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Week of 9.15.06

Perspectives: Huffington and Sullivan on Political Blogging

Arianna Huffington is the founder of The Huffington Post, a news and opinion Internet blog where famous writers, analysts, and personalities post comments daily. She is also a syndicated columnist and radio show host. Her latest book is "On Becoming Fearless.... in Love, Work, and Life" and was released in 2006.

Andrew Sullivan is a writer, blogger, and former editor of The New Republic. His six year-old blog, The Daily Dish, is one of the Internet's most linked-to blogs. The Daily Dish is now featured on TIME.com, and his latest book, "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back" came out in 2006.



Q: What effect, if any, will blogs have on the mid-term elections?

Arianna Huffington: They're already having an effect -- bloggers played a large role in Ned Lamont's primary victory over Joe Lieberman, building buzz, shifting the conventional wisdom, and doing some great research and reporting. Bloggers were also a key element in George Allen's "Macaca" comment being spread far and wide, which has led to challenger Jim Webb now running neck and neck with him. And we also see that Hillary has hired a blog adviser. There's no one more mainstream than Hillary Clinton, so the fact that she's done this is indicative of the influence blogs now have.

Andrew Sullivan: Not that much, I think. We can help frame the debate, but we're not ground-operations, nor, in my mind, should we be.


Q: How much political power is really wielded by "the bloggers"?

Arianna Huffington: It's growing. Politicians are paying more and more attention to what is happening in the blogosphere. We saw this just recently with the John Bolton confirmation. I heard from a friend of mine who works on the Hill that a lot of Senate Democrats were paying close attention to whether the blogs were going to focus on the Bolton nomination -- and that when they did a number of fence-sitting Democrats decided to back the idea of a filibuster... which then led to Chairman Lugar indefinitely postponing the vote on Bolton. Bloggers also wield power by holding the mainstream media's feet to the fire, which affects coverage, which in turn affects politicians.

Andrew Sullivan: I believe our influence should be primarily within the world of ideas - generating new policies, exposing corruption and stupidity, clarifying where mistakes are being made, pursuing issues with tenacity - like the detainee treatment issue - and revealing dirty tricks by either side. That can make a difference. I've been told my blog has made a real difference in the torture debate right now, for example. The White House and the Hill reads it. But I cannot prove it has been indispensable in any way. Just a prod.


Q: What long-term effect will blogs have on our culture?

Arianna Huffington: It will be significant. Not because blogs will replace Big Media but because blogs are forcing Big Media to change -- saved by the transfusion of passion and immediacy of the blogging revolution. Blogging and the new media are transforming the way news and information are disseminated, as evidenced by the number of traditional media outlets dipping their collective toe into the blog pond. Blogging has empowered the little guy -- leveling the playing field between the media haves and the media have-only-a-laptop-and-an-internet-connection -- which is a huge shift.

Andrew Sullivan: They should be seen as a mid-point between talk radio and the op-ed. They are also forging a new way of writing - open-ended, provisional, conversational, and subject to constant revision. In some ways, that's more honest than traditional media's insistence that it publishes "the truth." By deconstructing the process whereby people think and argue out loud, we can help educate and promote a more sophisticated level of debate than you find on, say, talk radio or cable news. That's my hope, at least.


Q: Some point to Howard Dean's failed 2004 Presidential campaign as an illustration of the power of blogs and netroots activism to create hype, but not much else in terms of real political advantage. How would you respond to that?

Arianna Huffington: As proved by the Ned Lamont victory, netroots activists have learned a lot since 2004.

Andrew Sullivan: I'd agree with that, but I'm not what I call a "go team!" blogger. I'm not trying to back one side or another all the time. I make up my mind from election to election. But I can urge conservatives and independents to vote out the GOP this fall; and I hope to do so, helped by my new book.

The blog, I hope, can also continue the debate created by a book - and allow it to be debated civilly and intelligently. I'm looking forward to seeing how the long-form book and the short-form blog can interact on matters of politics, philosophy and religion.


Q: Are you concerned about the amount of misinformation disseminated by blogs and the potential for swaying public opinion in a manipulative way?

Arianna Huffington: First of all, I don't accept the premise that there's a large amount of misinformation being disseminated by blogs. It's disingenuous to have a discussion about blogger misinformation when the mainstream media have been responsible for so much more significant and influential misinformation. All we have to do is look at how much false information in the run up to the war was disseminated not by bloggers but on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post and, just recently, how much misinformation was disseminated on the John Mark Karr story. And they're worried about bloggers getting it wrong?

Andrew Sullivan: No more so than by the mainstream media whose misrepresentations and distortions often dwarf the blogosphere's leading and most popular blogs.


Q: What blogs do you read regularly and what are the qualities of an effective political blog?

Arianna Huffington: To be an effective political blogger, you need an original voice, unique takes, timely links, solid research, and passion. I read many, many blogs, including (in alphabetical order so as not to play favorites among my favorites) Altercation, Americablog, Andrew Sullivan, Bloggingheads, BuzzMachine, Crooks and Liars, Eschaton, Firedoglake, Hullabaloo, Informed Comment, James Wolcott, Kausfiles, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, TalkLeft, and Talking Points Memo -- to name but a few!

Andrew Sullivan: I read blogs from all sides to challenge my own views, to see new material, to find out new data, to watch how various groups shift over time and deal with dissent. I read Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias and Jeff Jarvis and Glenn Reynolds and Greg Djerejian and Michael Totten. The qualities I look for are good writing, reliable reporting, wit, fun, and a ready ability to recognize mistakes, correct them and to change one's own mind in the face of new evidence. I also look to be entertained.


Q: What's the profile of your average blogger from the people you've met? What are their true intentions, by and large?

Arianna Huffington: They run the gamut, so there is no average blogger. That's one of the things I like best about blogging -- it's very personal, very intimate, very specific, very individual. Their true intention is to have their voices heard and to have a seat at the table. You can't say that bloggers have an agenda because they're on all sides of the spectrum; they just want their voices heard.

Andrew Sullivan: To express themselves in an often enraging world.


Q: How difficult is it to be a passionate, prolific blogger and be non-partisan at the same time?

Arianna Huffington: If by non-partisan you mean willing to point out and take on hypocrisy, cowardice, foolishness, and mendacity on both sides of the political aisle, then it's not difficult at all to be passionate -- or prolific. Take a look at the political landscape; the problem isn't being unable to come up with something to blog about; the problem is trying to pick which of the dozens of daily outrages to blog about.

Andrew Sullivan: Very difficult, it would appear. My biggest disappointment with the blogosphere - which had and has the potential to be a forum for real independent thought - is how so much traffic goes to purely partisan sites and partisan propaganda. I've been blogging since 2000. I backed Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. I wonder how many other bloggers actually switched parties in four years. Not many, alas.

Anyone with a really interesting take can be discovered quickly and become an elite blogger overnight. Look at Michelle Malkin. Constant hysteria helps as well, of course. Alas. But the field is open. Yes, it takes time to get trusted and thereby become influential, but that's true of all media. It was once true of the NYT a century ago. It's easy to enter but not so easy to get a real following. It has taken me six years to build a very solid and loyal readership in the tens of thousands a day. It's work and dedication, but I love it.