Filed under: Media
For bloggers, on the other hand, the way to make sure nobody pigeonholes you or dismisses you as somebody’s lackey is to be relentlessly cynical and negative. As long as you’re constantly bemoaning the hypocrisy and stupidity of all political actors (yourself included), you’re golden; you’re nobody’s lickspittle.
It is also possible for a blogger and (to a lesser extent) a politician to have a complicated view of the world and be honest about it. Not to be popular, not to be golden, not to prove you’re “nobody’s lickspittle” – but because it’s what you honestly think and believe.
Of course this is exactly right, and I think it was clear from the tone of my post that I wasn’t advocating that bloggers be flip and sarcastic. I was trying to point out a structural problem of incentives. Bloggers have an incentive to condemn and satirize in all political directions so as to maintain their claim to ideological independence, and what I was trying to say in the post was that this incentive can lead one to be too dismissive towards the behavior of politicians who are often actually doing a pretty good job within the limits established by the political landscape. This isn’t really an issue unique to blogs; it’s a general journalistic problem.
But I think one of the best examples of the risk one avoids through the easy out of constant cynical is the problem Sullivan has in his treatment of Barack Obama. I’m actually with Sullivan on this: Barack Obama is an enormously talented politician and a deeply ethical guy, with a complex and sophisticated view of how politics works and of how to be responsible in trying to strengthen the polity and improve people’s lives through the messy medium of politics. I give him an enormous benefit of the doubt in almost any situation, both in terms of his intentions and in terms of whether his take on an issue is better than mine. This is true of Sullivan as well. But the risk Sullivan has run in his very admiring writing on Obama is that many readers will come to see him as a cheerleader. I don’t think this is fair, and I think that even if it’s true, that’s a problem those readers have, not a problem Sullivan has. But still, this is a risk that exists in the journalistic world. The same thing happened to Hendrik Hertzberg during the administration of another extremely talented and admirable president, Bill Clinton. It would be easy for Sullivan to avoid this risk by simply adopting a world-weary skeptical attitude towards Obama, and it’s to his credit that he’s not doing so.
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