Why Lefty Bloggers Are Owed a Living Redux

Susie Madrak, under the attention-grabbing headline “No More Dead Bloggers,” laments “the utter injustice of a Democratic political system that is very, very happy to take the money and volunteers the blogosphere sends its way” and yet returns only “Bubkis” to the non-A-listers.

There is not even a little doubt in my mind that, if Rittenhouse Review’s Jim Capozzola had remained a Republican, he’d be alive now. He would have been in a well-paid think tank job, living the high life. (He did, after all, have a masters degree in foreign policy.) Most importantly, he would have had health insurance for the past six years.

I don’t know much about the circumstances of Jim’s death but if he died for want of money, it’s tragic, indeed. That we manage to spend more per capita on health care than any other developed country and yet have people falling through the cracks of the system is surely evidence that we need to fix it.

As a Republican blogger with a doctorate in foreign policy and no well-paid think tank job, however, I’m pretty sure Richard Mellon Scaife and the boys aren’t hunting down Republican bloggers and ensuring we all have health insurance. For that matter, from what I know of think tank jobs, few of them are “well-paid,” at least by D.C. standards, let alone provide the resources for “living the high life,” at least economically speaking.

Furthermore, if the standard is hiring by think tanks and opinion journals, it would seem to me that the Left blogosphere is way ahead of us. Mickey Kaus was the blogger for whom the phrase “take the Boeing” was coined and Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Duncan “Atrios” Black, Oliver Willis, Steve Clemons, and Steve Benen come readily to mind as examples of those who followed.

It’s also rather ironic that Jim Capozzola is being invoked in defense of the position that bloggers should be taken care of by the Establishment. His most famous post, cited in most of the eulogies (including Susie’s) that followed his untimely death was AL GORE AND THE ALPHA GIRLS: The Enduring Power of Cliques in a Post-High-School World.

[W]ebloggers, some of whom I find smarter, more eloquent, and more perceptive than a sizable portion of their professional counterparts, do not share the punditburo’s status anxiety and do not join with the punditboro in enthusiastically casting aside whatever principles they might have in a craven effort to curry favor with their colleagues.

The media’s Betas, in their quest for higher professional status and a more public personal profile, fear nothing more than alienating the industry’s powerful Alphas. And for this reason, Betas hold back, mute their voices, temper their criticisms. Regularly. Consistently. Shamelessly. The Betas know who the gatekeepers are. They know that arguing too strongly against eliminating the estate tax would hurt their chances of appearing in The Wall Street Journal. They know that any hint of recognition that the Palestinians are human beings and not animals will result in their being permanently blackballed by the New Republic. And they know that expressing opposition to school vouchers or the privatization of Social Security will keep them from securing a plumb appointment in the Bush administration. The media consumer is poorly served by this rampant but well hidden journalistic deceit.

He contrasted this with a hypothetical blogger, Sally Smith, who “although a conservative Republican since college, nonetheless recently has become a vocal critic of at least two well-known conservatives, one a high-ranking member of the Bush administration, the other a prominent pundit.”

The hypothetical Smith has a good job, separate and apart from, and wholly unrelated to, her politically oriented blogging project. And she has a full and happy life. It is actually because of this — not despite this — that Smith writes with incomparable fervor about Daniels and Kristol, along with a few other conservatives she finds woefully lacking in intelligence and perspicacity, because she believes passionately in the issues she addresses at her site. More important, because Smith has a good job and a full and happy life, one in which her comments on pundits, commentators, and journalists of varying authenticity have no bearing, she has no reason to fear offending Daniels or Kristol or any person, institution, business, or enterprise with which they are associated, affiliated, or related.

Although Smith is a brilliant thinker and an outstanding writer, she cares not one whit about ever being published in conservative magazines like the Weekly Standard (Kristol’s home base, though one it is obvious is the subject of little of his purportedly brilliant mind’s attention), Commentary, the Public Interest, or City Journal (to name just a few of the little magazines where Daniels, Kristol, Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, and their friends have influence). Nor does Smith expect or wish ever to appear on the op-ed pages of the New York Post, the Washington Times, or the Washington Post. However, as a conservative, Smith appreciates the Post’s increasingly evident enthusiasm for right-wing writers, both in the editorial section and even more obviously in the “Style” section — that portion of the paper that used to be called “the Lady’s Page,” now home to gossip columnist Lloyd Grove and consummate television-watcher Howard Kurtz.

Smith is not bothered that Pat Buchanan might think she’s too much of an internationalist to warrant calling herself a conservative. Or that William F. Buckley Jr. objects to her criticism of Pope Pius XII. Or that Martin Peretz and William Safire are irritated by her favorable remarks about Israeli Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna.

Smith doesn’t care that the Heritage Foundation will never come calling. Or that as a judge in southern Vermont she effected a dozen lawful gay unions last year, acts that forever have rendered her persona non grata to the self-appointed high priests and Pharisees of First Things and National Review.

The quintessential political blogger is gainfully employed, well informed, and insulated from the insider culture in which most mainstream journalists dwell. That, as Jim notes, is what made bloggers unique.

It may well be that this has changed, however. While most of the top bloggers have day jobs and would scoff at the low pay of a magazine writing or think tank job, a large number see success as going pro. Darren Rowse has made a career of providing advice to bloggers trying to monetize their sites and many others are following that path. It takes some luck and a lot of work, but many of us are doing it.

Still, as I wrote a few months ago in response to a similar lament,

The A-list bloggers that are making oodles of money from their products are able to do so because they have the combination of traffic and prestige to make it worthwhile for advertisers to pay for the privilege of appearing on their sites. Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Duncan Black, Markos Moulitsas, Michelle Malkin, and a handful of others have done that so well that they’re making large sums of money and employing others. Others, including John Hawkins and myself, are making a living at it, although at rates far below [the] $10,000 a week [DailyKos reportedly generates].

If, however, one’s part-time writing has not attracted a large readership and a passel of advertisers, why is it that The Powers That Be ought to swoop down and fork over some cash to keep you in business? For one thing, you’re already in business, meaning the return on investment would be rather minimal. Moreover, almost by definition, the net harm to The Cause of your blog’s disappearance from the scene would be negligible.

Moreover, where is the evidence that blogs are going to go away if people can’t make a living from them? Most of us blogged for free for years before making more than minimum wage for the time invested. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs being created every day, including small number of readable ones. Where, exactly, is the blogging crisis?

Further, aside from the question of whether bloggers who are loyal soldiers for the cause somehow deserve to have someone provide health insurance and free laptops, it’s far from clear where the line should be drawn. Surely, not every blogger should get that? And, if traffic levels or linkage are going to be the criteria, then it’s just a matter of creating an A-list, a B-list, and so on. Which is where we are now.

So, yes, let’s figure out a way to make sure that 45-year-olds who have fallen on hard times can get medical treatment. But let’s not turn bloggers into paid drones for the political party machines. That’s the last thing we need.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    It’s also rather ironic that Jim Capozzola is being invoked in defense of the position that bloggers should be taken care of by the Establishment

    Yes, well, absent anything else, bloggers have attained the reputation they have pure lead because of their disconnection to the “establishment”. This would be particularly true of those on the left, at least in terms of image.

    Having such people “taking care of” by “the establishment” would appear at least on the surface to be somewhat counterproductive to the accepted purpose.

    To be perfectly Frank, however, Capozzola’s death ends up being nothing more than an opportunity for rabble rousing to Madrak in much the same way as John Edwards used the death of his kid.

    And I wonder, if this call for such people to be taken care of by “the establishment” isn’t really the results of the long held secret wish of some bloggers on the left to be considered as part of “the establishment”.

    Moreover; (And I know I’m going to be called insensitive over this. So be it…) Madrak claims Capozzola as a friend in her eulogy post, but if he was in such need, where were his friends? Are they, also, destitute to the point of not being able to chip in? It’s all the rage, to blame “the establishment” and it certainly does a fair job of raising the rabble. But I noticed no change of regret, that they failed in their responsibility to the person that they called “friend”.

  2. Bithead says:

    And for some indication of consistancy of position on the freinds not chipping in, let me quote the response I gave to the post James cites a few months gone:

    In watching what’s been going on on the left side of the sphere lately, the one conclusion that you can draw is that the left is anything but charitable, even to each other. THe whole thing seems to be about personal power and satisfaction, and to hell with anyone else. They are all out for themselves.

    If Madrak’s description of the situation can be considered anywhere near accurate, it would seem to be the logical conclusion of what I observed several months ago. It would also seem to reinforce my comments of this morning.

    And just as I go to post this, a thought occurs; What did he die from? Was it possibly lifestyle choices that brought this about? If so, it hardly seems fair to blame “the establishment”, even assuming his “friends” were pouring money into his pockets.

  3. Bandit says:

    Maybe instead of being a blogger he should have got a job with health benefits?

  4. madmatt says:

    “That we manage to spend more per capita on health care than any other developed country and yet have people falling through the cracks of the system is surely evidence that we need to fix it.”

    40 million Americans without insurance and that is a conservative estimate…thats one hell of a crack that needs some work.

  5. carpeicthus says:

    One way or the other, I miss Jim.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I think there’s a bit of overgeneralization going on on all sides. I can think of any number of prominent bloggers, Left and Right Blogosphere, who are unemployed or underemployed as a consequence of disability of one kind or another. The most obvious case that comes to mind is Steven Den Beste.

    I can also think of several not-so-prominent bloggers who’ve been hired by right-leaning think tanks. None of them are blogging any more. Unlike the professional bloggers of the Left Blogosphere (to whom you allude), they were hired for the expertise they brought to blogging, not for blogging itself.

    Is that a feature specific to the Left Blogosphere? Amongst its denizens blogging seems to be considered a form of activism and I think it’s arguable that activism is the expertise for which they’re being hired.

    There’s a Long Tail phenomenon that’s involved in getting hired by think tanks as much as blog traffic is (and, of course, the two are interrelated).

    Something that I don’t recall anyone having mentioned is whether Mr. Capozzola sought such a job. My impression is that schmoozing is an important part of securing such appointments.

    Regardless of the quality and expense of whatever healthcare we receive, we’re all going to die. Whether improved care would have forestalled Jim Capozzola’s death, absent specific information about his condition and cause of death, I have no idea.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    One more point: Left Blogosphere bloggers are notoriously reluctant to link to each other, particularly to blogs with less traffic than they’re own. If increased traffic leads to a lucrative thinktank job (or a job with benefits, anyway), it might help if A-list Left Blogosphere bloggers linked a bit more to other Left Blogosphere bloggers for reasons other than securing traffic of their own. Just a thought.

  8. Without knowing one damned thing about Jim’s circumstances, you all feel qualified to pass judgment. I suppose this is the same close attention you brought to your support of the Iraq war?

    Jim was working for the past two years at low-paid jobs without benefits. He had been working at a temp job that finally gained permanent status, and he got his health coverage in April. By then, the infection he originally thought was the flu was out of control. The powerful drugs they gave him kept his blood from clotting, and when he fell and hit his head, it caused a massive brain hemorrhage, which is what killed him. So much for your “lifestyle” theory.

    Oh yeah: He also had Parkinson’s disease. I suppose he chose that, too?

    As to his friends not caring: Jim was very private. Although we’d often helped him before, he was tired of being the object of charity and often dropped out of sight for months at a time, ignoring phone calls and emails. He didn’t want anyone to know how bad his situation was.

    And as his friend who was also out of work for a long time, just as broke as Jim and yet who shared whatever I could with him (as did all his friends), I can only laugh at your theorizing. That’s why I love conservatives – when the facts are inconvenient, you simply make something up that fits your ideological narrative.

    When life, as it inevitably does, puts you or your loved ones in a similarly awful situation, I hope you remember the lack of compassion and understanding you showed toward Jim.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Susie, I see nothing unkind or lacking in compassion in James’s original post. Here’s what he wrote:

    So, yes, let’s figure out a way to make sure that 45-year-olds who have fallen on hard times can get medical treatment. But let’s not turn bloggers into paid drones for the political party machines.

    Only one of the commenters above could have been construed as unkind or lacking in compassion but that didn’t deter you from tarring all of us with the same brush.

    BTW, I’m not a conservative and I didn’t believe that the invasion of Iraq was prudent.

  10. grewgills says:

    I largely agree that bloggers of any stripe should not expect to be taken care by whichever political group they support. The post that prompted this was written about someone recently deceased by someone grieving that persons death, I would think that you might cut them some slack.

    Left Blogosphere bloggers are notoriously reluctant to link to each other, particularly to blogs with less traffic than they’re own.

    That is nonsense. I regularly read left and right wing blogs, both generally have a blogroll. In the small sample that I regularly look at the Left leaning sites tend to have a longer blogroll. This site is the first I have seen that includes 2 separate rolls for the left and right (kudos for that), though I originally found this site via a link from a left leaning blog.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    That is nonsense.

    Then why do they keep complaining about it, grewgills? You might check James’s earlier post on this subject.

  12. Bithead says:

    The post that prompted this was written about someone recently deceased by someone grieving that persons death, I would think that you might cut them some slack.

    Actually, she was cut quite a bit of slack. For my part, that’s particularly true given the targets that she chose for blame.

  13. Bithead says:

    I suspect they keep blaming each other, Dave, because it’s easier than blaming themselves , and their site’s content.

  14. jim says:

    This conversation illustrates the problem with politics as it is lived in the United States. To a few on both sides; a person’s death is just a reason to bitch, complain, point fingers and bash.

  15. To a few on both sides; a person’s death is just a reason to bitch, complain, point fingers and bash.

    To me the conversation was about the sense of entitlement held by one liberal weblogger.

  16. James Joyner says:

    I regularly read left and right wing blogs, both generally have a blogroll. In the small sample that I regularly look at the Left leaning sites tend to have a longer blogroll.

    The lament, I think, is that the A-list lefty bloggers don’t link to posts written by those further down the long tail as often as the A-list righty bloggers do. Whether it’s empirically, true, I haven’t any idea, but it’s a claim I’ve seen made repeatedly by second tier lefty bloggers. Blogroll links, while nice, don’t generate the same kind of traffic.

    This site is the first I have seen that includes 2 separate rolls for the left and right (kudos for that)

    Thanks, although what I’ve got is two separate RSS feeds; the blogroll is much longer and integrated. I’ve seen several sites, though, that do have multiple blogrolls, including ideologically segregated ones.

  17. Bithead says:

    To me the conversation was about the sense of entitlement held by one liberal weblogger.

    More’s the pity; it’s far more than just the one lefty blogger, or this meme wouldn’t have gone on nearly as long as it has. James put his first post up on the subject last March. I had been seeing stuff along the same lines going back as far as the year before that.

    And frankly, the complaint seems to me orchestrated to match with the current Michael Moore narrative.

  18. pseudonymous in nc says:

    frankly, the complaint seems to me orchestrated to match with the current Michael Moore narrative.

    Yes, I’m sure Jim Capozzola’s death was also carefully timed to suit the film’s release, too. Please, spare us.

    I’m actually with Ezra Klein on this. Yes, there’s a mature network of organizations, usually non-profit and tax-deductible, that provide sinecures and pseudo-authority for right-wing pundits. But most of those pundits aren’t bloggers, or at least not primarily bloggers.

    That’s beside the point. The Democratic establishment could do more to support liberal bloggers, but it shouldn’t be in the business of providing health care on a selective basis to people it considers useful; it needs to give all Americans access to affordable health care, regardless.

  19. Bithead says:

    Yes, I’m sure Jim Capozzola’s death was also carefully timed to suit the film’s release, too. Please, spare us.

    My, my… we ARE obtuse today, aren’t we?

  20. Rich Horton says:

    Crap. I’ve got two master’s degrees. Does that mean I get two think tank jobs, or one think tank job with double the salary?

    Republican think tanks everywhere, I await your response.

    (Who knew it was this easy!?!)

  21. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Crap. I’ve got two master’s degrees. Does that mean I get two think tank jobs, or one think tank job with double the salary?

    Entirely the wrong qualifications for Republican think tanks. Do you have a politically-connected parent?

  22. James Joyner says:

    Entirely the wrong qualifications for Republican think tanks. Do you have a politically-connected parent?

    You’re thinking of the Bush administration. The major think tanks (Heritage, Hudson, Nixon Center, etc.) on the right hire mostly Ph.D’s and/or people with significant practitioner experience for senior analyst/fellow positions.