Saturday :: Oct 30, 2004

This Blog's For You

by larre

I have nearly boundless respect for the many, many fine blogs that have sprung up over the past four years to relentlessly research, track, and archive the steady stream of BushCo lies, misstatements, and other public outrages. More often than the professional media care to admit publicly, the quality of volunteer bloggers' research, analysis, writing, and honest-to-goodness contextual reporting has been far superior to that of the commercial media, electronic and print. Josh Marshall, Juan Cole, Billmon, Steve Soto, Kos, and so many, many others too numerous to mention have made a huge contribution to our nation's democratic mechanisms. No longer need people of reason feel as if they were lonely voices shouting into the cacophonous din of American pop media and mass delusions.

By its combined weight, the blogosphere has had a palpable effect in energizing opposition to BushCo's ruinous policies, ineptitudes, and outright crimes. Bloggers also have off-set what was expected just two years ago to be an insurmountable financial advantage for Bush. In substantive ways that are without any obvious parallel I know of, short of the "Clean for Gene" kids in 1968 who pale in comparison to today's far more influential blogs, the blogosphere also has played a key role -- perhaps THE key role -- in rescuing the Democratic Party from the craven performance of its leadership and many of its congressional candidates during the 2002 election cycle. Win, lose, or draw for Kerry on Tuesday, I believe when historians come to cooly consider this election they will conclude it was the broad and focused influence of liberal and 'classic conservative' blogs on the mass media and the candidates themselves that lies near the heart of the story.

That said, I would like to sound one small note of personal disappointment. The rash of poll-watching and poll-analysis and poll-discussing that has overtaken so many blogs especially in the last few months is understandable on one level. It's always kinda fun to scare yourself with the bogeyman or have your fortune told by some weird-looking woman in a long scarf and bad teeth.

With few exceptions, however, all this poll-talk serves no useful purpose except to entertain; to make us flush with excitement or turn pale with dread for every change in the single digits of some state you'll never visit or hear from again. The TV news media knows this. That's why they promote the latest poll results so often. It makes for terrific entertainment.

To the extent bloggers similarly obsess over polls, I think they fall victim to the same misleading meme the commercial news media have been peddling for too many election cycles. Cable news and traditional newspapers alike chronically treat political campaigns like sporting events, breathlessly calling each change of the lead and thereby reinforcing the underlying, corrosive lie that it's not what a candidate stands for that's important for the audience to know but whether othersperceive him to be ahead or behind in the insta-polls.

Throughout the past several months of this campaign I've watched with growing concern the studied silence of (most) news reports about the crowds turning up at campaign appearances. Most news organs have barely mentioned the extraordinary restrictions imposed on Bush attendees, although they are well documented on many blogs. There was a time when the size and enthusiasm of real world crowds drawn to a candidate were regularly reported by the mainstream media because it gave context to a newsworthy event, regardless of what it did or didn't say about the candidate's chances at the ballot box. People willing to get up and out of their arm chairs, flick off the TV, and use their feet to catch a personal glimpse of a candidate tells us something about the event. Insta-polls measuring the supposed preference of a small sample today tell us next to nothing about what the nation's voters will do on Election Day.

Yesterday, the The Boston Globe gave us a slim reminder of how it once was:

"Bush campaign rallies often have the feel of revivals -- not only in the religious references sprinkled through the president's stump speeches, but also because of the intensity of his supporters' adoration. The crowds are screened to ensure that only Bush supporters attend... ."

In recent days, a few -- very few -- other outlets like the Hartford Courant and the Pittsburgh newspaper have begun to draw comparisons of the crowds for Kerry (huge) versus Bush (shockingly small, when measured by past incumbents' campaigns.) But much more electronic and real ink has been spilled, pointlessly in my view, over how 500 hard-wired telephone users who are not yet on the Do-Not-Call list anonymously answer a half dozen questions from pollsters whose bona fides are at best assumed although, in fact, they can't even agree among themselves any more than rival horoscopes.

I've known a number of pollsters in my time. Believe me, it's not rocket science and they weren't scientists. More than a few of them had bad teeth and should have been wearing long scarfs.

Given the nature of the TV medium, in particular, and its ravenous appetite for entertainment rather than information, I have to wonder if the day isn't far distant when a candidate for president will campaign almost entirely from inside a studio, perhaps digitally enhancing the images to make it look like a large crowd was there to hear him. If insta-polls and TV ratings show this works, the next step no doubt will be to secretly wire the candidate so he says exactly what he's told. The press will play along in silence if it's good for ratings and helps to schlep more anti-depressants for the pharmaceutical industry.

After that, how big a step is it, really, to create a virtual candidate who exists only in cyber-space? If it helps to sell beer, deodorants, and dog food you can be sure the television industry will find a way to force it on us as surely as it forced the designated hitter rule, TV time outs, and other corruptions of the sports industry.

Ironically, the demise of democracy in America may be hastened by the media's obsession with popularity polls. Certainly, there has been a striking correspondence between the decline of voter participation over the past half century and the ascendance of media attention to polls. I suppose the connection cannot ever be proved empirically, but all of us know plenty of people who have become habituated by the Box into feeling excited about a contest between two contending forces they have never heard of before and encouraged to play guessing games about who will survive to win -- all without ever leaving the comfort of their living rooms.

I'm speaking of politics, of course, not just sports, Reality TV, or Jeopardy

Next time we're allowed to have a national presidential election, assuming it doesn't conflict with sweeps week or Patriot Act IV, I hope the blogosphere sets another good example for the mass media by not paying attention to insta-polls and bringing shame on those who do.

larre :: 8:40 PM :: Comments (22) :: Digg It!