Monday, May 11, 2009

Is the politics blogosphere just one big circle jerk?

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Circle jerk -- A metaphor for any pointless group activity performed for personal gratification.

After writing this blog for six months, I've concluded that the same relatively small bunch of political junkies drive the politics blogosphere by reading each other's blogs to applaud, attack or otherwise comment on each other's posts in one big Internet circle jerk.

The way this works has been spelled out by The Other McCain, a clever writer and thoroughly entertaining right-wing blogger (not so many of them), in his five rules to get a million hits on your blog in less than a year (which he did). Important rules include:

- "Blogwhoring" to get Instapundit and other established sites with huge audiences to link to your blog;

- Making web enemies by knocking other bloggers (both those of your own political persuasion and opponents), so that they will hit back and send you hits in the process; and

- The The Full Metal Jacket Reach-Around (see Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket if you don't get the allusion), through which both political adversaries and friends feed each other's audiences for their mutual satisfaction. As McCain puts it, "hits is hits" whether they come from "linky love" or linky hate."

Actually, I first noticed this in the way other bloggers reacted to Andrew Sullivan, the once-upon-a-time liberal turned conservative turned liberal again, whose Daily Dish has been around for years. From 2001 to sometime in 2004, Sullivan was a fierce advocate of George W. Bush's anti-terror policies and the invasion of Iraq, for which he took daily heaps of abuse from the left side of the blogosphere. Then, Sullivan switched, opposing Bush, the Iraq war and the Bush "torture" policies with all the fervor of a convert. Now, the right wing seems equally obsessed with Sullivan, and blogs like this one rarely let a Sullivan post pass without slamming him and driving traffic to his Atlantic Politics Channel column. So I began to wonder if all these guys are following McCain's axiom, hits is hits. When blogging is your livelihood, it makes sense to feed your friends, former friends and enemies traffic, so they'll return the favor.

A better example: a few days ago, William A. Jacobson, a law professor and conservative blogger posted this on his blog, Le-gal In-sur-rec-tion, scolding MSNBC for its fawning coverage of Barack Obama and Joe Biden's burger outing and its apparent shielding of viewers from hearing Obama order Dijon mustard on his cheeseburger. Jabobson says he was mocking MSNBC for a silly reflexive effort to protect Obama's image. Instapundit dubbed the incident "DijonGate" with a link that tossed Jacobsen an avalanche of hits from sympathetic righties and offended lefties who promptly denounced the prof as a crazed wingnut. Sean Hannity, ever ready to pile onto any anti-Obama theme, took up the cause on his show, spawning more MSM and web comment. The Washington Post chimed in with a story about a "firestorm...raging" over Obama's choice of condiments. Never one to miss an opportunity for hits, McCain added his two cents, while summing up the linky love-linky hate scorecard:

Congratulations to Professor Jacobson. Traffic at his Legal Insurrection blog, which was about 37,000 visits in February, surged to more than 107,000 in just two days Thursday and Friday, because he dared to point out how dishonest news coverage has become.
Jacobson's site was also deluged by comments from the left and the right. His posts typically draw from zero to 10 comments, but his three posts about "DijonGate" have so far racked up 255! Based on a non-scientific review, I'd say at least half the comments were antagonistic, many mocking Jacobson as a "moron" (or attacking him in worse language) but many inexplicably defending Dijon mustard (it's American, made by Kraft, we eat it in Oklahoma, etc.). If the comments are an indicator of the politics of the total universe of visitors to the site, then 50% or more of his boost in traffic came from his enemies!

Even as that was happening, in a dandy Full Reach-Around, Jacobson (and other righties such as McCain, Hotair and Gateway Pundit were sending hits to the lefty blogs by linking to their knocks against Jacobson.

So maybe this whole politics blogosphere thing is one big circle jerk? We fight with the rhetorical gloves off and trash each other with abandon. But as long as you link me and I link you, we're all in the money. Even if there are only a few hundred thousand political junkies of all persuasions out there, as long as they are all hunting for ammunition to use against each other and repeatedly visiting a lot of sites of both friends and enemies, everyone can be happy.

But where does that leave blogs like The Purple Center, where reasoned comment of a generally centrist tone and quality is our watch word -- or Donklephant (where I sometimes cross post), known for its genuine bi-partisanship, or the others in the small contingent of Internet moderates (e.g., see here, here and here)? We've renounced bitter division and hyper-partisanship and won't truck with flaming or defaming, so what are we to do?

Well, one thing we can do is write posts like this one!

What are your thoughts about the circle of linky love-linky hate? Post a comment.


  1. I read you, Doknlephant, and Moderate Voice daily. I do this because I agree with the views presented, but more importantly because I can get news and opinions that aren't the blog equivalent of listening to bums yell at each other on the corner.

    Most of the big poli-news sites are just link regurgitators. Instapundit, Drudge, Huffington, and sometimes Daily Kos, just offer one line blurbs to news and opinions located elsewhere. Their huge comment machines get going, traffic spreads out like wildfire. Something about the internet being a semi-anonymous forum for opinions really fans the flames.

    I will say that my post that got the largest reader response started as a slam on a local editorial on merit pay. My criticism, probably one of the harshest things I've ever written, sparked a great conversation with the writer of the editorial. He and I now have links to each other's blogs on our own. So there ya go.

  2. So we try. I think some of us (me) are too opinionated and too up-front, so to speak, to really attract anyone. I created my blog to function as sort of my political diary, writing my honest thoughts and if people read it/like it, so be it. But I haven't really gone out there and 'advertised' or anything else; in fact, I'm not sure how I even get the hits I do get.

    As for everyone else, I think the blogosphere is, as you suggest, contrived and functionless without feeding off itself on a daily basis. I see it as closed off and removed from the greater journalistic world, even online, and relies on an influx of new readers by touching off just the right people at just the right time.

    Legal Insurrection is a good example--I came across him about two months before the Dijongate item, it is not dissimilar to all his other posts in style, and on an unsurprising subject matter. I really failed to understand why it won such attention, other than being out there at just the right time and getting to just the right people. Even so, where does it all come from? How do people find blogs? What is the common denominator that drives the internet masses to check out a blog post?