And of course most bloggers are, um, not sunny and upbeat people, so it’s no surprise that a far more common approach is to ignore the “good” and hound the “bad.” ~Reihan
If I might add a characteristically gloomy and disgruntled addendum, the reason why bloggers ignore the “good” and hound the “bad” is, broadly speaking, the same reason why journalists “fail” to report the “good news” and tend to report the “bad news.” It’s all very well to encourage people on the right path, but it helps more if you keep them out of the ditch in the first place, and one way of doing that is to warn them off of the advice and counsel of those who have had an impressive record of being (in the opinion of the critic) very wrong. When error and injustice, or simply stupidity and ignorance, abound, it makes less sense to pat one another on the back in a mutual appreciation society and congratulate each other on our cleverness. Emphasising the “good” has not been helped by the tendency of people with absolutely awful policy ideas to engage constantly in accentuating the positive (a.k.a., propaganda).
The reason why someone like, say, Joe Klein earned contempt of the netroots in the beginning is that he consistently advocated and espoused ideas that they regarded as absolutely terrible. From the perspective of the critic, it is not incumbent on him to make nice to someone who has routinely demonstrated bad judgement, but rather it is the latter’s job to make up for his past errors. Maybe the person in question is not going to be budged from his views–all the more reason to not waste any time trying positive reinforcement with an implacable opponent.
Critics aren’t parole officers who are overseeing the target’s rehabilitation. Indeed, in some sense, most blogger critics are not even trying to win over the target of their scorn (obviously), but are trying to persuade everyone else to stop listening to the person they are ridiculing. It’s just like heresiology: the goal is not so much to persuade the heresiarch that he has gone astray, since he has already been condemned for his stubborn persistence in error, but to alert everyone else to the danger of the heresiarch’s false teachings. We don’t read out the Synodikon just to give Nestorios a few posthumous kicks, but to remind the people to steer clear of his mistakes. On a much more mundane, much less significant level, blogging critics aren’t really concerned with vilifying this or that pundit or journalist–they are trying to warn other readers away from someone whose track record on the issues these critics care about is dreadful.
P.S. Reihan says at the end of his post:
Because Matt has an ironic sensibility, he understands why this approach fails.
But does it really “fail”? It doesn’t persuade the target of the criticism, but that was never the purpose of the criticism. No one engages in polemics as a means of persuasion of the target of the invective. Polemic is a device for rallying the faithful and demoralising the opposition. It is a device used to win over the undecided and the uninformed to one’s own side. The last thing that the polemicist–which is what many bloggers are–wants is to bother with winning over his opponent. First of all, he doesn’t think it very likely that this will happen, and more to the point the polemicist isn’t even speaking to him (even when he seems to be addressing him directly). The polemicist speaks to the audience watching the dispute: persuading them is what matters. To the extent that a Joe Klein (or a Michael O’Hanlon or whoever else) is regarded as less authoritative or worthy of attention by a larger number of people, this method not only has succeeded, but it has achieved exactly what it set out to achieve.