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 â€œbeing the Dunkinâ€™ Donuts spokesman at a cardiologistsâ€™ convention.â€
Bloggers with pseudonymsâ€”he mentions Georgia19 from Chicago–have suddenly becoming influential. Bai comments: â€œIn 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 destinationâ€¦.â€
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: â€œHere , 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.â€
While bloggers may reject this notion, Bai comments that â€œthe 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.
â€œPoliticians know that politics is, by its nature, a tactile businessâ€¦.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 hangarsâ€¦.Thatâ€™s because politics, like dating, is as much about the experience as it is about the winning or losing.â€
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.
… 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.