Don’t let the posts fool you

by John Holbo on August 3, 2007

Dean Barnett, after digging up ranty stuff in a Kos comment box, then noting the post itself was mild-mannered:

With the Yearly Kos about to convene, I think it’s important to note what the Daily Kos is and, more importantly, what it isn’t. Markos Moulitsas and his front-pagers had nothing to do with these comments. He and they have grown much too smart to engage in such public displays of idiocy. But Markos doesn’t lead the Daily Kos; he sits atop it.

An interesting standard: blogs are to be judged exclusively by their comment boxes.

This seems like a useful snippet for someone to have, for talking points purposes, if they are getting interviewed about the whole ‘Kos Hate Site’ thing. Prominent right-wing blogger admits Kos postings are, on the whole, even-keeled – as befits the site’s prominence. After all, surely right-wing blogs generate their share of angry comment box froth? Barnett is judicious, possibly to a fault:

the right has its sliver of kooks and misfits who jam every event into a one-size-fits-all-events ideological prism




Randy Paul 08.03.07 at 2:24 am

Apparently he’s never read the cesspool known as LGF. One wonders what Instapundit would be like if Reynolds had coments.

Indeed. heh.


Jacob (2) 08.03.07 at 2:58 am

Neither here nor there, but the thing to realize is that DailyKos is an unusual hybrid of a blog, with a series of main postings and a gallery of secondary “diaries” contributed by others. These, in turn, generate long threads of (“rated”) comments. So these commenters are twice removed from the site’s operator, Markos Moulitsas.


yoyo 08.03.07 at 3:06 am

Also from my browsing of comment sections, most bloggers are into ‘cool sites’ that are about viagra and internet poker.


JP Stormcrow 08.03.07 at 3:38 am


Thomas 08.03.07 at 3:40 am

Well, that’s an unusually bad reading of what Dean says.

Kos doesn’t hold itself out as a “blog”, but says it is a “political community.” So, to understand it as a “political community” one presumably would look to see what the participant say in the comment boxes.

And that’s what Dean did. And that’s why he concluded not with any statement about Kos, but with this:

“The energy and direction comes from the bottom. This is what real grassroots activism looks like. To flash back a bit to our internal exchange over the YouTube Debate, the reason the Democrats have such an advantage in on-line organizing and energy is because they have hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people who angrily obsess about Iraq and George W. Bush on a 24/7 basis. Let’s face it – if a bridge collapsing in Minnesota makes you angry at George W. Bush, the results of your political Rorschach Test are conclusive. You’re a nut. But a useful nut; you’re the kind of nut who probably opens your heart and your wallet to the causes that strike your fancy.”


JP Stormcrow 08.03.07 at 3:45 am

[Insert crazy, hateful comment here that will forever characterize Crooked Timber.]

It was still funny the first two times I tried it.


Walt 08.03.07 at 4:01 am

Thomas, you can’t see what a stupid thing that is to say?


Doctor Slack 08.03.07 at 4:11 am

Italics off.

If that’s the best thing Dean Barnett can find while trying to cherry-pick dKos for “hate site” material, I feel sorry for him.


Doctor Slack 08.03.07 at 4:12 am

Italics not off, I guess. Too bad.


John Holbo 08.03.07 at 4:20 am

Thomas, you DO understand what a significant shifting of the goalposts you are making? “The energy and direction comes from the bottom. This is what real grassroots activism looks like.” It is, of course, impossible to imagine a large political movement/community that couldn’t be cherry-picked for a few nuts (to mix metaphors). So if this is an argument against something, it would have to be an argument against large-scale participation in the political process.


JP Stormcrow 08.03.07 at 4:27 am

But, … but … MoveOn compared Bush to Hitler. I read about it on the web.


John Holbo 08.03.07 at 4:49 am

I just deleted a comment by stormcrow upstream. It was italicizing the whole page but I couldn’t figure out why, nor fix it. It was just an apology for having misposted earlier, so I’m sure Mr. stormcrow won’t take the delete personally. (Very mysterious, these intertubes.)


bi 08.03.07 at 5:15 am

“you’re the kind of nut who probably opens your heart and your wallet to the causes that strike your fancy.”

And the alternative is, I don’t know, to open your heart and wallet to causes which _don’t_ strike your fancy? Or _not_ to open your heart and wallet to causes which _do_ strike your fancy? Or…?

Mark Kaplan hit the nail on the head: “Emotion –your opponent is necessarily and invariably ‘excitable’ ‘agitated’ ‘animated’; you, by contrast, are immobile, impassive, devoid of emotion – a computer imbued with consciousness.”

Sometimes, these “even-handed” commentators try so hard that you can tell they’re faking it.

And a bridge collapsing in Minnesota, global warming, Iraq, and all that? Blame anyone you like, I don’t care. But if you blame George W. Bush, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your groin! Now _that’s_ even-handedness.


skippy 08.03.07 at 5:53 am

well what about the disgusting photoshop cartoon with michael berube opening kieran healy’s pants?


bad Jim 08.03.07 at 8:39 am

Bill O’Reilly’s idea of “hate speech” is finding a comment on DailyKos that called the pope a primate. Leave aside the fact that the pope is the primate of Rome: Carl Linnaeus assigned humans to the primate order two hundred and fifty years ago, arrogant Swede that he was.

Perhaps, out of a sense of decency, we ought to be especially careful not to mock people with such thin skins and scant education. Yeah, right.


~~~~ 08.03.07 at 9:30 am

To me, this whole episode just illustrates how bland and tame and boring DailyKos is. I knew things were bad; I have witnessed with my very own eyes the threads with 200+ comments of people kindly agreeing on everything and praising each other with recommendations. But if bad faith Fox journalists search hundreds of thousands of those comments and the worst they can come up with are a few f u Hillary Clintons and a photoshopped picture without any genitals in it, the site really does not deserve a place in our political discourse.


Amardeep 08.03.07 at 12:54 pm

Dean Barnett should be more worried than he is about the implications of his admission that Kos symbolizes a nascent mass movement that doesn’t exist in the same way on the conservative side.

It’s as if he’s given away his Queen in chess and complained that the Rook which captured it is overly fanatical — so thank God we don’t have any of those either.


norbizness 08.03.07 at 1:07 pm

Damn unhinged liberals. Now let us get back to the serious discussion about nuking Mecca and Medina.


Thomas 08.03.07 at 1:26 pm

John, I’m not that familiar with Kos, nor with Dean. I don’t know if most of the participants at Kos are nuts or not. It isn’t my sort of place, so I just can’t say.

I’m just in favor of an accurate reading of the post. If Dean’s offering a bad argument–as you suggest–it can still be described accurately.


Thomas 08.03.07 at 1:27 pm

norbiz, I think it’s the liberals who are today debating the wisdom of invading Pakistan vs. nuking Pakistan.


Timothy Burke 08.03.07 at 1:31 pm

I think this is one of those areas of evolving convention where there is a lot of bad practice by some bloggers and writers. I agree there’s an interesting question about the relationship between main posts and comment threads: how and when the posts condition or invite the responses, about how a site creates a characteristic discourse for which it is in some sense responsible. But then there’s people who run around cherrypicking the worst or stupidest comment out of a 100+ comment thread and acting as if it represents the main author or owner of a blog. Worse still is when some of those critics have comment threads at their own site about a thousand times worse. I can think of a few serious offenders of this kind who get involved in some of the long-running snipefests about the politicization of academia, etcetera: always looking for the beam in the commentariat’s eye of one of their critics while never looking in their own.


Uncle Kvetch 08.03.07 at 1:37 pm

I happen to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what Barnett would have written in that post if he weren’t so “smart,” and frankly, it makes me SICK.


engels 08.03.07 at 1:45 pm

I do think it’s unfair to judge a blog by its comments. One example I noticed recently was Tyler Cowen’s blog, which has attracted a reserve army of IQ/race cranks who miss no opportunity to come out of the woodwork and lecture all and sundry on the details of their fascinating “hobby”. Cowen, to his credit, appears to find it as creepy as anyone else and has tried to put his foot down at least once, but apparently to no avail.


c.l. ball 08.03.07 at 2:18 pm

Err, where does Barnett say that the reaction of posters is how we should exclusively judge blogs, even implicitly?

What he is attacking is not the blog, but the blog’s constituency. He wrongly extrapolates from the rather banal comments of the few to the general character of those commenting. I thought of Iraq — I live in Minneapolis — when I saw the bridge video: it looks like it was bombed.

Oddly, he seems to be conceding that right is the same, despite his ludicrously small ‘sliver’ claim when he concludes: “But those who pine for a right wing entity to match the Daily Kos and might want to be careful what they wish for.”


JP Stormcrow 08.03.07 at 3:46 pm

so I’m sure Mr. stormcrow won’t take the delete personally

That is of course what you would think. Here we had a subsversive meta-level commentary about power and control in the blogosphere via a “seemingly inadvertent” tag lossage attack, but of course The Man has the controls and in the end The Man gets to do do what he wants. Are you guys scared of your own commenters or what?

[faux bluster off] Your welcome, and wipe out the prior failed attempt at comment 4 while you are at it. In 4, I just flat out forgot that angle-brackets would be interpreted as tags, in the next one, it looked like I had corrected it via using & lt ; and gt, and it previewed OK in IE7, but had different lossage when posted it (no italicization). Didn’t have a chance to look at it in Firefox, I suspect that those who saw everything italicized were using Firefox – and I half think it was the & lt ; right before an “I” that somehow got interpreted as an italics tag without a close – but am taking pains to not test it in this post. Apologies

And back on topic. Details of Barnett’s post aside, (or John’s characterization of it), I do think that O’Reilly’s attack on DailyKos and the whole resulting scrutiny on the nature of blogs and online communities will come to be viewed as a watershed event on the path to the mainstreaming of Internet discourse. I do at least hope that in the end it will result in a diminished ability for fatuous liars and propagandists to propogate BS like we saw with the MoveOn/Hitler ad accusation that I mention above.


James 08.03.07 at 4:07 pm

I read Barnett’s take as the following:

1. Daily Kos claims to be a grass roots / community movement.
2. Here are some strange people in the Daily Kos movement.
3. Kos is not directly responsible for the strange people but does find them useful.


Megan 08.03.07 at 4:58 pm

I actually do hold bloggers responsible for their comment sections. I think they have created a forum and that forum reflects on them. If they are willing to host vicious bullshit, they are fundamentally not so bothered by vicious bullshit that they will solve the problem. They have the power to moderate their comment sections and they don’t. That makes them complicit, far as I’m concerned.


bi 08.03.07 at 6:44 pm

James, Megan:

Except when you _do_ moderate your comments section, it’s called censorship.

Unless it’s Republicans who do (or don’t) moderate, in which case, IOKIYAR!

Riefenstahl! Civility! Fairness! Balance! Decency! Idiotarian! Greenpiss! Bring on the talking points!


rea 08.03.07 at 10:32 pm

Let’s face it – if a bridge collapsing in Minnesota makes you angry at George W. Bush, the results of your political Rorschach Test are conclusive. You’re a nut.

Quite right–if a bridge collapses, you’re supposed to blame Ted Kennedy.

All snark aside, note the employment of the familiar rightwing tactic of ruling whole continents of sensible argument pre-emptively out-of-bounds. We needed to invest in infrastructure, but the president thought it was more important to cut taxes for his wealthy supporters, and spend every cent we could borrow for futile military adventurism. But don’t blame the president if bridges collapse–that’s just nuts.


will 08.04.07 at 6:31 pm

Would Barnett say using the Caracas bridge collapse as an anti-Chavez talking point is out of bounds, then?


repsac3 08.06.07 at 4:28 pm

My take is that comments are the intellectual property & responsibility of the folks that make ’em, not the folks that host ’em.

Whatever a comment says, the only person who deserves the credit/recrimination & blame is the person who posted it. If someone wants to make a case that offensive comments don’t always get the response (that recrimination & blame) that they should from the rest of the community–including the blogmaster, that’s one thing. But to blame the owner for the content of their comment section is kinda silly, in my humble…

“cherry-picked for a few nuts”

Mmm… nuts & cherries…


James 08.06.07 at 9:52 pm

From a pure blog perspective you are correct. The content of comments is and should be the responsibility of those writing the comments. The question raised has more to do with the nature of the blog. Daily Kos is claiming to be the site of a community political movement. So the comments on the site are a cross between an open post forum and public communication of individual members of a political movement ala the NRA and Green Peace.


repsac3 08.07.07 at 2:57 pm

As a preface, I’m not much of a member of the Kos community, so maybe I just don’t understand the difference, To me, Kos is just another blog, albeit one that has come to represent a community political movement due to sheer size and the influence of some very good writers & diarists.

That said, I guess I see your point… Just like in any other large group online or in the world, we’re going to have our share of those with less desirable views on one issue or another…

Also, it tends to be a place where those on the left are going to air our interpolitical differences for all to see… (Any party that claims Kucinich & Lieberman as members is bound to have some interparty strife… …and that doesn’t even include Greens like me, with still another take the issues…)

It has to make for bad PR, from the standpoint of Kos being held up as representing the liberal/progressive political community. The fact is though, we are that messy, and I’m not so certain that’s a bad thing…


bi 08.07.07 at 7:24 pm

James, and how do you go from ‘Daily Kos is claiming to be the site of a community political movement’ to ‘DailyKos finds these strange people useful’?

So the logic is that allowing comments from kooks means you’re actively _using_ these kooks; and not allowing comments from kooks means you’re engaging in _censorship_. That’s some bizarre logic, but as we all know, the most important principle of logic is _ex Republico quodlibet_.

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