Is Blogging Becoming Astroturfed?

In all the Martini Republic/ Juan Cole kerfluffle, one valid point was raised that didn’t get addressed and should have.

That was the issue of the ease with which blogs can be – with varying degrees of overtness – made into house organs for political actors.

Jeff Jarvis and I had a discussion on these risks in one of our earliest email correspondences. Bloggers who are working for free could reasonably be assumed to work cheaply for a cause they were not disposed to oppose, and the ‘Astroturf’ nature of the campaign would most likely be hard to track.

We’ve seen it, on the left as Duncan Black (Atrios) and Oliver Willis went to work for Media Matters and on the right as the Thune campaign retained Jon Lauck of Daschle v Thune, and Jason Van Beek of the South Dakota Politics blog.

So, as an exercise in my own curiosity, I thought I’d start to look up other examples.Then I realized that it was way too much work to do well, and thought I’d toss it open as a collective research project. Let’s sit down and look at the professional/political connections of a sample of the political blogosphere and see if this is really an issue – yet.

In terms of methodology, it was simple. I went to the NZ Bear Ecosystem and picked the top 30 blogs (magic number because it includes us). Then I went to Blogstreet and picked the Top 30 and Most Influential 30. I did this about 11:00 am on the 25th, in case that matters to anyone.

So we have three overlapping lists of 30 blogs each. As attributes, I thought we’d have three:

Political Tilt – it’s not a fine-grained view, just a ‘thumb in the air’ kind of thing;
Blogger’s Profession – what do the authors do for a living;
Political / Advocacy Associations – what are the ties between political parties or advocacy organizations and the bloggers?

I knocked off the obvious ones, but check my work and add your own notes in comments..

In the interest of disclosure, let’s start with me.

I have a small management consulting business focused on managing broken projects (and other stuff as business comes in the door). My own political ties are overwhelmingly Democratic, but I have donated to and on occasion, voted for Republican candidates.

I have given advice to several campaigns about Internet presence, and am friends with three elected officials (all Democrats) and someone who runs a left-leaning campaign consultancy. I’ve never made a dime from politics nor from any kind of advocacy except some local and regional land-use advocacy.

Here’s the list of blogs (rev 2):


Top 30 Ecosystem Blogs Leans Profession Political / Advocacy Associations
1.Instapundit Right Academic
2.Daily Kos Left Political Consultant Democratic Campaign Consultant
3.Boing Boing Not Political
4.Talking Points Memo Left Journalist
5.Power Line Right Lawyers
6.Little Green Footballs Right
7.Eschaton Left Researcher Media Matters
8.Ambient Irony Not Political
9.The Washington Monthly Left Journalists
10.The Volokh Conspiracy Right Academics
11.Andrew Sullivan Moderate Journalist
12.Michelle Malkin Right Journalist
13.DRUDGE REPORT Right Journalist
14.2004 Weblog Awards Not Political
15.Captain’s Quarters Right
16.NRO Online Right Journalists
17.JoeUser.com Not Political
18.Wizbang Right
19.Slashdot
20.Dean’s World Moderate
21.Blogs For Bush Right Campaign Blog Official GOP Site
22.The New Republic Online Moderate Journalists
23.Matthew Yglesias Left Journalist
24.Hugh Hewitt Right
25.Belmont Club Right unknown
26.Rox Populi
27.The Moderate Voice Moderate Journalist
28.Crooked Timber Left Academics
29.Right Wing News Right
30.Winds of Change Moderate
Top 30 Blogstreet Blogs Leans Profession Political / Advocacy Associations
1.Instapundit Right Academic
2.Andrew Sullivan Moderate Journalist
3.Eschaton Left Researcher Media Matters
4.Boing Boing Not Political
5.Talking Points Memo Left Journalist
6.Slashdot
7.Scripting News
8.Teljari.is
9.Blogarama
10.DRUDGE REPORT Right Journalist
11.Plastic
12.Daily Kos Left Political Consultant Democratic Campaign Consultant
13.This Modern World
14.USS Clueless Right Engineer
15.Metafilter
16.Doc Searls
17.LILEKS (James) The Bleat Right Journalist
18.(In)formação e (In)utilidade
19.FARK.com
20.Arts & Letters Daily
21.Davenetics* Pop + Media + Web
22.Tudo Para Blogs
23.The Volokh Conspiracy Right Academics
24.Where is Raed ?
25.VodkaPundit Right
26.Tudo para Blogs Mudou!
27.Samizdata
28.OxBlog Moderate Academics
29.Asymmetrical Information
30.TypePad: Hosted Weblog Service
Top 30 Influential Blogstreet Blogs Leans Profession Political / Advocacy Associations
1.Instapundit Right Academic
2.Talking Points Memo Left Journalist
3.Eschaton Left Researcher Media Matters
4.Andrew Sullivan Moderate Journalist
5.Daily Kos Left Political Consultant Democratic Campaign Consultant
6.The Volokh Conspiracy Right Academics
7.TalkLeft Left Attorney
8.This Modern World
9.Matthew Yglesias Left Journalist
10.Samizdata
11.Asymmetrical Information
12.VodkaPundit
13.Crooked Timber Left Academics
14.Boing Boing Not Political
15.The Washington Monthly Left Journalists
16.Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal Left Academic
17.USS Clueless Right Engineer
18.Oliver Willis Left Researcher Media Matters
19.The Rittenhouse Review
20.LILEKS (James) The Bleat Right Journalist
21.BuzzMachine Moderate Publishing
22.OxBlog Moderate Academics
23.Electrolite Left Publishers
24.Nathan Newman Left Academic
25.Winds of Change.NET Moderate
26.Kausfiles Moderate Journalist
27.Tim Blair Right Journalist
28.TAPPED Left Magazine
29.Doc Searls
30.Unqualified Offerings

Merry Christmas, All

It’s Christmas morning, and no one is up yet, so I thought I’d take a moment and wish my virtual community a Merry Christmas (and a very belated Happy Chanukah).

It’s the season where it’s useful to think hard about how deprived so many of us feel when we have so much.

Most of us have peace, love, some measure of prosperity. We need to make sure that we work hard to spread those as far as we can, and add to that mix – for others and ourselves – hope.

Christmas in Los Angeles

Last night, TG and I took Littlest Guy to meet the Simons at Olivera Street (the old Zocalo of Los Angeles). We had a wonderful evening with them, and more, sat and enjoyed ‘la posada’, the traditional Hispanic Christmas procession.

I’ve talked about tradition and history before, and the notion that one can be ‘from’ a tradition and not be ‘of’ it today.

Watching the angels walking toward us, I felt the attachment to our Angelino past, and a real sense of connection to and respect for it. But while I’m not rushing out to become a Catholic…I did feel reverent.

Roger has pictures.

And with that, I’ll wish you all a Merry Christmas – each and every one.

Huh?!?: The American Prospect Controversy

OK, this is annoying.

Tapped – The American Prospect – now throws down the legal gauntlet toward a critic.

The Prospect has taken the appropriate legal steps against Nevaer to ensure that he not persist in spreading these defamatory and false allegations. Any individual or organization who reproduces his false allegations may face similar action.

OK, so what the hell are these nuclear allegations?

Clicking through Steve Sailer’s site to the “afro-american-and-hispanic-dialogues” site, there’s this:

Special Report: Ana Sofia examines if there is an anti-Latino bias at the American Prospect magazine.

But the link doesn’t work Just scroll down and read about a conflict between a journalist and a curator…As far as I can piece together, Sailer noted (as have others) that the demographics were working against the Democratic Party as the exurbs trend redder and grow faster. He may have wrapped that in some racially-tinged comment about “white births”.

Tapped uncorked on him by pointing out that he’s involved in the far-right vdare site, and slamming him as a racist.

He replied that pot=kettle, and that the above quoted article cited Tapped for racism.

Tapped replied by slamming the credibility – and existence – of the above article’s author, and suggesting instead that it was written by someone who is involved in some messy lawsuits – involving accusations of stalking, partner abuse, and God Knows What Else.

There are just sooooo many problems here.

First, I can’t for the life of me understand Tapped’s reaction (in the form of the above post by Garance Franke-Ruta).

The guy (Sailer) made some political claims, they either can or can’t be refuted, there’s evidence on both sides – let’s have a debate.

It’s legitimate to point out that the guy has a history intellectually as a way of framing the argument. It’s legitimate, but not dispositive, because at some point you have to get back to what facts we can find and argue about those.

Accusing him of racism does leave one open to accusations back at you – in both cases, it’s throwing sand in the hopes that the reader will be blinded.

But Tapped steps far over the line in two ways – first, by the overt threat quoted above to act against Nevaer and anyone who has the temerity to reproduce the allegations; and second, in failing to confront the allegations and instead dredging up a messy-sounding but inconclusive legal contremps as a way of attacking the messenger and believing the issue will go away.

I’ve said in the past that I think these tactics are cheesy and worthy of public opprobrium when they are done by amateur bloggers.

To see it being done by a professional publication beggars belief.

Christmas Vatican-blogging

I see that Patrick Belton is in Rome, and blogging his visits to the Vatican.

TG and I went to Rome at the conclusion of a motorcycle trip a few years ago (and no, we didn’t ride in Rome – do I look suicidal?).

We spent a day at the Vatican, which was amazing. But amazing as it was, the highlight was the tour we didn’t get to take, and the verbal smacking I got when I tried to get us there.
The ‘scavi‘ (excavations) beneath St. Peter’s are supposedly amazing. I say supposedly because I didn’t find out about them until we are in Rome, at the Vatican. When we found out about them, I went to the ‘office of the scavi’ and asked about getting onto a tour that day, in either French or English.

The priest laughed at me. I didn’t think they were allowed to do that…

Here’s an article in The Atlantic about some of the controversies and politics around the excavations. reading it makes me want to go more than ever.

Daniel Pipes Interviewed

Via new-to-me blogger philopundit , an interesting article in Harvard Magazine about Daniel Pipes.

Here’s a quote:

This might be the place for one of Pipes’s definitions of the adversary, a virtual catalog of frights:
Militant Islam derives from Islam but is a misanthropic, misogynist, triumphalist, millenarian, anti-modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, terroristic, jihadistic, and suicidal version of it. Fortunately, it appeals to only about 10 percent to 15 percent of Muslims, meaning that a substantial majority would prefer a more moderate version.

Nevertheless, this “totalitarian ideology,” even with “only” 10 to 15 percent signed on (roughly 100 to 150 million persons worldwide), “regards itself as the only rival, and the inevitable successor, to Western civilization.” To many people this is scary stuff. But such warnings are his specialty. Among his many disquieting predictions, he wrote, as early as March 1994:

From [an American] point of view, the Middle East increasingly stands out as a region that develops and exports problems, including political radicals, terrorism, drugs, unconventional weaponry, and conspiracy theories. We should recognize that this region resembles the Pacific rim less than it does Africa; and we should ready ourselves for the many troubles yet to come.

Pipes is the anti-Cole, a PhD in Early Islamic History who says “I have the simple politics of a truck driver,” he told an interviewer, “not the complex ones of an academic. My viewpoint is not congenial with institutions of higher learning.”

Funny, to a large extent, neither are mine.

Random Quotes for Today: Penn & Carroll

From Penn Gillette, in Reason -

“I get that feeling that maybe I endorse some stuff that doesn’t make sense, and I’d like someone to beat me up about that a little more. I have a certain kind of peacenik default in all my interactions. If you ask me, “Should we have been in World War II?,” I instantly say no. World War I, certainly no. Vietnam, certainly no. Iraq, no. I really seem to think that the answer to everything is peace, and I’m not sure I can support that. I have this weird kind of feeling that if I knew enough, maybe peace isn’t always the answer.”

From James Carroll, in the Boston Globe -

“WHY DON’T we Americans look directly at the war? We avert our gaze, knowing that the situation in Iraq grows more desperate by the day. Vaunted “coalition” efforts to “break the back” of the “insurgency” have only strengthened it. The violence among Iraqis would surely qualify as civil war — except that only one side is fighting. The structures of relief and repair are gone. Whole cities are destroyed, populations displaced. The hope of Iraqi elections is mortally compromised. “Coalition” members are dropping out. The mission of American force is to secure the country, but it can’t secure itself. The performance of US intelligence has been consistent: Its strategic failures caused the war, and its tactical ignorance of the enemy is losing the war.”

and

“On the other side, it is the proliferation of suicide-bombing that has come to seem normal. Soldiers commonly risk their lives for nation, honor, or buddy — but they will not kill themselves with forethought, in large numbers, except for the most transcendent of reasons. The United States has given itself an enemy that shows by its central tactic that it is fighting for God.”

…talk amongst yourselves…

You go, old guy!!

When I was in high school and college, I was constantly annoyed that the older – college and then grad school age – guys somehow managed to get dates so easily with the most interesting women.

Now that I’m – ahem – older, I find headlines like this vastly encouraging instead (and no, TG’s not going anywhere…I’m talking about ‘abstract principles’ here).

Chen Ning Yang, 82, to marry 28-year-old student

Way to go, Chen!! Score one for the old guys!

On Cole Once More

In the comments to the post on Juan Cole below, I got pretty seriously dinged by commenters Abu Frank and Aaron.

The points I intended to make in my post (and think I did, but readers will have to judge) were two:

First, that Cole’s characterization of the ITM brothers as ‘outside the Iraqi mainstream’ and Riverbend as representative of the majority of Iraqi opinion weren’t nearly supported by the data in the survey he cited.

Second, that for him to have had an acknowledge relationship with the murdered sailor, Lt. Kylan Jones-Hoffman, and then to have used his death to make a sweeping political point without also acknowledging that relationship was in my view callous and inhumane.

Let’s go the first point first, since I think it’s pretty easy to establish.Here’s what Cole said in the post I challenged:

I drew attention to Martini Republic’s questions about the independence of IraqTheModel without actually expressing any opinion myself one way or another, except to say that they are out of the Iraqi mainstream.

He’s also said:

…the views of the brothers are celebrated in the right-leaning weblogging world of the US, even though opinion polling shows that their views are far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion. It notes that their choice of internet service provider, in Abilene, Texas, is rather suspicious, and wonders whether they are getting some extra support from certain quarters.

Contrast all this to the young woman computer systems analyst in Baghdad, Riverbend, who is in her views closer to the Iraqi opinion polls, especially with regard to Sunni Arabs, but who is not being feted in Washington, DC.

So let’s go to the polls themselves.

This is the latest IRI poll of public opinion in Iraq, with data as recent as October 4. It also tracks time series back to April.

Here’s what it says about the attitudes about the election (which the ITM brothers are wildly supportive of). 85.5% of the people (as of late Sept – early Oct) intend to vote:

Voting.JPG

Here’s Riverbend on voting:

“Most people I’ve talked to aren’t going to go to elections. It’s simply too dangerous and there’s a sense that nothing is going to be achieved anyway.”

Here’s what the poll says about the impacts of violence on the average Iraqi – note that the losses include death, injury, or financial loss. I wish it had allowed for breakout by category. But amazingly, 77.5 of the people polled had not been affected or had anyone in their family in any meaningful way (including financial loss, and to the 4th degree of separation) by violence:

Affected Violence.JPG

Here’s Riverbend on violence:

“We have 9/11’s on a monthly basis. Each and every Iraqi person who dies with a bullet, a missile, a grenade, under torture, accidentally- they all have families and friends and people who care. The number of Iraqis dead since March 2003 is by now at least eight times the number of people who died in the World Trade Center. They had their last words, and their last thoughts as their worlds came down around them, too. I’ve attended more wakes and funerals this last year, than I’ve attended my whole life. The process of mourning and the hollow words of comfort have become much too familiar and automatic.”

So back to my assertion – who’s more typical, based on the IRI data, of the Iraqi people’s attitudes? Riverbend or the ITM brothers? I’ll suggest that Riverbend – Dr. Cole’s favorite – is in fact out of the mainstream, as set out in the polls, when it comes to her attitudes toward the election, her perception of the impact and level of violence on the average Iraqi, and in her disdain for the IP government.

Check out the whole Powerpoint deck for yourself, and see what you think. But here’s on final slide. 64.5% of the Iraqis polled think their life will be better a year from today.

Better Tomorrow.jpg

The second point, because it’s subjective, is going to be impossible to prove. But I’ll explain my own views briefly, and I hope that you’ll understand why my reaction to what Dr. Cole did was so negative – and why it would have been strongly negative even if he’d used the death of Kylan Jones-Hoffman to support a political point I agree with.

Basically, the trick in political thinking is to remember that it’s about people. Many – even most – of us tend to get caught up in our ideas about what society is or should be, and fixate on that idealized notion. reality, of course, is messy and complex and seldom fits those ideals. So we try to nudge it a bit.

That’s what people do; but the difficult part is to look through the idealized notions at the real individuals we’re talking about. For me, a lot of it comes to the notion of empathy and acceptance; if you’ve read my writing for a while, you’ll know that I push commenters and others I interact with to deal with each other with respect and some level of humane concern, and that when that gets denied – when we forget that the people we are talking to and dealing with are human and instead assign them to some abstract ideal category – friend, foe, or example – I think we lose something incredibly important both in ourselves and in our thinking about political issues.

I’m very aware of Cole’s earlier writings when he heard about Jones-Hoffman’s death. How hard would it have been to add a clause to his later post making the point he’d already made?

Now, it’s a legitimate criticism of my point that I’m busting Cole hard over what could have been a simple slip in composition – a hastily-written post leading to a neglected point. That may be, but I’ll suggest that when we write in haste what we really expose is what’s at the top of our attention – and what was at the top of Cole’s attention was his desire to tie Jones-Hoffman’s death to US policy.

That moves Cole pretty far outside the locus of what I value – in opponents or supporters of my own positions. And that, simply, is the basic empathy and understanding that the large political forces we talk about have real, human impacts on people we know and on people we don’t and never will.

Does that mean we should be paralyzed by the desire to ‘first, do no harm’? No, because the reality is that as a consequence of new policies people are harmed as they are by keeping things as they are.

But it means that I don’t only mourn the deaths of people on my side. And that I will continue to work hard to recognize that even the people I think are deeply wrong are human.