Archive for January 31st, 2009

January 31, 2009

Elitism, in one sentence

“If Culture11 folded because it told conservatives things they didn’t want to hear, the real fault lies with those who couldn’t handle the discomfort.”
Jonathan Schwenkler

This he writes in defense of Culture11’s repeated attacks on Sarah Palin. If you want to build a political movement based on “the public is always wrong,” good luck with that. The GOP nominated a presidential candidate who got only 47% of the primary vote, and yet this fanatical obsession with blaming the “Wasilla hillbillies” — a rejection of the grassroots Republican voters who adored Sarah Palin — still consumes the elite mind.

That Palin fared poorly in the Couric interview, that her media rollout was generally botched, that she was perhaps unready as of Aug. 29 to be first in line behind a 73-year-old commander-in-chief — these are all criticisms that are worth discussing. But viciously undercutting her as an anti-intellectual dimwit in order to make her a scapegoat for the failure of others, when she is yet arguably the best hope for preventing the four years of Obama from becoming eight years of Obama? No.

If somebody genuinely wants to go to hell, they’re free to go, but I’m not volunteering for carpool duty on that trip.

Schwenkler seems to argue, as do so many of Palin’s critics, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Republican Party seeking the support of voters who don’t have college diplomas. The anti-Palinites don’t merely reject “populism,” they reject the people. We have heard these voices before. From “poor, uneducated and easy to command,” to “bitter [people who] cling to guns or religion,” for many years we’ve heard these outrageous liberal slurs of ordinary Americans.

Slurs from liberals we’ve come to expect, but when people who style themselves “conservative” begin running down red-blooded, Red State, grassroots conservatives . . . Hey, buddy, I’m Merle Haggard and you’re on the fightin’ side of me. You are badmouthing my family, my friends, my neighbors — some of the most courageous, generous people anyone could ever hope to meet — and it is my duty and honor to defend them against the calumny.

Go ahead, look down your nose at the hicks in the sticks, tuned into Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan and Laura Ingraham. For all their faults and failings, those hicks are better people than you are — and that’s why you hate them so much.

January 31, 2009

Yet another obligatory PJM post

Allahpundit weighs in hilariously:

You’ll know we’re in dire straits financially when you notice that every last post is comment bait about Palin and atheism, instead of every other post the way it is now.

And Roger Simon takes a mild shot at “people [who] are kicking and screaming now that they are off the dole.” Is that too harsh? I dunno. If a commercial enterprise doesn’t turn a profit, it goes under. Live by the market, die by the market.

This all goes back to the long-running effort to “monetize” Web content. If everything on the Web is free, how do you create a revenue stream big enough to support a staff of content providers? Tigerhawk makes an excellent point:

I am told that web site banner advertising suffers, in a sense, from too much transparency. Media buyers know what they pay “per click through” and per dollar of directly attributable revenue, and therefore tend to value banner advertising according to these concrete metrics. Ironically, that puts internet banner advertising at a great disadvantage to print and broadcast advertising, the value of both of which are much more difficult to measure.

Indeed. You look at all those glossy ads in Vanity Fair — clothing ads in which the models aren’t wearing any clothes — and ask yourself about the cost-benefit value, but advertisers are apparently still willing to pay for the (imagined?) prestige of advertising in such venues. Whereas the page-impressions and click-throughs on Web ads can be monitored with ruthless efficiency and no one begins to imagine deriving any “prestige” from having their product featured on a blog. You will never walk into a store and see a product with the label: “As seen on The Other McCain.”

The various gloating of liberal bloggers is ignorant and mistaken, but that’s why they’re liberals, right? That the GOP/conservative axis has been unable to develop an online machinery as politically effective as the Progressive Netroots Community is not exactly news. My feeling is that this is chiefly a function of (a) conceptual failure, and (b) personnel-is-policy.

What do I mean by these terms?

CONCEPTUAL FAILURE — The problem with conservative online machinery is that no one can seem to get a clear vision of an online product that would be both commercially viable and politically influential. You have a lot of people coming out of a political activism background who want to create a vehicle for that, but who can’t figure out how to integrate that into a larger mass-market content package.

The recent failure of Culture11 is one example of this problem. By contrast, Andrew Breitbart’s idiosyncratic “Big Hollywood” appears to have quickly found a niche. Whether that niche will be lucrative enough to fund a permanent content stream is yet to be determined, but the point is that Breitbart began by envisioning a market — an audience, a readership — and then set about creating a mix of stuff, everything from Steve Mason’s box-office scoops to Iowahawk, to serve that market. The general political attitude at Big Hollywood is clear, but you don’t have to be a card-carrying Republican to enjoy the film reviews or humor bits.

A big part of the Rightroots problem is that (a) the conservative blogosphere arose in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, (b) media criticism was a major focus of the content, and (c) the early-adopters tended to represent a certain type of attitude/personality. One cannot help notice the geeky affinity for Star Trek/BSG/Star Wars, for example.

PERSONNEL IS POLICY — The knock that “conservative bloggers don’t do reporting” is, I have argued, grossly unfair. Yet it is a fact that (a) most reporters are liberal, (b) conservative bloggers generally have an anti-news-media attitude, (c) very few conservatives online have much experience or interest in straight-news reporting, and (d) the conservative movement in general tends to esteem punditry over reporting.

It is the easiest thing in the world to find conservative writers who want to do a 750-word op-ed about policy, politics or liberal bias in the media/academia/Hollywood. It is a damned difficult thing to find a Republican who’s willing to take a job doing just-the-facts-ma’am reporting and who has any genuine aptitude for it.

American Spectator managing editor J.P. Freire keeps saying that the conservative movement needs more Bob Novaks and fewer Bill Buckleys. That’s not a rap on Buckley; it’s a sober analysis of a basic market problem in conservative media. We’ve got no shortage of pundits (and wannabe pundits) willing to proclaim The One True Way on TV or on the op-ed pages. What we’ve got is a shortage of reporters willing to do the less glamorous but vital business of reporting news on a day-to-day basis.

The shortage of conservative reporters results in a shortage of conservative editors, and so you have situations like (a) the absurdity of David Kuo being hired to run Culture11, despite a dearth of relevant experience; and (b) the remorseless turnover of staff at the Washington Examiner, where there is clearly a deficiency in the news editorship. Mark Tapscott does a great job with the editorial page, but whoever is in charge of running the news side of the Examiner obviously doesn’t have a clue about staff development; Politico eats their lunch five days a week, and the Examiner just sits there, inert and helpless. As I’ve joked, once a reporter joins the Examiner staff, the next time you see their name is on a milk-carton (Missing: Susan Ferrechio).

The relative paucity of news experience among conservatives is something I’ve bumped into head-on several times since I started freelancing last spring. There was one day in May or June when I had a hot story about Bob Barr’s Libertarian candidacy — back when a lot of media were interested in Barr — and there was a conservative online publication (which shall remain nameless) that had been asking me to write for them. So I’d suggested this story where I saw a chance to get a Drudge-worthy scoop.

I got the story, and rushed to file 450 words, but there was a time-sensitive factor involved where it wouldn’t be exclusive for long. So I waited. Thirty minutes. An hour. It’s still not online at 4:30 p.m., after I moved heaven and earth to get it filed by 3 p.m., and I’m looking at my watch and thinking to myself, “Fuck them. They don’t have a clue.” I sent them an e-mail retracting the offer, packed up my laptop and went home. I’ve never had another word to say to those losers.

Welcome to the Internet Age. If you don’t understand the need for speed in this news environment, if you don’t grasp the value of timing in attracting readership, you need to find another line of work. If I can file 450 words of exclusive reporting by 3 p.m. and you can’t manage to get it online by 4:30 p.m., don’t waste my time.

Personnel is policy. And a big part of the failure of conservative online communications is that, in many cases, the operations are gummed up by political people with no judgment and no vision.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl as the Michael Corleone of the blogosphere: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

January 31, 2009

NYTimes token conservative?

Ron Radosh offers advice to Bill Keller on who should get “the conservative slot on The New York Times op-ed page, now that the paper has not renewed Bill Kristol’s contract.” From his list, the only one I really like is Mark Steyn, because (a) Steyn is funny, and (b) Steyn linked me last week. But mainly because he’s funny.

Actually, though, I don’t want the New York Times to have conservative columnists, period. I don’t trust anyone who would accept a check from Pinch Sulzberger. So, if they do hire a “conservative” columnist, it should be someone who is entirely useless. I understand David Kuo is available.

January 31, 2009

Razib and the Big Stupid Bloggers

The situation with Pajamas Media breaking up their advertising network, which Jeff Goldstein and Ace of Spades write about, is bad news for the participating bloggers. But it gets completely twisted into something else by Razib K. at Culture11:

I got a few links from PM back in 2005-2006, very little traffic. It didn’t seem like the aggregation was adding any value to the constituent weblogs. Additionally, a lot of their stuff is 2001-2004 vintage Right-of-Center media commentary, the sell-by date has long passed. Something like The Next Right is what circa 2010 conservative weblogs are going to look like, at least the good ones.

Actually, no. Sorry, Razib. The Next Right is about GOP operatives talking political strategy and tactics. This is a very important discussion, but the core audience is inherently limited. It’s inside-baseball for specialists. It is not a mass-market product in the sense that, say, Hot Air is mass-market. Compare: The Next Right monthly traffic (317K visits in October) vs. Hot Air monthly traffic (21 million visits in October).

As to the “2001-2004 vintage Right-of-Center media commentary” remark, Razib utterly misses the point of what Allahpundit does: Aggregation with attitude — and the reader has a chance to add his own 2 cents.

Look, I follow the news via blogs. I watch very little TV news and I seldom go to the Drudge Report. What I mainly do is go to Memeorandum and to my favorite blogs and follow the links. If a story is important or interesting, it will eventually be linked somewhere in my browsing pattern. Furthermore, lots of blog consumers nowadays get their content via feed readers (please subscribe to my RSS feed) and seldom browse. The big dogs of conservative blogging — obviously including the biggest of them — throw more traffic than ever.

So the news-value of blog aggregation is real, and it translates into traffic, and the task for an independent blogger is still (a) to find a niche or two where he can contribute meaningfully, and (b) link, link, link like crazy. (E.g., “I think Pamela at Atlas Shrugs also misunderstands what’s going on with PJM.”) So Razib’s snarking at “2001-2004 vintage” blogging as something obsolete is absurd, and all the more absurd when he’s doing it at Culture11.

What I have been told is that the main Pajamas Media page will continue to be open for business. What is being shut down is the blog-advertising network, apparently because it wasn’t generating the kind of “synergy” (to use a 2001-2004 vintage word) that had been anticipated. This means a prospective loss of income to the affected bloggers, who will go back to being independent in terms of ad vending. Or . . . something.

Believing in capitalism means believing in change. It appears that the investors bankrolling PJM want to specialize more in online video production. It’s their money and they can do what they want with it. (And if Vox Day wants to jeer, it’s his blog, so he can do what he wants, too.) PJM bloggers know how to produce interesting online content, and they are obviously going to continue to find work, although they may have to restructure their own private operating models to adapt to the dissolution of the ad network.

BTW, did I mention that I’ve spent the past few months doing video editing with Final Cut Pro? Just sayin’ . . .

UPDATE: You know who is incredibly sexy and also incredibly stupid? Jessica Alba. “Mass-market,” see?

UPDATE II: You know who is incredibly smart and also has a sexy wife? Well, yeah, me, but also Glenn Reynolds, who talks about the online ad slump.

UPDATE III: Ann Althouse congratulates herself on her decision to avoid pajamas and keep blogging naked. Althouse points out the same problem I have with online talking-head video:

I just have no patience waiting for people to say something that I could read in
1/10 the time. . . . Why am I looking at these folks? Put it in writing!

Right. If you are a very rapid reader, TV news is much less enjoyable. The Anchoress points out something else:

Sound bites are destroying our ability to hear, converse or think, but we can’t get enough of them. Unfortunately, yer girl ain’t made for camera lenses. Aside from the fact that I am unable to “smile for the camera” without looking terrified, I’m also dead chubby and I understand the camera adds 10 or 70 lbs.

.Right. TV favors people who are “good on TV,” an ability that is not universal. And there is a disturbing variation of the “halo effect”: On TV, people with the ability to seem convincing have an advantage over less glib people, regardless of the merit of their ideas. We might say that TV is a medium where the ad hominem argument is deeply embedded.

UPDATE IV: Steve Graham speculates:

The blogger who told me about the end of PJM’s blog network theorizes that the GOP is making PJM its main Internet outlet. That is highly plausible, in view of the unbelievably stupid things the GOP has done over the last few years.

OK, I know for a fact that “the GOP” is not running PJM. They have investors, and are trying to give the investors what the investors want — which is kind of hard to figure out. I know that during the Democratic convention in Denver, PJTV did a lot of street-protest coverage with Steve Green (VodkaPundit) doing the anchor gig. But then it turned out the investors didn’t want that, and it was scrapped.

Apparently what the investors want is talking heads — online panel shows. Fine, it’s their money. If that’s not your cup of tea, or you don’t see the market demand, so what? It ain’t your money.

January 31, 2009

Good-bye, Culture11

While I was busy on other things this week, Culture11 folded, news that is worth a bit of personal commentary, since I narrowly escaped involvement in that debacle.

In July, a friend sent me an e-mail wondering if I’d be willing to contribute freelance features/columns to a project called “Liberty Wire.” Hey, if it pays money, I’m interested. But I was told to keep it hush-hush, as they were still in the planning stage and had a big roll-out planned, etc. In a subsequent e-mail, my friend explained:

We are a social media network that creates cultural content to develop online and offline community for the mass conservative market…offering irresistibly interesting perspectives on life in America from pop culture to politics, from faith to family. We are asking the question, how do you share and shape the culture? . . .
I was wondering if you’d be interested in contributing in the coming month? I’m trying lots of writers and hope to get regular gigs say, once a month columns perhaps. What do you think?

So I proposed a story and asked, “What’s the rate?” My friend didn’t know yet, but as soon as things were formalized, I’d hear back, yadda, yadda. Three days later, I saw this in the New Republic:

Have you ever been reading Slate and found yourself thinking, “This is great, but if only if were more conservative…”? Then LibertyWire is for you! The new online publication, being launched in mid-August, is billing itself as “a conservative version of Slate.” David Kuo (left), a former Special Assistant to President Bush and author of tell-all Bush indictment Tempting Faith, is going to be the CEO. Bill Bennett (right),
former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar under Bush 41 and host of Morning in America, will be the editor chairman. I spoke with Kuo on the phone a few days ago, and though he would not divulge much on-the-record, he confirmed his and Bennett’s involvement.

And that was that. I immediately e-mailed my friend to say that under no circumstance would I ever associate myself with any project run by David Kuo. It wasn’t merely that I’d read Tempting Faith and found it emetically obnoxious. It was also that there was nothing — nothing — in Kuo’s biography that suggested he knew anything about running an online publication (or running anything else, for that matter). The man is an albatross, whose presence in any enterprise is an inerrant harbinger of doom, and I advised my friend to get as far away from Kuo and “Liberty Wire” as possible.

Well, “Liberty Wire” eventually debuted as Culture11, and editor Joe Carter has written a retrospective on the planning process that is ironic beyond words:

[N]o sooner had we put the editorial staff together than we had a crisis of conscience about what we were becoming. We had compiled a list of potential contributors consisting of the top 100 conservative pundits. . . . How would we be different, David asked, if we had the same writers as everyone else?
That was all the permission we needed to become, as David would often say, “Rolling Stone in the ’70s.” We wanted to be the place that found the next Cameron Crowes and Hunter Thompsons.

Heh. Ponder the yawning chasm between David Kuo and “the next Cameron Crowes and Hunter Thompsons.” It’s as if one day Kenny G announced he was looking for “the next Ramones.”

Personnel is policy. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson walking into the offices of Culture11, wearing his Acapulco shirt and aviator shades, reeking of gin, with a head full of mescaline and a satchel full of felonies. David Kuo would call the cops.

If Culture11 ever published any actual reporting, excuse me for missing it. Maybe they should have put a few bucks for “promotion” into their start-up budget. Speaking of ironic retrospectives, here’s Conor Friedersdorf:

Enter Joe Carter, then proprieter of Evangelical Outpost, fresh from the Huckabee campaign, hired by David Kuo, and charged with putting together an editorial team.

I’ve never met Joe Carter, although he’s worked with friends of mine, but there is something odd about that phrase “fresh from the Huckabee campaign.” If you are ever introduced to an editor as being “fresh from the Huckabee campaign” run, do not walk, in the opposite direction. Ditto editors “fresh from the Giuliani campaign.” (Meeting an editor “fresh from the Ron Paul campaign” — now, that might be intriguing.)

It has been my habit to twist Conor Friedersdorf’s nose from time to time, simply because he is so conspicuously earnest and, being incurably facetious myself, earnestness amuses me. Nevertheless, I feel sorry to see Conor standing beside the smoking crater of another doomed David Kuo project.

Likewise, it’s a sad thing for James Poulos, whose prodigious sideburns mark him as one of the great minds of our age (or any other). And some of my other friends, including the amazing Helen Rittelmeyer, have lost a freelance/blogging outlet. Also, there’s that anonymous friend who originally solicited my contributions for Culture11 back in the days when it was “LibertyWire” and before I knew of Kuo’s involvement.

Doubtless, someone will protest that Kuo is “a nice guy.” Exactly. (Cf., Leo Durocher.) By way of explanation, Kuo writes: “The economy racks up more victims.” In other words, Kuo claims that the meltdown of the economy caused the failure of his project. I suspect the chain of causality is nearly the opposite. The news that investors were willing to bankroll a commercial enterprise headed by David Kuo should have been a siren on Drudge: FINANCIAL COLLAPSE EMINENT!

Kuo will go back to the non-profit sector where he belongs, hired by some 501(c) tax-dodge that will pay him six figures as a “senior fellow” or “communications director” until about January 2011, when his name will pop up in connection with a Republican presidential candidate. Between now and then, save your money, so you can invest it all in shorting the InTrade stock of whatever candidate hires Kuo. In an economy like this, you can’t afford to pass up a sure thing.

UPDATE: Josh Trevino has some thoughts on the failure of Culture11, but since none of his thoughts are along the lines of “David Kuo couldn’t make a profit on the snow-cone concession in Hell,” can we really take Trevino seriously?

Hey, y’know, now that I think about it, maybe the sudden disappearance of Culture11’s funding might have had something to do with their investors noticing that Culture11 was making the “conservative” case for gay marriage. (Wonder who else noticed?) Also, if you’re trying to attract a conservative readership, slamming Sarah Palin might not have been the ticket, huh?

UPDATE II: I’m having fun with the intrablogospheric stuff this weekend. Traffic’s slow and after the RNC meeting I’m a bit burnt-out on political news, so excuse the self-indulgence. We will return to Gotterdammerung-on-the-Potomac by Monday. Meanwhile, Ericka says in the comments:

David Kuo is an inspiring and dynamic person with a big heart and certainly made an impact on my life in a positive way. . . .
We severely lack in the cultural department and perhaps we didn’t get it quite right this time around — but somebody needs to and I hope I’m a part of it when they do.

OK, we’ll take these arguments in reverse order:

  • Yes, agreed, conservatives need to engage the culture. And getting paid to engage the culture is a sweet gig.
  • Ericka, if somebody hired me to engage the culture full-time, that would certainly make “an impact on my life in a positive way.” But if I ended up out on the street after six months because that person didn’t have a clue how to run the operation, I might be hesitant to call them “inspiring and dynamic.”

Consider this post from May about insufficient cynicism among some conservatives:

[A] point I made in reviewing Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons: I write for money. And so far, nobody’s offered to pay me to save the world.
Professional writers who present themselves to the world in save-the-world garb are doing a disservice to the profession (and arguably, a disservice to the world, which is already in bad enough shape without more advice from journalists).

I have my beliefs, and I have my principles, but I try to avoid the True Believer trap. If you carefully observe human nature long enough, Ericka, you will learn that there is a certain Newtonian principle by which every sucker eventually finds the hustler who’s not going to give him an even break.

The phrases “con man” and “con game” derive from the word “confidence.” The con man’s trick is to secure the confidence of those who plunk down their money for snake oil or three-card monty. It the hustler’s ability to convince you that he is harmless and trustworthy that makes him dangerous.

Ericka, have you ever shot pool with a hustler? Game after game, you come this close to winning, only to have the hustler make a miraculous three-bumper shot on the eight-ball to win the game. Occasionally, he’ll let you win a game, just to keep your interest stoked, but the bottom lines is, you’re not gonna leave that pool hall with a penny to your name. The True Believer’s desire to do good for The Cause can easily make him a sucker for a very similar con, from which the sucker walks away broke and the hustler moves on to the next game.

A straight-up fee-for-service contract — “I pay you X amount to do Y” — is the only arrangement a professional journalist should ever accept. The minute somebody starts trying to sell you on a save-the-world vision, pack up your cuestick and leave that pool hall.

January 31, 2009

Salute to RNC Chairman Michael Steele

Video via Hot Air:

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And hey, remember how Dems screamed “fight the smears” anytime anybody mentioned Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers? Well, look who’s dumping guilt-by-association attacks on Steele. (H/T: Amanda Carpenter.)

The new chairman gets congratulations from Ed Driscoll, CrankyCon, and Hugh Hewitt. General jubilation at AOSHQ.


January 31, 2009

Religious intolerance at GWU

Press release from the George Washington University chapter of Young America’s Foundation:

In a move of blatant disrespect and religious intolerance, a member of the George Washington University College Democrats defaced and destroyed several of the white crosses used for George Washington Young America’s Foundation pro-life demonstration in University Yard. The event, which was called a “Cemetery of Innocents,” was held in coordination with the March for Life and included placing 1100 crosses in the ground to represent the 1.1 million abortions performed in the United States every year. 
The defamations of the crosses, which were unlawfully taken from another organization’s half of the office, were wide and varied. One of the crosses included a large penis with an actual condom pulled over the top, in lieu of the crown of thorns; the College Democrats’ version of the crucifixion. Another included an image of Jesus on the cross, with the word “pwned” over the top (slang for owned) and the word “lol” below, as if the death and crucifixion of the Christian prophet were a humorous event. Some other crucifixes included the words “Darwin” and were laid out with a candy bowl prophylactics encouraging all who entered the College Democrat office to “take a condom.” The crosses were left up for well over 24 hours, during which time several members of the College Democrat executive board held office hours, implying knowledge and consent of the displays, which were posted in the College Democrats half of the office.
This move is just an example of the University’s leftist students’ attempts to marginalize opposing viewpoints. Earlier in the semester, College Democrat President Corey Struble outlined these goals when he told campus radio in an interview that “We seek to marginalize them as much as possible. You remember YAF last year put an ad in the paper saying how marginalized they felt [at GW]. Well, this year we want to make sure that GW is an even more uncomfortable environment for Republicans and conservatives.” Despite this kind of rhetoric, GW-YAF has remained undeterred. “It is really unfortunate that the College Democrats and other liberal members of George Washington’s campus continue to show such blatant disrespect for the right’s point of view. Stunts like this detract from GW-YAF’s ultimate goal of encouraging open and intellectual discussion of the political issues facing college students today,” Travis Korson said.
This is not the first time in recent memory that religious intolerance has burdened The George Washington University. Last year, a girl was reprimanded in serious fashion for drawing swastikas on doors in residence halls. This is an offense of similar nature, and should be treated as such by our University. This was not a misinterpreted joke; rather it was a vicious attack on Christianity and Conservatism. Although the offense was committed by one member of the organization, the failure to promptly remove the crosses from public display shows an inherent approval by the College Democrats E-Board. The failure to immediately remove the defaced crosses illustrates religious insensitivity, and it may be best that the members of the College Democrats who were not appalled to be subject to a religious sensitivity training seminar.

More at Pat Dollard’s site.