The Partisansphere


Andrew Sullivan, discussing his increasingly team-less position on the Iraq war, expresses dismay at "the notion that our debates have to be about whose side are you on in terms of domestic politics," and laments that "the blogosphere has become more partisan over the last few years, rather than less."

Because part of the point of blogging as a medium is that it empowers the individual. In big media, the pressures of conformity can be as great as they are subtle. At the Boston Globe or the Washington Times, you know what you're getting. How many columnists in the mainstream media can be described as unpredictable in partisan terms? How many "liberal" columnists ever praise the president occasionally? How many conservative ones tear him a new one from time to time? … The reason is subtle pressure from suits and colleagues and readers. But the point of blogging is that it can liberate you from such pressures.

Leaving aside for the moment Sullivan's own considerable contributions to the noxious with-us-or-against-us genre, this strikes me as almost laughably off-track. There is no reason I can see why you'd expect an individual human to be any less "partisan" than a professional newspaper journalist, even those who work on the op-ed page. If you "know what you're getting" at the Boston Globe, then I'll be damned to know how that omniscience translates into predicting such diverse BosGlobbers as Jeff Jacoby, Alex Beam and our own Cathy Young, let alone those who toil on the news and sports desks. I don't doubt for a moment that there is such a thing as "subtle pressure from suits and colleagues and readers," but A) the same pressure—without the suits, and often without the subtlety—applies to individual webloggers, and B) it may—may—be more difficult to withstand such pressure when you haven't already been doing so for the last 2 or 20 years.

Those who harbored hope that an explosion of new editorial voices would somehow translate into less partisanship seem to me guilty of either ignoring all past leaps forward in publishing technology, or of ascribing to the professional media a partisan agenda—agenda, not bias—that does not, despite the joy of repetition, line up with reality.