Wolcott annoints blogs

Wolcott annoints blogs

: The April Vanity Fair has a great column from the great columnist James Wolcott coming to praise blogs.

Says the head: “Don’t dismiss blogs as the online rantings of B-list writers. Interlinked and meritocratic, seething with fierce debate and rivalries, they’re the best thing to hit journalism since the rise of the political pamphlet.” All kinds of people at the keyboards are blushing now.

The column isn’t online and because I will accept some second-hand blame for that, I’ll do penance by typing in just a few highlights and links to give Wolcott a little link love. As he moves along, Wolcott uses all this as a means of arguing that the left is hot and the right is not; that’s the raison de column.

He begins by talking about the state of the online art only a few years ago…

…bloggers tended to be lumped in the amateur division and relegated to the draft basement. Most were considered harmless hobbyists, like ham-radio operators and model-train enthusiasts, or personal diarists doodling on the laptop, hoping someday to get laid…

Far from being a refuge for nose-picking narcissists, blogs have speedily matured into the most vivifying, talent-swapping, socializing breakthrough in popular journalism since the burst of coffeehouse periodicals and political pamphleteering in the 18th century, when The Spectator, The Tatler, and sundry other sheets liberated writing from literary patronage. If Adison and Steele, the editors of The Spectator and The Tatler, were alive and holding court at Starbucks, they’d be WiFi-ing into a joint blog….

Internet space may appear to be an expanding universe of uncharted dimensions with no fixed center or hitching post, but a brain scan of the blogosphere would reveal the same hemispheric divide between left and right that prevails in the flesh realm. Not that there isn’t some friendly fraternization… But mostly liberals and conservatives congregate at their own tables in the cafeteria and shoot straw wrappers at each other, dirty looks….

After doing a very good job explaining blogs — I’ll spare you since I assume you attended that class — Wolcott tells the story of the Blogging of the Presidency site (“featuring one of the most cerebral, provocative, history-enriched ongoing symposia to be found on the Web. Its mainstays include Jay Rosen, Stirling Newberry, and Christopher Lydon, who are to political blogdom what Samuel Johnson and his fellow members of the Club were to London, only without the port and cold mutton) and its radio show (aw, shucks, I get mentioned), on which Andrew Sullivan and Atrios bitchslapped each other of anonymity.

It wasn’t exactly a rematch of the Norman Mailer-versus-Gore Vidal clash of titans on The Dick Cavett Show, but the issue percolated, coming to a boil with an article on Salon a week later. The author, Christopher Farah, lit into the whole pirate crew of “anonybloggers”…

Wolcott does an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other about anonymous and pseudonymous blogging and the cloak for attack it can provide and then says:

And I would add, based on my own subjective impressions, the reason Andrew Sullivan attracts so many personal attacks isn’t that he’s recognizable and his attackers aren’t, but that he makes it so easy and fun. He’s like a bad tenor begging to be pelted with fresh product.

On the surface, the battle between Andy and Atrios is a minor spat between a drama queen and a shrinking violet, but it has deeper rippes. That Sullivan, a well-known byliner, television pundit, and former Gap model, felt impelled to pick a fight with a lesser-known blogger was a sign of insecurity — shaky status. It signifies the shift of influence and punch-power in the blogosphere from the right to the left. It is Atrios, not Andrew Sullivan, who is in ascendance in the blogosphere. Only a few years ago, the energy and passion were largely the property of the right hemisphere, where Sullivan, Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, and N.R.O.’s Victor Davis Hanson fired up the neurons against defeatism, anti-Americanism, and death’s-head specter of Islamic terrorism billowing from the ruins of Ground Zero….

When I stray into these sites now, it’s like entering the visitor’s center of a historical landmark. The rhododentrons need dusting, and the tour guide isn’t listening to himself, having done his spiel endless times before.

Liberal blogs are now where the bonfires blaze.

OK, my fingers are tired and you’ll need to go buy the magazine — on newsstands now! — to read the rest, as you should. Wolcott, having set himself in the anti-Iraq-war side of the aisle, goes on to give huge praise to Kos and Josh Marshall. He takes his readers through the discussion of the Adopt A Journalist meme. And he ends:

Patti Smith’s war cry about rock ‘n’ roll was “We created it — let’s take it over.” Journalism can’t and shouldn’t be taken over by bloggers, but they can take away some of the toys, and pull down the thrones.

Among the many, many bloggers plugged by Wolcott, in addition to those already mentioned: Mickey Kaus, Virginia Postrel, Matthew Yglesias, SullyWatch, Greg Easterbrook, Lew Rockwell, Media Whores Online, MFML, Jonah Goldberg, TBogg, Calpundit‘s Kevin Drum, Juan Cole, Brad DeLong, Daily Howler, Al Giordano, Steve Gilliard (and I’m sure I missed a few).

  • Blog is such an ugly word. At BOP, we’re trying to trace the digital transformation of media and politics from consumers of information to information citizens. It’s easy enough to mock meetup and Dean, but I think the effects are huge, and especially pronounced in Iran and other autocratic regimes.

  • Joe Peden

    False, the idea that Liberal and Conservatives only talk to themselves is false. Liberals do not want Conservatives to talk to them, and so they ban them. This is not true about Conservative blogs or sites. Nor is the “left brain, right brain” argument true. We have one brain. Liberals have no brain.

  • You’re right, “blog” is ugly, as well as being too close to a word that describes the physiognomy of many bloggers. I suggest we call them Sparkly Dream Cakes.

  • Rootbeer

    Hey Joe, maybe for an encore you can do the bit where “white people drive like this” and “black people drive like this”!
    Ya leaves me in stitches, I tell ya wot…

  • Thank you for posting the excerpts from the article, it will be interesting to read Mr. Wolcott’s comments in full.

  • Barry

    I don’t know, Rootbeer, but when I suggest a reasonable form of disagreement with Marshall he responds exactly the same way, at least twice, but over a year apart: “hate mail”, “poor writing skills”, “try again, I promise I’ll read it”, and then when replied to in excrutiatinly calm language: “rant”, “go away”. Again, both times EXACTLY the same. Sounds like a standard reply to me. Maybe he’s not typical, but in my experience with the left this is common. Defition of a Republican: Someone who’s voted for a Democrat before. Definition of Democrat: Someone who’s never voted for Republican before. Fair?
    And Hanson is not a blogger. He’s an author, academic and columnist. Wolcott is sad. But I still love Vanity Fair. They still run Hitchens.

  • I sure hope the full piece mentions Matt Stoller. He has been crucial to the success of BOPNews. Always a must-read, along with Stirling there and on Kos; and of course Jay Rosen. Not to mention Josh Koenig, Rick Heller.
    I particularly appreciate the BOP readers’ feedback. They manage to say interesting and important things, even when commenting on the small, anecdotal pieces I occasionally write.
    Clever of VF to keep this particular piece offline. Newsstand sales are sure to shoot up.

  • Re Sullivan…ouch. I’m sure he has a thick skin for this kind of thing, though.

  • He sure is trying to promote leftist blogs. What a list. Steve Gilliard, huh?

  • sol

    What is Vanity Fair?

  • Independent George

    This is a pet peeve of mine, but how can you write an article about blogs without mentioning the Iranian and Iraqi blogs? That’s where the action is – free speech where it can make a difference.
    Second, based on your exceprts, I think he’s missing the point about liberal blogs gaining the upper hand. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t – I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care. The web is a fluid environment by nature, and that sort of scorekeeping is rather pointless. But the big thing about blogs these days isn’t the left/right divide, but the diffusion of knowledge. Volokh offers better legal affairs coverage – daily – than any newspaper; Phil Carter is better on military affairs than CNN. Hoder & Pedram know a hell of a lot more about Iran than, well, anybody in the mainstream media.
    The point is, the left/right fight is an old fight that existed long before blogs. Unfiltered, accessible expertise is something much, much newer, and uniquely bloggy.

  • Independent George: Whoa! Look at my archives; I have been writing about Iranian and Iraqi blogs more than just about anybody (to the point that some people get sick of it, though I don’t care). Do your research before you criticize.

  • old maltese

    Jeff — I think that IndyGeorge is criticizing Wolcott, not you.

  • Independent George

    Jeff –
    I was criticizing the vanity fair article, not you. I read your site daily, and I am very much aware (and appreciative of) how much you try to publicize the Iran/Iraq blogs. But the parts you excerpted give no indication that Wolcott makes any mention of them – and that’s what I’m irritated about. I realize that there are space considerations, but it struck me as odd that an article praising the verve of blogs would not mention Iran.
    I’m sorry if I disrespected you – it was not my intention.

  • IndyG:
    Misplaced antecedent; gets me everytime.
    Thanks for the note.

  • Independent George

    I just re-read my original comment, and I realize I was a little harsher than I intended. All things considered, he really does make some good points about blogging. I stand by my original point, however, that blogging’s real influence isn’t a matter of the left/right debate (though it helps), but the spread of specialized knowledge.

  • Independent George

    Jeff – oops – that’ll teach me not to use the preview function. It’s what I get for commenting at work, I guess. Sorry.

  • No

    Oh thank you great man, thank you Mr Wolcott for annointing blogs with your approval. As if. Fatter than Orson Welles, dumber than Gomer Pyle…Wolcott. But he writes from the extreme left, so ‘Newhouse’ Jarvis adores him, calls him great. In the real world of writing, Wolcott would have jumped the shark over a decade ago, if he weren’t so obese. And obtuse.

  • James Wolcott wrote a real nice piece about the news-blogging of 2001. (I can’t remember what mag … Red Herring or Fast Company or ??)
    Anyway, his media columns in Vanity Fair are always worth reading. It is interesting that he still watches these web logs. We subscribe to the mag — no filthy web site can replace 400 pages of glossy nekkid girl ads! — and I look forward to whatever the hell Wolcott has to say about the web logs in these Later Days.

  • sean

    Wolcott praised blogs in Business 2.0. No longer online free.
    But if he’s so enamored of them, why doesn’t he write one himself?

  • There need to be more pro-liberty, pro-sovereignty, anti-state, and anti-war conservative blogs in the Blogosphere. As I’ve commented before, we do not seem to be that common in the Blogosphere, especially among the collegiate or youth blogs.

  • downtown

    Lingering at last call last night at Billmon’s
    WhiskeyBar, I came across a literate comment
    from a James Wolcott and wondered if it could
    possibly be The. …