Cole Play


There is a lot of virtual mud flying this way and that following this post by Juan Cole, who based his opinions on this post at Martini Republic, prompting this observation from Jeff Jarvis, who calls Cole "pond scum."

The topic? Whether the Iraq the Model blog is the real thing or part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Cole doesn't actually come out and say that he thinks the blog is a sham; he merely hides behind what Martini Republic says. But he does add, revealingly, in a clear endorsement of the accusation:

The phenomenon of blog trolling, and frankly of blog agents provocateurs secretly working for a particular group or goal and deliberately attempting to spread disinformation, is likely to grow in importance. It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives, for instance, and I have my suspicions about one or two sites out there already.

Cole has been repeatedly accused, to my mind quite justly, of assuming conspiracies based on scant evidence. In a recent post, for example, he reported access problems to his site, then wrote: "For mysterious reasons, some readers in the past week have been experiencing difficulty in accessing Informed Comment. For others, the problem has cleared up. I checked with my server provider and with Blogger, but haven't had any report of a denial of service attack or any other obvious explanation."

I have no desire to open a new front in the war against Juan Cole (Martin Kramer and Tony Badran are miles ahead in that regard). He is someone I've published quite often, and hope to again. However, there is a cautionary tale here: Cole did well to turn his Informed Comment blog into a "must read" platform during the Iraq war, but somehow one gets a sense that somewhere in there it all went to his head, and that he feels, like many of us hacks, that a sharp and shallow opinion can substitute for a deep and considered one. That's not always the case, but Cole's blog appears to have manufactured a public edition of Cole, that of the harassed but defiant activist, that Cole the academic often feels he has to live up to.

It would be shame to see Cole shrivel up entirely into self-parody. But worse, here was someone who made the Iraqi situation more understandable to many Americans at one time. He preferred to become shrill, though, losing an opportunity to bridge the knowledge gap. Such is the power, and curse, of being transposed from the classroom to the studio.