I wanted to briefly expand on a few tweets I made during last night’s Connecticut Forum. The topic was “The End of Civility?” and the panel featured David Gergen, Stephen Carter, Christopher Buckley, and Gina Barreca. It was a good discussion, and what I’ll address was only one aspect of it.
The rise of the political blogs is as much about a shift of power as it is about technology. Having a panel of elites decry the rise of blogs is a bit one-sided. Three of the panelists were the children of university professors or, uh, William F. Buckley. They grew up with access and opportunity – I doubt any of them would’ve had trouble meeting a Senator or Congressman as a high school or university student.
Technology enabled others outside the establishment to get heard. That’s what explains the rise of blogging. Buckley’s characterization of blogging as the equivalent of “Ask Any A**hole” in newspaper-speak is an oversimplification. There are smart bloggers and stupid bloggers and rabble rouser bloggers. They’re not all the same.
Take it another way: we’ve seen this with lots of other technological shifts, from the advent of the printing press and cheaper presses to the rise of radio and TV. I haven’t studied this closely, but my sense is that we’ve seen similar noise before things sort of settle down, e.g. yellow journalism, conspiracy newsletters, pamphleteers.
We’re still settling down with the Internet in our political sphere. The fact that we’re still getting used to how it fits into the discourse shouldn’t be a surprise.
For the forum, I would’ve preferred some representation of bloggers on the panel. It was bordering on annoying listening to 3 scions of establishment elites decry the rise of the “rabble.” It would’ve been more interesting to have Gergen chat with, say, Duncan Black of Eschaton or even Michelle Malkin or one of the intense right wing blogs. The conversation would’ve really gotten into the civility of current political discourse a lot faster.
For long time friends and readers, my opinion on the lack of civility won’t surprise you. I look to an abdication of the referee role by our TV media, instead becoming passive stenographers of the news. Or, worse, active partisanship on the part of Fox News and the WSJ and WaPo editorial boards.
It would be easier to add perspective to the lies and attack of the blogs if there were a referee. That doesn’t exist. Even worse, we have national press taking explicit sides. Fox News didn’t come up once, by the way. It’s hard for me to believe that their active encouragement of the worst sorts of rumors and falsehoods from the blogs isn’t hurting the civility of our discourse. But of course, they’re on TV, so it’s not their fault.
(yes, they brought up cable news as a broad topic, but Fox News as a network is a phenomenon more akin to yellow journalism. The other networks aren’t the same in that regard. Individual shows may be, e.g. Olbermann, but there is no network as partisan as Fox.)