Sunday, January 02, 2005

Time Magazine's Person of the Year, and Bloggers

One of the many wonderful things about reading blogs is that you get to find out about publications you never heard of before. One of these, for me, is the New York Press. Eschaton, the blog authored by Atrios, linked to a very amusing piece by Matt Taibbi in the said New York Press, commenting on Time magazine's Person of the Year issue. George W. Bush, of course, was their pick for that title.

Here is Taibbi on Andrew Sullivan, who rails about bloggers in a column for the issue: "On the Internet, a volunteer army of bloggers escalated their guerrilla war against the mainstream media… Nevertheless, they stay on the margins—because, like all insurgents, they're about sniping, not governing."

Taibbi says:

It's amazing how useful a bad writer can be in exposing the vagaries of mainstream thought.

Sullivan probably doesn't mean to use the word "governing" in the above passage. He probably needs a phrase, something like "being good citizens," or "behaving responsibly." Sullivan is trying to compare bloggers to the Iraqi insurgency—a wrongheaded and unfair comparison to begin with, one that outrages both parties—but the way he writes it, he implies that the real media's natural role is to govern. In the shaky parallel structure of this sentence, bloggers and guerrilla insurgents make up one pair, while mainstream media and legitimate ruling government make up the other.

We know what he means, but this is the kind of thing one doesn't usually say out loud. Last time I checked, the press was not supposed to be part of the ruling structure in our system of government. On the contrary—and I'm just going by Jefferson and Madison, so I may be out of date—it's supposed to be an antagonist to it, a check on civil power. Sullivan's sentence would make fine rhetorical sense in Myanmar, the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but in the United States one hopes it is just bad writing.
Going on to the main Person of the Year article, Taibbi writes about how Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson "[strain] to turn banal facts into great character insights, commonplace quotes into Churchillian utterance." For example, describing Bush in the Oval Office, Gibbs and Dickerson write, "Eagles rather than doves nestle in the Oval Office Christmas tree, pinecones the size of footballs piled around the fireplace, and the President of the United States is pretty close to lounging in Armchair One. ..."


What kind of a maniac puts eagles in a Christmas tree? Are doves no longer ideologically acceptable—even as Christmas ornaments?

How does one come "pretty close to lounging"? I imagine that this is a state of being somewhere between lounging and not lounging, but what the fuck? What would he have been if he were standing—pretty close to leaning?
You can read the entire Taibbi piece here.

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