On Thursday night, Porter’s Dining Saloon in northwest Washington played host to a symposium titled: “Did Bloggers Tip the Election?” The event, sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, drew over a hundred participants (crammed into a woefully under-ventilated room no larger than my living room.) Fortunately, I was able to infiltrate this event on behalf of Samizdata and report on the proceedings.
The panelists were (in rough order from ideological left to right): Henry Farrell, who contributes to the group blog Crooked Timber; Matthew Yglesias, who writes for The American Prospect, and contributes to both the TAPPED blog and his own blog; Ana Marie Cox, the inimitable Wonkette; Daniel Drezner, professor of political science at the University of Chicago whose blog, by an astonishing cosmic coincidence, is also called Daniel Drezner; and Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason. Drezner and Farrell were invited because they jointly authored this piece on the role of blogs in foreign policy; Yglesias was a last-minute replacement for his TAP colleague Michael Tomasky.
To answer the question posed by the title of the symposium, Nick Gillespie put it the most succinctly: “no, of course not, I think we can all agree!” All the panelists agreed, however, that the 2004 election had done more to blur the distinctions between alternative and mainstream media than it did to pit the two as adversaries.
The panel discussed at length the blogosphere’s role in Rathergate / Memogate. Yglesias dissented from the others on this issue, arguing that the Bush administration certainly would have defended itself against the charges raised in the forged memo, even if the blogosphere hadn’t attacked the documents. “It’s not like they were going after someone vulnerable with no defense network — this was the President of the United States,” Yglesias intoned. “He knows his own war record, and that something just wasn’t right about that story.” Cox suggested that if CBS had acted “more like bloggers” in putting the story out with feelers, asking for help in authenticating the documents instead of dogmatically asserting them as authentic, they could have avoided the scandal (she added that she did not believe CBS or any other news organization would behave this way.)
Other highlights: Drezner spoke at some length about his recent appearance on ABC news, in which he defended the blogosphere for posting exit poll numbers on election day. Finally, Ms. Cox may have delivered the most memorable line of the night: when asked whether the blogosphere was guilty of propogating bizarre conspiracy theories, she observed that blogs were about as likely to debunk conspiracies as promote them, “most famously the Mystery Bulge Scandal; you know, the one about President Bush in the debates, not the more recent Mystery Bulge of Dick Cheney. Besides,” she added, “evryone knows that Bush gets the alien transmissions through the fillings in his teeth, not through the bulge on his back.”
(photo coming soon!)