Conor Friedersdorf reflects on the phenomena of “warblogging,” in the run-up to the Iraq war–though it started after 9/11–and how it ended up reinforcing the hawkish consensus rather than doubting it:
Pro war bloggers center-left and right used an ideological heuristic, assuming that the MSM would error on the side of excess dovishness, so that the most common media criticism exacerbated rather than corrected the actual errors being made, making the MSM even more pro-war. “I remember spending a week in the offices of the New York TimesOutlook section” in January 2003, Matt Steinglass writes. “The anxiety to self-police against anything that could be perceived as liberal bias was palpable. Smart, serious people convinced themselves to accept the most spurious claims.” To be clear, one needn’t think the war was a mistake, as most Americans do, to grant that the blogosphere’s coverage was flawed: it was wrong on weapons, wrong on how costly the war would be, wrong on how long it would last, and wrong about how it would change the region.
It saw through none of the MSM’s flaws.
Blogs scrolled down the screen before Sept. 11, but the horrors of that day had a “big bang” impact, energizing a constellation of individual voices united by a communal understanding that a hole had been blown in the very architecture of our lives. I belong to a number of chat boards, and it soon became glaringly apparent to me that the bloggers had a far keener existential grasp of the trauma wound and the magnitude of the task ahead than these online “communities,” which swiftly reverted to their customary crabby infighting and sneer responses. Blogs are far less parochial, the New York-Washington axis of mainstream media coverage offset by the strong presence of West Coast bloggers (Ken Layne, Matt Welch), with others chiming in from Australia (the acerbic and hilarious Tim Blair), Croatia (Natalija Radic, who appears on the libertarian Samizdata site), and Norway (Bjorn Staerk), nearly all of them citing and providing links to one another, fostering a global clubhouse atmosphere. In the early days of the anti-Taliban campaign, foreign and domestic bloggers countered the defeatism of the dominant media — which was then in its “quagmire” funk — and corrected the falsehoods, exaggerations, and rote groupthink of the punditry. “We can fact-check your ass!” Ken Layne crowed, and the phrase quickly became the rallying cry of blogland.
I had launched my blog (or shall I say “warblog,” which is what I named it, apparently coining a term I’ve come to loathe) five days after the September 11 massacre and almost immediately found myself swept up in an exhilarating whirlwind of grassroots media creation. As a consumer, it was exponentially more edifying to me than the post-9/11 fumblings of the mainstream media’s binary, Crossfire-style opinion slinging.“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s…a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”
Man, was I wrong.
On the bright side, one of the few folks who called BS on the warbloggers early on, the great Tim Cavanaugh, has just been named executive editor at the Daily Caller. I’d link to his article “Let Slip the Blogs of War,” published in USC’s Online Journalism Review in January 2002, but for a journalism school they seem to keep pretty poor archives.