The medium isn't the message, actually

Posted: Mar 02, 2005 12:00 AM

The moment of "blog triumphalism" is upon us. This may sound like odd news to you, since it's entirely possible that you still don't know what a blog is. If you're in the dark, hie thee to the nearest Internet search engine and type in the word.

The phrase blog triumphalism speaks to the growing sense of optimism, self-confidence and power - and, perhaps, depending on one's perspective, arrogance and even hubris - that characterizes the bloggerati's mood these days. Virtual taxidermists are taking orders to stuff the carcasses of all sorts of Mainstream Media ("MSM") mastodons bagged by the bloggers. New York Times editor Howell Raines and CNN news chief Eason Jordan top the list of felled beasts. Dan Rather, meanwhile, (like Sen. Trent Lott) was merely tranquilized and de-fanged.

Oddly enough, the establishment media can't stop writing about blogs. The P.R. and marketing industries kowtow to them. And politicians are getting on the bandwagon. Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey boasts of being the first senator to mention the word "blog" on the Senate floor - a nice thing, I suppose, but an accomplishment that does not endanger the current headcount on Mount Rushmore either.

So it's no wonder that a group of people who were dismissed during the Rathergate scandal as so many amateurs sitting around in their pajamas should be feeling good about themselves. And they should.

I'm pro-blog - a reader of many and a admirer of quite a few. But the steady drumbeat about the "revolutionary" nature of blogging is getting out of hand. Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, may be right that "the revolution will be blogged," but the revolution isn't about blogging.

First, some perspective. The typical blogger is not some hyper-smart, tenacious lawyer - like the guys at Powerlineblog - poring over the minutiae of a faulty CBS story. Nor is he a crusading consultant/activist/left-winger like the guy who runs the Daily Kos. The average blogger, according to a 2003 survey, is a teenage girl who updates her site a couple times a month with the latest 411 about her prom dress or which Olsen Twin she, like, really likes.

According to the blog search-engine firm Technorati, 23,000 new blogs are created every day - or roughly one every three seconds. Let's imagine, for argument's sake, that amid this staggering new daily output, 10 excellent, must-read blogs are created - a wildly generous estimate. That means every single day there are 22,990 new blogs on the Internet that almost nobody, save a small group of friends and co-workers, will ever read or care about. That's fine, but it's not exactly a sweeping endorsement for the power of the medium as whole.

In many ways, the real story of the bloggers' triumph is the story of a right-wing (though not always conservative) populist uprising that started half a century ago. The story begins with National Review's founding in 1955 and extends through five decades of steady, heavy and difficult work. In the 1970s it was Spiro Agnew's denunciation of liberal media bias that ultimately resulted in William Safire getting a job at the New York Times. In the Wall Street Journal, the late Robert Bartley's op-ed page opened a new front in the heart of elite daily journalism.

Don't let the word "conservative" fool you. Rebels on the right were pioneers in the political exploitation of new and alternative technologies long before anyone knew what blogs were. Led by Rush Limbaugh, conservatives even revived AM radio, making it a major source of a populist backlash against liberal-controlled institutions. Cable profoundly transformed politics. C-Span alone did more to demystify government than a generation of muckrakers - or bloggers - ever could. CNN pioneered the steady erosion of the Big Three Networks' stranglehold on information. Later, Fox News soon destroyed CNN's stranglehold on 24-hour news.

And, remember, the Internet was a big deal before the onset of the of the blogs as well. For good or for ill, Matt Drudge refused to treat the MSM as a sacred monastery, and in many respects he remains the ur-blogger. National Review Online, if I may say, was no slouch either in the story of the political Internet's rise, before the blogs. (Now we have many blogs of our own.)

Left-wing bloggers believe they are part of the same "revolution" as right-wing bloggers are. They're not. The conservative blogs are the shock troops of a decades-long battle to seize back the culture. Conservatives have always had to rely on "alternative media" - magazines, AM radio, blogs - because the Mainstream Media barred the door to conservatives. And even when they let a few token ones in, they had to be labeled "conservative" first and journalists a distant second. The lefty blogs are something else entirely. They represent - much like the still lame liberal talk radio and the new liberal think tanks - an attempt to copycat conservative successes. Their fight is not with the monolithic mainstream media (or academia) but with the usurpers. Politics is not a battle of technology. It is a battle of ideas, and therein lies all the difference.