Warbloggers and Fallujah

by Henry on September 13, 2004

Atrios says today:

So, it’s pretty much the case that we went into Fallujah because some warbloggers got excited about the video of the desecration of the dead civilian contractors.

This seems to me to be either (a) paranoid nonsense, or (b) stupid trash-talk. If there’s a third possibility, I’d like to hear it. Either Atrios is seriously claiming that warbloggers set US military policy, or he’s casting a dumb slur. Claiming that the disaster of Fallujah proves that the warbloggers were badly, horribly, wrong, is fine; it’s probably even correct. Claiming without any evidence that they were the main people responsible for the policy disaster is either tinfoil hat stuff, or Glenn Reynolds calibre scuzzy innuendo.

{ 72 comments }

1

Vance Maverick 09.13.04 at 4:05 pm

Just hyperbole, I think. It’s probably right to say that the White House ordered the assault in part because of the outraged sentiment of the bellicose public. It’s fair to say warbloggers are somewhat representative of this public, but it’s careless of Atrios to flirt with the suggestion that they’re responsible for it.

2

Mike 09.13.04 at 4:08 pm

Ok, the remark presumably overstates the influence of war-bloggers. But calling someone influential when they are ignored isn’t much of a slur, if it’s a slur at all. I don’t understand the animus that animates Henry’s post. Aren’t the policy makers, and those who work to elect and enable them, the appropriate target of his (and Atrios’s) ire?

3

rea 09.13.04 at 4:12 pm

The only thing wrong with Atrios’ psot is the word, “warbloggers” Replace that with, say, “pro-war members of the television audience” and it’s exactly true.

4

s_bethy 09.13.04 at 4:19 pm

Atrios’ comment is probably an abreaction to the remarkable swiftness with which the media picked up the recent fraud accusations against the Killian memos brought forward by CBS.

I can imagine Duncan’s frustration over the difference in impact between his ‘influential’ website and that of, say, Matt Drudge. It may have caused him to misplace the blame.

5

Sven 09.13.04 at 4:32 pm

Bloggers may not set policy, but Paul Wolfowitz believes they can justify it.

6

Nasi Lemak 09.13.04 at 4:36 pm

It is difficult to identify exactly what the causal role of the warbloggers is in influencing media coverage and getting out right-wing talking points; one would have to go and do some painstaking work picking up who said what and when. Clearly, though, the warbloggers did go crazy over the video (as did Drudge, I think). And clearly the story kept getting bigger and bigger and more aggrieved in the American media, until the story’s framing was roughly that this was an unprecedented attack deserving of an unprecedented response. It seems plausible that warbloggers played some role in that framing. (again, painstaking work necessary to work out what). And then the political decision was taken by the White House that “heads must roll” in Fallujah, in response to the media’s reporting of the incident.

It’s not exactly a solid causal chain, but it’s not implausible to claim that to some degree the fanatical responses of the warbloggers played a role in the decision to attack Fallujah, is it?

7

Nasi Lemak 09.13.04 at 4:38 pm

It is difficult to identify exactly what the causal role of the warbloggers is in influencing media coverage and getting out right-wing talking points; one would have to go and do some painstaking work picking up who said what and when. Clearly, though, the warbloggers did go crazy over the video (as did Drudge, I think). And clearly the story kept getting bigger and bigger and more aggrieved in the American media, until the story’s framing was roughly that this was an unprecedented attack deserving of an unprecedented response. It seems plausible that warbloggers played some role in that framing. (again, painstaking work necessary to work out what). And then the political decision was taken by the White House that “heads must roll” in Fallujah, in response to the media’s reporting of the incident.

It’s not exactly a solid causal chain, but it’s not implausible to claim that to some degree the fanatical responses of the warbloggers played a role in the decision to attack Fallujah, is it?

8

Henry 09.13.04 at 4:46 pm

Nasi, while I’d agree that it’s not implausible to suggest that warbloggers had some role in framing the debate (Dan and I have written about bloggers and framing effects after all), Atrios seems to be (a) stating that they were the main parties responsible, and (b) not hedging his claim with any of the provisoes about causal fuzziness etc that you state here. It’s a far stronger claim that he’s making – and he doesn’t provide any evidence whatsoever to support it, or even any real argument. This is exactly the kind of stunt that Glenn Reynolds pulls all the time, and I don’t like it there. I don’t much like it when it’s someone on “my side” doing it either.

9

Jack 09.13.04 at 4:47 pm

If there is one, the slur is on the people who were allegedly motivated by US public opinion to take action that a Marine General on the ground would not have taken. As suggested above describing the relevant public opinion as a few warbloggers rather than say the audience of Fox news is not that big a deal. Marine General Conway’s allegations are clear enough to justify the meat of the accusation.
What’s the big problem?

10

Scott Martens 09.13.04 at 4:52 pm

I’m inclined to write it off as not-totally-off-the-mark hyperbole and go with Rea’s version: Pro-war nationalist-chauvinist discourse in America has a causal relationship to events in Iraq. Warbloggers and related commenters are iconic of this community and more likely to read Atrios than non-blog-reading members of the pro-war nationalist-chauvinist community. It strikes me as a plausible interpretation given Atrios’ style. Whether it’s true or not, I won’t venture a guess.

11

son volt 09.13.04 at 5:02 pm

“warbloggers” is a synecdoche for the right-wing commentariat. Rea almost has it right when he attributes the attack to the demand from “pro-war members of the television audience”. But that appetite is almost entirely producer-induced.

12

abb1 09.13.04 at 5:26 pm

What Rea said. Warbloggers = warmongers. Maybe it was a typo.

13

david 09.13.04 at 5:35 pm

Reynolds would misrepresent what someone else said, then accuse them of treason. Atrios points out, quite rightly, that civilian commanders initiated the attack on Fallujah for reasons that had little to do with the military control of Fallujah, and a lot to do with looking tough. Is it really too much to think they were trying to look tough to the people who were outraged at the desecration of the contractors, rather than to the people in Fallujah? Anyway, to suggest that Atrios’ point is that the warbloggers actually caused-as-in-ordered the Fallujah attack is a pretty unfair reading. He clearly meant that wingers at home created a climate that helped nudge the White House towards demanding punitive attacks, and thare is a freaking Marine General gone public hinting at the same thing.

14

Zizka 09.13.04 at 5:44 pm

Another vote for Atrios. I think that it was a funny sort of deliberate hyperbole and, as said above, synechdoche. “Warbloggers and other equally stupid, angry people whose votes Bush desperately needs”.

15

Henry 09.13.04 at 6:05 pm

So if Glenn Reynolds came up with an argument along the same lines, but implicating left-bloggers rather than warbloggers, you would excuse it as a “synecdoche” and a “funny sort of deliberate hyperbole”????

Come on guys, there’s a double standard being applied here.

16

Alan B. 09.13.04 at 6:35 pm

Come on guys, there’s a double standard being applied here.

Yes there is, but you seem to be the one applying it. The clear implication of the Washington Post peice was that the attack on Fallujah and the subsequent climb-down were both done in opposition to the strong advice of the commanders on the ground and for domestic political reasons. In the case of the first it was a desire to throw some red meat. (Most of it Iraqi, some of it American) to Bush’s base of rabid warmongers. That’s not his entire base, but it is part of it, and the 101st Fighting Keyboarders represent it well. This is a serious accusation, and one that Atrios makes quite well. I don’t think he is exagerating much here at all, and even if he is I don’t see any reason that it puts him in the catagory of Instahack. Your point seems to be that for liberal commenters any hint of rhetoric instantly drops them into the LGF catagory. Do you deny the point of the WP article, which is that Bush lost the lives of American troops and made our situation in Iraq much worse because he thought that for domestic political reasons it was important to make the rubble bounce in Fallujah? If so take issue with that, not with Atrios pointing out that a lot of the people he was aiming this gesture at are on the web.

On a related topic, why does Atrios’s post make you question his qualifications to be a blogger rather than Bush’s to be president?

17

Ken Houghton 09.13.04 at 6:46 pm

The argument presented is, as noted, from two sources: (1) the generals saw no reason to invade Fallujah, (2) the lesson Bush declared “learned” in February is exactly the one his own White House abrogated in April.

Unless you want to assume that speaking with Tim Russert requires cramming, and that his information retention should therefore be equivalent to that of a student who went on a three-day binge after that final exam, then we are left with the reality that the only proximate cause for invading Fallujah was–precisely as noted–the attack on the contractors, since the wise Bush of Februrary was overridden by the emotional White House of April.

If anything, “warbloggers” corresponds quite well to the many people/networks/entities that spread the meme that the Blackwell deaths “required action.”

I–and I’m certain Mr. Black–would be open to an alternate hypothesis regarding the invasion of Fallujah, but the data indicates that (1) the motivation for the invasion was not local and (2) the only significant change between the Bush statement to Russert in February and the invasion in April was the spectacular killing of the contractors.

Assume that we will reject out of hand the Null Hypothesis: Bush lied to Russert in February (which would be Glenn Reynolds’s starting point if we were discussing a Kerry statement).

18

Morat 09.13.04 at 6:48 pm

Henry: Yeah, I’d call it hyperbole if Insty-pundit did it. I’d probablly call it stupid as well, as I’ve noticed that Insty’s brain doesn’t work really well when “terrorism” or “9/11” is the topic…

But it’d still be hyperbole.

You probably should have stepped back and applied a “reasonable person” standard to Atrios’ post. No reasonable person is going to read that an assume the warbloggers are setting US military policy. Ergo, either Atrios is insane or he was using hyperbole (or something similiar).

I took it to mean that, basically, Bush felt he had to “look tough” when it came to a response (specifically to the gung-ho crowd) and chose a politically motivated response rather than one based on military or foreign policy reasons.

19

son volt 09.13.04 at 7:06 pm

For the Instapundit equation to work, you would have to find a policy that was

  1. demanded loudly and aggressively by a far-left punditariat and constituency
  2. opposed by more moderate, left-of-center career professionals in the relevant field
  3. was adopted by far-left President (this part is difficult, since there never has been one)
  4. subsequently proved disastrous

If Instapundit or anyone wants to blame a policy meeting those requirements on lefty bloggers, I won’t object.

20

s_bethy 09.13.04 at 7:10 pm

This post at My DD doesn’t shed light on Fallujah, but it contains a fascinating theory about why Rightie blogs seem so much more capable of generating a critical mass of jibber-jabber than do Leftie blogs.

As I mentioned above, I’m guessing that’s what Atrios was thinking about (but did not pause to explain) when he wrote his post.

21

Zizka 09.13.04 at 7:31 pm

The real question is whether I think that the militarily and politically ill-advised Fallujah assault took place mostly because of Bush’s need to keep the most bloodthirsty segment of American public opinion on his side. I absolutely think so, and that is what Atrios was saying. Describing that group as “warbloggers” exaggerates their importance, but not the tenor of what they were demanding from Bush. They are bloodthirsty indeed, and were not slandered. Atrios did it because he particularly dislikes warbloggers and because they rad his stuff whereas O’Reilly doesn’t.

I have something up on my site about this. Political discourse is a form of angry highly competitive advocacy under conditions of deception and extreme time pressure. Compare it to legal practice, salesmanship, or diplomacy. Academic thoughtfulness, scrupulosity, and punctiliousness are crippling to political actors, just as they would be for the other categories of advocates I mentioned (all of which are, incidentally, thoroughly legitimate activities.)

Far too many on the left, partly because of academic habits and partly because of too much Gandhi and a misreading of Orwell, try to function simultaneously as referees and as players, with the referee role often crippling the player role. I think that it kills the Democrats — it’s partly for other reasons, but there are very few left advocates in the media, but instead lots of left-symps functioning as referees and calling fouls on their own team.

There are far too many left-referees and far too few left-players (advocate) these days. Especially in the US, politicians have to be seen to fight for their own cause, and have to seem to be sure of themselves.

22

Henry 09.13.04 at 7:31 pm

Alan B – in my experience it’s often helpful to actually read posts before you respond to them. Anyone who could read what I wrote as condoning Bush’s policy is, in the kindest possible interpretation, not paying attention.

On the more serious responses – of course it’s hyperbole Morat – that’s my point. I don’t think that Atrios is a tin-foil hat person (but, not knowing what he was thinking, I didn’t want to discount entirely the possibility that he was sincerely stating the facts as he saw them). What I’m saying is that it’s only fair to apply the same standards of truth telling to Atrios (or indeed to me, or to anyone else on the left), as to Glenn Reynolds. If somebody on the right had made a similar-sounding argument about left-bloggers’ “responsibility” for whatever development in world politics you want to name, I would have felt pissed off – and that I had a right to be pissed off. The same standard should cut both ways. And I don’t think that the argument that “warblogger” is a valid stand-in for “tv watching rightwinger” cuts any ice. If you want to say “tv watching rightwinger,” you can say it. Atrios’ use of “warblogger” is a rhetorical move with pretty clear consequences – just as Reynolds’ effort to associate all sorts of unsavoury stuff with the “anti-war movement” was, some months ago.

Some may not agree with my general stance on this (I seem to recall Zizka arguing a couple of months ago that all was fair in attacking the right, more or less – maybe I’m mistaken). But if you think that it’s OK for Atrios to say this, and not OK for Glenn Reynolds, then you seem to be arguing that different standards of honesty and fair debate should apply to left and right. That’s political hackery as far as I’m concerned. Not that political hackery is always necessarily an inappropriate response – but it should be recognized up front for what it is.

23

Gary Farber 09.13.04 at 7:36 pm

I gotta say, speaking as a highly anti-Bush guy, that I continue to find this use of “warblogger” annoying, though it’s probably a lost usage battle.

For those of you not blogging or reading blogs at the time, people started “warblogging” on September 12th, 2001, and all it meant was blogging about subsequent events. Period. It indicated no particular politican stance or position, period. It indicated no policy preference. It indicated no specific advocacy. It indicated no belligerency, or Republicanism. It certainly didn’t indicate being “pro-war.”

It simply meant you weren’t one of the mass of then dominant tech-bloggers, or bloggers about HTML-writing. That’s all. (See for example, Matt Welch, whose blog is still “Warblog”; is Matt some sort of pro-war, pro-Bush, Republican hawkguy?)

It simply meant that you were blogging about politics and world affairs and news, not technical Internet or techie subjects (or any of the less prevalent other topics, such as cats). By standard definition, CT is a “warblog,” as is Atrios, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and so on.

Nothing ever changed about this, save that a lot of people weren’t reading blogs in 2001-2, have joined us since, saw the coinage “warblogger,” assumed they knew what it meant when they didn’t (certainly there are many hawks who started as “warbloggers,” from the reasonable to the insane), and started using the term “warblogger” to mean “pro-war hawkblogger crazy person,” or somesuch, and here we are.

As I said, this is likely a lost usage battle, but I can sputter, for the record, as we go down.

24

Gary Farber 09.13.04 at 7:38 pm

I gotta say, speaking as a highly anti-Bush guy, that I continue to find this use of “warblogger” annoying, though it’s probably a lost usage battle.

For those of you not blogging or reading blogs at the time, people started “warblogging” on September 12th, 2001, and all it meant was blogging about subsequent events. Period. It indicated no particular politican stance or position, period. It indicated no policy preference. It indicated no specific advocacy. It indicated no belligerency, or Republicanism. It certainly didn’t indicate being “pro-war.”

It simply meant you weren’t one of the mass of then dominant tech-bloggers, or bloggers about HTML-writing. That’s all. (See for example, Matt Welch, whose blog is still “Warblog”; is Matt some sort of pro-war, pro-Bush, Republican hawkguy?)

It simply meant that you were blogging about politics and world affairs and news, not technical Internet or techie subjects (or any of the less prevalent other topics, such as cats). By standard definition, CT is a “warblog,” as is Atrios, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and so on.

Nothing ever changed about this, save that a lot of people weren’t reading blogs in 2001-2, have joined us since, saw the coinage “warblogger,” assumed they knew what it meant when they didn’t (certainly there are many hawks who started as “warbloggers,” from the reasonable to the insane), and started using the term “warblogger” to mean “pro-war hawkblogger crazy person,” or somesuch, and here we are.

As I said, this is likely a lost usage battle, but I can sputter, for the record, as we go down.

25

Henry 09.13.04 at 7:43 pm

I posted the last comment simultaneously to Zizka’s, more or less – he makes what seems to me to be the best and most intellectually coherent case possible for the opposing point of view. I don’t agree, obviously – honest debate is more important to me, in the end of the day than my side winning – it’s not only what I’m paid for as an academic, but it’s a basic value that I think is worth defending – the possibility of a politics with at least a moderate degree of honesty and fairness of debate. Zizka is less hopeful than I am, obviously (at least under current circumstances). You’ll note that the implicit logic of Zizka’s argument is that even if Atrios is behaving like a hack, others on the left shouldn’t call him on it, because it weakens the left politically. If that’s the program that people want to sign up to, fine – but be aware of what it is that you’re committing yourself to.

26

Zizka 09.13.04 at 7:45 pm

Reynolds does it **all the time**, and he’s not going to stop. We object to his sticking thumbs in our eye because he’s sticking thumbs in OUR eye, not because of a Kantian law against thumbing. But our objections mean nothing to him; they’re for the sake of our friends and anyone who might happen to be making up their minds.

All I am willing to grant is that it is not permissible to **lower** the standard of play in order to win. But it is permissible to play according to the present standard.

To a certain degree, American voter **want** it’s leaders to be rough, tough, and mean. The toughness of a political campaign is taken as an indicator of the candidate’s capacity for defending the nation. I personally do not want a hawkish leader, but we need one who seems hawkish, and a mean campaign reassures people. I am **not** kidding.

I’ve been developing this for awhile, but Democrats, liberals, and the genteel left don’t accept conflict as a valid mode of relationship. Academic discourse is, by definition, **not** conflictual (except in devious, Byzantine, Mamluk-type ways), and academic civility is **not** a good model for conflict discourse.

It’s supply and demand. There have been times when there were too many hacks and not enough fair-minded, civil, above-the-battle types. But at the moment there’s an advocate (hack, player) shortage and an enormous referee surplus.

And Atrios was right about both the warbloggers and Bush’s motives, though he did play a little too much to those shits’ self-importance.

27

Zizka 09.13.04 at 7:55 pm

Incidentally, I date the moment when civil discourse became impossible in US politics to the day when Newt Gingich replaced Robert Michel as House minority leader (soon to become Speaker). Gingrich’s extreme violations of the most minimal civility are too many to list, and he was very successful with that, and the people who replaced him were dumber than him but just as mean and vicious.

28

Zizka 09.13.04 at 7:56 pm

Incidentally, I date the moment when civil discourse became impossible in US politics to the day when Newt Gingich replaced Robert Michel as House minority leader (soon to become Speaker). Gingrich’s extreme violations of the most minimal civility are too many to list, and he was very successful with that, and the people who replaced him were dumber than him but just as mean and vicious.

29

bob mcmanus 09.13.04 at 8:24 pm

“And Atrios was right about both the warbloggers and Bush’s motives, though he did play a little too much to those shits’ self-importance.”

It certainly appears the the “forged memos” story was sent to the right wing blogs, who developed, tightened it, cleared it of the most obviously refutable claims, or put enough noise out there to make refutation difficult. Then it moved on to talk radio and Fox News, etc.

Before you completely discount Atrios’s statement, perhaps you should do an historical analysis of how the “Fallujah outrage” actually developed. Are you certain he is wrong?

30

yabonn 09.13.04 at 8:33 pm

What zizka said. And maybe too in another way :

People are going to elect the big boss for 4 years. What if the like the idea of said future big boss getting all dirty to have his little reward? Humanization through dirty tricks?

Too, i don’t mind the desire for purity in itself, but what if it puts you systematically at disadvantage?

Or is the implied here that the dirty tricks in politics would somehow rub on to the actual policies?

I agree that dirty tricks in politics are wrong, wrong, wrong. Terrible academics and all that.

It’s wrong and not that important : in the end it’s the policies implemented that count in the lives of people. Political bickering is for wonks.

Not advocating lgf kind of bollocks, though, it’s self defeating. But maybe some impetus would be gained with less self critisizing virtue.

31

Alan B 09.13.04 at 8:53 pm

Alan B – in my experience it’s often helpful to actually read posts before you respond to them. Anyone who could read what I wrote as condoning Bush’s policy is, in the kindest possible interpretation, not paying attention.

Atrios condemmed Bush’s actions. You suggested that his post could only be considered(a) paranoid nonsense, or (b) stupid trash-talk. I accept your clarification that you agree with his postion on Bush and are merely taking issue with his use of “warbloggers” to mean “right-wing kill-them-all loonies”

case closed.

32

pine 09.13.04 at 9:05 pm

Atrios’s statement would be a slur or innuendo if it unfairly characterized the warbloggers’ position. From what I’ve read, the attack of Fallujah was fully congruent with their views.

I have a hard time working up moral outrage to what is obviously a rhetorical device. Really your outrage is basically, “Bad Atrios, you ascribe too much influence to warbloggers.”

33

Andy 09.13.04 at 9:24 pm

Henry is a very smart academic, and I think Zizka’s right that he’s just a lot more careful with his terms than a blogger like Atrios. I mean, let’s sic Matt Yglesias on any given political blog and find out how many use/mention errors he can find.

I think “warblogger” as a loose synonym for “wingnut” is pretty evident to anyone familiar with Atrios’s blog.

And as Bob McManus rightly points out, even taken literally, who’s to say he’s wrong? Maybe Atrios and Henry both shot off the hip here?

34

Zizka 09.13.04 at 9:34 pm

I had this kind of argument a few days ago, responding to Stirling Newberry (who has wonderful things, but not this time) at “Blogging of the President”.

I said something like:

“In the ten days before Nov. 2, maybe even the last five days, the Republicans will release something terribly damaging to Kerry. How should we respond?

The rational, civil approach is to look at the evidence and the argument, get to the bottom of things, talk things over, and come to a judicious conclusion about the truth of the matter — somewhere between Nov. 3 and Armageddon. That way, we will know for sure that we are right, and not just political hacks.

The problem is that sudden revelations, true or false, win elections. If we conclusively prove on Nov. 3 that the republicans were wrong on the facts or even lying, it doesn’t make any difference. No do-over, no instant replay, **four more years of Bush.** It already happened once, more or less, in Florida 2000.

So when the dirt comes out on Oct 28 (let us say) we will deny it as adamantly and effectively as we can. Regardless.

There’s no possible revelation, true or otherwise, that could make Kerry a worse President than Bush at this point, but there are revelations that could lose the election.

The alternative is to sit around saying — “Well, maybe Kerry **did** torture cats when he was 11. Maybe he **did** have a homosexual encounter with a STASI agent in E. Berlin. Maybe he **did** cheat his way to a four-point average in 1963.

Because, after all, truth is more important than winning.

(Incidentally, there is a philosophical background to what I’m saying, but it’s mostly absent from analytic philosophy as taught in almost all schools today. Cf. my comments on a thread a few days ago).

35

Henry 09.13.04 at 9:45 pm

But Zizka, there seems to be a difference here that you’re eliding between (a) saying that we should be combative and aggressive and call bullshit when we see it, and (b) saying that we should commit bullshit ourselves (or at least refuse to condemn it in others on our side). They’re different things, and you can certainly support the first without supporting the second (or at least I hope you can – because that’s my underlying position). Fairness – at least the version I’m arguing for here – doesn’t necessitate meekness, wimpy language, or “on the one hand, on the other hand” nonsense when you’re dealing with blatant falsifications. What I’m saying is that you should apply the same standards to false statements on your own side, as false statements on the other side – I don’t see how your Kerry torturing kittens example is relevant here. Perhaps I’m missing something.

36

abb1 09.13.04 at 9:56 pm

So, it’s pretty much the case that the assault weapons ban got renewed because some lefty bloggers got excited about the video of the recent shooting rampage in the US that killed 15 mail workers.

I think I could endure this kind of stupid trash-talk…

37

Donald Johnson 09.13.04 at 10:11 pm

I wouldn’t object if Glenn Reynolds used lefty bloggers as representative of the left in general. Atrios was apparently saying that Bush sent the military into Fallujah to impress his warblogger consituency. If you take warbloggers to be representative of rightwing militarists in general, it doesn’t seem like a tinfoil thing to say. And I wouldn’t object to Instapundit doing the same thing to the left. I would only object if there were no truth at all in Instapundit’s statement.

I thought Henry’s criticism was more overstated than that of Atrios, frankly. There are serious things one could criticize Atrios for (such as his use of demeaning terms for women, a hot topic in some parts of the blogosphere right now). This isn’t one of them.

38

blah 09.13.04 at 10:32 pm

It seems to me that Henry either (a) is making a mountain our of a molehill, or (b) has a bug up his butt. If there’s a third possibility, I’d like to hear it.

39

dsquared 09.13.04 at 10:38 pm

I think Atrios is correct that the policy in Fallujah was shaped by jingoes in general, and lord knows the blogosphere has some extraordinary examples of the kind (Orwell once suggested that one of the earth’s rarer sights was “a jingo with a bullet in him”). But surely to God, anyone who doesn’t see Henry’s point has got a completely skewed vision of the world caused by not having enough sources of information which aren’t the internet (you may laugh; that’s how Steven den Beste got started).

“Warbloggers” refers to people who have weblogs (a minority hobby), whose weblogs are mainly about politics (a minority within that minority), who were supporters of the war (about half of that minority within a minority) and who were barking loons (only a small majority of that faction).

In other words, it refers to probably less than a score of individuals and certainly less than a hundred. To put all the blame on them is ludicrous. If weblogs had that much power in the world, I’d update D^2 Digest more regularly.

40

blah 09.13.04 at 10:46 pm

Everyone got the point. The objection is to the vehemence with which Henry attacks Atrios and his unwillingness to consider that Atrios may have simply been employing a rhetorical device. At worst, Atrios is guilty of rhetorical incompetence. Big deal.

41

blah 09.13.04 at 10:49 pm

Sheesh. I thought Americans were supposed to have the reputation for being too literal-minded.

42

bob mcmanus 09.13.04 at 11:05 pm

“If weblogs had that much power in the world, I’d update D^2 Digest more regularly.”

Powerline had 1200 trackbacks in 9 hours. Perhaps if you were part of that integrated community, you would view it differently.

And I remember some of the Fallujah controversy, and the blogs very quickly got the information on who the contracters were, their histories, their faces. They were the first to “humanize” the incident.

Jane Galt has no doubt the memos were forged. Eugene Volokh is very careful, as usual, but is discussing libel law and shareholder lawsuits in regard to CBS. The blogs may not be a true power, but they are a significant tool of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

I would not pretend to read Henry’s mind, but I suspect a lot of people are still in shock as to how CBS and Dan Rather could become so seriously weakened in a mere 48-72 hours. And they are, make no mistake about it.

The mass voluntary and near universal abandonment of integrity by a group is very powerful, and can lead to Auschwitz. You can only reason with a lynch mob after firing a few bullets in the air to get their attention.

43

Henry 09.13.04 at 11:10 pm

Nope blah, clearly everyone didn’t get the point. As should be emphatically clear from the post and my comments above, I’m perfectly happy to agree that Atrios is employing a rhetorical device – but your faith that he’s at worst guilty of incompetence is more touching than convincing. He’s blaming warbloggers for something they’re not responsible for. Two questions. First, when Glenn Reynolds claims that the ‘anti-war left’ is effectively identical with, and responsible for, the ravings of every rent-a-loon on Indymedia, is that a “rhetorical device” that he’s at worst incompetently employing? If not, what’s your standard of judgement here? If we’re critical of Glenn Reynolds et al. for playing fast and loose with language when he’s smearing the left, why should Atrios should have a free pass when he’s doing the same to bloggers on the right? God knows, I’ve not much time for warbloggers, but in 40-odd comments, most of them critical, I haven’t seen one serious effort to show that Atrios is right on the facts (the closest is Nasi Lemak’s perfectly reasonable argument that a weaker version of Atrios’ claim is not implausible). The standards which some commenters seem willing to apply to Atrios’ claims – ‘well, no-one has shown that it’s false’- are pretty remarkably piss-poor – exactly the same logic as recent administration flackage about the presence of WMDs in Iraq.If that’s the level on which you want to conduct the debate, then more power to you. I’d far prefer Zizka’s line on this, which at least has the merits of basic intellectual consistency.

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blah 09.13.04 at 11:20 pm

I’m perfectly happy to agree that Atrios is employing a rhetorical device – but your faith that he’s at worst guilty of incompetence is more touching than convincing. He’s blaming warbloggers for something they’re not responsible for.

See, you can’t have it both ways. If Atrios is employing a rhetorical device, then he is not literally blaming the warbloggers for the Fallujah fiasco. I think most reasonable people would agree that Atrios is not literally blaming the warbloggers for Bush’s strategic military decisions. That’s why your fury is all out of proportion.

Your criticism only applies if Atrios is speaking literally, and we seem to agree that he is not. So what’s the real problem?

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Henry 09.13.04 at 11:36 pm

Blah – think a little bit about this. Atrios may not literally believe that the warbloggers are responsible for the disaster in Fallujah, but by choosing the language that he’s chosen, he’s quite certainly casting a slur. Just as Glenn Reynolds is when he imputes that the anti-war left is “responsible” for this or that. He can and does claim when he’s called on this kind of nonsense that he doesn’t literally mean that every member of the left is responsible for whatever it is. Thus, in your sense of the word, he’s using a rhetorical device. But doesn’t the slur and innuendo remain? You’re playing language games here, and I really don’t think that you’d be playing them if I was (say) criticizing Reynolds in this post.

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bob mcmanus 09.13.04 at 11:37 pm

“If we’re critical of Glenn Reynolds et al. for playing fast and loose with language when he’s smearing the left, why should Atrios should have a free pass when he’s doing the same to bloggers on the right?”

Because the left and right are qualitively different in America. And because it appears that the last week Jane Galt, Volokh, Tacitus, von of Obsidian Wings, and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs put aside any differences and were working in a coordinated way to spread a smear.

What was painful to me is that the left appears surprised. Again.

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dsquared 09.14.04 at 12:03 am

It did strike me as odd that so many self-styled “libertarians” were so quick to jump on this talking point. Mind you, I had always marked down McArdle and Volokh (along with Reynolds) as what you might call “Hanging Chad Republicans” after the first time they pulled this stunt; libertarians who “criticise Bush all the time” on safe issues like creationism and stem cell research, but come back to the party when push comes to shove.

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Henry 09.14.04 at 12:22 am

bq. Mind you, I had always marked down McArdle and Volokh (along with Reynolds) as what you might call “Hanging Chad Republicans”

True – and indeed in some ways analogous. When Eugene Volokh “just assumes for the purpose of the legal analysis” that CBS is guilty as sin of touting forged documents, and then goes into detailed legal analysis over several posts of whether CBS is liable to get its license pulled, be sued for libel etc, it’s a rhetorical device, but one with a fairly transparent ideological slant.

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bob mcmanus 09.14.04 at 12:37 am

“Partisanship. Republicans were much more likely to stand by Nixon. In a Gallup poll of July 1973, 34% of Democrats but just 7% of Republicans favored his removal through impeachment. Six months later, the proportion of Democrats favoring Nixon’s removal had climbed to 48%, vs. just 11% of Republicans. In early August 1974, 71% of Democrats wanted Nixon out, while a majority of Republicans (59%) stood by their man and opposed his removal.”

Haldeman & Erlichman were already gone, Nixon was on his 4th Attorney General in 2 years, indictments of high administration officials were into the double digits, and Republicans were still supporting their guy against vicious unfounded partisan smears.

Trent Lott, Bob Dole & Dick Cheney were still defending Nixon up to the point he got on the helicopter.
Maybe I am wrong, but I learned that Republicans were a different critter than me. The passage of time has not disabused me of the notion.

It is more ok to paint Republicans with a broad brush than Democrats. They have earned it.

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s_bethy 09.14.04 at 12:50 am

Given the direness of political conditions in the US today, the main objection that I have to the kind of sloppiness that Henry objects to is that it dilutes the effectiveness of the message.

The fact that all you heavy hitters are rattling on about whether or not Atrios has committed a transgression is answer enough to the question. Clearly, he has muffed this one, or we would be talking about his point, rather than his language.

Unlike the ‘hanging chad Republicans’, Atrios never pretends to be a neutral party, but as a high profile voice of the left, we do expect him to be effective. In fact, in the absence of a Fox News, Drudge Report, Republican Majority, Christian Broadcasting Network, WSJ Editorial Page of the left, we expect him to be downright godlike.

Or was I thinking of Fafblog?

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self 09.14.04 at 12:54 am

Atrios’ weblog is not a journalistic or academic endeavor, so perhaps Henry’s reaction is pointing out the obvious. He is correct to conclude this is a tactic used by “wingnuts” (Atrios’ phrase) and should be avoided if one wants to speak from the moral high ground. While Atrios gives his audience the impression of a higher standard there are certainly instances when the veil comes off.

Eschaton itself was used as a coordinated effort with Digby, Pandagon, (hmm…better add DeLong),etc for the Democrats’ propaganda needs when Nader hating was all the rage on the centrist political blogs. A point well spotted by Henry and credit to CT for showing their academic pedigree on all matters bloglike.

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Zizka 09.14.04 at 12:58 am

Whatever I said above was consistent with my belief that a.) the American Fallujah attack was, in fact, done for domestic American political consumption, and 2.) the warbloggers are pretty representative of the demographic that Bush was trying to keep happy. So what Atrios said, to me, was just a part-for-whole metaphor, and wrong only in exaggerating the warbloggers’ importance within the American Armageddon community.

My “torturing kittens” example slopped over from something else, related but not identical. On the “forged memos” question, I think that a certain proportion of the Democrats were far too quick to conclude that they were forgeries.

In context, I don’t think that we should do the Republicans’ work for them. It’s their job to make their case. Once they’ve made their case, cool. I’ve been very diffident about either affirming or denying the authenticity of the memos, which might lead one to believe that I have doubts. But I’m willing to let them do their job, confident that it will all come out in the wash. I certainly don’t think that people should stick their necks out too far affirming the documents either.

Anyway, the point of the torturing kittens example is that when it comes up on Oct 29 we should be advocates first and truth-tellers last. On October 29 I will not be thinking **at all** about whether Kerry tortured kittens or not.

That’s a responsibility of an advocate in a fast-moving adversarial system. Truth will take the back seat, and rightly so. Any other decision would be politically insane. (The exception would be a case in which it is actually thought that Kerry is, e.g., a Chinese agent or Armageddonist, and the accusation is genuinely significant to that extent. But I can’t imagine that happening this year. Since Bush almost is an Armageddonist, for one thing, that would be irrelevant.)

Frankly, I think that the intellectual purism I’ve been hearing all over the place all this time incapacitates people for active participation in a democracy. All democracies are two-party or multi-party systems which only function at all if the parties have advocates. It’s as if you should set down rules for salesmen which make it impossible to sell anything, or rules for lawyers which require them to stand up and say that their client is guilty once they become so convinced. It almost seems as if people are dreaming of a conflict-free Confucian or Platonic system within which wise rulers make decisions based on a peacefull consensus about Truth.

I have a clear and accurate perception of how vicious and dishonest American politics is and has been for a decade or more. I don’t think that everyone here really understands what’s been happening.)

I think that my comparison of political actors to salemen, lawyers, and diplomats is exact, and people should think about it some. The responsibilities of advocates are not the responsibilities of referees. And I do not understand why people who basically accept the legitimacy of those kinds of advocates should reject similiar advocacy by particpants in democratic politics.

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BruceR 09.14.04 at 12:59 am

Excuse me, but I take exception to Mr. McManus’ remarks that the act of pointing out what was an obvious attempt to change the public debate through document forgery somehow makes anyone who did so part of a coordinated “smear” campaign.

Zizka has claimed the right to lie to me and others in the name of his greater truth; so noted. But Mr. McManus appears to be arguing that the media, including CBS, should always be given the benefit of the doubt, which may be more pernicious… I’d say that’s exactly the kind of view that enabled the pro-war camp in the first place.

Me, I call ’em as I see em. Having been a media guy most of my adult life, I didn’t believe the media when they were seeing WMD’s, and I don’t believe them when they’re talking about magic typewriters, either. To me that’s the only consistent view to take: informed skepticism. Pity you can never find it in one place anymore.

After three years of fighting them on various stupid issues, I may not be on speaking terms any longer with half the bloggers you mentioned, Mr. McManus, but in this one case they clearly did the public a service, however much some might want to wish they hadn’t.

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Wren 09.14.04 at 1:16 am

Perhaps this repeats something already said but…..my distinct recollection is that the attack on Fallujah was in direct response to George Bush’s intemperate desire to kick some ass after he saw the burnt bodies of the Blackwater contractors. The insurgents in Fallujah had been carefully studying the Blackhawk Down story and wanted to provoke the US to do something injudicious. I think GWB fell for it. The warbloggers were only along for the ride; this was GWB. What a fuckhead.

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s_bethy 09.14.04 at 1:30 am

…an obvious attempt to change the public debate through document forgery…

It would seem that there is a limit to brucer’s skepticism.

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david 09.14.04 at 1:47 am

Nobody but Henry read Atrios as saying that warbloggers pushed a button and off the Marines went. On the facts, Atrios is plenty right: there is a Marine General, gone public, hinting that the President wanted to kick ass in light of the contractor’s desecration, with the futher implication that this was done for domestic political reasons. The original post here reads like a weak moment from Spinsanity, and this whole double standards thing is bogus. No misrepresentation, some hyperbole with a reasonable point behind it, even the qualification “pretty much,” used much like a teenager would say “like,” to point out that a metaphor is coming. So, to repeat, Atrios was right on the facts, unless you work really really hard to misread him and say he really really thinks that “warbloggers” have a red phone that Cheney picks up at the VP’s house.

Compare this to Reynolds, say, against Matthew Yglesias the other day. Yglesias: “gee this Beslan thing is crazy, awful, realistically, concessions might have helped, but you can’t do it now, but ratcheting up the violence will breed more situations like this.” Reynolds: “Leftists are appeasers. Never forget what we’re up against. Indeed.”

See the difference? Warbloggers did call for blood, as did their president. It was a nasty, stupid reaction, and it led to Iraqui civilians and American soldiers dying for nasty, stupid reasons.

Sorry, no comparison or double standards; looks instead like someone is itching to find a fellow traveler crossing the line. The last part of Atrios’ point made the obvious reading clear, btw. He says he’s angry that people were sent to die because the president wanted to be seen kicking some ass on television. There’s some evidence, out today, that that’s what’s happened. It pisses you off too.

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bob mcmanus 09.14.04 at 1:54 am

Well, I have not yet addrssed the actual arguments about the documents. On any board, anywhere. I have however followed the discussion quite closely on Powerline, Tacitus, Atrios, Drum, Pandagon, Yglesias, Beyerstein, Kleiman to name a few…including all the comments and sidelinks, which makes me certifiable and demonstrates a certain societal uselessness.

And I have come to the conclusion that all the arguments are utter bullshit, and were obviously so from the very beginning. For instance, the font is not Times New Roman, and a comparison of the character sets makes it instantly obvious. A wide vs narrow “W”. Since this could have determined in the first five minutes, I presume anyone still using the original arguments is disingenuous in stating a desire to find the truth. (I don’t want to bring this argument to Crooked Timber; they will try to confuse you. And there are much better places to find out)

And if you think that “showing” that a top five media organization would either through malice or incompetence use fraudulent material to attack a president on possible criminal activity is doing the country a service, you are mistaken. This may actually be among the most important and despicable events in my lifetime.

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Henry 09.14.04 at 2:08 am

So all Glenn Reynolds has to do from now on is to say “pretty much” in front of everything and he’s scot-free?

I’m not going to respond to any more of these comments – it doesn’t look to me as though it’s a very useful debate for either side.

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Zizka 09.14.04 at 2:19 am

I have claimed the right to work as a partisan political advocate, the way lawyers, salespersons, and diplomats work as advocates. I make the best case for my point of view.

One part of that is not doing the other guy’s work for him. When the case against the Killian memos becomes irrefutable, I will admit that. My position from the beginning has been that the Killian memos were in no way necessary to our case. On the other hand, they do help, and I was not going to agree to the first triumphant refutation, and I was right in that because most of the first triumphant refuataion was wrong. The grounds of argument are different now than they were even a day ago. (The whole story is just barely five days old.)

Obviously the other side was going to claim, prematurely but loudly, that that the memos were refuted. And obviously, and quite reasonably, I was going to look at their refutation and see if it was any good. And it wasn’t.

There’s a real anti-democratic undercurrent to the idea that political advocates, as such, are illegitimate, whereas commercial and professional advocates are fine. And in fact, this suspicion of political advocacy comes from the fact that political arguments are more or less by definition at the margins of the political order and basically unpoliced, while at the same time the stakes are high.

Democracies cannot do without partisan political advocates. And the left needs more (and more partisan) advocates, not the reverse. Societies rules by a consensus of reasonable men are not democracies.

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Zizka 09.14.04 at 2:23 am

Exit Henry stage right.

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s_bethy 09.14.04 at 2:47 am

Pretty much.

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Henry 09.14.04 at 3:08 am

Sorry – should have made it clear – I’m not responding to any more of the comments saying that Atrios didn’t cast some sort of slur (since I’m not going to convince the skeptics, nor vice-versa). The other more general argument over whether or not bloggers should be partisan advocates is interesting – and I’ll probably work up a blog post on it in a day or two, once I get my thoughts straight.

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david 09.14.04 at 3:18 am

Not to beat the horse you just killed, though beating a dead horse does seem to be the medium’s optimal use… but you said earlier:
“Atrios seems to be (a) stating that they were the main parties responsible, and (b) not hedging his claim with any of the provisoes about causal fuzziness etc that you state here.”

Pretty much, in my reading, is a hedge about causal fuzziness. It wouldn’t work for Reynolds, cause he lies about what other people say, so the hedging just makes him slimier. Here, the hedge is put in to make it clear that the statement is not meant to be read literally, but metaphorically, or synechdochally, or metonymically, I can never really tell the difference.

Just saying.

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david 09.14.04 at 3:55 am

David Neiwart has an especially good Reynoldsism up today, I see. Feel the ooze when you get to the “rather a lot” modifying “credibility.”

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bob mcmanus 09.14.04 at 4:27 am

“partisan advocacy” zizka had a great post on the different ways the two parties handle issue advocacy on a local level, with Republicans having an advantage by nationalizing their resources. I hope it is still there at Seeing the Forest.

Since my main objection to Republicans is based on an amorality in partisan advocacy, I may be in trouble here. I would answer by saying that it started with Nixon….that beyond the crimes and misdemeanors, Republicans also should have had huge problems with Nixon’s policies(wage-price controls, anyone?). Yet they remained worshipful. So I decided then that Republicans invested an irrational amount of emotion in the individual, whereas Democrats put more into policies.
Reagan repeatedly raised taxes, yet they worship Reagan to this day. And God only knows what they see in the present bum. There were policy problems, but I don’t think the base ever liked Bush I.

But I am not so sure you can achieve the proper level of partisan fervor, enough to get policy accomplishments, without that hagiography. Have Democrats been successful since Kennedy? Dems may lack the authoritarianism required for true hackery.

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Zizka 09.14.04 at 4:38 am

I try, Bob.

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abb1 09.14.04 at 9:59 am

…cast some sort of slur…

I don’t think ‘slur’ is the right word here. Those “some warbloggers” wouldn’t take it as an insult or unfair accusation. Attack on Fallujah is what they wanted, asked for and still demanding and clamoring for.

It’s nothing at all like accusing the peace protesters of being traitors, this is more like saying that the peace protesters have been effective in preventing or ending a war, which is not ‘slur’ because the peace protesters wouldn’t mind being credited.

Clearly he does exaggerate “some warbloggers'” role here, or, rather, singles them out as representing jingoistic tendency in the US, but it certainly isn’t ‘slur’.

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Scott McArthur 09.14.04 at 8:31 pm

Isn’t Atrios just saying that Bush took his queues from the right wing mob? Isn’t that why Bush ordered “heads to roll” in Falluja?

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Dan 09.14.04 at 10:26 pm

[**2nd try… first try: “Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: h-o-m-e-f-r-o”… What on earth?]

2 pence…

The warbloggers’ outrage == synecdochic stand-in for the overwrought, self-aware outrage of the hawk right.

It could be argued that eliding the distinction lays bare certain assumptions re: the right tout court and that these assumptions are unfair.

But this misses the point, that being the political rather than military purposes behind the move into Fallujah… in order, yes, to answer the outrage fueled on the home front by an alarmist reaction rather than to deal with the reality on the ground in Iraq.

To attribute cause to a handful of warbloggers is a rhetorical touch that suggests that even the outsized outrage of a handful of insignificant noisemakers can lead to significantly catastrophic consequences.

Atrios: “I really try to stay away from criticizing military tactics here, but the idea that they’re sending kids in to kill and be killed for some red meat for the teevee pisses me off.”

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Zizka 09.14.04 at 11:28 pm

I suspect that Henry is insufficiently informed about the viciousness of the American right and the degree to which Bush’s policy decisions are decided by the political imperative of keeping his demented “core constituency” on board.

I got all philosophical about, but I actually do not think that Atrios’ statement was factually misleading. I took the opportunity to argue some general points, as I did with the Moore movie, but in this case I think that Atrios’ statement was more accurate than Henry realizes.

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plato_451 09.15.04 at 3:32 am

Did anyone ask Atrios to clarify?

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Tom Doyle 09.15.04 at 6:46 am

“Did anyone ask Atrios to clarify?”

That’s a good point. I wouldn’t draw any hard and fast conclusions about atrios’ intent without pointing out the problematic words and asking if he would provide support for the claim or perhaps revise his terminology.

That said, I may be missing something, but I read the Post article and I don’t see anything that strongly suggests the attack on Falluja was primarily or substantially motivated by domestic (US) politics.

Since the beginning, US tactics in Iraq have been brutal, viscious, exactly the opposite of US doctrine about how to deal with the local population. Kicking down doors, trashing houses, dragging people off, torturing them is wrong in itself, and it also guarentees bitter, long term opposition. Thus, I’m not surprised that the local commander thought the Falluja operation was a bad idea. Yet it seems consistent with the entire US approach in Iraq. One might speculate as to why the US has operated in this manner. I won’t.

In my view, it is ethically problematic to claim, directly or by implication, that desecrating remains, public executions, etc justify or excuse different but no less legally condemnable actions by US troops or their allies. I disagree with those who express such claims, be they warbloggers or not.

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