The reverend KA Paul is at it again. The self-proclaimed advocate for the Third World poor, conscience of Third World dictators, and peddler of poorly inspected brands of snake oil, has stepped up his rebellion against his erstwhile patrons in the Republican Right, this time, through the court system in his native India. According to a press release, Paul has filed suit in Bangalore on behalf of thousands of widows and orphans who supposedly died after President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exerted their influence to cancel a peace mission with former Indian Prime Minister Deva Gowda to Iran, Libya, Sudan, Venezuela and Syria. I'm not sure how Bush was allegedly involved, how orphans allegedly died, and why anyone in India is still talking to Paul, who has been widely exposed as fraud, because the release didn't explain it. Still, I can't help but marvel at how Paul manages to keep getting attention. In October, I reported on his meeting with Rep. Dennis Hastert, in which he claimed to have convinced the embattled Speaker to resign over the Foley sex scandal. Ironically, Paul is now wrapped up in his own sex scandal: he was arrested in Los Angeles in May on suspicion of "lewd and lascivious acts with a minor." What's safe to say is that Paul (whom The New Republic once called "The world's most popular evangelist") will crusade on in his pirate ship as reliably as the political winds will blow him to some modicum of fame. Perhaps that explains his uncanny popularity with some evangelists here in America.
When Mother Jones launched its "Fight Different" package about politics and the Internet, it introduced the stories and interviews with a rumination on the term Open Source Politics. The short, irreverent definition was presented as a mock-Wikipedia entry, under the classic Wiki red-flag: "The neutrality of this story is disputed." And I tell you what, the neutrality of our approach has been disputed, and disputed, and disputed. And in this case, that was exactly the point: the new arbiter of truth in politics is increasingly you, dear reader. If you're sick of bias and spin, speak up, and change it.
That, at least, is the idea behind Wikipedia, which now accounts one out of every 200 page views on the Internet. No format on the web is better at reaching a consensus on objective truth in the most touchy and politicized of subjects. For a glimpse of Wikipedia's potential in the political realm, see our interview with Jimmy Wales here.
But don't stop there. Do you disagree with our definition of Open Source Politics? Are there counterpoints to what Wales has told us that you don't think are being aired? Well, feel free to offer your thoughts in this blog. Or even better, check out the real entry for Open Source Politics in Wikipedia, and edit it. If I had to guess, I'd say a Google search of the term will soon yield the popular view of the idea over anything a magazine writer has had to say.
For the past three days, writers and editors at Mother Jones have been engaged in a flak session over at the blog Press Think, and more recently, the Huffington Post, where NYU professor Jay Rosen has lambasted the magazine's package of stories and interviews on "Politics 2.0." Or rather, he has lambasted the "framing" of the stories, which is to say he's unhappy with the way we introduced the stories in our press release and in the opening essay. Thousands of words have been expended on the subject, but Rosen's beef can be summarized (I think) like this: In a shameless ploy to promote itself, Mother Jones has set up a false tension between the idea that Politics 2.0 is revolutionary and the idea that it's irrelevant, and then congratulated itself with showing how neither one is true. "The Mother Jones editors," Rosen writes, "had a great story about politics and the web within their grasp, but they were too busy fabricating myths they could bust up later and so they missed it."
Personally, I haven't felt a need to respond to Rosen in our own blog because I feel his critique is, on its face, kind of silly. But I think some of the issues that have come out in the discussion of his post are worth talking about, and so I'm going to wade through this.
First, in response to Rosen, I wrote in his blog:
Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics--"revolutionary" or "irrelevant"--do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it's also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance. . . .
What we have done is allow people in the field--actual bloggers, actual professors, actual online political consultants--to weigh in themselves, and we're allowing anybody to comment on their thoughts at the end of each article and interview online. Our "idea," in short, is have a bunch of people talk about their ideas. It's not revolutionary, but it's very Web 2.0, and it differs from the I'm-an-expert-so-let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach that bloggers have come to expect and loathe in the print world. I fear that if we had opted for the latter, you'd simply be caviling over that instead.
In response, Rosen said that we should have simply "framed" the package as an exploration of "the complex landscape of Politics 2.0 with some of the world's best guides." He wrote:
But... and here we come to the contradictions at the heart of this little episode... that isn't the stance you wanted to take. Doesn't feel tough enough. Non-dramatic. It lacks that savvy sheen print journalists like to have on the surface of their work. Your desire, I believe, ran counter to your concept.
Rosen is missing several important points, I believe. For one, he's writing from the perspective of an avid blogger who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Politics 2.0 world (I think) and doesn't seem to realize that some of our readers, especially of the print magazine, are not. People with less exposure to that world need to understand the big questions at play--What's the deal with this grand Politics 2.0 talk?--before they will see a reason to read about it. So we use that question as a starting point and then flesh it out with more nuance. It is a classic element of magazine journalism: Will Al Gore stop global warming? Well, here's Al Gore, and here's what he says and what he'd doing. And so on.
Rosen believes that this approach, in its more intellectually lazy forms, is associated with the print media. The thread over at HuffPost has veered off into condemnations of the mainstream media and exaltations of the blogosphere as a less spin-oriented alternative. I do think that blogs serve as a crucial check on journalistic folly, but I don't think that they have proven to be any less susceptible to the same "framing" issues. Case in point is Rosen himself. Over at HuffPost I noted that Rosen had written his post under the headline: "Printing Press Progressives at Mother Jones Try to Debunk the Political Web." Talk about framing. I wrote back:
Are we printing press progressives? Then what about our well-established blog? Are we trying to "debunk the political web?" We're certainly interested in dispelling hype when it exists, but the way you phrase it makes it sound like we are out to expose the political web as a sham, which we aren't, and it isn't. Indeed, we are a part of the political web (or did you mean to say citizen journalism?) So who is guilty of lazy and self-serving framing here? This question leads naturally to ones about your motives for attention, which mirror your questions about our motives for attention. Pretty mind bending. But hey, I'm sure you can handle it since you're a salaried NYU professor.
So this leads to the question: What is Jay Rosen For? (His book was called "What Are Journalists For?). I'm sure he's good for something, but I'll let him answer as to what that is. Meanwhile, he still hasn't responded to my question about why he is accusing us of setting up straw men, only to do so himself.
I've enjoyed reading the insightful blogger responses to Mother Jones' "Fight Different" package on internet politics. I've also enjoyed the less insightful ones. I was particularly entertained by this morning's post on Techpresident, which is (usually) a smart group blog on everything politics 2.0. Techprez blogger Alan Rosenblatt has decided today that the mainstream media is too obsessed with his ilk (if he's flattered, it doesn't show) and that they're failing to look more broadly at "how the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics." Singled out for specific calumny is our very own bastion of old thinking:
[A]fter reading so much mainstream press coverage about Politics 2.0 lately (for example, in Mother Jones this month), one might conclude that the sun rises and sets only on blogs and the bloggers that write them. There is so much more to online campaigning that we do ourselves a great disservice when we narrow our focus too much on blogs.
Thank you, Alan, for helping me understand why blog discourse often reduces to phrases such as "fucking dumbass."
If Alan had actually read the package, he'd see one story on bloggers out of four main pieces and 27 published interviews with netizens, digerati and politicos. Here's what Alan says Mother Jones is missing, which, since he's too lazy to look for himself, I've conveniently linked to stories in the package that deal with each subject: "the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics, including fundraising, volunteer organizing, message dissemination, and voter engagement through social networks and social media." That's brilliant, Alan. Thanks for letting us know.
The most interesting thing about the Techpresident post is how it illustrates the blogosphere as echo chamber. Some bloggers earn their soup by setting up the old media as a paper doll to be burned, which works fine as long as nobody reads the old media to see what they're actually saying and nobody in the old media reads the blogs and bothers to debunk them when they're wrong. Fortunately, I see some light at the end of the tunnel here. For one, Mother Jones has a blog (hi, Alan!) and we can tinkle on logos just like the Calvinists.
All of this is not to say that Techpresident is a lame blog. I'm glad that Techprez blogger Cfinnie linked to my interview with Howard Dean (thanks, Cfinnie!). Too bad Alan doesn't read his colleagues either.
PS: I want to include a link to the blog of Seth Finkelstein, who is quite well-informed about many of the same issues we are discussing here and in the blog post on Rosen. I highly suggest following the links he's pasted into the comments below, and in his post. Also see our post from Dan Schulman for discussion about gatekeepers.
The right-wing blogosphere has been apoplectic since the San Francisco Chroniclereported yesterday that a top official hired by the California Republican Party was ordered deported in 2001, jailed three years later for visa violations, and has filed a $5 million wrongful arrest suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Party COO Michael Kamburowski resigned a few hours later, after Jon Fleischman of the Flash Report blog asked, with typical talk-radio rhetoric, "Is our COO suing America?"
The short answer is of course, "yes," but what bemused GOP border watchers have failed to consider is that Kamburowski may have filed his suit with good cause. He was jailed for about a month for visa violations, but an immigration court later overturned his deportation order. This is not to say that Kamburowski is innocent in the matter; at minimum he exercised colossally bad judgment by not disclosing the issue. Still, the GOP rush to condemn him says a lot about the way the party treats immigrants these days. The most interesting question raised by the scandal: why did someone who says he was traumatized by overzealous DHS goons go to work for a party inimical to civil rights and immigration reform?
This latest twist comes after the Chroniclereported earlier this month that the state GOP hired another immigrant as a top consultant using an H1B visa, a specialized work visa that requires employers to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans first. "Apparently," Jay Leno said that evening, "working for Republicans is one of those icky jobs Americans just don't want to do." And perhaps that explains Kamburowski. If I had to guess I'd say he has a lot in common with the migrant laborers who were busted by ICE in Southern California after they'd helped build the border fence.