Guido and the wickedness of the blogosphere…

This week’s Profile focuses on Guido Fawkes… Martin Salter MP, reckons bloggers can be quite scurrilous. The Milliband Wiki gets a mention. Brian Micklethwaite reckons it will not work within organised politics, because of the secrecy that inevitably surrounds power politics. Although that is not the experience in the US. Really interesting is the complicity of some of the press and bloggers. Salter believes there are journalists all too willing to recirculate unattributable rumour as fact in their own newspapers and represent it as “proper investigative journalism”, which it seems to me says more about the sharp practice of some journalists than blogging per se.

Interestingly Nick Robinson sees the increased journalistic reliance on bloggers like Guido as an inevitable consequence of the 24 hour, always on, news cycle. “Quite often when there is an alleged scandal, there is a desperation for the next nugget, the next bit of information, the next question to ask. And Guido Fawkes’ website is very good at putting those up. But the key thing to understand is that they are as often wrong as they are right.”

Matthew Taylor’s negative comments that blogging was “a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage” were also pulled out.

There is clearly a lot of needle building up in Britain over the rise of the right wing bloggers, and in particular the way they have punctured the vanities of the New Labour establishment. Iain Dale was on Sunday AM (about half way in) yesterday with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who reckons blogs are “the equivalent of going to the pub and listening to complete bores sounding off”.

She continued, “are you seriously saying bores in bars are telling us truths that we the media and press are not?” Dale’s reposte: “everyone can have a voice on the Internet nowadays, and people like you don’t like it”. He then goes on to argue that columnists like Brown spend most of their time in broadcast mode, whereas he is more interested in conversation. Brown replies that she gets 800 emails a day, many of which she replies to, but says that what she objects to is being covered by ‘verbal vomit’.

But this needle is possibly distorting a sane view of the real utility of bloggers. The big bloggers in Britain are currently from the right, but it may not always be so. In the States which is at least three years ahead of the UK (and a further two ahead of Ireland), much of the journo/blogger angst has faded. The conservative war bloggers, who were the first to hit the political activism front have been joined by several big beasts on the left, not the least the Huffington Post, which has an impressive roster of bloggers and journos writing on the same team.

Thus far in Ireland (north and south) we have still to see hostilities break out into the open. By all measures, Slugger remains the largest and most widely read political blog but the field is growing, (as can be seen from the shortlist of finalists for the Irish Blog Awards (Vote here). No doubt there is considerable scope for a similar kind of edgy disruption of the Leinster House cocoon that Guido provides in Westminster.

Yet Taylor has a point about ‘conspiracy’ when he is talking about Guido’s mission statement. Nicholas Carr at Rough Type went even further and argued some time back that Web 2.0, as an amoral technological revolution: Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can’t imagine anything more frightening.

Much of that fear is to do with the loss of quality checks and balances implicit amongst the established news and cultural producers. It also has the whiff of Ludite fever about it. The digital revolution is certainly going to destroy a lot of jobs – countless numbers of high end photographic developers have gone to the wall in the last five since digital photography began to replicate the same high quality as their mechanical predecessors.

And yet, according to Ipsos-Mori: “Blogs, or weblogs, are a more trusted source of information than television advertising and email marketing.” So it is the case that people trust blogs, sometimes, perhaps, even when they shouldn’t?

The truth is that blogging is simply a disruption of the way things are done. Authority in one world, does not automatically translate into another. Alibhai-Brown, for instance, had to use Dale’s ‘good offices’ to get after a lie doing the rounds that suggested she had been questioned during the cash for peerages scandal. It is those mainstream authoritative voices who have been coasting, that may find themselves most challenged by the shared critical eye of the blogosphere. Bloggers cannot successfully ‘fisk’ a cogent, truthful argument.

In the end, high end blogs get to the top partly because they take care to avoid making mistakes, and when one is inevitably made, their willingness to admit to them. But what makes blogs valuable to to both the political and media establishments is the capacity to lavish attention on detail the journalist working to his frantic deadlines has missed. Whatever the character of the blogger, the capacity to apply and reapply analytical thinking in a mutually accessible (as opposed to Alibhai-Brown’s private email space) space, is crucial to blogging’s phenomenal success.

  • The trouble is that the MSM look to the power of US bloggers and are shitting themselves exponentially. They are trying to do everything they can to discredit bloggers as they feel its a threat to the little cabal that is the media in the UK.

    Quoting YAB is a wonderful way of totally trashing those opposed to blogging. The woman is a consumate bore, obnoxious and nasty but she is fetted by the media all over (including alas by 18 Doughty Street). When makes statements about bloggers she in fact describing her own behaviour not ours. For one think bloggers tend to have sense of humour so lacking in YAB.

  • In the end, high end blogs get to the top partly because they take care to avoid making mistakes, and when one is inevitably made, their willingness to admit to them.

    Where’s your evidence for this, Mick? In the last few days the high end blogs have been reaching for their lawyers or screaming ‘stalker!’.

  • Which ones do you have in mind Justin?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, without trying to over egg the Slugger cake, in the Irish context at least, I would say we are generally careful about what we write. Instapundit (whether you agree with him or not) is, as is Kaus, Jeff Jarvis, Kevin Drumm, and Josh Marshall.

    Although, if you are asking me to wade into the flame war across the water, then, for the moment at least, I decline!

  • Excellent post,re: MSM and bloggers, don’t forget that Time Magazine hired Wonkette blogger Anna Marie Cox last year.

    One point I’d like to make is that the right-wing bloggers in the U.S. may not be the best analog for UK right-wing blogging or blogging in general. You have to keep in mind that they are really the second wave against the U.S. MSM, the first being the Rush Limbaugh-led “alternative media” that had been growing for 15-20 years on radio and Fox News Channel started up before blogging took off. They did a lot of ground work that bloggers over here have been able to exploit.

    In the context of the UK, Guido may have more in common with Rush than say Redstate, Powerline, or Capt. Ed, since blogging seems to be the first real challenge the British MSM has faced. If I’m right and that’s the case, then UK bloggers are in for a rough ride. Just keep in mind Glenn Reynold’s advice. (follow homelink) If I’m wrong, well, sorry about that.

  • I would like to point out that there seems to be a tendency – even with bloggers, to not understand the difference between Right Wing and Libertarian.

    There are possibly more Libertarian bloggers than right wing, in the UK, because the media completely ignores their view.

    As with all areas of technology, the rest of the political spectrum will catch up – its just without the noise of your average political debate, you can’t normally hear the sense spoken by a classic liberal – so its bound to confuse the uninitiated!

  • The spat between Bloggerhead’s Tim Ireland and Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) could be edging the blogosphere towards an umcomfortable tipping point. Guido can be entertaining, partly because everyone loves gossip, political journalists in particular (even high-end ones like Nick Robinson). But if Bloggerhead is right that Guido is not allowing tracking back and deleting comments, then he does risk undermining one of the central features of blogging that gives blogs their authenticity and power – honest discussion. Without it crediblity evaporates. The self-regulating organism of the blogosphere may expel those who dissemble and don’t engage, or it may propogate a hybrid – the “clog”, a craven blog.

    Brian Micklethwaite believes blogging won’t work within organised politics. Certainly, it requires politicians to have honest discussions in full view, and hand the discussion over to citizens. If the British political establishment continue to consider blogging as “easy” soapbox for broadcasting their views without the mediation of political hacks, then yes, they will fail. They will need to learn that in order to achieve the crediblity they crave with their public, they will have to cede control.

    Finally, as a postscript to the Iain Dale/Yasmin Alibhai chat, there is video clip which is “an almost perfect metaphor” of the old media/new media debate on Simon Hinde’s journalism blog

  • BP1078

    I don’t read Guido, but he’s good at what he does and no one is forced to read him. There’s a market for his kind of sensationalist tat, but why on earth that should inhibit or prevent the more *serious* wing of the blogosphere from continuing to evolve, I’ve no idea.

    But what makes blogs valuable to to both the political and media establishments is the capacity to lavish attention on detail the journalist working to his frantic deadlines has missed.

    This is one of the reasons about what makes blogs valuable full stop; the digging up and analysing of info which journos have missed and which widens our knowledge of a topic or person, or at least gives us another perspective. The second reason is the airing of political philosophies which otherwise would never see the light of day in the MSM; e.g. the libertarianism of Samzidata and the thinking behind the Euston Manifesto mob.

    The way that the blogosphere has developed with the key blogs in both mainland UK and primarily in the US is that both these functions have been carried out despite and not because of the large number of commentators throwing in their typically banal tuppence worth on a post. Look at a typical well-thought out post on Slugger, how often have the ensuing comments pushed the subject or thought presented forward? More often than not, the comment section is just an excuse for the sectarian or emotionally supressed to let off a bit of steam, or for the party poodles to push forward their policies to a increasingly pissed off readership.

    As blogs like Slugger continue to grow in readership and importance, the question about whether to continue to allow comments on post will become more pressing.

  • That is a very good point BP. It seems that some party hacks don’t realise just how transparent the ‘spin’ is in a forum like this.

    Were it on a blog of its own, it would either be ridiculed (or more likely ignored). Trolls and sockpuppets are the worst, though I think the important distinction between that and using something other than your own name has been obscured by times.

    As you rightly point out, bloggers are different. Bloggers have archives. That enables factcheckers to nail inconsistencies, and shifts in the opinion of a blogger in way that is not possible of either of these two creatures.

    There is also a large roster of commenters on Slugger who, by keeping the same name, have laid a trail of consistency (or sometimes inconsistency) that can bolster the respect their views/opinions. It might be known as ‘good authority’ elsewhere.

    Sockpuppets and trolls use flags of convenience (or rather inconvenience) to fire off at their favoured target, and then move on… The point is not to create their own credibility, but to try to selectively destroy the credibility of others.

    The dilemma we face is this. The comments have also given rise to enlightening conversations, as well as the routine hack jobs. People often raise aspects of a story that would otherwise go unnoticed. Also when we have suspended them in the past, we bloggers simply miss the presence of a critical audience: no blogger worth their salt wants a glee club.

    It may be that we get to the point where we have to drop it. For now, I prefer to exhort people to follow the best example of those who use Slugger to hone their debating skills, and/or genuinely try to probe the complex issues that face us all going forward.