The Decline of Blogs And Gaffes

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.

Two things seem to be less important in the campaign of 2008 than recent campaigns: blogs and gaffes. These are signs of political maturity, otherwise known as good news.

First, blogs: 2004 was the Year of the Blogger - supposedly. They built up Howard Dean, devoured John Kerry and anointed themselves kingmakers and queenbreakers of the left and right. They weren't that.

In 2008, no one is pretending they are. The Daily Kos is being treated like the Oracle of Delphi. Little Green Footballs isn't compared to Tammany Hall anymore.

I like blogs. Some of my best friends are bloggers. We publish several here on CBSNews.com. More written words are intrinsically better for the planet than less.

But I didn't like blog triumphalism - the idea that a Web format could dramatically change human communication, journalism and the mechanics of democracy.

I didn't like the championing of the discourtesy that flourishes on so many blogs and that indeed infects too many of the comments on sites like our own. I didn't like the spirit of attack, antagonism and anger. I didn't like the fondness for rumors.

I cannot prove it empirically, but my strong sense is that political reporters and professional trend spotters are paying far less attention to blogs than they expected to this year. Voters and readers never paid much attention blogs; it was an inside game. The triumphalism exists only in its own echo chamber.

The result seems to be that many enthusiastic newshounds have a couple of favorite blogs they like or like to disagree with and blogs are thus making a modest, very valuable contribution. Blog hubris is pretty much ignored. That's good news.

As for gaffes, well, they've been my pet peeve for years. We reporters make mountains of little candidate slip-ups that aren't even molehills. Maybe mole droppings. When John Kerry ordered Swiss cheese on a Philly cheese steak, it was proof he was an elitist snob. When Howard Dean yelled to loud at a rally after losing the Iowa caucuses, it was proof he was a nut.

Candidacies are actually harmed by trivialities like this. We reporters bemoan the lack of spontaneity in campaigns and then cannibalize spontaneous candidates.

Again, I can't prove it empirically, but I think gafffitis is on the decline this year.

John McCain has been a gaffe machine. Remember his little geo-political Beach Boys moment - "bomb, bomb, bomb - bomb, bomb Iran"? He also said he knew "a lot less about economics" than defense or foreign policy. He seems to be doing okay.

Hillary has been programmed to be gaffe-free. She once said she wanted to put oil company profits into a "strategic energy fund." But it was treated like a simple misstatement, which it was. She cried a couple times but that was irrelevant. She's still in the hunt.

Obama's campaign once put the phrase "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)" into campaign literature when discussing some financial ties the Clinton's have to Indian interests. He survived.

The latest supposed gaffe is Michelle Obama's statement, "Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change." Colleagues have told me this gaffe will really haunt Obama. I doubt it.

Maybe there are just so many interesting and unexpected angles to write about this year that the political press doesn't need to invent trends and get petty. Or maybe, like the successful candidates this year, the press is listening more to the sensible silent majority than the noisemakers. That would be good news too.

E-mail questions, comments, complaints, arguments and ideas to Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil) ones, sometimes in edited form.
By Dick Meyer
  • Dick Meyer

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