Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGS AND THE NARRATIVE....Jay Rosen, complaining yesterday about pervasive horserace campaign coverage from the mainstream media pack, says in passing:

Independent bloggers, who should have more distance from the pack mind (and often do) were not necessarily better on this score.

Rosen was talking specifically about some of the breathless coverage of Hillaryland prior to the New Hampshire primary, but his verdict is also true more generally, isn't it? Of the three basic types of campaign coverage — horserace/process stories; "outrage of the day" hyperventilating; and actual policy coverage — I'd peg the blogosphere's overall percentages at about 40/50/10. That's probably better than Chris Matthews, but not that much better.

I'm not really complaining here. We are what we are, and in many ways blogs deconstruct what's going on better and more honestly than the mainstream talking heads. Still and all, we've ended up pretty narrative driven ourselves, haven't we?

Kevin Drum 7:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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I'm not really complaining here.

Of course not. That would be self-criticism.

We are what we are, and in many ways blogs deconstruct what's going on better and more honestly than the mainstream talking heads.

Some do, some don't. I don't think the average is any better.


Still and all, we've ended up pretty narrative driven ourselves, haven't we?

Yes, you have. Perhaps you should reconsider your "not complaining" stance, and maybe even do something about it.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 22, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

... ended up pretty narrative driven ...


Well, I wouldn't exactly say that that is how the blogging about INKBLOT FOR PRESIDENT '08 has gone.

In fact, as the national coordinator of his campaign, I can't see how, given that Kevin won't let him out to speechify, his low visibility on the web is going to help him. Sheesh, even Ron Paul is doing better in this medium.

Posted by: optical weenie on January 22, 2008 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

blogs deconstruct what's going on better and more honestly than the mainstream talking heads.

I find ibuprofen works better for me than naproxen, even for muscle strains like the one you should now be feeling for slapping yourself on the back so hard.

Next time, slap yourself in the forehead for making such a dumb statement.

Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead.
Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead.
Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead.

Posted by: jerry on January 22, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

The dummies on the network news and the news channels, and even the better news papers do so little actual, decent reporting and are so incredibly lazy, that the blogs are a MILLION times better.

As far as covering the outrage of the day, what else is there? The point of EVERYTHING is the outrage of the day. We're not talking about reporting Scott Peterson ad nauseum or the death of Anna Nicole, or even poor Brad Renfro. We're talking about the daily grind of story after story after story of Bush administration malfeasance. Be outraged!!! Today!!! And tell us about it!!!

The outrages of the day are all really ONE BIG FUCKING RELENTLESS STORY OF CRIMINALITY AND RIGHT-WING LACK OF CONSCIENCE.

Posted by: Anon on January 22, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead.
Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead.
Palm of hand, apply directly to forehead

side effects may cause involuntary inscriptive discharges and dizziness.

Posted by: JED on January 22, 2008 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

But maybe we do think it is important whether Hillary wears boxers or briefs.

Posted by: AJ on January 22, 2008 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

I have no interest in replicating the same-old, same-old. And fuck the "narrative." I blog about what pisses me off, and about what the M$M ignores or soft-soaps.

Right now, Missouri's stable of lefty-bloggers is feeling particularly gratified this evening - our governor has been an utter embarrassment and faced the wrath of the bloggers since his inauguration. (Deservedly so - but the M$M didn't hound him relentlessly - we did.)

Well, today, he announced he would not seek a second term. Score one for the DFH bloggers! I'm cracking open a beer to celebrate!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on January 22, 2008 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Yes, you have. Perhaps you should reconsider your "not complaining" stance, and maybe even do something about it."

Save it, on-blog, Kevin has gotten passionate about his cats, and Peak Oil and 1 other thing I think in the 4(!) years I've been reading him. He's just not that kind of guy.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 22, 2008 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin should appreciate Jay Rosen's assumption that bloggers tend to do a better job than the mainstream media. I agree with him.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 22, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Addendum: Not that I mean KD doesn't CARE about stuff, just that even as a radicalized moderate, he still has a very moderate tone.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 22, 2008 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

What’s your narrative? You forget to watch the debates and then post gems like:

…the Obama approach only works when there's already a real groundswell of support for significant change (as in the 30s, 60s, and 80s, for example) — and as much as I hate to say it, I just don't see that at the moment.

On the other hand there is no precedent for the Clinton restoration. On day one the Democratic Party would be reduced to nothing more than a patronage machine, a cult of personality and a soap opera.


Posted by: antiphone on January 22, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

There was a round of wonky position analysis at the beginning until the candidates settled on their messages. Now that period is over and until candidates need to take a position on a newly emerging topic, there is not much need for discussion of position details. I would like to see the candidates use their media access to better frame the FISA/telecom immunity debate to give their Senate colleagues cover. That leadership thing, you know.

Posted by: Th on January 22, 2008 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not to say that Kevin (or other mainly political blogs) doesn't discuss policy, but the key point here is that it seems that Mr. Rosen was referencing political blogs. While when I go to mainly political blogs, I want mainly politics, when I want to read discussions of environmental, economic policy, et alii, I go to blogs which discuss these topics (and are also often likely to do so with current events in mind). The whole beef with the MSM's fixations, is that for many people that's all they get, so it's that much more consequential. In point of fact, the main reason I watch CNN at all is to try to get a handle on the information being received by the electorate at large.

Posted by: jhm on January 22, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Face it, if it's not narrative it's a laundry list.

Posted by: mc on January 22, 2008 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

At first, I thought, this just looks like a middling fluff piece. But, Kevin, I believe that you have a good point. Looking at commentary (even blog commentary), it seems as if we first go-this-way-then-that-way-then-this-way. While it is important to comment on what we see and what is, even in a reactive sense, at some point it makes sense to look at where we are going or want to go in a broader sense. By saying that, I am not talking only about the macro philosophical statement, I am talking about looking at the most central matters of the day to the broadest segments of people. For example, why not consider the whole issue of the "economy." It certainly appears that the "economy" has moved to stage center. And, as I remember from my youth: Feed a person first, then talk philosophy. So -- as you did with the social security issue a few years back -- why not look at some central issues of what economic recovery would require. State the problem (and, please, include all segments of the US economy), state where we want to go, and --this is the hard part--posit a couple of central conditions or parameters to recovery. That would be leadership. Then, we can really look at the specifics of the candidates to address the situation, and discuss the specific proposals of the candidates. Such an approach would put a blog in front of the commentariat; and, such an approach would be a huge assist in helping people look at "issue" candidacy and resolution. christinep

Posted by: christinep on January 22, 2008 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

But, jhm, there really is no politics without policy; otherwise you just have a horse race, significant only to horses and jockeys (and bettors, I suppose).

The point of politics, for all that gets lost in the hubbub and the who-said-what, is to craft meaningful policy that makes our lives better. We've chosen an adversarial two-party system to accomplish that, which has its own inherent drawbacks.

But that's the system we have. The back-and-forth, the speechifying, the near-slander, they may reveal something of a candidate's character. Ultimately, however, it comes down to which person has the best chance of accomplishing a betterment in our lives.

Posted by: Androcass on January 22, 2008 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

But this blog does better than most in regularly having articles on issues that make an honest attempt to identify what facts are known and with what level of confidence. (I'm thinking of Kevin's posts on Social Security, tax policy, the sub-prime crisis, Iraq/Iran, etc.). So Kevin's own score is much better than 40/50/10.

Of course a political blog cannot do only these posts and ignore daily events -- or its readership would disappear. And the more important posts are lost in a sea of others that talk about the horserace (and the cats etc.). It would be good if Political Animal kept a list of links to the most important posts, organized by subject. Then one could quickly review Kevin's positions on the various issues. The "water under the bridge" aspect of traditional journalism need not be a limitation in the days of hyperlinks and cheap mass storage.

Posted by: JS on January 22, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Nicely said, antiphone.

....

If Hillary wins the nomination, Bill Clinton will no longer be the first black President. He will be the guy who tripped up the first black President.

Think about it. Carefully. She's never going to get enough white votes to make up the deficit, especially anywhere we expect a squeaker.

Clinton is a win-lose. Obama is a win-win.

Kevin should try getting that deep in his head. This apart from the myriad other reasons why I think a permanent removal of the Clintons from the Democratic party would be an act of purification, much like a full body enema.

Posted by: Manfred on January 22, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot more lately.

“Truth or consequences!”

Anyone?

Posted by: diode on January 22, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Is it possible that people in general really just prefer to read about horse-racing rather than policy?

Posted by: AMP on January 22, 2008 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

I can understand the horserace thing. Once I have made a decision about who to support -or who I really-reall want to fail, I want to be able to judge the odds -so the first question becomes "who's winning? By how much?".

Of course the issue of intentional or otherwise media impact on the results is pretty disturbing. I try to seriously limit my exposure to MSM, so as not to risk "pollution" of my thinking process.

Posted by: bigTom on January 22, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

I conducted considerable research, and I think the breakdown is more like this:

Democrats:

30% Rants
20% Live, human-incomprehensible debate reporting
20% Horse race reporting
10% Hand-wringing
5% Explanation of advertising policy
5% Cats
4% Sampling error
3% Worrying
2% Kvetching
1% Policy

Republican Blogs:

50% Compensation
40% Ronald Reagan adult fantasy
5% Explanation of advertising policy
4% Ron Paul
1% Rudy Guiliani

Posted by: Klosterheim on January 22, 2008 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's not percentage it's volume and placement.

Front page stories in the NY Times and Washington Post that focus on the horserace, Edwards haircut, etc. carry more weight in the collective reality than any 10 policy stories in TNR,
Washington Monthly, etc.

Posted by: lone wolf on January 22, 2008 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

The sadly amusing thing is I've seen internet-believers boast that they never watch tv, but most their comments are precisely about those things featured in the despised mainstream media.

It's just they get the same sources over the internet, and think that makes it somehow different.

Posted by: jim p on January 22, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Almost all political blogs are run by partisan hacks who more or less do what they're told. Almost all of those bloggers are trying to curry favor with someone, whether trying to become a junior member of the MSM or whether they're already kept by some group, company, or magazine. To compound that, most bloggers aren't that able to look into something and try and figure out, for instance, why they're being told something.

If you want examples, this site is a good place to start.

[Note: WM has a habit of deleting comments and even editing them without notice, so this comment may have been changed since I posted it.]

Posted by: The annoying LonewackoDotCom on January 22, 2008 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever happened to the Third Way?

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=980DE1DD1F3CF937A35755C0A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

Posted by: antiphone on January 22, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

JiuJitsu

It occurs to me that Obama's reference to President Reagan may have been some sort of political JiuJitsu.

As though he intended ot use the dark energy against itself.

Perhaps, . . perhaps Obama referenced Pres. Reagan the same way Reagan referenced Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Posted by: johnsturgeon on January 22, 2008 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

AMP "Is it possible that people in general really just prefer to read about horse-racing rather than policy?"

Yes.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 22, 2008 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

I read the blogs for the comments sections and diaries. Sorry. Anyway, Blue Girl, Blunt said he was not going to run because he achieved everything he was elected to do. The bumbling idiot antics were his mandate, apparently.

Speaking of bumbling idiots, don't we all KNOW that the only real economic stimulus the world wants is the resignation/impeachment of the petty dictator and his evil overseer? The markets have figured out that clapping loudly only hurt their ears and bottom line.

Posted by: Sparko on January 22, 2008 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

johnsturgeon: "It occurs to me that Obama's reference to President Reagan may have been some sort of political JiuJitsu. As though he intended ot use the dark energy against itself."

It occurs to me that you're reading way too much into Sen. Obama's statements, which were made to impress the conservative editorial board of a local Nevada paper and thus secure their endorsement of his candidacy.

He said what he said, and any spin offered ex post facto is exactly that -- spin offered ex post facto. Obama had more than ample opportunity during the course of that interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal to either clarify his statements or note his disagreement with Reagan's economic policies in light of the harm they caused the middle class, minorities and the poor. For whatever his reasons or rationale, he chose not to do so.

If it makes you feel any better, I believe that had it been either of the other two main Democratic rivals sitting there before that board instead of him, we might have just as easily seen derivatives of the same sort of statements offered by Obama.

Bu then again, that's purely speculative on my part.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 22, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

people talking about people talking about people talking....

What else can we expect?

Posted by: Joey Giraud on January 22, 2008 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Why do we always talk like 10% policy coverage is "bad"? Excuse me while I puke up my peas and carrots.

The presidency, and just about any other position, is about dealing with reality and stuff you can't predict. We want to know those little stories about how candidates react under fire, in what ways they've changed their minds over time, and generally how they go about framing and thinking about problems and the world in general.

Mandates vs no mandates is an interesting discussion that should take no more than 10% of our time and account for no more than 10% weighting of our vote.

Posted by: Steve C on January 22, 2008 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Katie. Er, I mean Steve C. The reason it's important is because it's a great way to reveal that the candidates are lying. For instance:

youtube.com/watch?v=Z0zfEXqND_s
youtube.com/watch?v=nIbDAVQMKGM

And, who wants to elect a liar? OK, a lot of hacks don't care, but that's not good for the country. It's best that we find out they're lying now, rather than waiting until they're in office to find out.

Posted by: The annoying LonewackoDotCom on January 22, 2008 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Right-on Kevin! Just like the MSM, bloggers hurt their credibility whenever they hitch their wagon to the cult-of-the-day campaign (insert favorite candidate here), rather than focusing on the broader issues. And, just like in the MSM, trolling on behalf of a favored candidate fools no one, and quickly becomes boring and banal.

Posted by: Marty on January 22, 2008 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

I will say this even though he's a Hillary guy, Drum puts out some good stuff; being I'm a policy guy, I've seen some pretty thoughtful policy posts from Drum that I don't always see at many other blogs. But I would look at it through a business lens, the horserace and "outrage" coverage bring in more viewers...if it didn't they wouldn't do it. The News business is a business, after all.

Posted by: drosz on January 23, 2008 at 6:45 AM | PERMALINK
Is it possible that people in general really just prefer to read about horse-racing rather than policy?

It's certainly easier to sound and feel like you understand, which is why people, in general, prefer to write about the personality and horse-race aspects of politics rather than the more substantive aspects (which include, but are not limited to, policy, which is the ultimate outcome of politics.) And, of course, the fact that there are very few people who have both the ability and inclination to write about policy in a way which is accessible and useful probably results in most people preferring to read about the other aspects.

The problem with this is that this creates an inherently pro-conservative effect: liberalism is ultimately about distributing practical power more widely and evenly while conservatism is about concentrating it, but turning most people off of substantive political dialogue is an effective means (whether intentionally pursued or not: one would hope that "liberal" bloggers like Drum don't pursue it deliberately, while one would suspect that most of the corporate media might well do so) of tipping the balance of the political system to the Right.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 23, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

This is a trend I've been increasingly concerned about. As blogging becomes more mainstream, it seems to be absorbing many of the problems so prevalent with the mainstream media. Bloggers are falling in the same trap for which they have so vehemently criticized media pundits: namely, the overemphasis on the horserace, rather than the merits of the horses. As a former journalist, I know full well that trap; after all, it's a lot easier to sit back and toss out thoughts about how this statement might hurt that candidate or how this candidate shouldn't have said such and such than it is to spend hours researching policy positions. Plus, it's not nearly as much to write about - or to read about. Nevertheless, it's important for bloggers to remember from whence they came and tone back the juicy gossip. If you want to inform voters, tell them about the candidates' positions, not prattle on endlessly about the nuances of perceived slights or about how one candidate is more color blind than the other. This serves no purpose other than to distort what the candidates really stand for.

Posted by: Tim Smith on January 23, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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