Revenge of the Nerds

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So last month the Beltway media gossip site FishbowlDC ran a silly contest to name the hottest print/online and broadcast reporters and the hottest consultant in your nation's capital. There were male and female contests and basically every winner was lifted to the podium by some kind of cheating. The hottest man on radio or TV? Bill Press. Two of my friends, Kriston Capps and Catherine Andrews, won the "off air" contests after their friends on the blog Unfogged created scripts to vote again and again in the easily-rigged poll. (Disclosure: fellow reasonoid Kerry Howley was also a contestant and came in second place, thanks to similar scripts and bots.)

In the grips of either 1)a slow news week deadline crunch or 2)a never-requited crush, Salon's Farhad Manjoo investigated this using spot-on journalistic techniques like "checking old blog posts" and "calling people who were in on the joke." Michael Silence read this and drew exactly the wrong conclusion.

Media caught cheating: Media credibility takes another hit. Would someone please take all the guns out of the hands of the media. My feet are getting sore.

But… the traditional media weren't cheating. Bloggers were cheating to help their friends win a popularity contest. This is a phenomenom literally as old as the internet. Nine years ago John Linnell of They Might Be Giants wrote a New York Times column about how online geek fans got him to the top 10 of People magazine's "Most Beautiful People" poll.

I had already gotten wind of the existence of the poll a few days earlier when I read that Leonardo DiCaprio had been knocked out of the No. 1 spot by a dark horse named Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf. The on-line voters, it seemed, had a new, more evolved definition of beauty that gave low marks to standard celebrity good looks. What they really valued was a person's inner beauty. Anyway, that's what I told myself as I went on line to see the results firsthand.

By the time I found the site my name had risen to No. 9, putting me a few E-votes behind Madonna and Kate Winslet and just above Sarah Michelle Gellar, star of the television program "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Hank the Dwarf was still No. 1, sailing far above Leonardo, and another surprise candidate named Ric Flair was ascending fast. Ric turned out to be a professional wrestler with a large and zealous on-line fan base. For his part, Hank had developed his constituency after appearing on the Howard Stern show.

That's an important factoid because for years Howard Stern fans flooded these online (and telephone) polls to make Gary the Retard or Hank the Dwarf or Stuttering John the "sexist man alive" or "next mayor of Yonkers" or whatever.

This whole thing is silly. Look to your roots, bloggers: Remember when you weren't just ranting about the MSM all the time, when you were logging on to play Duke Nukem or engage in firey debates on alt.spock.fetish. The media didn't rig this silly popularity contest: Some dudes with websites did. Be proud of that.

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