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April 17, 2004

Misdirected Rage at Wonkette

PROEM:
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The title of this post shouldn't be taken to mean that those inclined toward rage oughtn't find a target in Ms. Ana Marie Cox, just that the basis for the rage being expressed has been poorly chosen.

In a post that is now heavily trackbacked, Michele Catalano vents frustration at the rise of Cox's blog, Wonkette:

I'm just wondering - how does a relatively unkown person suddenly become the hottest blogger in the political blogger circle when it seems that her column is just a Gawker for the DC crowd? ...

I don't get it. I just don't get it.

Oh wait, I do. Guys will give you all the props you want as long as you are hot and write about sex. But if you aren't hot, or if you don't have a cute little image on your site depciting how adorably cute you are, then just give it up.

John Hawkins takes the bait, suggesting that Cox's rapid fame is just one of those quirks of the marketplace and offering his view vis-à-vis the blog gender wars. Chris "Spoons" Kanis agrees, but adds the following point, with which I greatly empathize:

I find it insufferably condescending for a blogger of Michele's prominence to claim that male bloggers have it easy. For her to get so irked over blog competition that she feels compelled to call Wonkette a whore is just intolerably rude. Michele should tell her complaints to the thousands upon thousands of male bloggers who'd love to get the kind of attention Michele gets.

It's funny that Chris should say "thousands upon thousands" after noting that Michele is ranked 12th (currently 9th) on the Ecosystem. As it happens, my blog is currently ranked 2,859 (although I'm pretty sure I'd be somewhere in the mid-teenthousands if I could get N.Z. Bear to change my profile to reflect the newer subdomain address). And I write about sex, porno, and our lascivious culture all the time!

But all these comparisons of rankings strike me as an annoying peculiarity among bloggers. Links and traffic are the local currency, I suppose, but to become so obsessed over what works for some people and what doesn't work for others strikes me as overwrought. More importantly, it misses the point of Cox's real story in such a way as to divide the rest of us where we ought to be united.

Glenn Reynolds points out, today, that Cox is the subject of a 1,350-word-plus profile in the New York Times. Therein, we learn the following about the "31-year-old self-described failed journalist":

Last month, a party celebrating the start of her site was packed. Held at the Dupont Circle town house of Peter Bergen, the CNN terrorism expert, the party's heavily mediacentric guest list included Michael Isikoff of Newsweek; a former Clinton mouthpiece, Joe Lockhart; the political blogger Mickey Kaus; and a former Howard Dean spokeswoman, Tricia Enright. This is her devoted fan base: Wonkette registered 55,000 page views on its startup date in January, and over a million for the month of March. ...

The daughter of liberal academics from Lincoln, Neb., Ms. Cox moved to Washington from New York in May 2000 with her husband, Chris Lehmann, an editor at The Washington Post Book World.

She's written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, America Online, National Geographic, and the American Prospect, among others. She was features editor for Mother Jones. She has an intern. The bottom line is that it isn't a "meteoric rise" when a blog's opening day garners 55,000 page views. That's starting in the clouds. Most bloggers start in the basement and were pleasantly surprised when the daily Web stats broke double digits after a few months of effort.

Cox is an insider. The majority of bloggers are not. She's what happens when the mainstream decides to adopt the forms of the outsiders and pretend it's taking part in something radical. That's fine, as far as it goes, but it is a matter more of who she is than what she does. It certainly doesn't justify an indictment of bloggers or blog readers. What it might justify is for Bill Hobbs to tweak his suggestion that "Traditional Media doesn't get... that blogs can have influence far beyond what the size of their readership would suggest," because some bloggers seem to require a bit of perspective, themselves.

To Ana Marie Cox's crowd, she's slumming among us, allowing her freer rein with language and content. That's what ought to spark authentic anger. And that spark ought to be quickly snuffed with the realization that they still don't get what we're doing that makes us important... and so cool. (Hey, some of us — or at least some of y'all — are cool.) Michele Catalano, for example, can earn nearly 7,000 daily visitors, while keeping Wonkette's fare beneath her.

ADDENDUM:
She doesn't say whether it's specifically related, but Michele has noted some extenuating circumstances and is taking a break from blogging. I guess the lack of a paycheck (and the accompanying contractual obligation) has a silver lining. Hope she recovers her balance. (Regular readers will be able to guess my prescription.)

Posted by Justin Katz at April 17, 2004 10:06 PM
Bloggers Blogging
Comments

Basically, Wonkette gets paid to be snarky, while the rest of us do it pro bono.

I admit to being a fan of Ms Cox - I read her stuff at Suck.com, written under the name Ann O'Tate, on a regular basis, until the site expired for reasons still unclear in 1999 - and I know she's capable of doing more than this, but this is what Nick Denton pays for.

And despite my general lack of recognition (I am usually in the 300-400 range on the Ecosystem), I don't worry about it; at least no one's going to hit me up for sudden bandwidth expenses.

Posted by: CGHill at April 17, 2004 10:42 PM

So the blogosphere is like high school with all of its cliques and popular kids and geeks? I guess it is, if Gawker and Wonkette make money. Maybe nobody ever really gets beyond that part of life.

I guess it's evidence that the blogging community is still adolescent. Gawker and Wonkette are discovering a business model. Of course, when blogging becomes work, will it still be fun?

Posted by: AST at April 17, 2004 11:19 PM

Well, AST, I guess it's like high school, if you want to put it that way, but no more than most of the grownup world. The difference, I'd say, is between your reference to cliques, which implies superficial distinctions, and the reality that "insiders" in the media have an edge when it comes to building online followings.

Apart from that, I think it betrays your particular leanings that you say "Gawker and Wonkette are discovering a business model." They're certainly working to develop one, but the fact that they approach the scene with resources and connections that most of us lack hardly means that they deserve credit for what is essentially the development of a new community and medium.

As for the business model, itself, I'm sure there could be endless debates about this, but as far as I can tell from cursory examination, it appears to be a pretty straightforward advertising-driven pop-content online mag model.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 17, 2004 11:36 PM

The closing of my blog is in no way, shape or form related to anything to do with the whole Wonkette saga. I've been at this for three years. I've written over 10,000 posts about subjects way more aggravating and way more important than the rise of Ana Marie Cox.

I have a full time job, a family and I am in the process of buying a new house/moving. I just don't have the time or energy to put into the blog right now, given my mental health status at the moment.

I've dealt with much bigger and more divisive issues than Wonkette. It's funny that out of three plus years of blogging, not to mention my work at Command Post, this is what people are going to think of when someone mentions my blog - that I'm the one who wrote that petty post about Ana Marie Cox.

Posted by: michele at April 18, 2004 12:43 AM

michele I wish you health and the best in the future. I called you a tool a week or so back, and I think that you have been a tool, but I also recognize how much work you've put into ASV and how much work needs to go into a family, a job, and your own health.

Again, wishing you the best, and hoping to meet you soon at a meet-up for Kerry.

Posted by: anon at April 18, 2004 1:37 AM

I like wonkette and have idea who she ``is.'' She takes celebrity, rearranges the wardrobe, and hangs a kick me sign on it. That's good enough for me. They never know what hit them.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 18, 2004 5:49 AM

Glad to hear that they're not related, Michele. But I think you underestimate your readers and your peers to believe that they won't keep this particular squabble in perspective. It'll fade faster than your other work will.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 18, 2004 7:13 AM

I wish you were wrong, Justin, but I'm afraid you're not, judging on the emails and trackbacks I've received since I posted that tirade against Wonkette. And I'm finding that many people writing about the NYT article are referencing my Wonkette post - generating new comments, emails and trackbacks.

I realize - perhaps a bit late - that bloggers tend to lose persepective when the a controversial, link-producing topic is at hand.

So perhaps my original decision to go on hiatus was not related to Wonkette, but my growing decision to never come back is.

Posted by: michele at April 18, 2004 8:11 AM

Imus had a line - I wonder if I saved the audio - that he'd raised three daughters, so there was no time of the month when somebody wasn't crying and slamming the door.

Jeez, if you want to come back, come back, if not, not. Be a man.

I think this is it http://home.att.net/~rhhardin6/imuscut.doorslamming.ra (65kb)

It's not a stereotype so much as an icon for a recurring crisis, as a that of a drama queen. Withholding approval doesn't survive if the audience no longer cares. The trick would be to make them care.

It's sort of like marriage. You have to show that you're satisfied with the guy, occasionally.

Wonkette could do a complaint about the quality of the audience, but it would be all over everything and the institution of complaint in general would not survive it. The audience would spot that wonkette was theatricalizing herself for them, showing her pleasure.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 18, 2004 9:42 AM

Well, Michele, I can't think of a better way to allow this controversy to play a significant role in your blogosphere legacy than never to return hereafter. Do or don't blog, as you desire, and the impression of the blog world needn't affect your life in any significant way, if you don't want it to do so. But I really don't foresee this particular tirade's becoming definitive for you one way or the other.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 18, 2004 9:58 AM

Michele --

Forever is a long, long time, and you admit to be tired and unwell at the moment. There's not a person in the blogosphere who wouldn't grant you the right in such circumstances to flame the world, much less Wonkette. (Which of course doesn't mean folks won't flame you back, necessarily, but that's the Internet for ya....)

So please, don't make any decisions or grand pronouncements you'll later regret or feel bound by; sheesh, you're tired! When you're back feeling fit, rested and ready, that's the time to ponder what you want to do next and what part blogging will play.

Hope you're feeling better soon. Ger some rest and enjoy doing something different!

Posted by: Maureen at April 18, 2004 12:02 PM

Maureen : You've seen too many tearjerkers.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 18, 2004 12:26 PM

Let's face it: the blogdom thing about Wonkette may well include some envy. Hey, she's getting paid to do what we do for free, or nearly so.

On the other hand, I found her site to be vapid nonsense: the Internet equivalent of Entertainment Weekly or People magazine.

THAT'S why I don't visit her site -- it has nothing to do with jealousy, just a preference for sites with better writing (Lileks or Francis Porretto) and more interesting content (U.S.S. Clueless, Belmont Club or Little Green Footballs); or political sites with a wider focus (samizdata.net or Iain Murray).

Worst of all: Wonkette's just not funny.

So she might as well enjoy her "flavor-of-the-month" status. She's well placed at the bottom of the talent barrel, so good luck to her.

Posted by: Kim du Toit at April 18, 2004 5:18 PM

Lileks would not survive a battle with Wonkette.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 18, 2004 7:49 PM

What Kim Du Toit said.

I began hitting her site when Instapundit gave her several favorable mentions. I found a few amusing posts; then her approach seemed to change from amusing to snarky, and my interest waned. There are just too many good sites out there to waste time with a second-rate Mo Dowd wannabe.

If you want pointless mediocre sarcasm, Wonkette's your gal. If you want intelligent commentary, you're wasting your time reading Wonkette.

Posted by: Rick The Lawyer at April 19, 2004 7:15 AM

At least the InstaPundit knows you exist. :-)

Posted by: ELC at April 19, 2004 10:06 AM

It's not what you know but who you know.

A blogger who has an impressive set of friends, a bit rolodex, etc. has a great headstart on the rest of us -- but only a headstart, then you need some real talent and originality. It always helps to know Nick Denton.

Posted by: Patrick Sweeney at April 19, 2004 11:11 AM

I think one of the problems that Wonkette's sort of blog poses is that she passes along damaging gossip that is never substantiated.

Those on the right ought to be particularly annoyed by these postings, each of them designed to suggest (but not prove right-wing hypocrisy:

http://www.wonkette.com/archives/instantaneous_scandalmongering_govsex_013183.php

http://www.wonkette.com/archives/govsex_the_gerbil_wheel_spins_013256.php

http://www.wonkette.com/archives/govsex_touching_it_with_a_tenfoot_pole_013561.php

Or there's this unsavory post on the Bush Administration and Richard Clarke:

http://www.wonkette.com/archives/richard_clarke_dont_go_there_014428.php

Posted by: David at April 19, 2004 12:07 PM

I have to say that wonkette sucks today. The coverage predictably has got her playing safe, not her good point. Playing safe just ought to mean there's no material. Where is the rug-pulling from under the Woodward? A personality that needs such work.

She's not particularly left wing, by the way, in who she does in. When she was doing people in, anyway.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 19, 2004 1:07 PM

Interesting discussion. I always got the impression that female bloggers got more "undue" attention than males, simply because they're more rare.

And yeah, money and connections can give you a leg up on the competition. What else is new? They can even bring in a continuous stream of new readers and prop up hits and links. What they won't do is keep influential people coming back to your site over and over.

The first time I saw a link to Wonkette I was interested and went to check it out. The next time, I already knew what her post would say before clicking. The third time I didn't even bother clicking.

Posted by: Michael Williams at April 20, 2004 3:01 AM