Elevators go up and down

Elevators go up and down

: Glenn Reynolds addresses the question of whether blogs are elevating the political debate.

I hesitate to get into this because I haven’t enjoyed tangling with Glenn lately, since I sensed that he’d developed an obsession with Swifties and Cambodia and I’ll quickly concede that I’d developed my equivalent obsession with campaign mud, decrying the Swifties and Mooreites, the supposed scandals about Kerry’s and Bush’s honorable service. I saw a real change in the character of his blog; I said so; he took issue, as well he should; and others had complaints, in turn, about my blog. It felt like two buddies drifting farther apart down the bar. I started reading a lot into a lack of Instalinks and was, frankly, relieved when I got one earlier this week — not for the traffic, but for the communication. Christ, I was getting ready to send him flowers and a box of chocolates.

But this is what happens in a personal medium. It gets personal.

And all that is necessary background to Glenn’s post today:

IS THE BLOGOSPHERE ELEVATING THE POLITICAL DEBATE? I just had an interesting conversation with a journalist who’s writing on that question, and who pretty clearly seems to feel that the answer is “no.”

If “elevating the debate” means a sort of good-government, League-of-Women-Voters focus on where candidates stand on health care, etc., that’s mostly true, I suppose. But I think it misconceives what blogs are about. There certainly are bloggers posting on healthcare and other issues — see, for example, Jeff Jarvis’s Issues 2004 posts and this post by Ann Althouse on medical malpractice — but the political blogosphere is to a large degree about media criticism. If the Big Media were talking more about issues, and less — to pick RatherGate as the example which I think inspired this conversation — about Bush’s National Guard service, probably bloggers would be talking about issues more, too.

Actually, I would have thought that Glenn would have said the opposite. His complaint was that Big Media were not talking about Swifties and Kerry and Cambodia. Now he complains that they were talking about Bush and the National Guard. My complaint was the Big Media — and bloggers — were not talking about issues but were, instead, talking about both Bush and the National Guard and Kerry and the Swifties and Cambodia.

That is precisely why I started posting about issues, because I decided I should put my bandwidth where my mouth is.

I completely agree that blogs are, to a large degree, about media — because they are media. But in fact, if all blogs do is criticize media, then that’s damned limiting. I’d hate to see blogs get too inside baseball (on steroids).

If blogs are media, then they can and should talk about anything media talks about, including issues that matter to our lives and our future (with, I might add, a helluva lot more relevance and passion than any League of Women Voters).

Glenn continues:

Of course, what’s striking about RatherGate is the absolutely incredible degree of ineptitude, arrogance, and outright political manipulativeness that it has revealed. In light of that, I can understand why members of the media would rather talk about other things.

Cheap shot and not really right. Media’s going mad talking about Rathergate; I’ve had tons of media calls and so have many other bloggers. And on those appearances, I — as both Media Man and Blog Boy — have been attacking the ineptitute, arrogance, and political mucking of Rather et al — and I’ve not been alone among media men. Glenn goes on:

But, all blogger triumphalism aside, the media criticism matters. And it matters because Big Media are still the main way that our society learns about what’s happening, and talks about it. A serious breakdown there, which seems undeniably present today, is very important. In many ways, as I’ve said before, it’s more important than how the election turns out.

I agree with most of that (I do not think that media matters more than terrorism, homeland security, health care, education, and such). But cut away the brush and vines and that’s a fine tree there. If he’d ended there, we’d stand in agreement. But the snark gun fires once more:

Meanwhile, I don’t recall much tut-tutting about bloggers focusing on Trent Lott’s racial remarks, instead of his position on national health insurance. Were we elevating the tone then, but not now?

Cheap rhetorical trick. Lott’s statement was a present-tense story and it wasn’t in the midst of a presidential campaign and it didn’t blot out other discussion.

Bottom lines: Big Media and bloggers can and should talk about more than media because all media and no issues makes Jack a dull boy.

Media’s important. But so are homeland security, Iraq, health insurance, education, energy, and all the other issues that affect our lives and about which we have opinions and about which we — bloggers as well as Big Media — should be debating. We can talk about all this at once. Pixels are cheap.

As I have said here often lately, I had hoped that blogs would push Big Media to do better on the issues that matter to this nation and its future, not just about mud from the past. That’s how I hoped blogs would, indeed, have helped elevate the political debate.

I believe blogs can do both. Blogs can criticize and fact-check and dog — and, here’s the point — improve Big Media. Blogs can also debate and inform and push and prod both media and politicians on issues that matter to us. I wouldn’t want to limit them.

Blogs can do all that — and make pajama jokes, too.

: And let me add this… The reason that I went ahead and posted this is because if we in blogs criticize Big Media, we also should be prepared to examine ourselves. So I think it’s good that Glenn posted what he did; he tries to boil us down (ouch) to our essence. And I think it’s best if we then continue to discuss that. We’re a new medium. We’re figuring out what the hell we are. So long as we don’t get caught in (a) navel gazing or (b) triumphalism or (c) boring self-indulgent droning (each a disease of Big Journalism, Lord knows), then the discussion is good. So discuss….

: UPDATE: Patterico says I missed the point of present-tense vs. past-tense. I didn’t. But I did shorthand what I said too much so here’s his post and see my repy.

Also see my earlier post arguing that blogs should be judged on how we try to affect the coverage and conduct of this election.

: Think of the next 11 weeks until the election as a challenge: as a test of weblogs’ real value:

When we wake up after the election, will we be able to point to the ways and posts in which this new medium contributed, or at least tried to contribute, to improving the coverage of the campaign and the policies of the candidates and the wisdom of the electorate? Will we have made a difference at all? Or will we have made it worse?

Did we push the coverage and the candidates in ways that mattered? Or did we wallow in mud?

Now is our opportunity to show what we can do. So what can we do?