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    Success of ‘going negative’ changes campaign strategies
    Blogs, Politicians & “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 on Monday, November 21, 2005 at PolicybyBlog.

    Reader Comments (17)

    I disagree with Keller’s statement about bloggers chewing and recycling news. Though there might be many bloggers who have less-than substantial content in their blogs, there are definitely a few that have taken on the job of reporting what has been left out by the msm. This is clearly evident by some recent examples including Dan Rather’s “Rathergate” and coverage of hurricane Katrina by locals.

    Blogs are opening up an opportunity for our society to learn about things that we would usually never hear about.

    In the 70s, Tuchman wrote about rituals of the newsroom in an article called “The Exception Proves the Rule.” Most of the rituals that journalists use daily were criticized by Tuchman, including one called the stratification of access to the news as a social resource. Tuchman argues that the economically and politically powerful are able to control the news by exerting pressure on news organizations and in this way they can control what is presented in the news and, more importantly, what isn’t.

    “The story that does not get disseminated or that requires special handling may tell more about news processes and American society than published or broadcast stories can.” -Tuchman

    Bloggers have an unprecedented opportunity to disseminate news that would normally be controlled by the msm, which definitely makes this a very unique and potentially exciting medium.

    January 21, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersmarin3
    A couple of NY Times Editor Jim Keller’s statements regarding the illegitimacy of blogs and countering validity of professional journalism need to be addressed.
    First, Keller stated that the “civic labor” coming out of the Times’ Baghdad bureau “can’t be replaced by bloggers.” He then goes on to say that such civic labor produces verified rather than ‘asserted’ journalistic reports. “We show our work,” said Keller.
    When Keller said “bloggers recycle and chew on the news,” and made the previous comments, he must have not been acknowledging military bloggers, or maybe he wasn’t even aware of their existence.
    Military blogs are published by men and women serving in America’s armed forces. Whereas their immediate civil labor is to be a soldier, many report their experiences as such. Not all military bloggers are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, but many are. They blog their experiences straight from their foreign stations. An extensive and rather thorough listing of such bloggers can be found at www.mudvillegazette.com.
    So compare professionally trained journalists, stationed in a Baghdad bureau, to professionally trained soldiers, stationed in many locations around the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who might have a stronger perspective from which to give accounts on the wars in those countries?
    Keller asserts that his reporters “show their work.” That’s what professionally trained journalists are expected to do. Apparently, professionally trained soldiers can “show” some of the work they are doing too: http://shawn_richardson.typepad.com/photos/may_oif/index.html.
    If you read into the archives past those pictures, you can gain further insight into Richardson’ job as a soldier in Iraq. May, 18, 2005 is worth reading.)
    Some bloggers may “recycle and chew on the news,” but not all bloggers can be discounted as overly biased and radical. Some bloggers have a lot of newsworthy information to share, and they might even have a keener perspective than professional journalists, despite lack of journalistic training.
    January 22, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlittle34
    I agree that the comparison of the then potential power of political communication through the use of television in 1956 is very similar to the possibilities that could be illustrated in blogs of today.

    Highlighting the point posted by smarin3, some bloggers today lack in providing substantial information, but others definitely have given us facts as well as the other side of the story left stranded by the msm.

    Analyzing comments made by Mr. Keller of the New York Times, one begins to wonder if he is anticipating that his profession may be reaching a critical decision point. David T.Z. Mindich in his book, Just the Facts, states, “With so many storytellers (each of the thousands of homepages, for example, is a separate news source), and with so many departing from the ‘information model’ of ‘objective’ news, journalists are called on once again to define themselves. It is no surprise that the nature of news and ‘objectivity’ should reemerge as an issue so important to the profession.” Mindich wrote this prior to uprising of blogs, but the Internet websites were definitely becoming popular for news consumers searching for the missing information or absent opinions that were not being presented by the msm at that time. It will be interesting to see if today’s media (mostly liberal, but some conservative supported outlets are just as guilty) are up to the challenge that is being forced upon them by bloggers. What is this challenge? Reviving one of those old journalistic values we have all heard about at some time: that of objective news reporting.

    One problem that I do predict with blogs and this same issue exists with other instruments of the mass media today, is the impressions that it can have on the average citizen due to the general education and experience of the public regarding the “outside world.” Many in average-town America believe everything seen, heard or written in the media. “If Dan Rather said it, it must be true!” Walter Lippman in his book, Public Opinion, discusses how our stereotypes that we maintain, especially those we grew up with among our families, cultures, and communities, control much what we see and believe from the media. “We have seen that our access to information is obstructed and uncertain, and that our apprehension is deeply controlled by our stereotypes; that the evidence available to our reason is subject to illusions of defense, prestige, morality, space, and sampling.”

    No matter what Mr. Keller thinks of this new medium, I believe that bloggers will help change the msm to some level, but they will also keep us on our toes, as far as interpreting the world around us.

    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBigAL1993
    To generalize blogging as being a “relatively active, questioning process,” is to equate it in some way with the role of newspapers as generally serving the public interest. While this blog may serve as an inquiry forum into the effectiveness of political blogs, other political blogs may have unseen partisan interests at hand. Who is to know whether these blogs truly serve the public interest as journalism is upheld and accounted to do?

    Blogs do not have the transparency, checks and balances and public scrutiny placed on the press. They are subject to the goals and designs of the blog site managers. In the political arena, most blogs have been set up to defend or promote the interest of one party or another. What needs to take place a study of the strength and prevalence of non-partisan political blogs to decipher whether they outweigh partisan political blogs. Then can we truly ascertain whether political blogs, for the most part, do encourage the kind of independent intellectual thinking that would inform the public debate.

    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertrinireporter
    Such a blanket statement about bloggers begs the question: Do we even know who bloggers are? According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s research on blogging (http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp ), “8 million American adults say they have created blogs”. To make any kind of general observation about that many people will not likely apply to all of them. After some searching, I found it difficult to even get a consistent or reasonable description of the people who blog.

    Why all the criticism, then? What is the real fear? Is it possible that a little competition does not sit well with these seasoned journalists? Perhaps there is not the concern that readers will turn to bloggers for their news, but instead, there is the concern that blogs draw attention to a bigger issue: Trust in and respect for the news media have decreased and readers are toying with the idea that they can do a better job themselves. Of course, the threat is weak at best. If it is any comfort to Mr. Keller, the Pew research also revealed that, “Only 38% of all internet users know what a blog is. The rest are not sure what the term means”.

    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdiversgirl
    First of all, it is true that blogs can be used by anybody, but they definately should not be used by professionals. Even if these are popular ones, its still a rant, someone’s opinion. The only reason newspapers are different is because they are nationally recognized as the objective voice of the people they publish for. As I said earlier, no matter how much they want to be, no journalist is truly objective.
    Also, blogs can be described as young, but wise beyond their years. Because of internet access, their popularity has taken off and very quickly. Everyone has access to the internet. They may not use it, but everyone does.
    Finally economic and political power can control blogs, just like everything else. Yes anyone can publish a blog, but they become well known, when they are given publicity. There may have been bloggers who lived in the Lower 9th Ward, but who would know.
    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterharrison72
    I wasn’t sure where my thoughts were leading me about this post until I was struck hard by the last line: “blogging is a relatively active, questioning, process and inauthenticity by a politician is both more easy to detect and deflate.” If that is so – and I agree – doesn’t it follow that authenticity by a politician is also easy to deflate? The anonymity of this method of sharing opinions makes it convenient to lead an argument away from hard facts and research and into the land of criticism based on bias. I agree that blogging is “a medium and a technology that can be used by professionals,” but it is also a medium and technology that can be used irresponsibly by others. This open forum, while productive when utilized in a proper manner, is also ripe for abuse.
    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHog79
    I cannot entirely agree with Keller’s statement, “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.” I believe in some cases individuals overuse and “chew” up information within blog entries and in the cyber world. I, however, agree with BigAl1993’s statement saying that individuals who communicate through blogs “definitely have given us facts as well as the other side of the story left stranded by the msm.” I personally don’t read and write to any political blog or blog associated with national or international current events. I do, however, refer to a web site that is set-up similar to a blog, www.dandydon.com to gather my news information about LSU sports. The site provides valuable and insightful information regarding LSU sports even though the information does not come from a certified reporter or media professional. The author concluded the original post with the statement, “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….” I think this is the crucial point. Individuals who refer to blogs must read the information skeptically. I do the same with my LSU sports web site. I read it knowing that not all of the information may be entirely accurate, and some information may be “chewed.”

    I think Trinireporter brought up another important point:
    “Blogs do not have the transparency, checks and balances and public scrutiny placed on the press. They are subject to the goals and designs of the blog site managers. In the political arena, most blogs have been set up to defend or promote the interest of one party or another.”

    Boston Globe writer, Rick Klein, wrote in his article, “Internet campaign exemption defeated,” “House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert yesterday used a post in his newly-launched blog to argue that the Internet free-speech bill was needed to keep the FEC from regulating political discourse in cyberspace as it does the public airwaves.” This statement referred to the Online Freedom of Speech Act, a bill that narrowly failed to pass in November of 2005, which would have exempted “Internet communication from campaign-finance regulations, dealing at least a temporary defeat to a bill that would allow unfettered political advertising and unlimited spending in the vast frontier of cyberspace.” In reference to this bill, Baltimore Sun writer, Troy McCullough wrote in his article, “Specter of regulation sows anxiety in cyberspace,” “Some claim the bill would have allowed wealthy candidates to secretly buy armies of bloggers to support their cause, while others see a danger of burying online pundits under a mountain of murky regulations, forcing them out of business.”

    So apparently, there are a few rules that even concern blogs – in this case, limitations on paid political advertising - but thus far, at least in America, there are not many regulations out. I think it may take some time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the FEC or a newly formed authority placed rules and regulations on blogs and those who use them. The initial post compared blogs and television. When television first arrived, I don’t believe it had many rules either.

    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNOLA7
    I agree with the poster’s point that blogging today is much more than media criticism. Actually, blogging offers an opportunity for those who have witnessed important events to record what they have seen and thought. That is what newsmen seek for as high-value contents in their news stories about these events – the real, vivid, and unique experiences of people in the events. The “Hurricane Blog” of Dr. Kaye Trammell is a good example. In that sense, bloggers are acting as newsmen.

    However, I think Bill Keller’s point still makes sense if applied to some areas such as international politics in which most bloggers lack direct experience, say, the case of national leaders summit which only a few could be present. The bloggers, including those with expertise, can only rely on news from the msm to make their own judgments.

    January 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commentereusuee
    Is the blogoshpere characterized by a “relatively active, questioning process,” or are blogs just another medium through which the public can be misled and propagandized?

    This question is not an easy one to answer. But since PBB/Editor has framed this discussion in terms of a comparison with television, I think that a useful route to follow.

    Insofar as blogging involves the use of machinery that must be manipulated, the television-world and the blogosphere are pretty similar. Navigating through a blog by clicking and scrolling is about on par with navigating through a Direct TV menu.

    The better place to investigate the differences between television and the blogosphere is in the realm of mental activity. Reading, processing (and sometimes responding to) information on blogs bears more similarity to active newspaper reading than to television.

    The concept of how alternate media – media such as television and newspapers – foster alternate forms of thought is not new. Marshall McCluhan’s influential maxim, “The Medium is the Message,” introduced the concept that scholars like Neil Postman and others developed over years of media criticism. Postman, in his Amusing Ourselves to Death, argues that mediums of typography and television foster different ideas of beauty and truth, even different criteria for measuring truth. Though his insights are valuable, his conclusion is not earth-shattering: print culture is superior, catalyzing higher measures of activity, questioning, processing and understanding.

    I am inclined to agree with this conclusion. Print is, in many ways, a superior medium. For those with the mind and inclination to pursue such activity, texts can be scrutinized, criticized, corrected in a way that oral presentations may not be. But the problem is not whether the medium allows this. It is whether the public will undertake in the relatively active, questioning process the medium allows.

    Because I believe this, I have always been skeptical of the notion that somehow print is a more difficult medium through which to propagandize the public. Almost every modern war has shown that demagogues (or whatever you please to call them) can seduce, convince and persuade a public through print. In our own culture, this may be even more true. People seem to believe everything they read published in print form must be true.

    In other words, it is not the medium, but the people who allow demagogues to control them. And what similarity blogs may bear to either television or newspapers is of little consequence. So long as the form of our regime is modeled upon democracy, there will be the potential for demagoguery.

    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrepublic3
    Bill Keller’s comment that “Bloggers…chew on the news” evokes an amusing image of a herd of cows standing around gnawing on cud…an implication that might be unintentional but would no doubt please Keller. Cows after all are herded around, they don’t effect any sort of change, and they are easily tipped over by people who push on them hard enough. That doesn’t sound like any bloggers I know. It could most certainly be said for the millions of Americans who base all of their political knowledge on the one-sided interaction with the television. How many viewers do you think watch Hannity and Colmes then immediately research what they were told in order to determine its validity? A 2004 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that about one in five young people (21%) regularly got news about the 2004 campaign from comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show. Yikes. The good news from the Pew report is that 52% (that’s about 63 million Americans) reported that they “went online to get news or information about the 2004 elections.” Perhaps we can assume that many of those 63 million were bloggers searching for the truth. The author of this post is correct when he says that blogging seems to encourage participants to “detect and deflate” a fraud. The same cannot be said for television viewers. Perhaps Mr. Keller should shift his focus.
    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterweezy138
    I think that when Keller said that “bloggers recycle and chew on the news” he was not giving at least a portion of the millions of bloggers in this country enough credit. Sure, there are blogs that do little to add anything original to cyberspace, but that can be said about other, more traditional media outlets as well. As Little34 suggests, though, there are those whose personal accounts and streams of thought are based in fact and do more than “chew” or regurgitate that which they have already heard. In fact, their personal accounts may supplement traditional journalism very well. Edward Said suggests in Covering Islam that studies, reports and portrayals of foreign cultures are highly susceptible to bias, inaccuracy and pigeon-holing as a result of ethnocentrism, time constraints and other journalistic norms. If this is indeed the case, then a break away from the norms associated with msm and traditional journalism would serve the populace well.

    That being said, one cannot ignore the uncertainties associated with the anonymity of bloggers and the trustworthiness of what they discuss. In an article in the Journal Times, “Political bloggers blossom in state” (http://www.journaltimes.com/articles/2006/01/09/local/iq_3846655.txt) anonymity of writers is mentioned as a necessary evil as bloggers often say things that may run contrary to job titles they hold. Perhaps secret identities are a blessing in that respect, but if you can protect unfavorable opinions, whose to say you can’t protect false truths?

    While I disagree that bloggers simply recycle news, as has been supprted by other respondents, I do agree that, at least for now, it is not enough. A great supplement in a prime position for improvement, yes. A satisfactory source of primary news? Not in this bloggers opinion.

    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterow1018
    Whether politicians use Blogs for this purpose will probably depend on Blogs’ curve of adoption. As we know, the curve of adoption for TVs was astronomical. Between 1950 and 1960 over 80% of the US population got TVs. The rapid adoption of TVs in the 1950s meant that adoption varied little with regard to income, education, or other social factors. Therefore, everyone had access and used TVs, thus maximizing TV’s potential for populist appeals.

    The curve of adoption for Blogs, however, is yet unclear, but seemingly less rapid. Therefore there will be more of a lag time between adoption by social and political elites (higher income, better educated, and more interested citizens) and the mass population thus limiting Blogs’ usefulness for populist political appeals.

    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjohn444
    I agree with the first part of Keller’s statement that “bloggers recycle and chew on the news.” In this sense bloggers digest the news and form opinions and positions about current events and issues, which fuel public debate, but to say that this is all they do is a generalization. I think that bloggers do more than chew on other people’s research, this was evident in the “Rathergate” scandal, as mentioned by smarin3, because it was the personal knowledge and research by members of the blogosphere that brought the falsification of the documents to the mainstream media. In this respect, some bloggers can be shown to do similar research as journalists with the same intention of uncovering the truth and passing that information onto the public. So to say that they merely recycle the news is inaccurate. Whether or not bloggers need to do more is relative, because this is a new medium and the internet does not have restrictions as to what can be “published” bloggers may not be seen as credible in comparison with the mainstream media. The statement about not being able to trust all of the information on the Internet could be a deterrent to perceiving blogs as credible media outlets, because anyone can share their views, researched or not.
    I also agree with the idea that blogging takes a much more active roll than viewing television. Television is passive, whereas blogging allows two-way communication between the sender of the message and those who choose to view and respond to that message, because of this the audience may look at how other readers responded to the message instead of passively accepting what the author posted, there is no such, immediate, response in television so the audience may be more inclined to accept the message of the speaker because there are no alternatives.
    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commentervanguard15
    I agree with Keller that bloggers recycle and chew on the news, but as with most generalizations, it’s not a complete description. Some bloggers cover news in a fairly traditional way or provide commentary in the tradition of print op-ed pages. Others create a public journal reflecting only their own experiences. Obviously, savvy opinion makers have taken advantage of the relative chaos of the so-called “blogosphere” to apply the same techniques they have used successfully in other media. One recurring technique now is the posting of covert advertising in the comment section of blogs. It’s an update of the “advertorial” that sometimes appears in print media and not completely dissimilar from advertising by product placement in the entertainment media. It seems to me that blogs are being used for as many different purposes as Internet bulletin boards, AOL chat rooms and other now-outdated “new media.”
    I think the comparison to the film is not entirely parallel in that access to the equipment and other resources needed to create a feature film is substantially limited. Any idiot with a computer can make a blog. And that, I believe, is the crux of the confusion over whether blogs are news sources or not. The public has very little media literacy training and separating the valid information from propaganda, opinion or manipulation. I have come to believe that media literacy is the most critical skill a person can have in the 21st century and I hope its importance will be reflected in college curricula and publicly accessible continuing education.
    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa7005
    It is not true that bloggers only” recycle and chew on the news.” In fact, blogs are being used in so many different ways. Bog network demonstrates a growing interest among media companies and advertisers in using blogs for an old purpose: selling. Companies advertise on blogs in order to promote their products. What’s more, blogs can also be used in teaching. It is true that when we think of a college-level math class, we usually think about finals, midterms, problem sets, but blogging is not on the list. However, a math professor from UCLA Chad Topaz turned to blogs as a tool to enhance out-of-classroom learning. For him, blogs are as important of a tool for teaching math as other traditional. In fact, Topaz requires each of his students to write blogs entries after every textbook reading as a portion of their final grade (Blogs update classroom experience for UCLA students. By Joanne Hou, Daily Bruin. Daily Bruin via U-Wire, January 20, 2006).
    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfocus1
    Bill Keller’s statement on bloggers brings mix feelings out of me. When I first read the statement “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough”, I completely felt this was ridiculous. Of course bloggers are providing new information to others and the world. They take the comments that are posted and evaluate their own personal views. It is then, that new knowledge and discussion sites are produced.
    On the other hand, it becomes repetitious with some bloggers’ comments. Instead of contributing their personal views, they repeat the same exact thoughts of other bloggers. There is no creative process generating but rather a waste of time with views.
    It is still unclear where I stand with Keller’s comment. Both sides bring up strong arguments that will need to be further researched.
    January 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterQTPi1021

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