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« Fenster Predicts the Past | Main | First time tragedy, second farce . . . whatever »

November 03, 2004

We Post, You Decide

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

I think blogs are just about the neatest thing, but I don't get all utopian about it.

I show my social science background when I admit I think of such things in system terms. You can't consider the part without considering the engine it fits into; you can't consider the figure without the ground.

In turn, the question is not whether blogs are good and mainstream media bad. Rather, the question is: how have blogs changed the system, the pattern of interactions, the nature of reciprocity? And is the whole schmear on balance better or worse, or just more complicated?

In my mind, Rathergate showed how blogs could function well within a news system of which they were just a part. Sometimes they opposed MSM, sometimes the baton was passed back and forth. Generally speaking, though, blogs were deemed the heroes, as they were with the Lott affair.

But yesterday showed it cuts both ways. The mainstream media had enough self-restraint not to dump unvarnished exit poll data onto the public. And bully for them for that. No such restraint from the blogs, however. It's all grist for the mill. As one blogger said "I didn't have any real compunction about putting it (polling data) up there. I didn't struggle with the decision, because I knew it was going to become a global news item within about 30 seconds. Our approach is: We post, you decide."

There's a certain exhilaration to being able to do whatever one damn pleases. Workable institutions sometimes require more than a rush.



posted by Fenster at November 3, 2004


"We post, you decide" at least implies equality or relative equality between poster and postee. It is the haughty "This is the official sanctioned dish, eat it peasant" attitude of the MSM that has driven millions away.

Posted by: ricpic on November 4, 2004 7:54 AM

I feel a little divided about it myself. On the one hand: cut loose, everyone. On the other, well, maybe institutions need to be a little cautious and careful and responsible. Would you want them not to be? They're the big, slowmoving wooly mammoths the rest of us buzz around. And it raises a question of the big and square more generally: are we better off with them or without them? Vaporize 'em, and all that's left is a bunch of wiseguys scoring off each other. (I dunno, maybe that's prefereable.) It's a little like what's happaned with masculinity. Maybe it was a drag to have ideas and ideals of masculinity weighed down by the old Bogart/Kirk Douglas/John Wayne images. And it was always a lot of fun to tease and mock those squaresville images. But now that they're gone I kind of miss them. And maybe it's not a coincidence that we now have a generation of young guys who don't seem to know how to be guys in any honorable way, who look to rap and sports for models, and who feel that "Fight Club" speaks to them, and who wind up acting out cartoon images of hypermasculinity of a very non-honorable sort. All of which leaves me thinking that I'm happiest (FWIW) with a combo -- the big square central thing, plus the looseness and openness, and a maybe constant flux and renegotiation back and forth. Which I suppose may be a cop-out on my part, but there you have it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 4, 2004 8:03 PM

Nothing can hold a blogger from posting such a thing as the early exit poll results (there is controversy as to their authenticity) other than self-restraint. That's the nature of the Internet. (BTW, the BIG impact happened when Drudge posted the "news" -- he got tens of millions of hits election day. And Drudge Report is not a blog.)

Where the blogosphere seems to shine is in fact-checking and providing new information and points of view. This is what happened with Power Line Blog and Rathergate.

In the case of the polls, this model couldn't play out as in Rathergate because the information could not be checked independently by anyone but the two parties/campaigns, who had alternative information sources on the rapidly-evolving voting process during that day. All outsiders could do was apply rules of thumb based on knowledge of previous exit polling data. One example was an unlike ratio of female to male voters in one state. Another example was the fact that the data were (presumably) from early in the day, which is often not indicative of the final picture. Complicating all this was the high turn-out. In the past, this was said to favor Democrat candidates, which made the high Kerry numbers at least a little plausible.

Later in the day, the Bush organization was able to pass the word, along with rationales, to the faithful that all was not lost via Hugh Hewitt's blog and the Corner, a group-blog on the National Review Web site. (These are two examples that come to mind.)

My conclusion is that the blogoshere's right-hand side performed fairly well under the circunstances.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on November 4, 2004 9:03 PM

I don't agree with the premise that withholding exit poll information would have been a good thing, and proof of maturity among bloggers. The story got out there, but it also got debunked in a hurry. And it exposed the systemic abuse of exit polling to a much larger audience. There have been suspicions about bias for some years; now there is confirmation. If bloggers had been all grown-up and restrained, that confirmation might have been long delayed. I think transparency is best, and like it or not, transparency is what the information marketplace will have henceforth.

Posted by: Alan Sullivan on November 5, 2004 6:05 PM

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