Monday, November 05, 2007

"Best 5 Blog Posts Ever?"

Apparently there's a thing going on about that. See Henry and Matt.

I don't know if any of my stuff qualifies. Probably not, though it'd be nice to think that something would at least hit the top twenty or so. What I can say, though, is what I said over at Henry's place: that the best blog post ever was on the Rittenhouse Review, and it was Jim Capozzola's "AL GORE AND THE ALPHA GIRLS: The Enduring Power of Cliques in a Post-High-School World".

You know that whole thing that liberal bloggers do? Where they discuss the media as a bunch of teenage girls who are obsessed with popularity and hanging out with the popular people? Where they talk about how Al Gore got a bad break because he was seen as too smart for the people reporting on him, whereas Bush was someone they were more comfortable with? That whole thing that Atrios bangs on pretty much every time he discusses the media?


He's the one who came up with the analogy for the media that we use to this day: that it's split up into the same cliques of alpha, beta, and gamma girls that infest your typical high school. That reporters behave pretty much like these cliques: constantly concerned about either maintaining or gaining popularity, and seriously threatened by those who (like, say, Paul Krugman) don't care about the game. That being popular is far more important than being right, as long as you're popular with the "right people".

Here's the man himself:

Talbot did not examine or expound upon the social stratification typical of high school boys, this out of a belief that the mechanics of friendship and popularity among boys are far less complex and far less worthy of an anthropological investigation than those of girls. Although high school boys are not blameless in this regard, something of which I’m certain Talbot is aware, I believe her differentiation among the genders is valid. This certainly has been my experience, and, based upon what I have learned from family and friends with children of teen age, I have no reason to believe things have changed much in the last 20 years.

And yet our punditburo, dominated, and heavily so, by men -- I guess because we talk louder, are more interruptive, and are less likely to hear the words coming out of others’ mouths, thus making us more “opinionated” and “provocative” -- shares many of the attributes, features, and pathologies of girls’ high school cliques we learned from Talbot. The media has its Alphas, its Betas, and its Gammas, but the members of those castes are neither uniformly nor even predominantly female. There are in the American media female and male Alphas, female and male Betas, and female and male Gammas, and the hierarchical relationships among them are remarkably similar to the society Talbot described.

Starting from “the bottom” and working upward, it’s sadly obvious that despite the “Most Likely to Succeed” label, Gammas, male or female, do not fare well in the media’s highest echelons. To obtain one’s own column in a major or even mid-level American newspaper, or to win one’s own program on a major broadcast network or somewhere in the upper reaches of cable television’s double-digit land, requires something more than the affable, consensus-oriented, respected-but-not-feared personality that typifies the Gamma. I suspect this will never change.

In the American media, the Betas are legion. It is not without reason that Andrew Sullivan, himself one of the media’s most brazen self-propelled climbers and perhaps the industry’s most desperately scheming and self-promoting parvenu, maintains a “suck-up watch” for his would-be colleagues. Nor is it a coincidence that Sullivan in his insecurity casts “suck-up” aspersions on journalists far more talented than he.

Moreover, the prevalence of Betas, shackled by their Alpha aspirations and their fear of alienating their would be peers, has done considerable damage to the media and its transmission of timely, reliable, and accurate information to its readers and viewers.

Not long ago a newly found colleague, if I may call him that, lamented the harsh tone adopted by many webloggers. (He did not put this comment directly to me, but we both knew he well could have.) My response was that webloggers, some of whom I find smarter, more eloquent, and more perceptive than a sizable portion of their professional counterparts, do not share the punditburo’s status anxiety and do not join with the punditboro in enthusiastically casting aside whatever principles they might have in a craven effort to curry favor with their colleagues.

The media’s Betas, in their quest for higher professional status and a more public personal profile, fear nothing more than alienating the industry’s powerful Alphas. And for this reason, Betas hold back, mute their voices, temper their criticisms. Regularly. Consistently. Shamelessly. The Betas know who the gatekeepers are. They know that arguing too strongly against eliminating the estate tax would hurt their chances of appearing in The Wall Street Journal. They know that any hint of recognition that the Palestinians are human beings and not animals will result in their being permanently blackballed by the New Republic. And they know that expressing opposition to school vouchers or the privatization of Social Security will keep them from securing a plumb appointment in the Bush administration. The media consumer is poorly served by this rampant but well hidden journalistic deceit.

It's lengthy, it's brilliant, it's funny, it's well sourced, it drew on the whole "mean girls" thing before the movie hit, it's relevant to this day, and having it nominated would be a fine testament to a man whose untimely passing was a function of the system he savaged so well.

Billmon is great, digby is great, Matt is great, D-squared is amazing, and I'm really proud of some of the stuff I've put out over the years. But none of us, NONE of us, have exceeded Jim. I fear we never will.

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