch, passively. The audience has no part in the script.

Exactly how is that more “real” than the Internet?

It is telling that the artificiality of mass media politics is invisible to a mainstream political journalist like Mr. Bai. For many years professional pundits, Washington journalists, political operatives, and elected officials have been carrying on the nation’s political discourse by themselves inside the puppet theater, and the discussion reflects their perspectives, their interests, their biases. The vast and silent audience may have entirely different concerns, but the audience doesn’t get to take part in the discussion.

Last week the New York Times published a story by Patrick Healy about Bill and Hillary Clintons’ marriage. Washington Post columnist David Broder followed up —

… the very fact that the Times had sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons’ marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal — if any was needed — that the drama of the Clintons’ personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.

No, the very fact that the Times had put a reporter on the story signals that some editor at the Times thought the topic was worthy of some space in the New York regional section. The fact that puppets like Broder and Chris Matthews (who devoted the better part of two Hardballs to the topic — double entendre sort of intended) declared the Clintons’ marriage to be newsworthy is a clear signal that the insider Washington politicos are fascinated with the Clinton marriage. In the event of a Hillary presidential bid they will devote countless hours of puppet theater time to the Clinton marriage instead of telling us anything substantive about candidates’ backgrounds and positions. Whether more than three people outside the Beltway give a bleep about the Clintons’ marriage is another matter entirely.

The Blogosphere has created a place where We, the People, can bypass the media and talk to each other about what interests us. Here we decide what topics are “hot.” We decide what information we need to make informed decisions, and collectively we find that information and publish it. It’s true that only a small portion of adult Americans have become active bloggers and blog readers. So far. But I believe this portion will grow, especially as more people have access to broadband and learn that joining in the Grand Discussion is as easy as breathing. And audio-visual blogging — for those who don’t like to keyboard — is on the way.

Mass media politics is not just oblivious to the audience. It’s also expensive, and the need for politicians to raise obscene amounts of money to wage a media campaign has nearly destroyed even the pretense that our elected representatives in Washington are looking out for their constituents. No, they are looking out for their big campaign contributors. They are looking out for lobbyists that represent special interests capable of raising lots of money. The Enron story highlights the way politicians and corporations look out for each other. Enron is an exception only in the fact that the execs got caught before the Bush Administration was able to save them. Abramoff, Cunningham, DeLay, even Rupert Murdoch’s recent fundraiser for Hillary Clinton — it’s all about money, and it’s all about mass media politics.

This trend has got to stop, somehow, or we might as well dissolve Congress and hand the government over to the suits in the boardrooms. So far, the Internet seems to be our best hope of breaking the mass media monopoly on politics.

That’s what’s “real,” Mr. Bai.

Full disclosure — I’m signed up to go to Las Vegas with the Kossacks, and immediately after that I’ll be in Washington as a guest blogger at the Take Back America conference. I expect to encounter a couple of banquet halls but probably no airport hangars. Maybe I’ll get to meet Matt Bai. Heh.

13 thoughts on “Getting Real

  1. Maha,

    “Puppet Theater”, a perfect description of the mass media today. Tim Russert was on Washington Journal today. He took some pretty good shots from liberal callers, and couldn’t seem to understand why. One caller asked him if he is told what stories to run and what questions can be asked. He said, “nobody tells us what stories to cover and what questions to ask.” Later in the segment a caller asked him if he knew about Valerie Plame before Novak’s column. He said he did not know about her before Novak’s column, but if he had he would of approached NBC executives to see how to handle the story. I tried to get through but the lines were busy the rest of the segment. You would think a seasoned journalist (puppet) could get through a 30 minute segment without contradicting himself, quess not. It’s obvious to me that the Conventional media are scared shitless of blogs like yours. Every hour people spend reading blogs is an hour of advertising that can’t be sold for the puppet theatre.

  2. I’m glad that Bai is on the mainstream journalists’ panel, the give and take should be good for all. At least as good would have been someone such as yourself who has real world journalism experience (right?) and the credibility that goes with this, and who also understands the blogosphere. You’d be a great foil for Bai.

    I’m waiting for some big name cross-over journalism talent – experienced in both worlds – to demolish the lame, stuffy arguments (excuses, really) recited by conventional journalists such as Bai, and to see the arguments put forth by yourself and many others (Digby comes to mind) gain legitimacy and larger acceptance. Perhaps the YKos msm forum will be the place where this happens.

    Professional journalism has much to answer for regarding the mess the country’s in. I hate to think what this country would be like were it not for the blogosphere.

    I feel like I’m going to be missing Woodstock in 1969 by declining to go to YKos (LV is only a few hours away, but I am strapped for funds), I think it’s going to be that historic. I hope maha, that you can do more than just hobnob, that you can be an active participant, as you have a great deal to offer. If nothing else, you’re going to meet a lot of your fans and get a lot of emotional support.

    This latter thing, knowing that we’re not alone in our dismay as we watch our country being pushed down the shitter, is a hugely important, and a not often reported, or taken seriously psychological aspect of the blogosphere.

  3. I look forward to seeing you at YearlyKos. Great post, it really hits the mark.

    It’s past time for We, the people to take the commons away from the corporations who think they own it.

  4. Maha..I loved your analogy of puppet theather with punch and Judy. I guess that’s why I appreciate your blog so’s your ability to concisely define complex issues in the minimal amount of words. You also have shown me by your work and dedication what value, substanance, and potential there is in blogs. At the risk of sounding melodramatic..I truely believe that politicals blogs such as yours have become the vanguard of America’s liberty. They offer the opportunity to partake in America and they will in time be acknowledged for the power inherent in their nature.

    I’ll click the pay-pay button to help you carry the message to Vegas..There’s an old New York expression…” yeah,say it with money!

    Oh, gee.. ya mean I don’t have to concern myself with Britiney’s virginity any more?

  5. Once again Maha you are sooooo right… the so called”MSM” has become a waste of time for anyone who honestly wants to be informed.They have made themselves an obsolete joke.

    There is never an intelligent conversation about issues within the MSM coverage of any given topic…it’s all sound bytes over substance… with 24 hours a day to broadcast they still have the nerve to claim they “just don’t have the time” to really dig into a story and tell it all.It is funny to me how watching the newshour(1 hour program on PBS) they find time in 60 minutes to go more in depth then all 3 24 hour “news” stations combined.

    At some point it was decided that news should be entertaining rather than educational(which is why the MSM can’t seem to get their tiny minds out of the clintons crotches)….I for one am bored silly and I think that if the members of the MSM had good sex lives of their own they would not need to discuss the sex lives of others.

    As for the yearly Kos in vegas,,,politics and casinos in the same place????OMG that is my heaven!!!!!!!I don’t suppose you would consider packing me in a suitcase and taking me too???I know a few male strippers there that make a hell of a breakfast…

    If you won’t take me(or all of us) please please please keep us updated here?I think it will be a great chance to network with all of the great bloggers out there…maybe you will even run into Glenn Greenwald! Cool!….plus it will be fun for you to know among all those great bloggers,, your still the best!

    On a personal note, Maha, I will be sending you a e mail about one of your fellow bloggers….it will be coming from ck….so watch for it ok?

  6. Be sure to see Jamison Foster’s terrific piece at Media Matters, opening paragraphs:

    “The defining issue of our time is not the Iraq war. It is not the “global war on terror.” It is not our inability (or unwillingness) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. Nor is it immigration, outsourcing, or growing income inequity. It is not education, it is not global warming, and it is not Social Security.

    “The defining issue of our time is the media.

    “The dominant political force of our time is not Karl Rove or the Christian Right or Bill Clinton. It is not the ruthlessness or the tactical and strategic superiority of the Republicans, and it is not your favorite theory about what is wrong with the Democrats.

    “The dominant political force of our time is the media.

    “Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways — and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives.”

  7. Pingback: The Mahablog » New Media, New Politics

Comments are closed.