1. Of Blogs & Blogmen
Well, I'm going to resist pointing out the fact that Brendan himself runs a blog, in which - judging from the content - considerably more than five minutes a day is invested. (Oops - I just have pointed that out, haven't I?) Instead, I'm going to suggest that "the ordinary man in the street [why is he always 'in the street'?] who craves an audience for his rants" is a pretty good description of almost any journalist. What are the differences between a blogger and a journalist? Actually, when you stop and think about, the differences are highly superficial: journalists pass their work through sub-editors and editors, and get paid a wage. Blogger don't. Journalists usually do some kind of course to learn how to write pithily and succinctly, while there is no special pressure on bloggers to take formal lessons of any kind - nor is there necessarily any need.
But these differences are all to do with the nature of the bottle, not the bouquet of the wine inside. Fact is: trained, paid journalists are as capable of producing ill-conceived, cliché-riddled tosh as any blogger. While newspapers also convey news that is inaccessible to bloggers for financial reasons, their opinion pages (which make up an ever-increasing proportion of their output) are themselves really little more than outlets for that same ordinary man or woman, craving an audience for his or her rants (how else can Charlotte Raven be explained?) - the insult, however, is that often we have to pay for the privilege.
However there is a worthwhile distinction to be made between blogs and newspapers. When you read a newspaper article, opinion column or editorial, you know that what you are reading has been 'passed' or 'approved' by some senior editorial figure; the aesthetic aspect of the newspaper (or newspaper's website) says: "Take me seriously!" - and mostly, you do. Were Alan Rusbridger's editorials written in crayon on paper napkins, you would dismiss them without reading them, especially if you'd never heard of Alan Rusbridger. But with blogs this is a little different. The visual design is quite often poor and amateurish, and when reading them, it is you who are the editor, not someone sitting in a remote office; if you don't think much of someone's effort, you don't read it (unless they're talking about you, in which case it has a strange and morbid fascination) - or: you read it, and then post an irritable and splenetic piece on why All Blogs Are Crap on, um, your blog. Either way, it's you deciding what's worthy and what's a pile of shite.
Now, I can understand that there are some breast-fed types who like to be told what is good for them and what is not - people for whom the effort of individual discrimation and judgement is fraught with worry ("What if I'm wrong? Will people laugh at me?"), and who therefore will find this whole process of being-your-own-editor a little daunting. After all, for many human beings, safety is the overriding concern - sticking your neck out over an issue, whatever it may be, brings the risk of ridicule (or sometimes worse). Best to stick with 'received opinion,' run with the herd, and so on. Newspapers and mainstream journalism in general offer that safety in truckloads. After all, a politician has no qualms of appearing on TV to quote the latest Times editorial, or refer when arguing his case, to a point made by Paul Foot in last week's Private Eye or Guardian - but he'd be nervous of saying: "Here's an argument in favour of attacking Iraq I read on Instapundit," (assuming everyone knew who that was) no matter how compelling the argument was. After all, professional journalists get paid to have an opinion, and there must be good reason to pay someone to have an opinion, mustn't there? But Glenn - he don't get paid for this. And as we all know, the size of the pay packet is in direct proportion to the quality of the opinions. QED.
Personally I don't think the cultural significance of weblogs has really been finally figured out. Plenty has been written - and is still being written - on the phenomenon, but I'm always left with the feeling that every commentator (including our friend Mr O'Neill) never really gets it straight. Either they overestimate blogging as a major challenge to the dead-tree media (it isn't), or they underestimate it as no more than a forum for pointless chatter (some of it is, some of it isn't), a kind of faux engagement with reality, a way of trying to make a difference while not really making a difference at all. I believe that the effect of both blogging and the reading of blogs is mostly impossible to discern, like the effect of doing most things. Who can tell how it will make a difference in the real world?
2. Of Israel & Israelmen
I was hoping, in the course of Brendan's post, to discover why - as he put it in his e-mail notification - "Israpundit sucks." Alas, no reason was given, so I'll just have to answer the points he did make. His thesis is mainly that the pro-Israeli has lost some ground in recent years:
This might just be one little blog, but it captures what the once-mighty pro-Israel lobby has been reduced to. Remember when those who supported Israel had the ear of the US government and were confident that the media would argue their case while vilifying the Palestinians as criminals and animals? Now those people have been reduced to challenging what their paranoid mindsets tell them is all-pervasive Arab propaganda via a blog - the outlet of the ordinary man in the street who craves an audience for his rants.
There then follows a lengthy account of the claims and counter-claims of media bias against Israel, with which we are all familiar. There is an element of fairness in his critique, but also an equal element of unfairness.
It is a hefty exaggeration indeed to suggest that the "once mighty pro-Israel lobby" has been "reduced" to a weblog. It hasn't. America still exports arms to Israel, in spite of ever more clamorous calls for those arms sales to cease. During Operation Defensive Shield, Bush asked Sharon to withdraw the IDF from West Bank cities, but this call was clearly not serious in intent; we all know that Powell, touring the Middle East, placed Israel at the end of his itinerary, giving Israel ample time to do what it set out to do - much to the exasperation of Middle Eastern leaders at the time. Furthermore, when Bush called for the cessation of settlement-building and the creation of a second Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, he was expressing a view I agree with entirely (although I know that some contributors to Israpundit do not agree) - and don't forget that the 'two-state solution' has been around since 1947, when the UN voted on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine. While it is true that Israel no longer has strategic significance as a 'bulwark' against Soviet influence in the Middle East, it has nonetheless been re-invented as a bulwark against Islamist influence, and is still important for that reason. It is also true that for the US to reduce its substantive support for Israel would send a message to America's enemies that America is weak, and we have already seen the consequences (in respect of Somalia and Lebanon) of that. In a nutshell, Brendan is failing to distinguish between word and deed, and in any case, his analysis of the situation - in terms of its history - is full of holes - big holes - most of them, I'm afraid, below the waterline.
However it is a fair point to make that support for Israel has been dissipated somewhat recently, and a great deal of time and effort has been spent in picking over media bias. (Note: Brendan also overlooks the equally noisy complaints from pro-Palestinian groups of anti-Palestinian bias in the media. This oversight - along with his earlier contention that most bloggers are right-wing - seems to me to say more about the online company Brendan has fallen into than it does about the state of the on- and offline media itself.) Such exercises have a limited value - though they are indulged in by bloggers and journalists alike - but they do suggest that a struggle for 'hearts and minds' over Israel is in full swing, and this fact alone suggests that support for Israel isn't as solid as maybe it once was. But this is an entirely neutral point. If you are losing ground, your natural response is to fight to re-take that ground. But Brendan overstates his case - he is, after all, more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli - :
Part of me wants to point out that the pro-Israeli lobby is now facing a similar kind of isolation, vilification and frustration to that experienced by pro-Palestinian groups over the past 30 years - but that would be churlish.
Is it? Methinks Brendan doth protest too much. Has he asked any pro-Palestinian groups whether or not they themselves still feel "isolated, vilified and frustrated"? I think I can answer that question on their behalf in one word: yes. Do they feel the Palestinian viewpoint is insufficiently represented in the media? Yes. Do they feel, to paraphrase the pro-Israeli supporter quoted in Brendan's piece, that it's all 'Israel, Israel, Israel'? Yes - they do.
The curious notion embedded in Brendan's piece is that pro-Israeli people should - if all were well - be able to leave the advocacy to their governments and the mainstream media. I should trust the media to articulate my opinions for me. Why should this be so? I would have thought that he, as a journalist, would of all people understand the desire to have one's own say, irrespective of what other people are saying. Isn't that ultimately why people become journalists - because they are not prepared to passively sit by while other voices make all the running? And in the case of Israel, isn't it indeed the truth that a good deal of the media's bias isn't simply tied up in the meanings of words like 'bold,' 'audacious,' and 'daring' but is about serious substantive issues of fact and the vast memory-hole into which so many of those facts have - it would seem - disappeared?
If the existence of pro-Israeli weblogs - or pro-anything weblogs, or weblogs full stop - tells us anything, it tells us that not every human being is a passive sheep-like creature, willing to be herded this way and that without question by others. Not every opinion is received. Some are actually made, too.