Are Blogs the New Iowa?

The Editor of PolicyByBlog and Emily Metzgar, a political columnist, just published (November 03, 2005) in the Christian Science Monitor an essay that deals with the prospect of the blogosphere becoming a “space” for running for President: COULD BLOGS TRUMP STUMPING IN IOWA?

Like all newspaper pieces, we needed to be short and we were edited. To expand the context, for over a generation political scientists have noted that there was a campaign for president before the ostensible running season began with the Iowa Caucuses. The journalist Arthur Hadley called this period the “invisible primary.” Would-be presidents underwent a series of “tests.” (Think Labors of Hercules!) As articulated by political scientist Rhodes Cook, these trails included: [Read more…]

Bloggers are First-hand Reporters for the Invisible Primary

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, in one of a series of dismissals of bloggers, summed up his opinion of their contribution to the information society by the following: “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

I disagree. Many bloggers are creating new content, hunting and gathering news and information, not just digesting it. The presidential race–or pre-race creates many examples. The invisible primary is a time of severely reduced press attention to presidential hopefuls. Even bigfoot frontrunners like, say, Hillary Clinton, do not get much national media attention speaking to the Women’s Democratic Caucus in a rural county in Iowa. As Richard di Benedetto of USA Today once commented to me: “When I started in this business, I was taught that the job of a journalist was to go someplace that the public couldn’t get to and report what he saw and heard.” [Read more…]

Blogs, Politicians and the “Face in the Crowd”

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, in one of a series of dismissals of bloggers, summed up their contribution to the information society by the following: “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

If, indeed, that it was all bloggers were doing or could do, it would not be enough, but blogging today is much more than media criticism. In fact, there are bloggers who are doing everything that journalists ever did. Indeed that’s the point about the world of “PolicyByBlog”: blogging is a genre, a medium and a technology that can be used by professionals.

I don’t think Keller was making a movie allusion. But to historians of political communication who are also interested in politicians using blogs to reach the people it is worth recalling the implications of the word “chew.” I think of a potent icon of individual populist autocracy gone mad.

crowd.jpgThere were no blogs in 1956 when director Elia Kazan and writer Bud Schulberg crafted their famous meditation on the perils of democracy, “Face in the Crowd.” In his best (and first) movie performance, Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, an Arkansas yokel who, by his quick wit and ruthless character, rises to the top of the talk show radio and television game. Of course, he abuses his power, crushing people who stand in his way, and even attempts to hogtie the course of the nation.

In one famous sequence, he adopts the political fortunes of a well-known conservative senator with presidential ambitions. The man is a dignified, thoughtful, old-fashioned politician, modeled perhaps on the late Robert “Mr. Conservative” Taft of Ohio. Griffith tries to turn him into a cracker barrel populist, creating a television show in which the senator mingles with some good old boys at a country general store, chewing “tobacca” and offering political homilies.

In the movie the scene is meant to be both low comedy and high satire. The points were that (a) the pol was demeaning himself with each chaw and (b) the relatively new medium of television–which in 1956 was young as Blogs are now!–offered many opportunities for demagoguery.

Bill Keller was not thinking of Lonesome Rhodes when he portrayed bloggers as news-chewers, but the concerns about populism run amok are the same. I just think that they are misplaced: bloggers are LESS likely to be hypnotized by demagogues than audiences of the television (or the speech era), because blogging is a relatively active, questioning, process and inauthenticity by a politician is both more easy to detect and deflate.

Originally posted November 21, 2005 at PolicyByBlog

Blogs of War: Then and Now

A few years ago I wrote a book on the history of the visualization of war.  Today, writing a book on blogging, I see a striking differences between two “blogs of war,” that is, first person accounts of a battle in the Middle East.

Then: In c. 1300 BCE, the pharaoh Rameses II and his army fought a battle against a Hittite army at Kadesh, in what is now Syria. The battle was a draw; in fact, the Egyptians ended up retreating. But Rameses’ memorial temple–an instance of massive communication–shows on its 100-foot walls pictures and hieroglyphics of the great ruler as victorious. As originally painted, Rameses is bronze skinned, broad shouldered, long armed, resolute of face, wearing the twin crowns of upper and lower Egypt, and many times larger than the Hittites and his own men–a superman in the anthropological as well as comic book sense. (Rameses became the “Ozymandias”  who, in Shelley’s poem, demanded that all “look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.”) In the written records accompanying the images, Rameses boasts that he personally routed “every warrior of the Hittite enemy, together with the many foreign countries which were with them.”


In contrast, the pharaoh blames his own men for early problems in the battle: “You have done a cowardly deed, altogether. Not one man among you had stood up to assist me when I was fighting. . . not one among you shall talk about his service, after returning to the land of Egypt.” In other words, here was the mighty-thighed Pharaoh announcing that his own men were cowards and he won the battle single-handedly. I have often wondered whether some veteran of Kadesh, walking by the tableaus, did not squint up, shake his head, gnash his teeth, and growl to his wife, “The lying bastard, it was his bad generalship/leadership that lost the day, not our cowardice.” But of course we don’t know; foot soldiers in Pharaoh’s army didn’t carve or write their campaign memoirs; and no scribe or stonemason interviewed them. [Read more…]

Edwards–In the Blog Lead?

The National Journal’s Hotline has dubbed John Edwards “The most active potential candidate” of the blogosphere. Not only does Edwards have his own blog and guest blog, but as noted in previous posts here, he invites bloggers to special meetings whenever he travels to give a speech.

Originally posted December 7, 2005 at PolicyByBlog

Are Blogs Feminine?

Whoever you are, female Gender Studies grad student, Republican male politician, male Marine in Falluja, you probably blog (partly) in the feminine style….What do I mean?

Let me get theoretical on you.

Blogs are about personal relationships. Interaction. Even intimacy.

Now, intimacy between leaders and the group, even if historically it has been part of male-to-male fellowship in war, sports, or politics, has elements of what students of political communication have called the “feminine style” in campaigns and elections. While this sort of classification scheme can often devolve into stereotypes of sensitive women and tough men, there is a considerable weight of research that suggests that a feminine style of public speechmaking includes the following:

(a) the address is made person-to-person, intimate, with personal pronouns;

(b) the speaker relates personal experiences that intentionally connect with probable personal experiences of the audience;

(c) the speaker offers anecdotes and stories as justifications for positions held

(d) the speaker invites the audience to actively participate in some sort of quest or venture

(e) the speaker’s logic of reasoning offered for arguments in speech is inductive, proceeding from the particular example to the general condition.

In contrast, the classic masculine style of speechmaking deploys deductive logic, making general policy positions and then deploying examples and ideas to support them. The masculine speaker is concerned with asserting his authority on a subject, of declaiming expertise and citing other authorities to back him up, e.g., government statistics or concurring experts. Masculine speakers will use examples drawn from history or science that may not have any personal connection to their own lives or that of the audience. [Read more…]

What Should Hillary Call Her Blog?–“SECURITY MOM DIARIES…”

Blogging is supposed to be a natural effusion of thought and emotion: modern politics is all about control, staying “on message,” getting out your sound and visbytes, and reducing risks of gaffes. Hence the attractions of real blogging are low for frontrunner candidates like Hillary Clinton. And, well, PolicyByblog is a non-partisan blog but I don’t think I’m stepping too far out of line to agree with those that characterize Senator Clinton’s personal style as not naturally intimate and emotive.

Still…one can imagine she could blog in bursts–very controlled bursts!

In perspective, the first-person quality of a politician’s blog is enhanced when they speak to us from interesting, even exotic, situations. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont democrat, blogs in “real time” from the floor of the Senate. “More from the Floor” updates up to several times a day. During Ronald Reagan’s funeral, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) stood inside the national cathedral and typed directly into his Blackberry for the following blog entry:

“My wife and I stand amidst the most powerful people in the world….We have stood beside presidents and princes, prime ministers and leaders of every stripe but that is not what moved us these past two hours. There was the undeniable presence of the Spirit of the Lord in this place and it was a sweet presence…[when] the casket swept by to our right, and tears filled my eyes.” [Read more…]

Why Politicians Should Blog–Part 1

I am developing my own such list–but of reasons both why and why not–a politician should blog. Here is one via Loic Le Meur Blog. It is a well known Euroblog, and so most of the examples are from there. Interesting that most important reason to blog for an Amerian politician is not listed outright: TO BYPASS COMMERCIAL MEDIA, to avoid its editing, potential negative commentary, and so on.

10 reasons why should a politician blog (from Loic Le Meur Blog)

Why politicians should have blogs ?

1. To get closer to their audience, their supporters

2. To create a permanent open debate with them

3. To test their ideas easily and quickly, to enrich them and get new ones

4. To switch the way they talk to people usually from institutional to more personal

5. To better understand the criticism of the people against their ideas

6. To spread their ideas easily if they are supported by many people, in a decentralized way

7. To raise funds for their cause, party or campaign

8. To reach a younger audience and help young people get more interested in politics

9. To create around them network effects

10. To become famous if you are an unkown politician, or to start a political action, even locally [Read more…]

Hillary’s Stealth Nomination Coup?

I have an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor titled “UNDER THE RADAR, CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT.” (January 30, 2006).

The original title was: “HILLARY’S STEALTH NOMINATION COUP?”

I have posted here [updated recently] (and here, here, and here) on Senator Clinton and the blogs. This present essay is not blog-related per se, but it does suggest that Hillary is taking a very traditional approach to a possible presidential bid in 2008: solidify key constituencies (African-Americans) and project a moderate image for the middle class white voter.

Curious but true: If the primaries were held today, HC would sweep the south; if the election were held today, HC would lose every southern state (save perhaps Florida). See post by MysteryPollster.

Earlier I speculated on what was her blog-strategizing options. I even asked if she might decide to take yet another page from her husband’s playbook and “Sister Soujah” the leftblogs! As of now Political blogs play little or no role in her campaign–save as leftflank antagonists. [See also here]. Is this an “ignore the blogs” strategy? [Read more…]

Are Blogs the New Iowa? (Redux…)

I have speculated here before on the new dimensions of political blogging. Most recent is a longer essay just published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is behind a paywall, so I reprint it here (with a few editorial revisions!):

And thanks to “doorguy” at Daily Kos for the publicity.

Political Blogs: the New Iowa? (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 26, p. B6)

Like many political junkies, I get my news and opinion fixes from newspapers, television, and specialty newsletters. But I also rely increasingly on blogs, the Web pages that contain both interactive, hyperlinked reportage and commentary. Such information sources are no longer curiosities. For example, Daily Kos ( — started by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who served in the U.S. Army before going to college and law school — includes contributions from a giant group of leftist, liberal, and Democratic bloggers. The Nielsen//NetRatings service reported that in the single month of July 2005, Kos attracted 4.8 million separate visitors. The Kos audience is thus greater than the combined populations of Iowa, where the first presidential caucus takes place, and New Hampshire, site of the first primary, according to the current Democratic party schedule.

It is no surprise, then, that political scientists and scholars of communication from many disciplines are asking what role blogs will play in future campaigns and elections and, more specifically, how bloggers will affect the election of our next commander in chief. [Read more…]