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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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February 28, 2009

The Crikey blog stable is gradually becoming an empire. All they need now is a foodie, a gardener and an agony aunt and they'll have the whole universe covered. Maybe their own version of Karl Kruszelnicki could do the universe bit.

And good on them. A lot of people have found their way to blogs through one Crikey gateway or another.

The temporary Pineapple Party blog seems to be doing what it's supposed to, which you'd expect with a pretty straightforward mission.

Pure Poison is a more complicated proposition though, and it's taking a bit longer to settle in. It seems to be developing an interesting dynamic and achieving more than "exposing intellectual dishonesty in the mainstream media", partly because of what commenters are doing with it.

Jeremy said at the start that keeping an eye on Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt is a time sink, which it would be. It would also be as depressing as hanging around Stormfront all day, and should probably attract higher health insurance premiums given the mental health risk.

When they started out they copped a bit of flak for debasing the blogosphere, promoting snark and encouraging blog wars, which struck me as a bit silly really. Most bloggers get stuck into opinion columnists from time to time. And it doesn't make sense to be all democratic and public sphereish about the blogosphere on one hand, and insist on high intellect and polite debate on the other. There's no law saying you have to have a PhD and finishing school diploma to be relevant. There's also no universal code of conduct for blogs, which is one of the reasons they're more interesting than the Queen's Christmas message.

Meanwhile, at Pure Poison and Bolt and Blair's blogs, everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Jeremy, Scott, Tobias and Ant are keeping an eye on the MSM, and their commenters are keeping an eye on MSM commenters with some interesting results.

There's an owner/author-centric view of blogs which concerns itself with what journalists and bloggers are/are not, or what they should/shouldn't be doing, but much less attention focused on commenters. Commenters are publishing too. Moderation and commenting policies are supposed to keep commenters in line, but often they don't. Whether that's a greater concern at MSM sites than others is an interesting question, but in the meantime Pure Poison commenters are doing a fine job of spotting and collecting nasty comments at MSM blogs, and they appear to be having an impact.

Some of them are using an approximation of the Blair winged monkey technique, deliberately leaving contrary comments at MSM sites just to see what will happen. Depending on your point of view, that's either a low blow or completely reasonable, all things considered. But it's the sort of thing that happens when someone like Bolt claims that's how nasty comments have been turning up on his blog, as if it only started yesterday.

It must be driving the moderators crazy, trying to sort the authentically nasty from the pretend. At the end of the day, Pure Poison is forcing them to clean up their act and reduce the volume of hate speech, in a roundabout way achieving the opposite of the result anticipated by the critics.

| Posted by Lyn at 1:59 PM | | Comments (29)


I still think Bolt and Blair are the winners overall; their standing as Really Important People is re-affirmed in the eyes of their followers, their employer and their egos.

My preference is to ignore them in the certainty that if everyone but their rusted-on supporters did likewise, they would quickly become known as cranky old farts from a bygone era. Their employers would eventually act accordingly (remember pundits of yesteryear John Stone? Paddy McGuinness? John Hyde?).

I concede however that my opinion is in a minority of about 1.

Their RIP status is also enhanced by the increased page views, but more generally, a fair bit of their standing relies on a wider public not reading or commenting on their blogs, and not knowing what goes on there. Someone in PP comments pointed out that they're far more restrained in their printed columns and on telly than on their blogs.

I don't think you're a minority in ignoring them and I couldn't stomach doing what the PP people do, but I'd argue that a handful of bloggers ignoring them hasn't made any difference to their capacity to encourage hatred among their followers.

Most of the hateful nutters who enjoyed their decade long heyday are fighting off obsolescence, but B and B have found a comfy little blogging niche nastiness nirvana and it's not just about them anymore. Anyone prepared to expose that deserves credit I reckon.

If you think about talkback radio, one of the reasons it's so effective is that it's so easy to create the impression that Alan Jones' view is the majority one. Listeners could convince themselves that catching a train to Cronulla to bash people was a normal thing to do, because everyone else was doing it.

B and B won't be coming out from behind their desks to hang greenies from the nearest lamp post. But their commenters might.

I think they should of factored in the fact that the betting prices are defined by the amount of money placed on the different groups and then relate that to in the main what socio group bets on things. Only a very small group does and they are not really from a blanketting of mainstream society.
So I will have to poo poo the numbers here because I cant remember my wordpress log in.

Ken & Lyn

Feel like agreeing with both of you. We need to combat the poison Bolt et al spread but I doubt that PP and Crikey can do more than give us some ammunition to discredit their ideas in the the MSM where they operate.

I'm with Ken on this. Ignore them.

I gave up reading Tim Blair a couple of years ago. Does he have any relevance any more?

Like I said, I do ignore them because I don't have the stomach for it. But I'm glad someone else does.

For mine, ignoring them leaves them free to gee up lynch mobs, outrage over stuff like the Henson photos, animosity against environmentalists over the bush fires, climate change denialism and xenophobia.

B and B themselves are only a concern to the extent that they can start and sustain that sort of thing among their followers. Armed with blogs their followers can egg one another on. I'm glad to see them and their followers challenged, even if it is only a Crikey blog.

Very nice post, Lyn.

I think I said somewhere else the other day that the sudden preciousness we've seen from some about civility in the blogosphere is peculiar. I think Tim Blair would have to agree that part of his schtick is meanness and snark, so a site criticising him in the same way can hardly be said to be lowering the tone. I can't help thinking that there may be some envy emerging over PP's new prominence.

On the other hand, there could be an issue of tone to be discussed. One blog was having a shot at these guys for being uncivil while linking to JF Beck and Tim Blair in their blogroll. The only possible explanation for this lack of reflexive awareness is that what seems funny coming from your side of the political fence doesn't seem so humorous coming back the other way.

I should say that the PP guys are friends of mine, but that happened because I started reading and commenting at another blog they're involved with, and found it always funny and occasionally hilarious.

There's no way to settle arguments about what's funny and what isn't, but I will say that it's odd some of the more po-faced blogs are the ones presuming to make judgements about the political efficacy of piss-taking.

I think snark can work coming from the left or the right (and I don't mind admitting, for example, that I occasionally get a laugh out of Tim Blair), and as long as it stays within limits, it's refreshing. (The limits, of course, are the trouble). Anyway, I find snark a lot more lively than faux op-ed seriousness, and my favourite "serious" blogs - e.g. Possum - often have a snarky edge.

These may be matters of taste, but putting the idea out that snark is something we all should have gotten over in 2005 is a little bit presumptuous if you ask me. I'd argue that it's a genre rather than an historical phase (it's there internationally in blogs like Some people like it, and it's perfectly legitimate.

Thank you Mr Wilson.

Yes, you mentioned the preciousness thing, but in a different context so I left it alone. It's not the first time it's happened and it's interesting to see what does, and doesn't, trigger it.

I'm partial to a drop of snark with my gravitas too. Anything shallow end makes me happy, so I don't see it as being so much about what's funny, but analogous to the high culture/low culture thing and the territoriality that goes with that. From a publishing point of view, it's a varied market and the PP guys are obviously meeting a demand.

I guess they're treading on toes, centralising the Media Watch thing other bloggers do from time to time, but in a way that's given commenters a more active role. It's the first time I've seen commenters monitoring commenters, and intervening in social space. That's way more interesting than whose blog they're doing it on.

Actually that last bit's not true. I've seen plenty of commenters monitoring commenters, just never with such a focused purpose and observable outcome.

Yeah you're right about the commenters stuff too, of course. Commenters on PP and their target blogs have had star billing, in some ways. We're getting to a point where a blog about comments can be sustained. And you're right about Bolt's complaints about nasty comments "suddenly" appearing on his blog - quite mind-bending from my POV.

I'm pretty sure some of the PP bloggers were themselves originally commenters on either Boltwatch, BBW, or Grods, so that's interesting, too.

"We're getting to a point where a blog about comments can be sustained."

I'm having trouble coming up with a meatword equivalent. We're so used to people being represented by the spokesperson for whatever, or leadership of some kind. PP commenters just needed the space.

How people circulate, where they come from and where they end up, and the baggage they take with them, fascinates me. Take commenters who start out at MSM blogs and start their first comment somewhere else with "This is the first time I've blogged here". What happens then varies from place to place, depending how culturally correct a site is.

It's also interesting to watch how, why and when crowds redistribute themselves.

Shut up Lyn. OT.

Tim Dunlop discussed the future role of blogs in his final post on Surfdom. He canvassed the possibility of them developing into serious institutions and was less than optimistic. I tend to agree, although it's early days yet.

Australia doesn't have the critical mass of readers to let talented people make a living out of blogging, and it seems to me that's what is required. Now I'm writing, i remember we discussed the same thing here a while back. There are some excellent posts sometimes but inevitably the authors go off and do something else after a while (just look at what's happened to Club Troppo over the last 12 months).

Until the blogosphere can support some Antipodean equivalents of Matt Yglesias and Josh Marshall and John Cole and Glenn Greenwald, blogs will play a peripheral role in public affairs.

what has happened to Club Troppo over the last 12 months?

Agreed Ken, although I'd add that on top of having a small population, public affairs has become a special interest niche. It's been a long time since the whole family sat down to watch the news every night.

Maybe blogs won't be about authors, but about commenters?

you remark here about the robust political discourse in the blogosphere.

I like snark as much as the next person, and hypocrisy sometimes deserves to be exposed, whatever the reputational damage inflicted. (Indeed, I’ve been bemused by the outbreak of preciousness in recent days surrounding one particular “gatewatching” effort.

'snark', presumably means vitriol? Or personal attack? Or deception/dissembling?

Isn't this the standard modus operandi of the tabloid end of the culture industry? One that stands in direct opposition to the process of the enlightenment of citizens in a liberal democracy?

Isn't that kind of vitriol different from what you call "piss-taking" in the above comment.

From Urban Dictionary:

Combination of "snide" and "remark". Sarcastic comment(s).
Also snarky (adj.) and snarkily (adv.)

It's not the preserve of either end of the culture industries.

Surely if an enlightened citizenry is the goal, then the method of articulation has to have wide appeal?

On the other hand, there's a grey area between snark and seriously damaging hate speech. In my understanding, snark is mostly harmless.

sure, if an enlightened citizenry is the goal, then the method of articulation has to have wide appeal. That's the core of classical rhetoric.

The qualification made is that there needs to be an argument as well as the conventions that ensure a wide appeal in an ordinary language. Without an argument the rhetoric is empty and not persuasive.

However, 'snark' or 'piss-taking' as a style of rhetoric is quite different from mass deception (eg., Bolt's climate change denialism) and Blair's attack dog style of personal attacks.

Gary some of the people who used to contribute to Troppo seem to have disappeared, or they post very infrequently. Half the content these days consists of material already published elsewhere (e.g. 'Financial Review') and another chunk of content is little more than a subset of the Catallaxy 'let's have a tediously predictable slanging match' approach to blogging.

Obviously the owners can run their blog the way they see fit but IMHO it's become much less interesting to the general reader. Whereas it was once in my top 3 or 4 daily reads, these days I often skim straight past. If comments are a reliable guide to reader engagement, I am not alone in my reaction.

Hi Gary,

I'm afraid I just don't accept your Adornoesque framework that puts "the tabloid" and the "culture industry" at one end and enlightenment at the other. I think things in practice are always a lot more messy than that, as is visible from the history of any liberal democracy. The tabloid can function as a legitimate aspect of public life - think about the history of the crusading or left-wing tabloid. (We haven't seen many newspapers like that lately, but I think I'm interested in the way some kinds of snark take that up.) And the voice of enlightenment is always speaking on behalf of someone.

I'm with Zygmunt Bauman on this - in "In Search of Politics", where he's wishing (in the 1990s) for a revived agora, he says that if it happens, it's likely to be a pretty rowdy, rough and tumble place from time to time. That's what public space is. If we think the blogsphere is some kind of agora, we have to include the rabble-rousing voices along with the reasonable ones.

With the "pick up the phone" stuff I've been accused of trying to put normative limits on public discourse. I guess ideally I'd like things presented as fact to be true, and I'd like new bloggers to keep themselves out of hot water, but I'm perfectly happy to accept that there are any number of ways of engaging with the online public sphere, and being citizenly.

I don't think there are too many personal attacks as such going on over at PP, actually. And I don't think, with all due respect to them, that they quite have the audience yet to mbe carrying out "mass deception". Nor do the news limited bloggers.

Lyn's right - the line between snark and hate-speech is pretty clear most of the time.

On my last comment, I'd be grateful if you'd correct me if I've misconstrued what you're asking me. The last comment you've made suggests I may have...

you write that you " just don't accept your Adornoesque framework that puts "the tabloid" and the "culture industry" at one end and enlightenment at the other. " I've deliberately used Adorno's concepts of culture industry, the process of enlightenment and mass deception in relation to liberal democracy in Australia; and done so because I reckon they are categories that we need in order to talk about the historical development of the media, the agora, and rhetoric in postmodernity in Australia's liberal democracy.

We need to clear away some rubbish to establish a common ground. I fully accept, and would like to see, a revived agora that becomes:

a pretty rowdy, rough and tumble place from time to time. That's what public space is. If we think the blogsphere is some kind of agora, we have to include the rabble-rousing voices along with the reasonable ones.

There is a lot of diversity in the Australian agora---eg., the Senate process of deliberation, the political theatre of the Question Time in the House of representatives, the ABC concept of the townhall or square, bloggers, The Australian's partisan commentary and the visual imagery of the tabloids, the commentary of the little magazines, the visual imagery of television (free to air and pay), cartoons ---and so on.

The more the merrier for me, and I hope the digital revolution delivers more--eg., in the way of internet television and public affairs talk shows that have appeared in the UK and the US. We are in agreement on this --Zygmunt Bauman's point.

Where we probably will differ is my retaining Adorno's dialectic of enlightenment account of the twin processes of enlightenment and mass deception. I do so however, without buying into the stark modernist duality of high and low. My reply to the low/high charge is that the historical process of enlightenment and mass deception can be found within the ABC, The Australian, bloggers, tabloids etc etc to differing degrees. They are not the watchdogs of democracy they proclaim themselves to be.

Hope that helps to clear some things up.

If pushed, I would argue--bringing in the category 'dialectics'-- that the Enlightenment turns on itself and starts eating its own body. That kind of negativity--Enlightenment as mass deception--- pushes me to the edge or the horizon of the agora in Australia.

Yet this frame is within Adorno's classic account as he and Horkheimer open Dialectic of Enlightenment by saying that:

In the most general sense of progressive thought, the Enlightenment has always aimed a liberating men [sic] from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.

Some examples. The Murray-Darling Basin and global warming are disaster triumphant--and these are the consequence of the Enlightenment establishing the sovereignty of human beings over nature using a capitalist economy and industrial technology.

The other example is Fox News. If, as Adorno and Horkheimer argue, "the program of the Enlightenment was the disenchantment of the world (ie., the dissolution of myths and the substitution of knowledge for fancy") , then Fox News is the process of the re-enchantment of the world for conservative political purposes.

Most would accept these two examples of a process gone wrong, but then, no doubt, gulp at the category of dialectics.

Given the acceptance of things gone wrong, we do need to make distinctions not only about about the different kinds of rhetoric in play in the revived agora; but also to evaluate that rhetoric in terms of its effects --ie., does it enlighten through knowledge or re-enchant through myth? It's crude, in terms of evaluation but it's all I have, and it seems to make sense of what is happening around global warming.

Suggestions for something better always warmly welcomed.

It is right to make distinctions between a political rhetoric build around reason and argument and one based on insult, ad hominem attacks and glib denunciation.

The work of Bolt and Blair and their commentators on their blogs require us to make these distinctions. If Crikey continue to host the Pure Poison blog, then they are going to need to make some distinctions along these lines re moderation of comments to retain their media credibility.

Today's developments at Crikey and PP have been interesting. In defense of snark, if everyone in question had observed the snark line none of this would have happened. Lesson learned I hope.

Possum is the perfect example of argument nicely balanced with snark and other linguistic confectionary. On a whole society level that combo would be ideal, but ideal doesn't exist. If there's such thing as a mechanism for trimming extremes at both ends, the deep and the shallow, would they be public boredom at the deep end and civility standards at the shallow?

I just made that up, but if civility is the safety catch at the shallow end, the PP vs B and B thing seems like a worthwile exercise.

There's a problem with uneven distributions of power in there, which seems to be what's going on today. Maybe News Ltd's profit slump will sort that out in the longer run.


It's interesting that once again, it's the commenters that have played a starring role, as per your original post.


You raise some interesting issues that I don't have time to engage with at this minute due to teaching starting up again.

I'd just like to signal that I do have some opinions on this and I'd like the conversation to continue. I'll try to get back to you tomorrow here, and might even try something over at my blog.

Just thought I'd say that this is easily the best thread of metacommentary I've seen on this issues, though.

I'm not yet entirely comfortable putting all of my thoughts on this out in full public view.

No offense intended to anyone here, maybe I'm suffering from paranoia, and apologies for not being more open sourceish.

If this conversation does go on I'll probably limit my contribution to observations of the PP experiment. On which, commenters at PP don't seem to mind being moderated there. In fact SNIP has become part of the linguistic landscape so quickly it's hard to tell whether it's real moderation. The production and uptake of cultural artefacts over there is amazing.

we'd love to hear you views ---it would be good to keep the conversation going.

This conversation has got stuck in the past on blogging as journalism (as news) and as journalism as commentary and the media as watchdogs of democracy. Around and around the mulberry bush we go.

The idea of the agora as a pretty rowdy, rough and tumble place with different kinds of rhetoric does help to get some movement in the media/blogging topic.