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Bias, conservatives, and other stuff.


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Jonah Goldberg

About two months ago I ate an entire stick of pepperoni as if it were a banana. Don’t tell my wife. Also, around the same time I dipped back into my old “blogger” format (See “Blog and Mablog“). Of course, when I was really kicking it blog-style — from around 1998-1999 — no one called it blogger. They called it a huge waste of time.

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Regardless, this only begs the question many people have asked me since I ate all that pepperoni and, oh yeah, wrote that blogger column. “What the [fudge] is “blogger” anyway?” No, it’s not Ebonic for African-American lumberjacks. And no, it’s not how people with cleft palates pronounce the game where you shake up all the letters. It’s short for web logger or “one who web logs” or something like that.

A blogger site has lots of short observations, essays whatever. It’s sort of a cross between a personal diary and a public forum. Among the better and better-known blogger sites in our cozy little world are AndrewSullivan.com and KausFiles.com. The most promising up-and-comer is Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit. How it all works technically is a complete mystery to me, since NRO is still powered by a huge series of interconnected pneumatic tubes managed by dozens of non-unionized Chinese child-laborers. As we all know from their rubber shower shoes, it’s those tiny little hands that assure fine craftsmanship. If you’d like a better explanation, consult the blogger site.

But! Do not, under any circumstances, write me e-mails working on the assumption that I want to learn anything about the technical aspects of this ever-growing phenomenon. Computer people have this bizarre notion that normal people should be technologically literate about computers (the fog of PC-think as opposed to the liberty of Mac-think). I don’t know how my phone works. I couldn’t fix my car if it broke down at an outdoor Barbra Streisand concert. All I know is that my refrigerator contains much tasty-goodness — and that’s all cool with me. Why I should want to have a working knowledge of how computers work is beyond me. Indeed, I have a word for people who have to say things like “dot-batch-sys-file” more than once a year: suckers.

Anyway, I’ve been told that I’m something of an ur-blogger because my column with its incredibly self-indulgent style and wide-ranging approach both predates the blogger explosion and presaged its arrival. Indeed, I’ve been informed that my old-style G-File helped inspire Mickey Kaus to create Kausfiles, which in turn helped inspire others. So when the history of blogging is written by someone with way too much time on his hands, maybe I’ll show up in the index.

As for the substance of the blogger phenomenon, I think it’s interesting, but less revolutionary than its boosters claim. The good ones are good because the people behind them are good. The bad ones are awful and not worth the free ones and zeroes they’re printed with. And even the good ones can be way too inside egocentric (“this morning Robert Wright responds to my criticism — first made here three months ago — that Tim Noah has it wrong about James Glassman’s critique of Mickey Kaus’s interpretation of my use of the phrase ‘tragedy of the commons.’”).

More important, blog sites don’t make money. Or sure, some take in some money. But they are, first and foremost, vanity sites. I would bet the store that Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Virginia Postrel, et al. lose money on their sites according to any remotely straightforward business model. By this I mean they could all make more money for the time they spend doing something else like, say, writing for a magazine. The best economic case for them is that they can be useful personal marketing tools. But this is all an argument for another day perhaps for an intellectually incestuous and self-congratulatory panel at the National Press Club.

I didn’t plan on writing so much about the bloggers. But then again I thought I’d put the pepperoni down after one bite. Sometimes the heart leads and the rest follows. Herewith are a few of my own blog-style observations. Scan around until you find something you like. But remember I don’t call them me-zines for nothing.

Bias In the Morning, Then Just Walk Away
The latest example of media bias. The Washington Post headlines Friday:

Enron Asked for Help From Cabinet Officials: CEO Sought Intervention Before Bankruptcy.

The actual headline should be:

Bush Officials Refused to Help Enron: Despite Backing, Administration “Let Nature Take Its Course”

Do you have any idea how many Fortune 500 CEOs ask for help every day? Well I don’t either, but I bet it’s somewhere close to 500 over the course of the year. Do you think the Clinton administration didn’t return the calls of major corporate presidents? C’mon.

The Post story makes it clear that there was nothing unusual or improper for Enron — America’s leading seller of this insignificant stuff scientists and economists call “energy” — to ask for help from the treasury secretary to avoid bankruptcy. The fact that the administration said “no” is the news. Indeed, Dems could make hay over the fact that it was this decision that essentially cost Enron employees their pensions. But then they couldn’t demonize Enron as much.

John McCain Call Your Office
Could there be a bigger refutation of the cynical arguments of campaign-finance-reform zealots than the Enron story? Everyday we hear how chummy Enron CEO Ken Lay was with Bush, the attorney general, and a zillion congressmen. And yet, when the Enron stock hit the fan, the administration said “you’re on your own buddy.” I guess influence peddling doesn’t peddle very far.

Some Enron execs may go to jail and rightly so (my friend in the know says that Enron got in trouble in no small part because the execs were jerks. When the company got in trouble, none of its clients or customers had any goodwill for the company. Enron crashed because it deserved to).

But until I hear some evidence or a good argument otherwise, the failure of Enron seems to be shaping up as a triumph of capitalism and democracy.

Good News
Our own incomparable Byron York is on the Enron beat. Follow his updates as they, um, update.

There Kinsley Goes Again
This morning Michael Kinsley takes aim at Bernard Goldberg’s new, best-selling (heh heh), book on media bias, entitled Bias. Last week, you might recall, I downloaded a can of whup-ass on Kinsley for being “American journalism’s leading overseer of niggling details” and the “anti-pope of pedantry.” My basic point was that Kinsley focuses on some largely irrelevant point or utterance and uses it to demolish an opponent while never actually addressing the substance of the argument. Many of you seemed uninterested in the column, but I thought it was very good. More important, it was accurate — as Kinsley’s column today proves. Take a look at it. (Note: His column on Bernie Goldberg has the same headline as mine).

In a 972-word column, Kinsley devotes roughly 493 words to rebutting and ridiculing — but in no way disproving — one quote in Goldberg’s book. Goldberg writes that CBS News President Andrew Heyward once said: “‘Look, Bernie, of course there’s a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left.’ But, ‘If you repeat any of this, I’ll deny it.” Kinsley’s very funny and very mean ridiculing Goldberg and the quote. That’s all fine. But then he writes Goldberg’s “obviously right about liberal bias, isn’t he? Maybe. The point is that this dumb book adds nothing to the argument, and it is the accusers who are offering it as evidence.”

Funny, I thought the point was that the media is biased. In other words Kinsley’s whole “argument” is simply an excuse to call Bernie Goldberg names.

I’m Right Again
On Wednesday I took a shot at Tom Shales for writing the shoddiest and nastiest attack on Bernard Goldberg imaginable. As many readers pointed out, Shales’s review demonstrates Goldberg’s point. Liberals cannot discuss liberal media bias rationally. They have to make vicious, insecure, name-calling scenes rather than actually have the argument. Kinsley reinforces this point by going on about how Goldberg and his book are “dim” and “dumb.”

What’s Sullivan Talking About?
Andrew Sullivan ably nails Kinsley on a few other sleights of hand, namely conflating two different quotes in order to belittle Goldberg. But then Andrew writes, “Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but Mike is usually so devastatingly fair, even when he’s devastatingly sharp, that I was surprised by the conflation.” Kinsley, I believe, is probably a devastatingly fair person and editor. But, again as I pointed out last week, he’s anything but a devastatingly fair writer.

Get Rosenbaum a Flashlight
In the latest New York Observer, Ron Rosenbaum writes what must be considered the front runner to be the recipient of the “2002 Cranium Through the Sphincter Award” for the most unqualified suck-up of the year. He considers Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan to be god-like figures in American culture. While trying to figure out which one deserves the mantle of George Orwell more, he concludes it’s like choosing between Thor and Hercules and gives the prize to both of them. That’s cool, he’s entitled to his stalker-like obsessive opinion. But he offers this odd observation:

And let some traditional conservative in the National Review Online carp at Mr. Sullivan’s heretical libertarian views on sex and drugs, or his penchant for writing about his boyfriend as well as the Taliban, and Mr. Sullivan turns his riposte into a moving apologia pro vita sua that should give the carper second thoughts for seeking to marginalize the most interesting conservative thinker to emerge in a long time.

At first I assumed, like other readers, that Rosenbaum is talking about me, considering the collegial badinage between Andrew and me, as people who read the New York Observer might say (See Freedom Kills and, more relevant Patience, Andrew Patience). But this thing about Sullivan’s boyfriend sounds more like our own John Derbyshire. I’ve never made mention of Sullivan’s practice to write about his boyfriend and to date I don’t believe that Derb’s said word one about Sullivan’s “heretical libertarian views.” Perhaps it’s so dark where Rosenbaum has stuck his head while writing this review he can’t see the difference between the two of us.

Rosenbaum II
Now, I’m told that Derb never mentioned Sullivan’s boyfriend either. What’s Rosenbaum talking about? Rosenbaum writes that he didn’t surf the web much until after 9/11 so maybe that explains it.

Rosenbaum III
I guess what really bothers me is Rosenbaum’s subtle dig at “traditional conservatives” and National Review Online. “Let the traditional conservative in National Review Online carp…” I don’t mind being called a traditional conservative, since I am one. And, as the editor of NRO I am immensely proud of what we’ve done and am a jealous defender of it.

What I do mind is Rosenbaum’s use of the phrase “traditional conservative,” suggesting that traditional conservatism is so rigid that it cannot see things that Rosenbaum can. This is the sort of easy dismissal of conservatives you see most often from overly rigid liberals who have a cartoonish understanding of conservatism. Nobody who reads this site or this column would call it traditionally conservative in the way Rosenbaum does.

Announcements
1. I am not making this up: I want to write a piece about falconry, falcon-hunting, etc. If you know anything about it — where to do it, how much it costs, its history, how to avoid having your eyes scratched out, etc. — please drop me a line (Subject “Falcon Hunting”). Serious replies only, please.

2. If you absolutely hated this blogger-format-semi-parody thing. I’m sure you’re not alone. If it helps, my article on Muhammad Ali has been posted as part of our own, indispensable NRO Weekend. It reads straight through to the end.

3. If you want a spot-on review of the film Ali see John Podhoretz’s review here.

4. I will be on CNN’s “Final Round” (the last half hour of Late Edition) this Sunday at 2:30.

5. Cosmo the Wonderdog looks at me funny when I say “foombalakachoomba” to him in a loud voice.



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