"I think it would be valuable if we had... uh... I mean, there's some sense where blogs correct themselves if you read enough of them, but I still I think it would be good if we had some sort of, you know, blogging -- you know -- council, where we could condemn people. Sort of... responsible body. You could still blog if you want. Nobody's going to stop you. But we're going to... everybody's gonna know that you're not to be trusted... unless you can sort of apologize or answer for yourself."I thought it was revealing, and I used the quote (cut down a bit) in my NYT column yesterday. (Free here.)
On the blog, I said I was "put off by the mindset he revealed" -- that desire to "blacklist" -- and in the NYT, I called it the "impulse to control."
Alterman is right to read my quoting and characterization as a very harsh accusation. I wouldn't call it "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," as he does. If I was going to use the inflammatory word "fascism," I wouldn't say "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," which makes no sense to me. At the very least, I'd replace "liberal" with "left-wing" or "illiberal."
The idea of fascism does come up in the comments. In the second comment, Jeff says: "The leftist will to power (and more importantly, control) rears its ugly head." A little further down, Mike just says: "Fascism - Oppressive or dictatorial control." And John takes a hard (but humorous) swipe:
Alterman is one of those pathetic little mediocrities who in another time and place would be a very dangerous person. Put him Weimar Germany, revolutionary France or early Soviet Russia and he would be full fledged rhetorical thug pushing the brown shirted masses to smash windows and heads. As it is, he is just fascist little prick whom you hope will disappear like a rash if properly ignored. I almost hope he would start such a council just so I can start blogging and get on the blacklist.Later, Mike comes back with:
I don't think Eric Alterman is a fascist (though he is many other disagreeable things) but I find it amusing that it is his ilk who are prone to hurl that term, yet it is they who are the control freaks.So Alterman is right to feel provoked and, really, embarrassed to have shown so much of an urge to repress and control. His own words were telling. It's not my habit to type out spoken word, and I don't monitor Bloggingheads episodes for stray quotes to use to make people look bad. That quote jumped out at me and demanded transcription. And I think Eric knows he was saying something bad. The pattern of the stammer, with the double "you know," is telling.
Let's work our way through Eric's reverie.
1) It was a conversation. I was just sort of musing.Right! That's why it's so interesting. The things people say when they let their guard down...
But still, it's fair game.Damn right.
2) I do actually believe what I said. Ever since the beginning of blogging-time, I have worried -- in public and on blogging panels -- about the loss of the media's gatekeeper function. Now, I believe I literally wrote the book on this topic -- and it's about to go out of print for the second time, so if you don't own it, hassle Cornell University Press -- and I am as aware as anyone on earth, I believe, of the dangers of the misuse of that function. Almost all of my books deal with this tension in one way or another. But the fact is, the function is absolutely necessary. A democracy of hundreds of millions of people is functionally impossible for reasons it requires an entire book to explain. Particularly when the media profess to strive toward objectivity, punditry/gatekeepers play a crucial role. My problem with the punditocracy has never been that they are pundits, but that they are so incompetent at the job they do.There you have it. Controlling speech seems to be his mission in life. What's he really saying here? He writes books, and he's obsessed with speech, but he's none too articulate.
The "function" of "gatekeeping" is "absolutely necessary." And, speaking of functions, something is "functionally impossible." On a quick read, I thought he was saying that gatekeeping -- that function -- is functionally impossible. But no, what is functionally impossible is democracy. But you'll have to read his book to understand why. Here we see even more of the urge to control.
You can't have your democracy, and there are a lot of complex reasons why you can't, as elite, intellectual study shows. I own the truth. I write the books. If you can get your hands on the hard-to-find book and spend some good long time with it, you might come to understand what I already know. I am the gatekeeper of this information explaining why you can't have democracy. Trust me.
Notice that phrase "media's gatekeeper function." The media deliver information, but Alterman characterizes that as gatekeeping. The emphasis is on what they don't let out. Not having read his book, I'm not sure what he's driving at in point #1. I get the sense it's that voters are dependent on the media filtering the information well, and bloggers ought to improve that filtering, not bypass it. You don't want too much information, because it might be bad.
3) If bloggers are going to perform this function -- that is, helping busy and usually uninformed people make sense of the world -- we are going to have to employ some sort of standard with which to judge their reliability. If they are pathological liars, psychopaths, religious or ideological extremists who cannot be trusted to tell the truth, well then, it'd be useful to have them branded as such -- in order to keep them from further infecting the body politic with even more lies, ideological obsessions, and intellectual corruptions. True, the mainstream media do not do a great job of this themselves anymore, but many people inside it do try. In many cases, their brands and relationship to their peers depend on it.Speech as disease! Some speakers are sick, and they may cause infection! He would justify quarantines. This man does not believe in free speech. He will not put his faith in the marketplace of ideas and the remedy of more speech.
4) Bloggers tend to argue that this problem will sort itself out over time.That's scarcely some eccentric blogger thought. It's the core idea of American free speech.
I worry about the "over time" part. I also worry about all the damage that can be done in the interim.This is the mindset of a censor. Of course, you mean well. You're here to save us from ourselves.
And so I raised it on Bloggingheads.tv and offered up a notion in response. Maybe it's a bad idea. It's not as if I gave it any thought before I said it.Well, you did write those books. This is your area of expertise, isn't it? It's just that you let the words tumble out this time, and it showed more ugliness that you would have liked. If only you could control things more, control freak.
But I'm not convinced it is [a bad idea]. Or at least, I've yet to see a better one. After all, it's a panel of bloggers; it's the judgment of one's peers and it would enjoy no power whatever, save the influence it amasses by virtue of the quality of its judgments. Just what is so threatening about that?I'm not threatened by your panel. I simply loathe your censorious frame of mind, your fear of speech as sickness, your urge to control and purify, and your belief in the beneficence of panels. I thank God that I live in a country where the institution you dream of would not be allowed to "enjoy power."
So now, instead of quivering in fear about what my supposed "peers" would like to do to me, I'll have another cup of coffee and a nice little giggle over the way you finally expressed some faith in the marketplace of ideas -- when it came time to talk about why your damned panel should be trusted.
I love a little irony in the morning.