Image: Eric Alterman
By
msnbc.com contributor

Why this is an issue, I have no idea. Maybe it's important to bloggers, blogheads or others that know what that means.

Blog; Blogorrhea. Blogosphere. Blogistan. Blogdex. Blogrolling. Warblogging; Where it will all end, knows God! I wish someone had gotten to the naming committee before this whole movement got rolling. Given the attacks I’ve experienced on numerous blogs back in the days when I was still part of the print Borg, I do not expect the news that MSNBC.com has asked me to begin a Weblog to be met with universal acclaim. That’s OK, hits are hits. Negative attention, for a Web site, is still attention, and MSNBC.com and I will take anything we can get.

That said, my alleged anti-blog comments have gotten a bad rap. Norah Vincent, writing in the LA Times, and my friend Judith Shulevitz, writing in the New York Times Book Review, along with approximately a zillion other people, have seized on my criticism of the “narcissistic egocentricity” of andrewsullivan.com as a knock on all blogs. It is not.

It is a knock on the kind of blogs where the blogger tells you how things are going in his bathroom, on his dinner dates with “Hitch” and his car-ride dates with Drudge. I hate the word “blog” but I like the format, particularly as a writer. (What’s not to like?) And I’ve learned a great deal from my now-colleagues, Mickey Kaus, Josh Marshall and the folks at Spinsanity, Instapundit (despite the nasty attacks on me to which it links), and even Virginia Postrel, with whom I disagree on just about everything. I’ve also learned a lot from Andrew, but most of it concerns what I don’t want to do on my blog.

BLOGGING RIGHTS
I first noticed the form we currently call blogging when Mickey wrote an op-ed on the New York Times with an ID line sending the reader to www.Kausfiles.com. When I got there, the site said something to the effect of “Stay tuned to this space for actual content.” This was an inauspicious beginning for an enterprise that has turned out to be surprisingly interesting and original, though I don’t understand why it’s so important that welfare mothers be made to work so much.

Isn’t it better that they are home to raise their children? Isn’t that what conservatives are always saying when the mother is rich? And what good is a job without childcare? This strikes me as particularly sadistic form of hypocrisy on the part of the so-called Family Values crowd. But I digress...

I’m grateful to Mickey as well, for being the first blogger to take some of that excess cash off of Microsoft’s hands, so that people will have to find something else to attack me for. (Though come to think of it, if you are going to get attacked, being well paid for something you enjoy doing anyway is a pretty good reason.) This blog, I can promise you, will be more interesting than Mickey’s was on that first day when he had nothing at all on it.

Aside from that, all I can promise you is that it will reflect my obsessions: with the actually conservative leanings of the so-called “liberal media”; with the self-satisfied stupidity of the so much of the punditocracy; with the appalling lack of historical, economic, and sociological context of even the best U.S. reporting; with the never-ending wimpiness of the Democrats, with the perennially self-defeating obsession with holier-than-thou moral purity of so much of the Left; with the amazingly insane views regularly put forth by the Congressional Republican leadership and certain members of the Bush Administration (Thanks, Ralph); with the musical greatness of Bruce Springsteen; with Jews in general and Israel/Palestine in particular; and with lots of movies, music, plays, etc, so I can keep up the flow of free stuff. (As God is my witness, however, I promise never to write about anything that happens in my bathroom, my dinners with “Hitch,” and in the extremely unlikely event they ever happen, my car dates with Drudge.)

DEFINITIVE MATTERS
Even if I could somehow get used to the word, one problem with blogs remains definitional. It’s hard to know exactly what qualifies. Is Matt Drudge a blogger? Is Jim Romenesko? Are the mysterious folks at Mediawhoresonline.com? I dunno. Does it matter? John Hile of Microcontent News asks, “If all bloggers followed the Journalism Code of Ethics, their blogs would be objective and edited ... but would they still be blogs? In his proposed Code of Ethics for Amateur Journalism, he argues, “Weblogs are inherently biased and unedited.” Scott Rosenberg proposed in Salon.com that “the editorial process of the blogs takes place between and among bloggers, in public, in real time, with fully annotated cross-links.”

Well maybe then this ain’t a blog. I have an editor. This is in part because I want one and in part, I imagine, because the good folks at MSNBC.com do not entirely trust me without one. Editors are a pain, but they have saved me from approximately a million embarrassing mistakes. I’m sure I will make a bunch even having one, but I’m happy to admit that Altercation.msnbc.com will be edited by those folks whose initials appear in the middle of the address.

To tell the truth, as someone who has benefited from editors’ suggestions for more than 20 years, I don’t even get the contrary argument. The biggest problem great writers face is when they think they get to be too big to be edited. Have you read the last book by David Halberstam? I didn’t think so. Have you seen the new Star Wars? Here’s what Stephen Hunter wrote in The Washington Post, I think quite accurately. “Memo to George Lucas: Hire an editor, bud. You’re a great man. So what? You still need an editor. Everybody needs an editor, and nobody needed an editor more than the writer-director of this film.” Well, if George needs one, who am I…?

FAR FROM MAINSTREAM
Anyway, all this misghigas about blogs replacing the mainstream media or posing itself in opposition to it makes no sense to me. (Though I must admit I enjoyed Ms. Vincent’s casting of a columnist for The Nation as the harrumphing “establishment,” while writing in the uh, LA Times.) My model for good blogging, aside from Mickey and Josh, is a prehistoric, proto-blogger named I.F. Stone.

“Izzy” Stone used the mainstream media to take their stories further than they wanted to go. Politics aside — and he made his share of major mistakes — he found the stories that went ignored, the implications that went unnoticed, and the truths that people preferred go unarticulated. Now let me tell you something. I knew I.F. Stone. I.F. Stone was a friend of mine. And I’m no I.F. Stone.

Well, I’m right, but I’m also all I’ve got. The blog is called “Altercation.” I hope you’ll come back.

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