Friday, January 18, 2008

Internet "Jackal Bins"

I just got my copy of the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of the National Interest. In it, scholar David Frum writes an excellent article called "Foggy Bloggom" (aka “Blogs Gone Wild”), which starts with the confessional "My name is David Frum, and I am a blogger." (The article’s title is a play off of Foggy Bottom, the Washington, DC neighborhood that is home to the State Department.)

In the article, Frum tells a funny story about how Lyndon Johnson aid John Roche dismissed the anti-war movement as a bunch of “Upper West Side Jacobins.” It turns out that the journalist covering that comment miswrote the quote as “jackal bins” instead of the name of the French revolutionaries “Jacobins.” According to Frum, residents of the Upper West Side wondered what a jackal bin was.

The jackal bins, however, serve as the symbol of Frum’s central point: The vitriol in the blogosphere against liberal think tanks is basically a family dispute—within the Democratic party—between liberal bloggers and conservative Democrats inside think tank land. The article confirms a suspicion a colleague of mine had that the blogosphere is more heavily populated by liberals than by conservatives.

But it also explains something I have wondered for a while: Why bloggers make such a fuss about think tanks when so many policymakers in Washington find them to be marginal players that are helpful at best. Is the think tank drama playing out on the Internet one in which insurgents, our jackal bins, are trying to over throw the established foreign policy community or FPC as Frum puts it?

The Carnegie Council is holding a luncheon conference on April 3, 2008 as part of our Ethical Blogger project with Oxford, Brown, NYU, and Demos. It will explore the nexus of private money, the media, and political influence. I hope you will join us.

Photo "Jackal with Breakfast" by Picture Taker 2.


jose said...

Wow, this is interesting. The power of the blogosphere is the ability to get quick and passionate responses to public policy i.e. a poll with a blank space for comments. Granted, there are lots of questions surrounding that kind of feedback (lack of knowledge, lack of policy, lack of restraint or grammar checking), but that's all for another discussion. The bloggers usually make a lot of fuss, me included, because we want to see change, or else we'd want to keep things the same, too.

matt weiner said...

I think the LBJ analogy is telling. LBJ was wrong about the Vietnam war and the anti-war "Jacobins" were right. But as long as LBJ represented the liberal half of the country, there was no hope for ending the war; there was no way for liberals to make their voice heard.

Similarly, O'Hanlon has been consistently wrong about the Iraq war. And he is put forth as a liberal voice in many prominent platforms; he writes op-eds for the Times and Post. As long as Iraq war proponents serve as the liberal voices in the media, then the anti-war position (held not just by most liberals but by the majority of the country) will not get a fair hearing.

Gideon Rose's comparison of bloggers to neo-cons in their disdain for the think tankers is unconvincing. The liberal bloggers criticize think-tankers for being wrong about the war in Iraq; neoconservatives criticize them for not being wrong enough. At some point you have to evaluate the substance of their critiques (which O'Hanlon outright refuses to do with Greenwald) and see whether they're well founded.