The blog that won Washington

Web surfers depend on Instapundit's writer-professor for insight, links


January 12, 2003|By Ellen Warren | Ellen Warren,Special to The Sun

In Washington, just about everyone wants to be a pundit, the wise and respected quotable somebody who keeps popping up in newspapers and on television.

In this effete world of opinion-makers, buzz is important. Buzz - word-of-mouth among the power elite, often occurring at cocktail and dinner parties - has anointed a number of men and women. These "talking heads" seem to become part of the wallpaper, they show up so often in publications and on the insatiable 24-hour cable news.

In Washington right now, there is very good buzz about a talking head who doesn't live anywhere near Washington. And, for that matter, he doesn't actually talk. He types. In fact, a lot of people don't even know his name. He is called simply "InstaPundit."

InstaPundit is Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a 42-year-old law professor at the University of Tennessee who lives and works in Knoxville.

Reynolds runs, the Weblog which is becoming a must-see for better known opinion-makers who are trying to stay informed on current events.

For the zillions unfamiliar with the concept of a Weblog - commonly called a blog - it's a personal Web site where anybody with the energy and/or ego can comment on anything, anytime, anywhere.

Reynolds, a congenial and entertaining fellow, has opinions on a wide range of subjects, which he posts with almost fanatic regularity on InstaPundit. Equally, if not more important, he gobbles up other info-bits on the Internet and provides Web addresses - links - enabling readers to click onto sites Reynolds has located for them.

Living on links

"Why do I do it? I see interesting stuff that I like other people to know about. It's more like, `Here's a link.' Links are what really drive all this," he says.

"I read it several times a day," says Michael Barone, a columnist for U.S. News and a huge InstaPundit fan. "A lot of people I know in the press read him every day."

"It's necessary to read it to keep up with things I need to keep up with," says Barone, "everything from the fallout of Trent Lott to Middle East policy in Iraq. He plugs you into a lot of things you'd have missed otherwise. . . . He digs up information."

"Thank God for the Internet," wrote syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, praising Reynolds and three other bloggers whose postings on Lott "continued hammering away at the story and eventually succeeded in moving it out of the shadows and into the political spotlight."

Reynolds demonstrates a self-effacing honesty unlike what viewers of cable news-talk shows have come to expect from the punditocracy. "I am getting some credit" for breaking the story of the Mississippi senator's remarks that ultimately led to his losing the majority leader post, he says, but "I don't deserve it."

But he adds: "I certainly helped keep the ball in the air" before the mainstream media picked up on Lott's praise of the of the 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.) at Thurmond's 100th birthday party.

A growing following

The history of InstaPundit and its climb to the top of influential bookmark lists is quite simple.

"I started it in August 2001. I thought I'd post two or three times a day and maybe if I was lucky, maybe have a couple hundred readers. I almost immediately started posting more often than that and very rapidly had more readers than that. I had 1,600 hits - people who looked at the Web site on Sept. 10. Then I had 4,300 on Sept. 11."

It was his almost nonstop posting of interesting information on the attack on the World Trade Center immediately after the attack that drew in new readers.

"I tried to give a new perspective on it. I said, `Here's what I think this means and here's what to expect,' and that actually held up pretty well. I guess people just thought my perspective was valuable," he says.

Since some early promotion to media types, Reynolds says, he's done nothing to boost his blog, but he now gets between 75,000 and 100,000 page views on weekdays and about half that on weekends - when he still continues to post at a mind-boggling pace.

In the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section of his blog, the very first question he poses is, "How do you write so much? Are you some sort of weirdo?" "Maybe," he replies, though he insists he is not a "compulsive writer."

Life beyond punditry

A University of Tennessee grad with a Yale law degree, Reynolds insists in a phone interview, that, contrary to appearances, he has a life - with a wife, a forensic psychologist specializing in murders, and a 7-year-old daughter.

"We're a household of media geeks here," he concedes.

He also teaches, has written three books, produces regular columns for the Fox News Web site and, gets $1 apiece from T-shirts he sells on his Web site (also coffee mugs, mouse pads and boxer shorts), produces techno music under the name Mobius Dick - and actually does go on vacation.

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