Netroots: Do they Matter?

by: canadian gal

Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 21:42:53 PM EST

As a marketer I have noticed some interesting trends in recent months.  Namely that traditional media (print, radio, TV) has started to decline in both consumption and advertising revenue.  Here in Canada, budgets are being slashed by international accounts and belts are being tightened.

What is interesting is that not 5 years ago, media outlets were 'throwing in' internet advertising as a bonus with a traditional media buy.  Well those days are long over. As a medium, the internet has exploded bringing with it much good and bad - especially in the political scene.

canadian gal :: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Which naturally leads us to the effect of the Netroots, which is described as follows:

Netroots is a recent term coined to describe political activism organized through blogs and other online media, including wikis and social network services. The word is a portmanteau of Internet and grassroots, reflecting the technological innovations that set netroots techniques apart from other forms of political participation. In the United States, the term is used mainly in left-leaning circles.

Further - the origin of the term is suggested to be traced to:

In a December 2005 interview with Newsweek magazine [4], Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder of Daily Kos, described the netroots as "the crazy political junkies that hang out in blogs." He is also the co-author (with Jerome Armstrong) of the book Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (ISBN 1-931498-99-7).

William Safire explained the term's origin in the New York Times Magazine on November 19, 2006:
" ... the Nation's Web site [5] cited the unabashedly liberal Jerome Armstrong's praise of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "for reading blogs and being ready to work with the netroots." From these citations and a few of the million and a half others in a Google search, the word netroots has a left-of-center connotation. The earliest use I can find is in a Jan. 15, 1993, message on an e-mail list of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from an "rmcdon[ell]" at the University of California at San Diego, apparently complaining about an internal shake-up: "Too bad there's no netroots organization that can demand more than keyboard accountability from those who claim to be acting on behalf of the 'greater good.'" ... Popularizer of the term - unaware of the obscure, earlier citation when he used it - was the aforementioned (great old word) Armstrong on his blog, MyDD, on Dec. 18, 2002, as he went to work on the presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.... headlined his entry "Netroots for Dean in 2004" and told Internet readers where to get the first inkling of a groundswell: "O.K., so Dean is still polling 1 to 4 percent nationally, so what. Look at the netroots."[1]

Whatever its origin, the Netroots most certainly has had an effect on the media.

Clearly, bloggers aren't a monolithic group. But it's fair to say that liberal bloggers - and the more activist-oriented members of the Netroots within that group - have been calling out the media's campaign coverage with far more regularity than just four years ago. And it's not simply because there are more activists who know how Moveable Type works.

Pushback against the media has been aided by the growth of more sophisticated liberal news sites, such as Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post. In 2004, TPM founder Josh Marshall didn't have any paid staffers; this year he has nine. And Arianna Huffington's arsenal of nearly 2,000 bloggers didn't exist until President Bush was already six months into his second term. Not to mention, liberal watchdog group Media Matters - which provides ammo to many bloggers - has grown in that time from about 20 staffers to near 100, according to a source familiar with the organization.

This effect can be seen in driving MSM stories.  Be that as it may, a particularly inflammatory article by James Kirchick entitled Barack Obama doesn't fear the enraged, impotent Netroots contends that:

Indeed, the only people who seemed to give a fig about Lieberman were the "Netroots." Along with abandoning Iraq to Iran and Al Qaeda, punishing the "traitor" Joe Lieberman was their paramount concern (know that in the minds of Netroots, Lieberman hasn't only committed treason against the Democratic Party; a quick perusal of the more popular liberal blogs will also find the words "Zionist" and "Likudnik" attached to his name). Most Americans probably recognize Lieberman as the guy who ran with Al Gore in 2000. But to the Netroots, Lieberman is an obsession, an individual who inspires mania. He is the worst thing possible: not only someone who disagrees with them about foreign policy, but a liberal who disagrees with them on foreign policy.

"No matter what Joe Lieberman does," wrote Jane Hamsher, proprietor of the popular liberal blog Firedoglake, "the people who are protecting him hate you much more than they hate him." The Netroots are all about hate; its denizens are incapable of seeing shades of gray. (And Ms. Hamsher knows a thing or two about hate, having doctored a photo of Joe Lieberman in blackface during his primary battle against Netroots favorite Ned Lamont two years ago.)

Good for the Democrats for ignoring these people. Allowed to exercise more influence over the party than they already do, the Netroots would have the same disastrous effect that the presidential nomination of George McGovern did in 1972.

While the article reeks of disdain for 'liberal bloggers' Kirchick does raise a point worth examining...

The Netroots:  Do they Matter?

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they better. (2.00 / 3)

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

Great discussion, CG. (2.00 / 1)
Very very worth having, and my most favoritest topic of all.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
One thing I saw in those quotes (2.00 / 3)
that I agree with is that the netroots is not monolithic. After all, I'm part of the netroots and so is everyone else that posts on this site. Some are far left, some are moderate progressives, and some are center-right. One thing I've learned, get 10 members of the netroots together and you'll have 12 different opinions on any subject.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

That's exactly right. (2.00 / 2)
This quote from Kirchick shows a complete lack of understanding of that:

The Netroots are all about hate; its denizens are incapable of seeing shades of gray.

That is a Glancer's analysis of the netroots: if you scan through progressive blogs for an hour looking for highlights to stereotype it from, you could come to such a naive conclusion.  But you would have to pick the right topic or be trying real hard not to read the opposing comments to miss the sixteen million shades of gray being espoused.

One of the biggest points being exercised in Blogistan is that everyone has a different opinion.  Those who have not yet understood the medium still expect to be able to think in the small quantums provided in traditional media: "The Left thinks this", "the Right thinks that", "Women believe thus and such".  The reality is that people have complex opinions, and no two are exactly alike.  We know this from our daily lives (anyone belong to a club or group of friends who all think exactly the same about anything?), but we have somehow gotten used to the idea that this is not true on the large scale.

The NetRoots have a lot of sorting out to do over the next decade and it will be interesting to see how it all works out, but if anything is clear it's that there is no single monolithic bloc.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
We matter. (2.00 / 3)
But we're not going to dictate policy.

okay. (2.00 / 2)
then how?  lobbying for issues?  driving the media narrative?  i think we matter - but im not sure how.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
I think Obama has said... (2.00 / 2)
...when he reads DKOS it expresses exactly the points of view he expects it to: in other words the netroots has, with the President elect, a reputation of being predictable.

Of course, there are dozens of spin off sites from The Field to Five Thirty Eight which have changed the way politics is reported as well as organised. And the Obama campaign at a grass roots level is completely informed and inspired by the peer to peer innovations of the liberal blogosphere.

So while I think the growth of the netroots is one of the most interesting political developments of this century, (and can't wait for the British left to copy its inspiration), it can easily veer into group think and communal ego massage, and when it does it is doomed to irrelevance.

We must keep fighting to think outside the box, form new alliances, and come up with new memes to remain relevant.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Well, the media seems (2.00 / 3)
to be quite aware of the Netroots, especially of Huffpo and dkos.  MSNBC, I think, derives confidence from those two since both blogs seemed dominated by males, seemed to hate/despise anything Clinton, and are run by former Reagan lovers.  Seemingly, those two blogs are reflected well on MSNBC.

Arianna, now the darling of the left, was once the darling of the right. I give the woman kudos for being a helluva business woman...she knows how to play the game.

Will the netroots matter to the Obama administration?  Remains to be seen?  Did it matter to the Bush administration?  NO!!

However I do think the Netroots did matter in getting young people to be activists, which in turn led to getting more democrats elected.

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
Without wanting to be contentious... (2.00 / 2)
...I do get a sense that you see the blogosphere and the mainstream media mainly through the prism of the primaries. Fair enough, but perhaps there are some things that are missed out by a Clinton loyalty.

Were/are there any bloggers commentators you respect who were Pro Obama?  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Not to be contentious back (2.00 / 1)
but the blogosphere consists of more than two blogs and to be honest, for me the only blogs I have actually heard mentioned multiple times on air or in print by MSM are Huffpo and dkos.

And I have to disagree......with this statement.
do get a sense that you see the blogosphere and the mainstream media mainly through the prism of the primaries.

I have been quite upset with the MSM, especially the cable shows, and several print writers since the 2000 election.  Al Gore was trashed (unfairly imo) by the cable pundits, some of the same ones that trashed Hillary, Kucinich and Gavel) .  And I was blogging long before the primaries.

So I contend you are wrong and reading into things.

Admittedly, the sexism of the MSM cable pundits and several diarists at dkos and writers at Huffpo, did anger me intensely.  I did not expect it. I thought the left was beyond that.
For the record when the primaries started, my first two choices were Edwards, then Hillary.  After that I was happy with almost all the candidates.  I contributed to the Edwards, the Clinton, and the Obama campaigns.

Yes there were quite a few bloggers who were pro Obama that I liked. However they were bloggers who railed against the sexism while remaining Obama supporters; they were bloggers who called out Obama supporters who were obnoxiously personal in their personal bias toward Hillary.  

I used two blogs as examples, and you claim to know my entire view of the blogosphere???  
What's that about?  

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
i think... (0.00 / 0)
brit is merely suggesting that your analysis is based on your observations from the primaries - and of which i agree of course.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
But that is not true (0.00 / 0)
My anger with (some of) the blogs, and some of the cable pundit class, started back in 2000 (with cable) and 2004 with the blogs.

He is suggesting that I have narrow vision and can't see the whole picture when it comes to the blogosphere. I disagree....
and I don't think my comment condemned the entire blogosphere. I used the two examples for a reason.

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
well i cant speak for him... (0.00 / 0)
but im not sure i take his comment in the way you did.  but i do agree that it wasnt pretty to be a clinton supporter (or a clinton) in both the media and blogosphere for quite a while (not that its much better now).

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
Daily Kos was the first blog I joined..... (0.00 / 0)
It was back a while.....long before the primaries.  And I was frustrated THEN.  There was an anti union well as an anti public education group.  
I am a retired teacher.  My entire career was in public education and I truly believe public ed is a liberal cause, funding it, caring about and not allowing the right wing meme,  of "they need competition" to go forward.  I spoke out strongly on that blog against NCLB and often was greeted with the same old, same old......"you can't fire bad teachers" myth and it is the fault of NEA.
So my frustration with that blog started long before the primaries.  It intensified during the primaries.  
Ditto for Huffpo.
Even today both blogs have headline "Hillary trashing" diaries.  On Huffpo it is Arianna, former republican, former friend of Newt, worshipper of Reagan AGAIN trashing the Clintons.  

When Hillary lost, I was disappointed, but I NEVER ever even imagined voting for anyone except Obama.  But no matter how much support people like me gave Obama, in volunteering, in money, in our votes, those two blogs, including their "owners" Markos and Arianna could not stop their personal Clinton trashing.  And they continue it to this day.

So to frame my comment as a result of narrow vision on my part, irks me.  Anyone who still checks out those places can read it.....

The blogosphere has tons of places.  To imply I am dissing the blogosphere by mentioning my frustration with those two places seems an unfair judgment.

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
thats a toughie. (0.00 / 0)
the problem that i had with many a commenter and pundit who supported obama during the primary was that they were so absurdly negative about clinton and using all sorts of personal and right-wing talking points to disparage clinton rather than make the case for obama.

i want to say maddow because she seemed - less so - to do the above.  but i still cannot believe she let some of the shit go that went on at msnbc.

interestingly - when the primary was over, i found former clinton surrogates much more polished and persuasive at making the case for obama than anyone else.  strange no?

there was 2 in particular - kiki mclean and maria cardosa(?) i think - incredible - great communicators and demolished anyone the networks put them up against.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
The netroots matter sa they currently exist, the examples of influence already stated (2.00 / 3)
in the diary and comments prove that.  There have been many impacts in the real world.

To psychodrew's comment: "dictate policy"?  No, not dictate.  Form, refine, create policy options?  Yes.

And let me tell you how.

The netroots as it stands can have the impact it does.  It can inform the MSM narrative, it can highlight stories that would have been missed, it can be a litmus to those paying attention at the highest levels as to what the public reaction to a policy is or might be.  But if the netroots and Blogistan evolve into additional forms and forums that lack some of the chaotic aspects of current blogforms, there is every reason to believe that policies will be proposed within it that did not previously exist, existing policies will be analyzed and refined, and proposed policies will be debated and vetted prior to being implemented.

IMHO, the biggest single change in this new territory inside Blogistan will be the loss of anonymity.  Nicknames could still exist, but to create that account the human being behind the handle will have to prove to the gatekeepers that they are a real individual with a name and address in the physical world, not simply a dissociated splinter alter-ego.  The anonymity of citizens in Blogistan is the elephant in the room blocking access to a more mature and productive forum that is as yet untenanted.

As well, imho, not every person gets to speak in this part of Blogistan, though everyone everywhere can listen to the discussion as it occurs.  Perhaps in the courtyards and foyers of this part of Blogistan anyone willing to show their ID can have a set and a microphone, but there will be a requirement to enter more serious spheres within that the individual have shown the ability to comport his or herself in a manner that is conducive to the goal of that sphere.  The spheres with the most productive set of rules and requirements will organically emerge because they will be the ones that produce the most cogent opinions and most applicable policies.

Greater Blogistan will always exist, but like all frontiers there will be isolated enclaves populated by small groups or individuals who choose to follow their own rules, for better or worse.  Policies will not grow in these enclaves (though interesting seeds could well arise in them), policies will be crafted in the more staid halls of thoughtful and structured discourse.

If this sounds a lot like how society has structured itself to create and discuss policies in the past ~6,000 years, there is a good reason.  It works.  The difference being that in Blogistan, unlike in the physical world, it is possible to gather the best thoughts and the most capable minds regardless of many of the hurdles of time, geography and economics that physical marble halls and quill pens dictate.  

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
Where are the policymakers in all this, you ask? (2.00 / 4)
There will be, in the end, an "inner sanctum" of Blogistan where policy makers discourse.  All of the discussions held today between those elected officials who walk up physical steps into physical halls of stone will occur (and/or be mirrored) within Blogistan.  Only those denizens of Blogistan who are called by the members of this group will be allowed to speak inside this/these forums.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
On the anonymity thing Chris.. (2.00 / 3)
I raised this at the conference last week about the Internet, Censorship and Politics, and while many agreed that 'owning up' to an idea, locating that meme in the specific time and place of your personal identity, helped to give the idea more credibility, there were two important dissents.

1. The head of PEN, who defends incarcerated writers, pointed out that often the idea or story or political insight was MORE important than whoever espoused it. He often deals with writers who are forced into anonymity in police states, and having done his PhD on the subject, reminded us all that many of the great liberal pamphleteers of the 17th and 18th centuries adopted pseudonyms.

2. A great philosopher called Jonathan Ree who dealt with the so called inauthenticity of net identities. He stressed that it was important to be able to try on opinions like masks, and that a certain playfulness was important for ideas to develop. When someone pointed out that Kierkegaard believed ideas could only have meaning and flourish within the ambit of an authentic individual voice Jonathan pointed out that Kierkegaard wrote under a pseudonym, and would often criticise his works using other noms de plume (or what we would call sockpuppets).

So though I love your idea that self identification would solve some of the loose talk and idiotic babble on the internet, it may also remove a crucial element of experimentation and playfulness.

I think this idea of anonymity is worthy of a diary in its own right. Maybe we should jointly create a 'socratic dialogue' taking differing points of view.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Yep. (2.00 / 3)
...many of the great liberal pamphleteers of the 17th and 18th centuries adopted pseudonyms.

Publius comes to mind.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Oh...and oddly enough... (2.00 / 2)
Publius was sort of a sockpuppet in reverse.  The pseudonym was utilized by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
It's not that anything needs to change in Blogistan as it exists. (2.00 / 2)
My thought is that there are untapped realms within Blogistan where anonymity will prove unacceptable.  It's not even about a true loss of public anonymity, a good forum could protect identity from public view while still ensuring that the speaker is a real and sincere person.  I suppose there is nothing stopping the authentic person from holding an arms-length argument with his/her own sockpuppet outside the forum: "Despite what Pupsocket said on DKOS, the fact of the matter is XYZ."...

The anonymous precincts of Blogistan will always allow Publius and the Pamphleteers (now playing at the Silver Dollar, don't forget to tip your wait-staff) lots of room to make their points, but notably these Nom the Plumers did not hold seats in Parliament.  What we are talking about is a productive public forum between the pamphleteers and the parliamentarians.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
not sure i read it that way... (2.00 / 3)
i kinda got the impression he was dissing kos which i actually kind of agree with.

but i think your point about thinking outside of the box is a good one.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
He was dissing Kos (2.00 / 3)
With good reason. It does descend into groupthink because of the mobbing pressures of that community.

On the other hand, the model of community participation and rethinking that blogs can achieve is clearly copied and developed by Obama's own site. So I think he really does value the Netroots, if not the liberal orthodoxy of one of its main sites

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Yes, it matters (2.00 / 3)
Any group that can influence media narratives has achieved relevance, because although many people may not be receptive to a message when it is made by an activist group (here liberal bloggers), they may be more receptive to the message when it is conveyed by traditional media outlets that they trust.  Also, I think it is clear that the netroots are able to raise a vast amount of funds for liberal causes and candidates.  While the direct effect on elections is more mixed, it does seem that the netroots have made their presence felt in low-enthusiasm races such as non-election year runoffs.

Ultimately, the effect of the netroots is indirect in most instances, but it is no less real as a result.

Okay, this is off topic but (2.00 / 1)
after reading that Colmes is leaving Hannity and Colmes, I realized that Harry Reid reminds me of Colmes.

How so? (2.00 / 2)
Reid probably isn't all that great, but I think he is at least a little more assertive than Daschle.

[ Parent ]

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