Happy Campers in Boston
From the August 9, 2004 issue: At last, the parasites have consumed their host.
Aug 9, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 45 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Complaining about the empty ritual of the press complaining about the "empty rituals" that conventions have become has now become, if you'll pardon the expression, an empty ritual--and soon enough complaints about complaining about the complaints will be declared an empty ritual, and so on and so on, in the endless refractions that carom through punditry's postmodern house of mirrors, where all commentary is about other commentary. The disdain that political journalists express for modern party conventions (not only "empty ritual" but "staged," "choreographed," "infomercial," and all the other seething pejoratives) is matched only by the intensity with which they insist on covering them. Every national political reporter knows the drill. He will sniff at how "substance free" the conventions are, he will roll his eyes at the inflated claims of party publicists, and then he will mow down his grandmother if she stands between him and the chance to get a good hotel room adjacent to the convention center.
In 2004 the traditional chorus of complaints has swelled with a fresh set of high, piping voices. These were the bloggers, nearly a hundred of them, or so I heard, who were granted press credentials and workstations and who arrived in Boston and set to work with the earnest, insouciant enthusiasm of the hobbyist, which is their chief charm. From what I've gathered over the last few years, clicking randomly from one blog to another, it is the job of a blogger to record his every neural discharge, faithfully and minutely, leaving no thought unpublished, no matter how uninteresting. Bloggers think and think and think and scribble and scribble and scribble, and yet at the Democratic National Convention, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they found themselves in a situation where, by general acclamation, there was nothing to think about! They were not deterred for long, needless to say. They started to think about why there was nothing to think about, and that was all they needed. They were off. Graphomania reclaimed its throne. The websites suddenly bristled with copy. It was a nice representation, in miniature, of the phases that mainstream political journalism has gone through over the last two generations, as conventions deliquesced from robust tribal gatherings to hollow "Up With People"-style stage shows, swarming with an ever larger host of reporters who've come to write about how little there is to write about.
Yet I noticed something curious in the convention blogs, during those jam-packed few hours before I stopped reading them altogether. If there was a common thread running through them it was a casual mention by the blogger of being interviewed by mainstream journalists. "This was by far the nicest interview I've done so far," wrote one blogger--on Monday morning, before the convention had even begun. The journalists, of course, were writing stories about the new presence of bloggers at the convention. "Convention Bloggers Feel Their Way," wrote the Associated Press. "Web Loggers Get Their Credentials," said the Baltimore Sun. "At the DNC, It's a Blog-eat-blog World," said the Christian Science Monitor, unappetizingly. "Blogs Give Unedited Convention View," said the Kansas City Star. And as these convention-blogger stories piled up in the establishment press--there were several dozens of them by midweek--the real purpose of inviting bloggers to the convention suddenly became clear: They were there to be interviewed. Huddled together in the Fleet Center, conveniently herded into their own seating section, thinking and tapping away, they served the larger goal of giving mainstream journalists a story.