Refresher on Blogospheric History

by Dave Schuler on May 10, 2014

I’ve been reading blogs for almost as long as there have been blogs and my reading as you might expect has been, er, eclectic. I’ve been reading blogs since late in 2001 or early 2002, was a frequent commenter on several now defunct and much-lamented blogs (notably Winds of Change) and at one point was a front page contributor at WoC, Dean Esmay’s blog, and OTB as well as writing posts here at The Glittering Eye.

A comment about the mists of the distant past in a comment thread at OTB caught my eye:

Completely ignored here is the fact that the rise of the progressive bloggers was almost entirely a reaction to the way the right wing was able to disseminate its bullshit through its paid media and then into mainstream sources all the way through the Clinton administration.

That’s not the way I remember it. The way I remember events is that Jerome Armstrong’s MyDD was the first major Left Blogosphere blog, it inspired several other major Left Blogosphere blogs, notably The Daily Kos, and it was primarily a way of complaining about the George W. Bush Administration, predating 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, etc.

Could anybody help me out with this?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw May 10, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I started reading blogs around when you did, but probably after 9/11. And I was reading Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus, and later Winds of Change. I wasn’t interested in leftist domestic politics, and bloggers like Josh Marshall purported to be setting out to regain a Democratic credibility in foreign policy issues, which in essence meant the leading foreign policy voice of the left was about a half step from neo-con. My sense was that Josh was given respectful space, but after the Iraq War, the enemies list was drawn up and Josh saved himself by supporting the war all the way until the end, by which I mean at the end he switched sides.

... May 10, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I started with Sullivan (back when he claimed to be a conservative Republican-type) and then Instapundit, both before 9-11. I was led to Sullivan by Drudge, and to Insty by Sullivan. and Insty takes one everywhere else.

I remember that the blogosphere seemed much more right-wing early on, though that may have just been my reading habits. But Sullivan and Insty were the Big Dogs then, and the big leftist blogs came later.

That commenter seems to be conflating Democratic Underground with the blogosphere, and is overestimating its impact at that.

... May 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm

And it’s laughable to think that the main media outlets weren’t in Clinton’s corner. Most of them wished they had been given a set of Presidential Kneepads instead of Monica.

... May 10, 2014 at 5:18 pm

2001 seems like forever ago. Hell, lots of people I knew where mainly on Usenet message boards at the time. I’d say something like “Good times, good times,” but they weren’t.

Andy May 10, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Wow, an OTB commenter is wrong? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

Trumwill May 10, 2014 at 8:36 pm

The ‘sphere had a right-wing reputation going into around 2003 or so (or at least from 2001 to 2003, can’t say before 2001). There were lefties around before then, but it took the Iraq War and the 2004 election to get them organized and mobilized.

Modulo Myself May 10, 2014 at 9:13 pm

I think that the commenter is referring to Joe Conason’s The Hunting of the President. Whenever it came out, like a lot of young liberals who were in college during Clinton’s impeachment, I read it. Whatever it said, I remember thinking thinking thoughts like the commenter said. There’s a lot of evidence, and it’s basically irrefutable that nobody who promoted Whitewater had any clue what was going on. But it’s not a very good book–if you can find a five paragraph summary, I would recommend that.

This a real generation thing, though. If you were in college and followed politics during the Lewinsky stuff and then 9/11 happened, you were given basically a mainstream reality and then the liberal reality.

And after everything happened, the liberal reality was far more convincing.

Dave Schuler May 10, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Trumwill:

I’ve been wracking my brain and I have yet to come up with a major Left Blogosphere blog (other than Huffington Post) that was established after 2002. Jerome Armstrong, Kos, Josh Marshall, Duncan Black, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Pandagon, many others had all been started by then. When did Melissa McEwan start blogging?

That hardly supports the idea that the Left Blogosphere hadn’t gotten mobilized until 2003. It was already well established by then and recognized as a political force by mainstream Democratic pols.

I think that the Right Blogosphere was galvanized by 9/11. If the Left Blogosphere was moved by anything it would seem to me to be part of the DLC/progressive battle for control of the Democratic Party that started after the 2000 election.

Update

Okay. I did find one. Firedoglake fits that profile pretty well.

Found another. The Agonist fits that model, too.

Trumwill May 10, 2014 at 9:56 pm

I speak as much of perceptions as reality. But here are various tidbits I do remember:
* – There was a point where JMMarshall said “I think we’ve finally reached parity with the right.” Which seemed overly optimistic to me at the time, though it wasn’t too long after that the leftosphere seemed to swamp the rightosphere.
* – Instapundit and then-righty Sully were among the kinds of blogging. Nobody on the left was even close. It seemed like a lot of the ‘sphere revolved around them. While a lot of now-prominent bloggers were indeed around from very early on, no one else compared.
* – The Koufax Awards being something of an effort to address the rightward tilt (or the perception thereof) by fostering support for liberal bloggers.
* – Daily Kos’s meteoric rise and changing everything.

Now, I might be wrong because I spent more time in the rightosphere than the leftosphere. That would, if nothing else, explain why I was skeptical of JMM’s proclamation when it turned out to probably be more pessimistic than was probably warranted.

But right or wrong, I do remember the perception of a rightward tilt for a little while.

Cstanley May 11, 2014 at 7:19 am

I don’t know about the relative strengths of the hemispheres, having started reading too late (and wouldn’t have been analyzing the meta data, so any perception on my part would have been subjective anyway.)

What I do think is inarguable is that the two halves stopped talking to each other, leading to collapse of centrist blogs. It’s also become perfectly clear that people will use any rationalization they can grasp at to hold on to their preconceptions (how did I know that “the truth has a liberal bias” would appear in the comments at that OTB thread?)

Dave Schuler May 11, 2014 at 7:48 am

What I do think is inarguable is that the two halves stopped talking to each other

Some years back people were producing network diagrams of the political blogosphere based on links. What the diagrams showed was a large number of highly inter-connected Left Blogosphere blogs and a large number of highly inter-connected Right blogosphere blogs with a very small number of centrist blogs with connections to each other as well as the Left and Right.

It’s a lot cozier to have your views confirmed rather than to question them.

From my point of view the political blogosphere has largely settled down into Right Bolsheviks and Left Bolsheviks with very little in between.

steve May 11, 2014 at 8:04 am

Talk radio was well established before the blogosphere was active. In that regard, I think the commenter was correct. I used to watch Limbaugh when he was skewering the Clintons. I suspect that the left wing attaching itself to blogs was probably a reaction to a number of things, but mostly because it worked. Not surprising that a younger group would take to the net.

OT query- How do people find time to listen to talk radio? That has always intrigued me. What kind of job must one have? I guess one could listen in the evening, but who has time for that?

Steve

Cstanley May 11, 2014 at 8:26 am

I agree with Steve (again, just my gut level feeling) that the left blogosphere grew mostly in reaction to conservative talk radio.

I actually find that Steve’s comment about finding time relates more to blogging than radio listening though. A lot of people spend a good deal of their workday driving around, and listening to the radio in the car. Some jobs lend themselves to having radio on in the background as well. But internet use during the workday requires more focus (and when you look at when people comment it’s obvious most traffic is during the workday.)

Dave Schuler May 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

I think the actual evidence from the early days shows more opposition to the Bush Administration than it does to right wing talk radio.

OT query- How do people find time to listen to talk radio? That has always intrigued me. What kind of job must one have? I guess one could listen in the evening, but who has time for that?

I think it’s mostly a drive-time phenomenon. I listen to NPR and probably 95% of my listening is done while driving. I could be listening to it right now streaming but I don’t.

Guarneri May 11, 2014 at 10:36 am

“Wow, an OTB commenter is wrong?”

Fear not, but rather rest assured, that they will get a thumbs up…….and all is good with the world.

PD Shaw May 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

Looking back at Kos foreign policy posts:

May 26, 2002: “Embarrassing. Bush and Putin on nickname terms. Pootie-Poot? Is our ‘president’ in second grade? I dream of once again having a grownup running the country. Sigh.” The first foreign policy post, shows influence of Instapundit.

May 26, 2002: First post on war, explains at greater length why Bush wants to go to war with Iraq (domestic purposes), but won’t. Link “Finally, a cornered Saddam would have no incentive to hold back from using chemical, biological, or (possibly, but unlikely) nuclear weapons.”

October 18, 2003: First post on war at revised diary-intensive website, Markos defends Wesley Clark from accusations of being a Republican and sets the Summer of 2002 as the last moment someone might understandable praise Bush.

These posts capture the reason I wasn’t reading Kos or similar blogs at the time. Poor foreign policy, largely viewed through domestic politics.

... May 11, 2014 at 11:23 am

Second Cstanley about listening to the radio while driving.

But my memory is that most of the self-proclaimed centrist blogs were “rah-rah Democrats, boo Bush” blogs. They mostly collapsed because the authors were full of shit.

Dave Schuler May 11, 2014 at 11:43 am

PD:

My experience has been that the Left Blogosphere isn’t particularly interested in foreign policy. There are exceptions but those are generally émigrés.

That’s why I don’t link to a lot of Left Blogosphere blogs. I find posts on how vile Republicans are tedious just as I find posts claiming that the president is a Marxist, Muslim, etc. boring. That may be why most of the blogs I link to are econblogs or centrist blogs.

The great irony of the Left Blogosphere is that nearly every major Left Blogosphere blogger supported the invasion of Iraq. Many have carefully scrubbed their archives since. That’s lead me to my hypothesis that their first loyalty is to the Democratic Party leadership. Nearly every Democratic Party leader also supported the invasion of Iraq.

Dave Schuler May 11, 2014 at 11:47 am

But my memory is that most of the self-proclaimed centrist blogs were “rah-rah Democrats, boo Bush” blogs. They mostly collapsed because the authors were full of shit.

Dean Esmay certainly wasn’t like that nor was Joe Gandelman. That so many of Joe’s frontpage bloggers are highly partisan Left Blogosphere bloggers obscures his centrism. I would characterize the lamented Winds of Change as a centrist blog.

When I joined the Watcher’s Council it was pretty evenly divided between right wingers and centrists. I’m the only centrist left. Some have suggested that I’m better described as “eclectic” than “centrist”.

... May 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Someone primarily promoting left wingers on his site can’t pretend to be running a centrist operation. Similarly for someone primarily promoting right wingers.

steve May 11, 2014 at 12:59 pm

“The great irony of the Left Blogosphere is that nearly every major Left Blogosphere blogger supported the invasion of Iraq. ”

I think the difference is that most on the right still try to portray it as a great victory. Pundits are never right al of the time. No one is. What is intolerable is the inability to admit that one was wrong.

Steve

jan May 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I don’t have a conclusive early awareness of right/left sided blogs. However, it did seem to me that internet conservative-oriented political/news analysis became an initial media format used to counteract the MSM bias that seems so prevalent in network ABC, NBC, CBS presentations. It was through these more right-of-center blogs that news could be sorted out and expanded to include current event details that were so often either excluded, muted or even distorted to fit the scenarios of more left-of-center media interpretations. As the conservative blogs flourished, becoming more popular by adding a POV usually dismissed by the MSM (only addressed by talk radio), liberal blogs sprouted up almost as an act of ideological self-preservation.

Of course now there is FOX, adding to an even better mix, IMO, in reporting the national and world news — a news organization, however, that most liberals seem to view as an evil media spawn, creating an obsessive, mocking jeering of what FOX views as important, worthwhile journalism.

BTW the Winds of Change blog was one of my early-on favorite reads.

Andy May 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm

It’s hard for me to remember back then, partly because I started out with BBS’s in the 1980′s and read online pretty much continuously since then.

My recollection, bad as it is, indicates that the left blogsphere really got started after Bush V. Gore, but I could be wrong.

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