By Catherine Seipp
From the Life
& Mind Desk
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- You know that the
self-referential world of bloggers has reached some sort of
critical mass when attacks on it are transformed into free
Case in point: John Bradley's railing in the Arab News last
week about the Wall Street Journal's ur-blog,
OpinionJournal.com, and its pro-Israel editor James
Taranto delightedly turned a line from Bradley's rant --
"What Sharon is doing on the ground, Taranto is doing in
cyberspace" -- into a blurb on his site.
Meanwhile, Bradley is now known as Lord Haw-Haw on another
blog, Littlegreenfootballs.com, which specializes in tracking
the Arab press.
Traditional media can be hostile to bloggers. As John Leo
noted this week in his U.S. News and World Report column, "The
established media learned long ago how to marginalize critics
and shrug off complaints of bias as the ravings of right-wing
fanatics. But the bloggers aren't so easily dismissed. They
don't bluster. They deal in specifics and they work quickly,
while the stories they target are still fresh."
Or, as Los Angeles blogger Ken Layne (kenlayne.com) put it
in what has become the rallying cry of bloggerdom: "We can
fact-check your ass."
"Blog" used to mostly mean someone's personal online diary,
typically concerned with boyfriend problems or techie news,
but after Sept. 11 a slew of new or refocused media
junkie/political sites reshaped the entire Internet media
Blogs now refer to addictive web journals that comment on
the news, usually in rudely clever tones, with links to
stories that back up the commentary with evidence.
The blogging revolution has rendered obsolete Mark Twain's
famous crack about never arguing with a man who buys ink by
the barrel -- and that goes for the man who buys bandwidth by
the barrel too.
Even big corporations have gotten into the act. Foxnews.com
began running blogger commentary on its site last spring.
MSNBC.com is getting ready to start something called "Weblog
Central," a links page to blogs arranged by subject.
Bloggers have no patience for the omniscient, passive voice
("doubts were raised," "sources observed") of the traditional
media institution, which they see as The Great and Powerful
Wizard of Oz manipulated by a snake-oil salesman behind a
Blogs pull aside that curtain, revealing the logical flaws,
incorrect facts and occasionally the self-important approach
of the reporter who wrote the "obligatory old-media putdown
piece," as University of Tennessee law professor Glenn
Reynolds often calls this genre at his Instapundit.com site,
probably the Grand Central Station of Bloggerville.
A prime example was Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's
attempted takedown of the bloggers in April. Following a link
on libertarian blogger Virginia Postrel's vpostrel.com site,
Beam found what he thought was a good example of "bizarre"
blogging in Norwegian blogger Bjorn Staerk's "left-wing
Unfortunately, free-marketeer Staerk's left-wing raving
that day (on bearstrong.net/warblog/) was a pretty obvious
April Fool's joke, complete with a link to a North Korean
As Postrel explained somewhat wearily on her own blog
later: "Hint to Alex: When a well-known libertarian links to a
site, noting rather strongly that the date is April 1, and
when that site appears to be Stalinist, something just might
Bloggers make mistakes too -- I still blush when I think of
the guy who for some strange reason imagined I was married to
superblogger Mickey Kaus (kausfiles.com) and posted that
imagined fact on his site -- but at least they always correct
Alex Beam, on the other hand, sullenly refused to
acknowledge in print he'd fallen for an April Fool's joke.
At first Beam ignored my request for a comment about the
whole fiasco, explaining later that "your questions made you
sound like you're about 14 years old." (Little did he know I'm
far too old to find that insulting.)
He added, "I had my say. They got to dump on me. That was
Beam's biggest offense to the bloggers was his rude
treatment of James Lileks, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune
columnist whose surreally sarcastic commentary via his own Web
site, Lileks.com, has made him a giant in the blog world. ("We
are not worthy! We are not worthy!" announced an Instapundit
link to a Lileks piece.)
Lileks is indeed a brilliant writer -- sort of an
aggressive Dave Barry with a razor-sharp political edge -- and
that he now has an audience far wider than Minnesota is one of
blogging's big achievements.
But you'd never know that from Beam's dismissive
description, which began with this e-mail request to Lileks
for a quote: "James, weren't you once a talented humor writer?
Why are you churning out this Web dreck?"
In Lileks, many see genius, while Alex Beam recognizes
nothing higher than himself. No matter, because a blogger
always gets the last word.
"Conspicuous flaming idiocy is often treated by bloggers
like a shank of meat thrown into Blofeld's piranha pool,"
Lileks wrote of Beam's column on Lileks.com, "but this one
just refuted itself; it was like one of those biodegradable
camping crapbags that collects the offal AND returns it to
In any event, just because they pull aside the curtain
doesn't mean that bloggers are immune to the Wizard's
"Why do you become a critic of media?" asks Glenn Reynolds.
"At least in some sense, it's because you like it. If you
don't read the paper, you don't get mad at the paper."
The mainstream media generally looks upon bloggers as a
bunch of mutts crashing the dog show, an attitude that was
first formed about proto-blogger Matt Drudge and continues
"It pains me to write the name Matt Drudge in a story being
published in a legitimate news outlet," wrote Newsday's Jack
Matthews, discussing the Oscar race last March, in a column
that was much hooted in Blogland.
It PAINS him? Oh, please. I find Drudge sometimes annoying,
with the manners of a squid, for reasons I might as well admit
right now because the bloggers have already noted it.
"La tres persistente Cathy Seipp a suer pour obtenir une
interview de Drudge pour Penthouse, sans succès," French
blogger Emmanuelle Richard wrote on Emmanuelle.net a while
ago, after hearing me complain about Drudge at a party -- and
believe me, the whole story sounds better in French. But old
media's tsk-tsking about Drudge and his ilk can be just
As it happens, some of the most popular blogs come from
big-name journalists and former editors who are brand names to
even the most harrumphing old-schoolers.
Mickey Kaus, who used to write regularly for the New
Republic about welfare reform, needles gassy media
navel-gazing pieces with his witty, condensed SeriesSkipper
(TM) annotated versions on Kausfiles.com, which was recently
annexed by Slate.
"There are only so many glamorous blogger parties you can
attend before you ask yourself, 'Is this all there is?'" Kaus
said, explaining why he'd moved Kausfiles over to Slate. "What
about -- I'd ask this to myself when I was alone, in the
middle of the night -- what about making some money and using
it to buy consumer goods?"
Former New Republic Editor Andrew Sullivan reported last
spring that his andrewsullivan.com site now has more traffic
than Slate and Salon combined. Virginia Postrel, former editor
of Reason and the author of "The Future and its Enemies,"
comments on everything from steel tariffs to the inanities of
I am not a blogger, but the blog world is friendly to
kibbitzers. I get invited to blogger parties here in Los
Angeles because blogging has its roots in media criticism and
bloggers here remember I used to write a monthly column about
the Los Angeles Times for the old Buzz magazine, which could
be considered sort of a primitive '90s proto-blog.
Through all this I met LA star bloggers Ken Layne and Matt
Welch (who's married to Emmanuelle.net's Emmanuelle Richard),
close friends who worked together on a newspaper that Welch
helped start in the early '90s in Prague, and then on
Tabloid.net, an extinct online site that Layne ran in the late
'90s out of San Francisco.
Los Angeles seems to be the capital of blogging -- except
of course for Knoxville, Tenn., home of Instapundit. Mickey
Kaus moved to L.A. a couple of years ago from New York to be
near the Pacific Ocean air.
Another prominent L.A. blogger is Charles Johnson, who
coined the term "anti-idiotarian" to describe eclectic blogger
politics and is a jazz guitarist who used to tour with Al
Jarreau and now works as a professional Web designer.
Johnson's hobby is scouring the Arab press (via the
translations at MEMRI.org) for the latest anti-Semitic blood
libels and strange news stories, which he posts at
Also in L.A. is Heather Havrilesky's Rabbit Blog, a hipster
advice column at tinylittlepenis.com. This is more like an
old-fashioned online diary but is well known in Blogville
because Havrilesky's old Suck.com column was such a cult
favorite. Suck, though dead, remains an inspiration to
bloggers because of its motto: "A fish, a barrel, and a
Shooting fish in a barrel is a favorite blogger pastime. A
pet target is Michael Moore, who often seems to be just asking
for it. (Charles Johnson: "If you put all the new
anti-idiotarian Web logs end to end, they would stretch
halfway around Michael Moore's belly.")
Moore's own blog (michaelmoore.com) lamented in March that
there seemed to be a conspiracy to keep his latest book,
"Stupid White Men," out of bookstores, and pleaded with
readers to call or write the publisher to complain if they
can't find it in stock. Bloggers had a lot of fun with the
notion that a book can be a bestseller and at the same time
suffer from an evil plot to make it unavailable.
As Canadian blogger Damian Penny (Daimnation.com) pointed
out to Moore's supposedly frustrated fans: "Jesus Christ,
guys, if you want the book that badly, Amazon.com will ship it
out to you in 24 hours. They'll even give you a $9.98 discount
off the cover price."
Reynolds, who was an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer
before he started Instapundit, sees blogs as this genre's
huge, mutated offspring. "The format is: This article says
this. Here is the fatal flaw in that approach. Here is why the
author of that article is wrong, and I am right," he says.
Reynolds began blogging last August, hoping to get perhaps
200 high-level academic readers a day. On Sept. 11, he had a
little scoop -- the Aryan Nations Web site had a message of
congratulation to the World Trade Center attackers -- and got
5,000 hits. By last spring, Instapundit's traffic had reached
about 50,000 hits a day.
"The most striking media development of the last year has
been the instant rise of Instapundit," says Kaus, who
estimates he gets between 5,000 and 7,000 hits a day, which is
quite good for someone who often takes a day off. Part of what
drives Instapundit's huge traffic is Reynolds's constant
Last spring bloggers began to notice, just by typing their
common first names into Google, that they'd risen to the
search engine's heady heights. Now it's true that Google
considers its top sites by linkage and recent activity, not
only sheer numbers of hits. But still, it's saying something
that when I tried this experiment myself recently, Andrew
Sullivan was the top Andrew; Kausfiles was the top Mickey (I
expected it to be Mouse), and the top Ken was not Barbie's
boyfriend but Ken Layne, beating out over 3 million other
Perhaps most unexpectedly, blogs have brought serendipity
-- the great advantage of actual newspapers -- to online
publishing. I always find more than I was planning to read on
blogs, even though I'm never looking for any particular
Obviously, it's easy to waste an appalling amount of time
in Blogland. But as a journalist, I find it's rarely time
completely wasted. My clip files for three long stories I was
working on last spring are filled with items and ideas found
Glenn Reynolds's day job may be law professor, but I like
to think of him in his off hours as my unpaid personal
research assistant. Copyright
© 2002 United Press International