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Love For Sale

Jun
13
2006

The next time the Direct Marketing Association or the political consultants get together, they need to invite DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas to their gathering.
First, he gets huge press. Political reporters anxious to see this “blogging” thing flocked to Las Vegas last weekend to meet roughly 1,500 laptop totting activists who, if Maureen Dowd’s pet chronicler Adam Nagourney is to be believed, spent a fair amount of time sucking up in person to the folks they spend so much time on-line denouncing.
And secondly, he’s pulled off a trick worthy of PT Barnum. Moulitsas has managed to make political reporters think that he and his 1,500 companions in ASCII are an actual threat to how real political reporting and writing works. Certainly, they’re disruptive, often annoying and they are treating Big Media reporters with little respect, lots of attitude and no shortage of argumentative behavior. All of which is good. No one who loves peace should go into the news business.
But when you get down to it, DailyKos is nothing more than a piece of political direct mail. You go to it, yes. And you can talk to it, yes. And it talks back. But fundamentally, DailyKos exists to serve the candidates Moulitsas thinks are worth backing; to push them forward and denounce their critics (in the press and elsewhere). Nothing more, nothing less. That doesn’t make him a reporter – or even a “media” as he’s so found of saying – it makes him a political consultant. Or a direct mail house – one with a terrible track record, by the way.
Maybe because they do so poorly at the ballot box – only Bob Shrum has managed to build a business off a string of sustained losses – the Kossaks are still trying to have it both ways when it comes to their role in American politics. Used to getting “news” about candidates from opposition research, the Kossaks think that by taking that job away from campaigns, they’re becoming “media.” In that light, it doesn’t matter if their candidates don’t win. It’s the bloggers impact that counts. The Kos bloggers want to storm the barricades – using one of the cheapest tricks in the news business, the spoon-fed dirt-drop – and be welcomed with open arms for their vigor, innovation and “good reporting.” But when it comes to actually understanding the editorial business, they fall short. Crassly imitating the behavior of the pundits they see on television (which they mistakenly think is the zenith of the business) bloggers are flatterers around Big Media stars. Why? So they can become like them. Even a passing reference in a traditional news outlet is worth a lot of traffic and traffic sells advertising and, oh, yeah, it can make you a Big Boy Blogger with influence and power. But once the reporters have pulled out? Well, Big Media is a bunch of clueless boobs who can’t see how wonderful bloggers are and how sorely their work has been neglected.
This is an old story for those of us who have been in and around the tech business. Bloggers, like almost everyone else who has ever discovered the miraculous potential of a piece of software, have decided that they – and they alone, that few, that proud, that chosen (and why are they all men….?) – are agents of profound transformation. They are going to change the world as we know it and their potential power is awe-inspiring, limitless and potentially very lucrative. Similar comments were made about the Segway and were happily reprinted without question or skepticism in Time magazine and other pubs. But can anyone look at a Segway these days without laughing? Don’t get me wrong, the power of self-publishing is everything bloggers say it is (unlike the Segway) but the ways in which it’s being used by this crowd are silly (like the Segway). And often self-defeating (like the ginned-up Segway PR effort).
My favorite Big Media cocktail party story is the one about the Kossak who sharply, repeatedly and publicly criticized an influential editor’s judgement, pretty much calling into question everything but his hair color. A few weeks later, the blogger wrote to see if the Big Media editor would accept his work, making no mention of their public contretemps. The editor wasn’t looking for an apology (well, maybe…) but he flat-out balked at the assumption that harsh, sustained public denunciations would be taken as just another day at the office. Journalism is a pretty competitive business but there’s a difference between having sharp elbows and wielding a switchblade and bloggers, as a rule, don’t know the difference. They often employ their tools at the wrong time with the wrong people. Special note: No matter how nice any one is to Maureen Dowd or Tom Friedman, they are not going to say something nice to NYTimes Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins so your latest post can get an op-ed spot. Promise.
There’s something else bloggers at Kos and other outlets are trying to brush aside. They’re sloppy about money and funding. They can – they have and they will again – be bought. And they will continue to sell their wares – political endorsement and fundraising ability – at a higher and higher price, thanks to ruling by the Federal Elections Commission that keeps them from having to account for any money they spend on behalf of candidates. This is a scandal in the making.
A few years ago, bloggers costs nothing more than a few cheap-o BlogAds. Writers were happy to repay the favor with a nice mention, maybe a fund-raising post. Today, the entry fee is an appearance at a Los Vegas convention and a big party with free sushi and lots of other goodies.
Think I’m making too much of this?
Listen to Moulitsas talking last night on MSNBC’s Countdown (sans – sigh – Olberman). Asked who made the biggest splash, Moulitsas didn’t hestitate. “Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia did create a big sensation. He had a big party. Some criticized it as being a little too lavish. Others, like me, said ‘You know what? There’s so much stupid money being wasted in politics, it’s about time they spent it on meeting some regular people.’ And, at the end of the day, bloggers are regular people. We’re not media elite, we’re not political elite, we’re just people sitting in front of our computer really passionate about politics and if they want to spend a few bucks on us, I say bring it on.”
Ummmm. Since when is a non-practising attorney living in Berkeley, CA and running a website that’s given him a six-figure income a “regular person”? How about a 23-year-old law student living with her parents in Chicago? Or Armando Lorens-Sars, an attorney with a list of corporate clients as long as his arm? “Regular people” pulled into Las Vegas today for the United Auto Workers annual meeting, a session that promises to carry grim news to one of the best-compensated unions in the country, once the backbone of the Democratic Party across the Upper Midwest. Those regular people are not sitting in front of their keyboard and feeling passionate about politics. They’re staring at their family budgets and their depleted bank balances, wondering how they’re going to pay for health insurance and worried that the pension plans they were once promised could disappear entirely. These are regular people and I’ll bet Mark Warner didn’t stick around to buy them sushi. Think anyone from DailyKos thought to hang around that meeting with their fellow “regular people”? Probably not. Which as far as I’m concerned tells you all you need to know. DailyKos and many other bloggers are a group that aspire to be media and political elite; their big interest is in sucking up to those who they think (wrongly) can welcome them into the club.
There are more questions to ask about Kos. My friend Micah Sifry points out that Moulitsas’ reasons for supporting Warner, who is running on the “not Hillary” plank for the Democratic nomination, amount to nothing more than Moulitsas’ endorsement of Warner’s hiring the “right people.” On one level, that’s a charming note of support for Kos’ book co-author, Jerome Armstrong, who has been retained by Warner as a consultant. But it might be something else, too. It may just be a recognition that the Warner campaign – the first candidate Kos singled out when he was asked about the Vegas gathering – is money in the bank for Moulitsas and company.
What’s even more troubling? Most bloggers – partisan to their core – don’t see Moulitsas’ statements as contradictory or incriminating. They think this is business as usual. They’re right – if you’re a political consultant. In that job you’re supposed to take money from your client, the candidate, for your work – which is to get him or her elected. But if you’re “media” – mainstream, traditional, new, or old – this sort of talk ought to raise a few questions about what your job is, how you’re doing it and where your loyalties lie. What – exactly – is the relationship between DailyKos and the candidates it supports? And when are they going to stop being coy about it?

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:44 AM | Permalink

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