Outline for talk at Professor Kang’s Media class

[Outline for my talk in Jae Kang’s Media and American Modernity 2.0:
The Internet and Political Culture, at the New School
]

Obama and Bloggers During the Campaign

My post, A Brief History of Obama and the Political Blogosphere, will be used as a way to introduce the topic, and frame out “the politics of blogging.”

In it, I describe how the 2008 Presidential campaign saw a split in the liberal blogosphere, between Obama and Clinton supporters. The image of the net savvy candidate the news media liked to portray in Obama was, in truth, something much more complex:

The political blogosphere, though, has never been uncritical of Obama; indeed, the history of the Obama and the blogosphere reveals a contentious relationship, one that demonstrates how bloggers today are continuing to do what they do best — put political pressure on elected officials.

This pressure continues today, as bloggers have organized to protest Obama’s intention to approve the latest FISA legislation. The protest, in fact, marks a significant turning point — while the 2008 campaign saw an unprecedented use of social media, it turns out, social media can work in reverse. Just as the Obama campaign provided the tools to allow supporters to organize and help him win the primary, his supporters have turned the tables and are using my.barackobama.com to attempt to push and shape his political positions.

Today, the netroots largely support Obama, yet have also continued to push back on his positions on issues such as illegal wiretapping and torture. As bloggers exist within networked publics, they form and un-form groups easily, and as needed. There is no monolithic “blogosphere,” and it is likely the politics of blogging will continue to be in flux, perhaps shaping around issue-based activism, rather than party-based.

The Case For and Against

The liberal blogosphere’s political stand with respect to Obama was described in two excellent posts by Chris Bowers, at Open Left:

The Case For Distrust:

Because President Obama flip-flopped on FISA: Finally, I don’t trust President Obama himself because he flip-flopped on FISA due to right-wing pressure in the campaign. During the primaries, he vowed to fight telecom immunity tooth and nail, but once the primaries were over, he just flat-out flipped his position. This was a straightforward case where President Obama changed a position as a result of shifting political pressure. The conclusion I drew from that event is that it is possible to change Obama’s public positions if there was enough political pressure for him to change, and that such pressure was necessary because he was willing to cave into right-wing demands if they applied enough pressure.

In short, FISA was the “distrust and pressure” object lesson for me.

The Case for Trust and Support:

There are some very progressive aspects to President Obama’s background. Two that always stick out in my mind are that he spent time after college as a community organizer and found religion through a church that preached liberation theology. Experiences such as these can only come from a person who is open to left-wing ideas. Obama simply must view progressivism as something to take seriously, rather than as the caricatured fashion it is often portrayed in our national political discourse…Further, while President Obama often uses anti-partisan and anti-ideological language that many center-right pundits and Democrats have often used to mean “let’s capitulate to Republicans and conservatives on everything,” his background as a person of mixed-ethnicity suggests a very different possibility. President Obama has long been required to navigate between apparently dichotomous worlds, and the fact that he was able to become the first African-American President of the United States indicates that he is very good at this navigation.

Liberal bloggers and the press

While Drezner and Farrell’s “The power and politics of blogs” does an excellent job of describing the blogosphere, I think it does not stress enough the antagonistic relationship bloggers have with the press — in some ways, it makes this relationship seem too cozy. This, in fact, is one of the main reasons the blogosphere formed, as a counter-balance to what liberals saw as failing in corporate-owned news media.

Markos Moulitsas, “kos” of Daily Kos, recently began a blog post with: “Newspapers don’t respect and value their readers.” He went on to describe a conversation he had with an editor at a newspaper, asking how they could become more acclimated to the web — they had tried comments, but the editor described a reporter a calling it “graffiti.” Kos concludes:

I wonder what happened to that “star columnist”, whose arrogance back in 2003 prevented his newspaper from taking its first tentative steps toward a more collaborative and inclusive product. Those publications that survive and eventually thrive once again will be those who harness the creativity of their audiences and encourage not just their passive consumption, but also their active participation in the news gathering, analyzing, and dissemination. On this front, the track record of the newspaper industry has, thus far, been dismal.

Bloggers don’t want the press to go away; they just want the press to do a better job. Yet it’s impossible not to hear at least some contempt in that post.

The Politics of Twitter

Finally, there is Twitter. While in the early days of blogs and the news media, each party wrote about each other (that is, bloggers commenting on the failings of reporters, news sites adding blogs and stories about blogs), today on Twitter, bloggers and journalists can interact directly. Where the contentious relationship between bloggers and journalists used to play out across a variety of media spaces, today they take place within Twitter.

Journalists, pundits, politicians, celebrities, and the everyday Joe are chattering away. Suddenly, the Joe Scarborough’s of the world are interacting with the public in a way they never have before…..directly and without a filter. Whether responding to questions about Morning Joe segments or his favorite soccer teams, Joe is tweeting like mad. And he’s not alone. @GStephanopoulos, @jaketapper, @Shuster1600, @tamronhall, and so on. The list of twittering pundits is growing by the minute. But, what is the appeal for them? Why have they gone so utterly crazy for Twitter? Reading through their tweets, I was struck by how engaged they are with their “followers.” Twitter allows them to interact like they might in the comments section of a blog. In short, Twitter has allowed them to become bloggers…albeit in a micro-form.

(Note a significant backlash to Twitter from many of the kossacks in the comments on the above post, as well as here.)

And journalists, so often behind in terms of their understanding of new media, are struggling to adapt:

Everything you need to know about the DC journo establishment, from ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper’s Twitter feed:

Breaking- PrezObama on Leno jokes about being a bad bowler- says it’s “like the Special Olympics or something” http://tinyurl.com/bholeno about 12 hours ago from TwitterBerry

Am trying to imagine the reaction if President Bush joked that his bowling skills recalled the Special Olympics. 3 am- we just landed in dc about 6 hours ago from TwitterBerry

Preparing for day of hypocrisy: conservs who would normally defend the SpecOlymp joke acting offended, liberals saying lighten up. Sigh about 3 hours ago from TwitterBerry

Late Update: Tapper gets his revenge: He has “blocked” me from following him on Twitter.

Additional topics

– Also worth a discussion is the business of blogging. See: here, and here.

– And how does Twitter help or hurt the business of blogging?

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