July 28, 2002

The Oxymoronic Call for a '...

The Oxymoronic Call for a 'Liberal Instapundit': Jim Henley suggests (and Matthew Yglesias seconds):

What the Left lacks is an Instapundit. Sure, there are popular liberal bloggers, like Josh Marshall and - help me out here... Eric Alterman? But there's no hugely popular liberal/left blogger who is willing to reinvest his readership capital in subsidiaries, as Glenn Reynolds has done. [...] Reynolds happily "shared the wealth" and helped nurture a cadre of libertarian-flavored center-right supporters of an expansive war, and likely increased his own readership by doing so. [...]

Who will do the same for the new crowd? Don't the likes of Marshall and Alterman want a posse?

With due acknowledgment that this passage isn't necessarily bone-serious, I'd say it misreads an important aspect of the Glenn Reynolds phenomenon. If Reynolds was really concerned with "nurtur[ing] a cadre of libertarian-flavored center-right supporters of an expansive war," then A) he wouldn't have perma-links to Henley, Yglesias, Alterman or me, and B) he wouldn't get all that lusted-after traffic. Glenn's ideological promiscuity is actually a key to his popularity. His taste in blogs, and their relationship to his personal politics, is not un-analogous to Michael Kelly's editorship of the Atlantic: quality trumps positioning on the political spectrum. Henley and Yglesias are dreaming of a partisan non-partisan.

Posted by at July 28, 2002 07:21 PM
Comments

Given that Jim Henley is certainly no liberal himself, I don't think he's so much "dreaming" of anything as he is pointing out something that Glenn Reynolds does right, namely, linking to lots and lots of blogs that aren't necessarily as sharply-written as his own. Whether it's an intentional strategy or not, it does build a certain kind of high-energy system.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at July 28, 2002 07:52 PM

Interesting note, Matt. Your leading thought seems to me to be exactly right. But the weird thing is, Reynolds is of course *quite* partisan on many issues. It's just that, as you say, he's ideologically promiscuous. And that's a good thing.

I'm afraid it kind of spoils that swell trope at the end of your post, though. Aren't they just dreaming of good, old-fashioned non-promiscuous partisans? Give me an intellectual slut anyday.

And is it just me being catty, or do all Marshall's posts have the subtext: I'm a Democratic Party Insider?

All this "we need a leftist to balance the righy over there" stuff makes a critical error, Glenn's not popular because he's center-right libertarian, he's popular because, by and large, he's correct in his analysis. If a far left blogger is not capable of equaling his level of correctness in analysis, its the fault of the ideology.

People talk all the time about how to win a debate, from the point of view of what is essencially sophistry. In the end though, the best way to win is to be right. No ammount of skillful wordplay (and thats what they mean when they say skillful wordplay, they want a leftist as gifted in wordyness as Instapundit) can make up for being on the side of truth.

Posted by: Sean Kirby at July 28, 2002 07:57 PM

It's all true, but I was really dreaming more of increased traffic than partisan non-partisanship, so I would settle for Mr. Welch updating his blogroll to reflect my new URL.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias at July 28, 2002 08:23 PM

Yglesias -- Done! Sorry for taking so long.

Sean -- Not sure that the secret to Reynolds' popularity is his "correctness"; I'm a huge fan of his and I don't really give two shits about the great Gun Debate, nor do I agree with him about Steve Earle, nor do I stand up and applaud when he bashes Europeans & multilateral institutions. I'd guess most of his hard-core readers could draw up a quick list of many things on which they'd disagree ... but they don't matter as much as the fact that he's so damn prolific, smart, funny, generous & open-minded (though I recognize non-hardcore fans don't necessarily share my view.)

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 28, 2002 08:36 PM

I was talking about this with Nick Denton just a little while ago. Like you, Matt, I disagree with Glenn Reynolds on lots of stuff, but there's something compelling about reading the day's news through the eyes of someone possessed of what people like Harold Bloom call a "strong voice" and a willingness to exercise it a couple of dozen times a day. It's ever so much more interesting than reloading the Reuters or AP feed.

Sean Kirby, above, commits the weary old intellectual sin of conflating "liberal" and "far left." Left-of-center folks do the equivalent, to right-of-center folks, often. It doesn't make it right.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at July 28, 2002 10:20 PM

Patrick -- Not that I'm complaining at all, or applying pressure ... but that's about 150 more words from you here than I've seen on the Electrolite blog recently....

I like Layne's classification of Reynolds, with Drudge & the wires, under the heading "Constant News." To me, he remains the most interesting media story of the last year, at the very least.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 28, 2002 10:36 PM

Matt, I'd been wondering what felt so off-kilter about the notion of a leftie Instapundit. Thanks for putting your finger on it. I'm not gonna go out on a limb with Yglesias here and pimp my URL, though. [Only kidding, Matt. =, ]

I don't see any progressives on the horizon as iconoclastic _and_ proliic as Reynolds, although a couple come close. Leftie bloggers can generate traffic for each other, though, without waiting for a big chief to develop. Just treat the web as a conversation, link as promiscuously as you can, and let the traffic flow between blogs gradually develop.

Posted by: Greg Greene at July 29, 2002 01:03 PM

Happy birthday, Greg!

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 29, 2002 01:12 PM

Danke schoen! I couldn't be a happier guy. The last two birthdays ... well, I'd rather forget [long story]; this one's been leagues better already, and I've got traffic from Instapundit and birthday wishes from the world-famous Matt Welch™ to boot. Add a Belhaven Scotch Ale and the day would be perfect. =,

Posted by: Greg Greene at July 29, 2002 02:20 PM

If you don't think that Reynolds has a very strong rightward slant, then you are a republican. That said, it doesn't mean his blog isn't worth reading. Heck, in the bad old days of September through November, I agreed with just about everything he wrote. I found myself agreeing with almost everything written in the National Review during that period. It was a really weird time, and it contributed strongly to Instapundit's popularity. Matt's "warblog" label for his own site aptly applied to Instapundit as well. But the war is fading into the background, and the fact that George W. Bush is simultaneously destroying (a) the ecomony, (b)the environment and (c) the USA's standing in the world (Bush's true Trifecta) is coming back to the fore. Now I find myself disagreeing with 90% of the stuff on Reynolds blog.

Posted by: pj at July 29, 2002 03:45 PM

The left needs an Instapundit. Cool. Stop whining and start blogging. Maybe someday you will have one.

Posted by: Henry Hanks at July 29, 2002 05:47 PM

Don't remember where I read it, but someone awhile back said (correctly, I think) that a certain amount of unpredictability helps a writer's appeal. If the reader knows what the writer's stance on any issue is going to be ahead of time, the reader loses interest over time.

For my part, I find that Glenn Reynolds has a point of view that can be predicted a lot of the time, but not without fail. And that keeps him fresh.

Posted by: Craig Biggerstaff at July 29, 2002 06:31 PM

PJ -- You say: "If you don't think that Reynolds has a very strong rightward slant, then you are a republican." If you read my original post again, you'll see that I noted the distinction between Reynolds' personal politics & his choice in what to link to. If you think that Reynolds' choices in what to link to exhibit "a very strong rightward slant," than you are ... well, instead of confining you to a political party you don't belong to, I'll just say you're "wrong."

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 30, 2002 12:51 AM

I can understand the urge to defend a fellow blogger, especially one as well known and as (in?)famous as Glenn Reynolds. It's probably the same urge that lets people still call Mickey Kaus a "liberal", and prompts oldschoolers in any community to draw together no matter their political beliefs as members of that community. Still, let's get serious here.

Matt, since when has there been any question that Glenn links more to right-wing (or at the very least libertarian) sources than left ones, especially when it concerns an issue near and dear to his heart? A few permalinks to some pet liberals or fellow blogosphere "elites" that he can't ignore does not a non-partisan make, and I personally stopped believing that he wasn't pushing an agenda when he uncritically linked to that silly and inane article that argued that DDT was harmless. He may not be conservative, but it would take an incredibly narrow definition of the term to not call him libertarian in an environment where libertarianism is already abundantly well represented.

"Wrong" would be to ignore this- to stick one's head in the ground and mutter "he doesn't filter his links, he doesn't filter his links" over and over again to passing worms and ants. "Wrong" would also be the expectation that Glenn shouldn't link and believe whatever he wants to, of course. And therefore, "wrong" would be to miss the obvious answer- that the left could use someone who links as copiously. The "iconoclast" aspect will no doubt take care of itself.

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 30, 2002 01:15 AM

I thought I was the left-wing Instapundit. See why I'm an angry black man?

Posted by: Oliver at July 30, 2002 01:38 AM

"Demosthenes" -- Thanks for being magnanimous enough to "undertand" things of which you know nothing. Chiefly, my motivation for writing.

You ask: "since when has there been any question that Glenn links more to right-wing (or at the very least libertarian) sources than left ones, especially when it concerns an issue near and dear to his heart?" I answer: "did someone say there wasn't? I sure didn't."

You say: "'Wrong' would be [...] to stick one's head in the ground and mutter 'he doesn't filter his links, he doesn't filter his links' over and over again to passing worms and ants." I say: "Too true! Good thing I've never done such a thing!"

You say: "And therefore, 'wrong' would be to miss the obvious answer - that the left could use someone who links as copiously." And I'd say: I guess you and I disagree about what I see as Reynolds' non-doctrinnaire taste in blogs to link to.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 30, 2002 02:58 AM

Matt: attacks on spelling and the use of silly scare quotes to attack anonymous posting? Sad... I had hoped for more.

Did you imply that there was no connection or at least a loose connection between what Reynolds links to and what he believes? Of course- in your response to PJ, and in some earlier entries in this thread. Did you therefore deny that Reynolds's links support this notion? Again, of course- what other reason could you have for calling pj "wrong"? Finally, what use is that needless observation that we disagree on this issue? That's obvious- the question is whether Reynolds' practices better reflect what I think of them against what you think of them, and again- a few permalinks to oldschoolers and the occasional link to a left-wing site does not balance make, especially considering Reynolds tends to mix those links with entries that attack the credibility and usefulness of those sources.

Is this moderated by his blog boosterism? Perhaps. The phrase "Advantage: Blogosphere" is not intrinsically partisan, although it can be to the extent that the Blogosphere itself might be intrinsically partisan and to the extent that Reynolds selectively uses links to highlight rightist blogs taking down leftist media. Still, the presence of an agenda (or at the very least an unconscious filtering mechanism) is unmistakable, and there is no doubt that the popularity of the site and its vital role as a quasi-"index" of blogs makes the presence of any sort of bias an important question.

Again, Reynolds can post and link whatever he wishes. It's his blog. At the same time, however, others are free to disagree with him, and point out the filtering effect, and loyalty to friends in "blogville" shouldn't get in the way of recognizing such things when they exist. It's the Democrats all over again- trying to assert non-partisanship where none exists only ensures that real partisans will get to set the public agenda.

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 30, 2002 07:58 AM

Demosthenes -- Whoops, that wasn't an attack on your spelling, that was a misspelling on my part. I don't, as a general rule, attack people's spelling, for that precise reason.

As for the rest of your points, they're interesting. I usually pull out the "it's only you and me, and we just disagree" line when I can feel that no argument of mine will change someone's mind, which is indeed the case here.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 30, 2002 10:22 AM

Glenn's popularity isn't based solely on his politics. I think the assertion misses his true gift altogether.

Glenn has said that he links to only those things he finds interesting. It just so happens that what he finds interesting is the same stuff a lot of other people find interesting.

It also helps that he links promiscuously.

And I suspect that a lot of his readers read few other blogs than his -- they rely on Glenn to tell him what is interesting in the blogosphere.

It's hard to estimate, but I would guess that when I get a link from Glenn, only 10 or 20 percent (at the most) become return visitors (at least until Glenn links to me again). Maybe that is just a sign I put out a shitty blog, but I rather suspect that many other bloggers would report the same experience.

Glenn seems to have certain favorite bloggers, and pet subjects, but there is no rule -- nor should there be any expectation -- that Glenn be an objective traffic cop. Part of his appeal, afterall, is his personality.

There are two things about readership -- and there are studies out there that back this up -- readers like predictable reliability (Glenn has that down cold -- you pretty much know what to expect from him) and personality (again, that comes through loud and clear with Glenn).

The wealth, depth and interest of his links, combined with his intelligence, writing style and wide-ranging knowledge are the keys to his highway.

Posted by: Howard Owens at July 30, 2002 09:31 PM

Matt,

Glad to see you blogging again. Regarding Glenn's permalink policies, if he linked to blogs based on people he agreed with he would have permalinked to me long ago. I agree with him on virtually everything from the war to guns to drugs, etc., etc. etc.

I agree with Howard also on traffic, when Glenn has linked to my posts my traffic goes through the roof and then comes back down to earth but stays higher permanently. So far.

Speaking of which, Matt, when do I get a link from you?

Robert

Posted by: Robert Prather at July 30, 2002 10:30 PM

Matt: fair enough, and thanks for clarifying the spelling thing... attacking someone for spelling errors in this particular medium is somewhat counterproductive.

Howard: the question is not why he's popular (those are all good points as to why he's popular, but I think there's a strong element of historical interaction, of being "in the right place at the right time") but what it means, and what kinds of interpretation he puts on links. By and large, that interpretation is highly sympathetic to certain positions and unsympathetic to others, with those positions easily falling under the "libertarian" label. Unfortunately, however, those who don't broadly share those positions get left out- either he won't link to their interpretation or insights, or he links and then ensures a hostile response by his readers (who by and large trust him) by how he links.

Again, he has every right to do this, and nobody should question that (although they can criticize it, and some do.) It does imply that he holds far too much power for someone who does pretty obviously wears his ideology on his sleeves, however, thus making the "left instapundit" thing make sense.

By the way, I had somewhat the same experience after he linked to me on the subject of development on the moon. He hasn't linked me since, and I do wonder whether that's because I've been a consistent critic. A tendency to bite the hands of feeders doesn't make you many friends, even if it can be rather fun. :D

(It could also be because my blog sucks, of course, but who can really make that judgement about their own creation?)

Posted by: Demosthene at August 3, 2002 08:28 AM
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u blogging again. Regarding Glenn's permalink policies, if he linked to blogs based on people he agreed with he would have permalinked to me long ago. I agree with him on virtually everything from the war to guns to drugs, etc., etc. etc.

I agree with Howard also on traffic, when Glenn has linked to my posts my traffic goes through the roof and then comes back down to earth but stays higher permanently. So far.

Speaking of which, Matt, when do I get a link from you?

Robert

Posted by: Robert Prather at July 30, 2002 10:30 PM

Matt: fair enough, and thanks for clarifying the spelling thing... attacking someone for spelling errors in this particular medium is somewhat counterproductive.

Howard: the question is not why he's popular (those are all good points as to why he's popular, but I think there's a strong element of historical interaction, of being "in the right place at the right time") but what it means, and what kinds of interpretation he puts on links. By and large, that interpretation is highly sympathetic to certain positions and unsympathetic to others, with those positions easily falling under the "libertarian" label. Unfortunately, however, those who don't broadly share those positions get left out- either he won't link to their interpretation or insights, or he links and then ensures a hostile response by his readers (who by and large trust him) by how he links.

Again, he has every right to do this, and nobody should question that (although they can criticize it, and some do.) It does imply that he holds far too much power for someone who does pretty obviously wears his ideology on his sleeves, however, thus making the "left instapundit" thing make sense.

By the way, I had somewhat the same experience after he linked to me on the subject of development on the moon. He hasn't linked me since, and I do wonder whether that's because I've been a consistent critic. A tendency to bite the hands of feeders doesn't make you many friends, even if it can be rather fun. :D

(It could also be because my blog sucks, of course, but who can really make that judgement about their own creation?)

Posted by: Demosthene at August 3, 2002 08:28 AM
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