Brother Against Brother

After an entertaining (if pointless) flame war with liberal bloggers last month, TNR columnist Lee Siegel is back for another go.

The New Republic’s Lee Siegel doesn’t know when to quit. After an entertaining — if ultimately pointless — flame war with liberal bloggers last month during which he called them “blogofascists” and suggested that the blogosphere practices “hard fascism with a Microsoft face,” things had, for the past few weeks, managed to settle into an uneasy d├ętente.

Now he’s back for another go. In his latest piece, Siegel writes that while he understands why bloggers got worked up when he called them fascists, he still feels that “the left-liberal blogs have become a playground of reckless, bullying invective,” while qualifying his statement by concluding “(I expect it on the right.)”

While Siegel’s piece doesn’t amount to much more than another slap at blogs wrapped in the language of high criticism, note the last sentence. It’s something we’ve long suspected has been behind TNR’s complaints, yet has gone largely unarticulated.

TNR’s blog, The Plank and the print magazine have for some time been flogging lefty bloggers for all manner of sins, from their use of nasty language to their failure to do much more than parrot an ideologically monochromatic party line.

Siegel and his counterparts, however, seem to be picking on lefty blogs because — bear with me here — they want or expect to like them. In other words, they pick on the left-wing blogosphere because it’s the only segment of the political blogosphere that they can imagine themselves taking seriously.

Lefty uber-blogger Kos got it exactly wrong when he wrote (in response to TNR scribe Jason Zengerle accusing him, falsely, of being involved in a “pay-for-play scheme” with various Democratic politicians), “This is what The New Republic had evolved into — just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy.” But TNR isn’t laying off criticizing conservative bloggers like Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin and Powerline out of some sort of ideological fellowship, but because the magazine’s writers feel that the bile and half-baked invective often spewed by these sites is hardly worth the energy of cooking up a response.

Every war has a spark, and the Fort Sumter moment between TNR and the liberal blogosphere arguably occurred back in December 2005, when TNR’s Franklin Foer penned a plea to liberal bloggers to pull back a bit in their criticism of the media. By continuously attacking the press, Foer argued, bloggers were doing the ideological grunt work for the conservative movement, which seeks to “weaken the press so it will stop obstructing their agenda.”

Kos, Atrios and a host of A-list bloggers slammed TNR in response. (It took about six months for TNR owner Martin Peretz and columnist Lee Siegel to jump into the fray, embarrassing themselves by writing a series of idiotic posts denigrating the liberal blogosphere and Kos in particular, and succeeding only in making themselves look like cranky, old-media dinosaurs.) But Foer had a point, and a recent piece by Lakshmi Chaudhry in The Nation took a look at this issue with far less venom than the TNR staffers and the bloggers involved have managed thus far. Chaudhry’s argument is one that has essentially been made before — that while the conservative blogosphere seems set on tearing down the “MSM” as an institution, and their hammering of the “liberal media” supplies their supporters with an easy rallying cry, those on the left take a more nuanced, and less ideologically monolithic view.

Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters, says in Chaudhry’s piece, “I don’t think the left has yet defined what its problem with the media is,” and he’s right. One liberal blogger Chaudhry quotes backs this up, by both articulating the differences between the left and right, while remaining opaque as to what the left is trying to accomplish: “One of the things that differentiates what we do from the right-wing echo chamber is that they are, in my opinion, trying to destroy journalism as an institution, and we are trying to remedy its failures.” Sounds great, but doesn’t exactly make for good bumper sticker copy.

While Siegel may take offense at the blogosphere’s lack of sophistication, and be horrified at the base political sentiments bloggers sometimes spew, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he’s now admitted that he holds the left-wing blogosphere in higher regard than their counterparts on the right — even if he’s loathe to admit it. And that, if nothing else, is what the two combatants have in common. Whether they like it or not.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.