Bloggers of the Left, Unite! the Right Dominates the Latest Web Medium, Allowing It to Vent Spleen and Not Be Challenged. (Features)

By Crabtree, James | New Statesman (1996), September 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bloggers of the Left, Unite! the Right Dominates the Latest Web Medium, Allowing It to Vent Spleen and Not Be Challenged. (Features)


Crabtree, James, New Statesman (1996)


Why have Americans started to vilify the Guardian? Why does the actor John Malkovich want to kill the Independent foreign correspondent Robert Fisk? And why is the Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman writing with a new-found attention to detail? Answer: Fisk, Krugman and the Guardian are all victims of the latest web-publishing phenomenon: blogging.

Blogs are becoming the medium of choice for politically attuned members of the digital generation. Like talk radio, they are dominated by the political right. Why has the left ceded this potentially influential medium without a fight?

A weblog, or "blog", is like an internet diary in which users (bloggers) "log" and comment on interesting web sites. They have grown astonishingly, from nothing to more than a quarter of a million in roughly a year. The New York technology commentator Clay Shirky dubs bloggers "trainspotters for the 21st century", obsessives who pass websites around the net, creating miniature information ecosystems in their wake.

The American right moved into the medium with speed. Two bloggers in particular have astonishing influence: the journalist Andrew Sullivan, with his eponymous site; and a formerly obscure Tennessee law professor called Glenn Reynolds, who runs InstaPundit. There are no equivalents on the left; indeed, there are precious few left-wing blogs at all. Both Reynolds and Sullivan are libertarian, rather than conservative. And both despise the Guardian.

As Wyeth Ruthven, publisher of a rare centre-left American blog, says: "No one here had even heard of the Guardian until Sullivan began his personal jihad." In a country with no recognisable left of its own, bloggers have made a British newspaper the pantomime villain of the right.

The Independentforeign correspondent Robert Fisk is a particular cause celebre. His articles on the MiddleEast are gleefully pulled apart, to the point where "fisking" has come to mean the sport of intellectually trashing any piece of left-wing "propaganda". John Malkovich was asked whom he would like to fight to the death. Robert Fisk and George Galloway, he replied.

Even luminaries such as Paul Krugman (who is leftist by US standards) can't escape blog wrath. Sullivan and his acolytes glory in highlighting the smallest inconsistencies in Krugman's popular New York Times column. And this is the blogger's way: like raptors, they hunt in packs, gain momentum, pick enemies, vent spleen, and never, ever, hold back.

These blogs do not have large direct readerships: InstaPundit clocks only 40,000 readers a day. But many readers run their own blogs; others are political or media professionals. …

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