Even critics of the first convention of the nation’s most prominent political bloggers—dubbed YearlyKOS—would have to admit it was a success. About 1,500 people descended on the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas for the event, including famous media types like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, politicos like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and big-time bloggers like Markos Moulitsas and Arianna Huffington. I was there, as well, and observed three things:
• Bloggers don’t like the mainstream media: It was just minutes into a panel on the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s name that panel moderator Jane Hamsher blasted the press: If the mainstream media were doing their jobs, like they did in Watergate, people wouldn’t be flocking to blogs, which are supplying the investigative reporting that newspapers used to pride themselves on.
For example, said Naomi Seligman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, bloggers were talking about Watergate Hotel poker parties—complete with hookers—long before that news seeped into the mainstream press. (The FBI is investigating parties at the Watergate thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes.) She and panelist John Aravosis said stories only get written when everybody is writing about the same thing. “You want a feeding frenzy,” he said.
And blogger Christy Hardin Smith complained that the mainstream media can’t distinguish between minor and major scandals. “Pretending that they’re equal somehow doesn’t make you balanced, it makes you look like you don’t understand the consequences of things,” she said, citing stories that claim U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s acceptance of money from Indian tribes represented by lobbyist Jack Abramoff was as bad as bribes Abramoff and associates gave to Republican members of Congress. “We’re not asking journalists to do their jobs in a way that makes us happy, we’re just asking them to do their jobs,” she said.
A bona fide member of the mainstream media, New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai, stuck up for his ink-stained colleagues, saying the blanket critiques were hypocritical. The knock on bloggers, he said, was that they were all angry liberals banging away at the powers-that-be. And by stereotyping the mainstream media as lazy, incurious and easily manipulated, bloggers are guilty of the same thing, he said.
• Bloggers love lefty pols: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., got a heartfelt standing ovation when she took the stage in the convention’s main room on Friday, and her speech didn’t do anything to dissuade the crowd. “We are facing a White House that is dangerously incompetent,” she said, echoing a Democratic talking point.
Her second ovation came when she announced she’d voted against the war in Iraq, “one of the best votes I ever cast in all my years in public life,” she said. Her third came at the end, as she departed the stage by telling bloggers “you have awakened a sleeping giant in our country.”
For his part, Democratic national chair Howard Dean—an early visionary in using the Internet for political organizing and fund-raising—did well, too. “What we are engaged in in this community is a movement to restore American values,” Dean said, sounding almost Republican. (Don’t worry. The values he was talking about: health care for everybody, a living wage, a balanced federal budget and pension security.)
Dean warned that Republicans will continue to scapegoat people in order to win, from Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens to George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton, to George W. Bush’s push to ban gay marriage. “The difference is the Republicans will put the interests of their party ahead of the country, and we will never do that because it’s bad for the United States of America,” Dean said to applause.
• Bloggers love not-so-lefty pols: On paper, Reid would seem to have nothing in common with these bloggers: He’s pro-life; they’re pro-choice. He voted for the war; they’re dead-set against it. He’s going to vote for the flag-burning amendment; they think flag-burning is a protected form of free speech. He’s a devout Mormon; they’re mistrustful of religions, especially conservative ones. He’s friends with U.S. Sen. John Ensign; they’d rather see Ensign replaced by—well, almost anybody. They want President Bush impeached; he says he’s more interested in trying to take back the Senate in the next election. (In a Salon interview during the bloggers convention, Reid said he has tried to cool impeachment talk among his fellow senators—"Why would I want Cheney president?")
But Reid is among the most beloved figures in the blogosphere, and he returns the favor, saying bloggers helped him beat back the Bush administration on issues like Social Security privatization and the so-called “nuclear option” on judicial nominations. “Bloggers gave us our sea legs to get a lot of things done,” Reid said in a suite overlooking the convention floor where he, too, would get a trio of standing ovations while addressing the crowd.
Reid’s November move shutting down the Senate to demand to know why investigations into pre-war intelligence were dragging on is a huge point in his favor. As he complained in his Saturday night speech that the Congress follows the president’s lead, a blogger yelled out “shut it down, Harry!” to the crowd’s delight. (Reid even cracked a hint of a smile at that one.)
Steve Sebilius is a writer for Las Vegas City Life.