Sunday, February 20, 2005
For those few of you who do not know, Hugh Hewitt is:
the host of a nationally syndicated radio show heard in more than 70 cities nationwide, and a Professor of Law at Chapman University Law School, where he teaches Constitutional Law. He is the author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World as well as the New York Times best selling author of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat. He has written 4 other books. Hewitt has received 3 Emmys during his decade of work as co-host of the PBS Los Angeles affiliate KCET's nightly news and public affairs show Life & Times. He is a weekly columnist for The Daily Standard, the online edition of The Weekly Standard.
Hewitt is also a much-read blogger, and -- along with TigerHawk -- a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, perhaps his most important credential.
Blog is partly a triumphalist history of blogging, with an emphasis on the triumphs of the right, and part business book, with all sorts of cautionary tales and helpful suggestions for executives who run companies. It has been heavily reviewed by bloggers (Reynolds here, Polipundit here, Beldar here, Library Stuff here, etc.), so rather than rehash well-plowed ground I'll confine my comments to a brief synopsis and a couple of rifle-shot points.
To Hewitt, blogging is the universal media solvent -- it is cleaning away the grime on the screen, cancelling the static in the signal, and hyperlinking the text on the newsprint. Hewitt compares the transformational power of blogging to Gutenberg's movable type (not coincidentally, the name of popular blogging software). That technology lowered the cost of publishing to the point that it unleashed the Protestant Reformation, the first popular revolt against the guardians of dogma.
Between 1517 and 1520, Luther alone authored roughly thirty works, and scholars estimate he sold more than three hundred thousand copies. And the numbers only escalated from there. Edwards reports that the period of 1517 to 1524 saw an overall fortyfold rise in the number of pamphlets published, over 6.6 million in all, the vast majority the works of the Reformers.
In a world where nothing much changed over the span of a lifetime or several lifetimes, the Church's monopoly on publication collapsed in less than a decade. Hewitt sees the same thing happening today, with bloggers pamphleteering their way around the institutions of the "mainstream media" (known to center-to-right bloggers as the "MSM"). Hewitt chronicles the "blog swarms" and "opinion storms" that have throttled the careers of Trent Lott, Howell Raines, John Kerry (the "Christmas in Cambodia" affair, which destroyed his ability to discredit the Swifties), and Dan Rather. Were Hewitt writing today instead of three months ago, this list of scalps would now also include Eason Jordan and "Jeff Gannon." These are all cases of stories that germinated, or at least gestated, in the blogosphere before breaking out into the MSM. None of these now unemployed (or underemployed) people would have been retired under the same circumstances even in 1998. (I cannot recall whether Hewitt credited Drudge for the proto-example of career destruction by blog -- Monica and her dress -- and cannot track back to find out one way or the other because Blog does not have a farookin' index, an absolutely intolerable publishing faux pas for a book about, ultimately, transparency.)
The "business book" chapters dwell on defense ("[a] blog swarm around your business or organization could be catastrophic") and offense (the value of blogs to leadership, management, employee relations, and the gathering of eyeballs for marketing purposes). This is all fairly basic stuff that will be obvious to any blogger, but probably illuminating to the rare reader of this book who reads it in the hope of understanding what "all this blog stuff" might be about. It is to Hewitt's credit that he keeps this section brief -- most business books puff up one or two fairly minor ideas into hundreds of repetitious pages -- but he would do well to reduce it to an even shorter article and peddle it to Fortune.
Occasionally, Hewitt walks right up to an interesting observation and then doesn't quite develop it. I was tantalized by Hewitt's nibble of a thought on the "talent gap" that he sees between left and right, but ultimately a bit disappointed in his analysis:
A final word on ideology and the blogosphere: there is currently a talent gap. The political left is seriously behind in the promotion and development of bloggers with insight and good humor. It may be that the early entrants such as DailyKos, Atrios, and Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo have set a tone of self-importance combined with courseness that has repelled would-be bloggers, or that Peter Principle bloggers with energy but not enough talent have taken up valuable shelf space. Either way, there is definitely a talent gap. And there is a great deal more encouragement among the center-right for new entrants, a sort of "Welcome aboard, now grab an oar" attitude that applues the arrival of, say, Galley Slaves or The Hedgehog Report (davidwessing.com) as fellow workers, a generosity of spirit that I just don't see on the left side of the spectrum. This is a decided advantage for my center-right ideology....
Now, I spend a good deal of time trolling the lefty 'sphere, and I gather the best and most representative work in my "Carnival of the Commies" series (the two most recent installments are here and here), but I only agree with bits of Hewitt's observation. The best bloggers of the left are hilarious -- if you're a lefty -- and infuriating if you're not. If you don't believe me, read a week or two of Billmon and try to imagine your gut-tightening laughter if you actually agreed with his sentiments. He is every bit as snarky as the Allahpundit of old, or the Rottweiler. So are Tom Tomorrow and August J. Pollack on their good days. Atrios, the link-meister of the left, is definitely funnier than Glenn Reynolds, even if he is also a lot nastier. If there is a talent or humor gap, it is difficult to see.
However, Hewitt is right that there is a substantial difference in tone and emphasis between left and right, quite distinct from substantive political orientation. Volunteerism, for example, runs through most righty blogs (see, for example, the Spirit of America, which has been essentially uncovered on the left), whereas the lefty blogs promote activism (they are always "meeting up," and covering demonstrations in the sincerest of tones). This is probably an echo of underlying political assumptions. Conservatives genuinely believe that much can be accomplished through volunteerism, particularly through churches. Professional activism, though, has been almost entirely the province of the left (with the obvious but virtually singular exception of the anti-abortion activists). Why does the left dominate activism? Because they developed it as a tradition during the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements of the sixties, and -- I incautiously speculate -- because conservatives have actual jobs and businesses and family
It also seems that the lefty blogs are quite focused on the political right -- they are almost obsessed with the political influence of religious conservatives, for example -- far more than the righty blogs worry about the left. This is strange, but perhaps not surprising. It is an artifact of history that blogging developed as a technology and a culture during a period of ascendancy on the right -- the Republicans have not been so relatively powerful since the 1920s -- so maybe it is natural that the lefty 'sphere has taken on the psychology of the opposition to a much greater degree than the right. Sure, we take our shots, but we also have the luxury of taking the high road. And besides, we know the White House, the agencies and the influential staffs of the Senate and the House read what we write (even I, firmly in the middle of Hewitt's "tail," get readers from both the Congress and the executive branch). Why worry about Atrios, Kos, Billmon or any of those others when they so clearly don't have any stroke? Damn, that must piss them off.
So here's a fearsome prediction: the relative tone of the right and left 'spheres will change perceptibly the day a Democrat next wins the White House.