Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dan Rather and MyDD

Well, according to Killian's secretary, the memos that have aroused so much controversy were apparently not written by him (through her), but roughly correspond with other memos that probably did exist in Killian's "Cover His Ass" file.

I had attempted to write another piece about my take on this whole situation, but hadn't figured out how to approach it, until I read this by MyDD:

Over the past few days, southpaws spent a lot of time countering the "forged" charges made by freepers, but you never saw any of our charges showing up in national stories on the subject. Instead, defense of the memos was left entirely to CBS news. Our successes with Trent Lott, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark were remarkable, but of late I feel that the right-wingers are outstripping us in our ability to push a big news story into the national media. The right-wing blogosphere has become integrated into the Mighty Wurlitzer, while we remain a loose confederation of outrage, analysis and action.
This is something I had been worried about for a little while. Throughout much of the year the right-wing bloggers have been pretty aimless and doctrinaire; Glenn Reynolds and Co. have been been harder-and-harder pressed to actually defend Bush's record, and when they have they've been pretty weak at it.

Thing is, that isn't really what the conservative machine has ever been good at. What it's good at is attacking and obfuscating. DD's concerns capture the essential imbalance both online and off: that while liberal arguments and analysis tend to be loosely grouped around various issues and outrages, conservative arguments and analysis are fundamentally about supporting conservativism itself- everything else is secondary.

(Y'know, the whole "movement consciousness" thing that everybody's been aware of for years. )
The defense has been difficult because the subject is indefensible, but attacking the other guy is perfectly doable... so that's what they're doing. Whether that "other guy" is CBS or Kerry, the dictum "the best defense is a good offense" dominates the strategy. This is not to say that the right is monolithic, but that the vaunted "message discipline" is a much more important issue that it's been given credit for.

How to deal with it? Well, quite a bit of the problem is addressed earlier in the post:
-The lower the stickiness of a blog, the higher the relative traffic value of a link from that blog to the blog being linked. In other words, a blog where there isn't much to do besides visit (no comments, few or no special pages, short articles), will cause a higher percentage of its traffic base to visit a blog that it links than will a blog with high stickiness (diaries, long articles, polls, comments, arguments, many special pages, etc).

-High traffic right-wing blogs, such as Andrew Sullivan, Hugh Hewitt, Real Clear Politics, Powerline and especially Instapundit (among the top seven right-wing blogs, only Captain's Quarters and Little Green Footballs have comments), tend to be less sticky than high traffic left wing blogs. Among the top seven left-wing blogs in terms of traffic, Dailykos, Atrios, Political Animal, Wonkette, Smirking Chimp, Political Wire and Talking Points Memo, four of the seven have comments, and Dailykos, twice as trafficked as any other blog according to some measurements, is perhaps the stickiest blog of them all. In fact Dailykos is so sticky, I can tell you right now without equivocation that being linked by in a post by Atrios does a lot more for MyDD's traffic than being linked on a front-page story by Dailykos, despite the enormous traffic gap between the two sites. (The two huge spikes in the link were on days when Atrios linked us,. By contrast, we were linked five times on front page Dailykos articles over the last month, but you can't tell what days those are, can you? Further, as I write this, we are experiencing a third major upsurge in traffic, once again courtesy of Atrios).

-The lower stickiness of top right-wing sites, especially Instapundit, can lead to a complete domination of the right-wing blogosphere by the "one big story" if the top bloggers are all pushing one story. Glenn Reynolds in particular, who does not have comments or special pages and who rarely comments on a subject beyond "xxx has the goods on this one," or "indeed," can send the traffic of any blog he links skyrocketing to a degree no left-wing blog can even come close to matching (and he links other blogs a lot). Right-wing blog traffic, and the articles people tend to read on any individual right-wing blog, has a remarkable correlation to the interests of the top-right wing bloggers, and Glenn Reynolds in particular. That is why, in the title of this article, I called the right-wing blogosphere a top-down operation.
This is a niche that Reynolds owns on the right and that nobody else really does on the left... although Atrios comes close, the incredible popularity and value of his comments threads means that many Atrios readers likely don't click through to the source link, but to the comments links... and like many, many left bloggers, he tends to link to news sources more than other bloggers.

(This doesn't mean that Atrios is doing anything wrong. Far from it. Tt means that Eschaton is objectively a better website than Glenn's, except as a means of reiterating talking points and providing a vehicle for other bloggers. It's just that nobody else does it either.)

To make a long story short, the lower stickiness of top right-wing blogs compared to top left-wing blogs leads to greater message consistency in their half of the political blogosphere than in ours (I can show anyone extensive site meter statistics to prove this). This consistency helps stories from the right-wing blogosphere reach the national media more often than those from the left-wing blogosphere. This seems to mirror the left and the right in other mediums as well.
Again, this partially stems from the varied goals of the two: the left seeks to highlight, explain and analyze (the vast majority of the time), whereas the right seeks to aid "their side" in gaining or maintaining power in a Manachean struggle against their left-liberal "enemies" (the vast majority of the time) .

So, the solution seems pretty simple, actually, although difficult: left-wing bloggers need to link to each other more, and do what they can to ensure that they grab hold of a story and don't let it go. I've fallen into the habit of only reading a few key blogs and their comment sections, which is something I need to change (as well as posting, but as you can see that's improving somewhat)... but the larger goal must be to ensure that the simple bloggers' duty of letting people know what others think about the issues (and keeping them alive) gets done by those with the power to make issues "happen". We may not have talk radio or Fox News to repeat our arguments, but at least the top-tier blogs do get read. That's power, and for all the uselessness of his commentary, Glenn does use that power pretty well.

(And, yes, I'm aware that I'm high-stickiness due to the length of the entries and the presense of a comments thread. In my defense, however, I'll just point out that I hardly have Kos' traffic. It's a catch-22. That's why I said "difficult".)

Edit: An additional thought. While I like commentary threads, I think they may be the key to the problem. When someone reads a blog entry and wishes to respond, they have two options: writing a response in their own blog (starting one if necessary) or writing in the comments thread. (You can do both, but it's pretty rare, and often awkward.) There is some great discussion in the thread for this story, no doubt, but this sort of thing saps the back-and-forth linking and discussion that is the lifeblood of the so-called "blogosphere". if someone comments on their blog, MyDD will write a counter-argument (or someone else), which will be followed by another counter-argument, and another, and another... and while the length of each post may be short, the volume will be much higher, and much harder for casual readers to miss.

Hiding the discussion away in the discussion threads may be tidier and stickier, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether it leads to steadily increasing over-concentration.

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