Does Obama win shift blogosphere to the right?

ON BLOGGING

November 11, 2008|By ANDREW RATNER | ANDREW RATNER,andrew.ratner@baltsun.com

Will President-elect Barack Obama do for right-wing bloggers what President Bill Clinton did for political talk radio?

The last time a Democrat was in the White House, the Internet was just a glimmer of its present self. (The network famously locked up when users tried all at once to download the special prosecutor's report against Clinton in 1998.)

Blogs came of age with President Bush, whose mistakes provided ample nourishment for liberal bloggers to grow into some of the most authoritative names in the blogosphere. HuffingtonPost.com, the left-leaning news Web site and blog co-founded by Arianna Huffington, gets linked to more than any other blog, according to the blog tracker Technorati. Two other liberal blogs, DailyKos.com and ThinkProgress.com, follow at eighth and 23rd, respectively.

Conservative political blogs, which have had to play mostly defense in recent years, are lower on the totem. The most popular include two by Baltimore blogger Michelle Malkin (MichelleMalkin.com, No. 35) and hotair.com (No. 57). Also on the list, Newsbusters.org (No. 59), which jabs at liberal bias in the news media, and PowerLine.com (No. 98), which played a role in the Bush-National Guard documents scandal in 2004 that drove Dan Rather from CBS.

The political left has never been able to wield talk radio as effectively as the right. The liberal Air America Radio never mounted a forceful challenge to the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys, despite being on the air while a Republican president plummeted in popularity.

It remains to be seen whether the right, even with a Democrat in the White House, will be as nimble online as its opposition. The Democrats have been more sophisticated about the medium, from the pre-Iraq war growth of the Democratic advocacy group MoveOn.org to the president-elect's recent campaign that rewrote the book on online fundraising and social networking.

The left and an Obama White House might have some built-in advantages in the blogosphere. Obama drew enormous support from young adults, who are more active and adept online as a group than their elders. The young are also more apt - for now - to use social networking like Digg, Facebook and Twitter, that speeds the links to blogs.

Simon Owens, 24, an analyst for New Media Strategies, an online consulting firm in Arlington, Va., said the blogs on the right, while heavy on opinion, haven't been as aggressive in investigative reporting as left-leaning blogs such as Huffington or TalkingPointsMemo.com. Firedoglake.com and other liberal blogs gained recognition last year for their exhaustive, live coverage of the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial. (The blogs on the left were so dogged they even caused problems for their own on occasion, such as Obama's campaign trail quote about the working-class clinging to "guns and religion," which Huffington first revealed.)

"You'll see a lot more traffic on conservative blogs now that they're playing offense," said Owens, who also writes for PBS' Media Shift and on his own Bloggasm.com. "This may be the turning point for conservative blogs but they're lacking the investigative side or that community-organizing side. They're much more insular in their self-linking. The liberals are better at using other things online to help promote their causes. It's just a matter of older people coming online, with Facebook opening up beyond college students, etc."

A new era for conservative bloggers will take a while to gel, however. Since the election, many blogs on the right have circled like crazed pit bulls, biting their own. Several joined in a so-called "Operation Leper" to reveal and make examples of any McCain staffer critical of Sarah Palin.

"Twits in McCain Camp misfire in Palin attacks," wrote RightWingNutHouse.com. "Anti-Palin McCain Staffers Begin Full-Scale Kneecapping of Sarah Palin," snarled Ace of Spades (ace-o-spade.blogspot.com).

But after Inauguration Day, with Obama expected to produce the most transformative presidency in several generations, the conservative blogs will have much more to take aim at.

A 2005 study found that Democrats were most often cited by blogs on the right and Republicans by blogs on the left. Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, was mentioned three times as often on blue-leaning blogs as red ones, while the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore was mentioned three times as often on red ones compared to blue.

"There's a natural fit between blogging and opposition," said Jay Rosen, a professor at New York University and author of pressthink.org, a media blog. But he feels the conservative blogs face the same crossroad of reassessment as the GOP itself.

"To me, the more interesting question is whether conservative blogs will be a location where the conservative movement and the Republican Party are rethought and reassessed," he said. "I'm not optimistic about that. The blogosphere reflects the divides within the coalition itself."

In his stirring speech in Chicago's Grant Park the night he won the election, Obama considered the rise of the Internet important enough to include with the Apollo moon-landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall, in recounting the momentous events a centenarian voter had witnessed. But how that technology will affect his presidency, and how it enables Americans and others to react to it, is still evolving.

"There's not enough history," said Rosen, "for history to repeat itself."

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