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Glenn Reynolds on the blogosphere in 2006, and predictions for 2007

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

HH: Joined now by Glenn Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee Law School, and the Instapundit. Glenn, Happy New Year to you.

GR: Happy New Year to you, Hugh, and it’s great to be here again.

HH: And Happy New Year to Dr. Helen and the podcast duo down Tennessee way. Glenn, we had an interesting year in 2006, with Porkbusters and a number of other innovations. What’s ahead in the blogosphere in 2007?

GR: Well, I think we’re going to see the Republican Party playing catch up with the blogosphere, and I think we’re starting to see a little bit of that already. In fact, I notice John Henke went to work as new media director for the Republican communications office in the Senate. And he commented that the Republicans are getting into the game a bit late. And I think that’s really right. I think if you look at the last election, I think the blogosphere played a fairly big role in boosting some of the Democratic candidates. I think the Republicans were typically a day late and a dollar short in dealing with the blogosphere. And if you look at the ads that are running on a lot of the lefty blogger sites, you’ll notice that an awful lot of lefty, George Soros kind of outfits are buying a lot of ads that are awfully expensive on those sites, and just pumping a lot of money into that side of the operation. And there’s been nothing like that on the Republican side.

HH: Do you think that’s a direct subsidy, and intended as such, Glenn, to keep the netroots alive and ticking?

GR: Yes, I think it absolutely is. It is…I mean, to call it money laundering would be pejorative, because there’s nothing at all illegal or immoral about it. But in fact, it’s a way of pumping a lot of money into these people without it being quite as obvious as just handing them a check.

HH: Now how about on…let’s step back from the presidential campaign. We’ll come back to that. How about in terms of journalism’s adaptation…I’m sure you read the Joseph Rago interview, because you’ve linked to it on Instapundit. And I think he was not a 22 year old speaking out of turn. I think he really manifested a lot of what he’s heard around the newsroom.

GR: Oh, I think that’s right. Look, the news media are still in denial. They were, in some ways, actually more friendly to blogs when there was less of a there there, because blogs and independent journalism were less of a threat. Now they are directly competing for eyeballs in a market where big media are losing eyeballs every month and every year. And I think there are lots of reasons people are coming up with to downplay them, both in the hopes of fooling readers into not departing, and also in terms of bolstering their own morale.

HH: What about the ability of them to get out and reach out…let me back up. The story of the year was the sale in the press world, the sale of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 50% of what it fetched eight years ago, Glenn. That tells us that you’ve got a dying brand on your hands. It’s not just the Star Tribune. Can they use the blogs to rejuvenate audience?

GR: They could, and this is actually a place where it’s like classic public choice theory, you know, which organizations are run for the benefit of the people running them. In order for news media to do that, they’d have to relax their death grip on this whole self-important notion that they’re the Fourth Estate, that they’re somehow kind of a part of the establishment, and that they have credentials and status that makes them the superiors of mere bloggers. If they got over that, there’s a lot of opportunities for symbiosis, a lot of people at big media who look at their referrer logs and see where their traffic is coming from, know that…their online traffic, comes a lot from blogs. And some of them, the Wall Street Journal, for example, are very smart about building blog traffic.

HH: As is the

GR: Absolutely.

HH: Very, very aggressive in that regard.

GR: Absolutely.

HH: So Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, in 2006, who emerged into the top tier, and by that, I mean heavily trafficked? Some blogs are microbrews, and they’re not intended to be heavily trafficked. But who came out of nowhere to become a player in terms of just generating buzz whenever they chose to post?

GR: Oh, gosh, I hate to say that, because whenever I do, I leave people out.

HH: I know. That’s what’s fun. Then they’re mad at you and not me.

GR: (laughing) A couple of people that I think have come a long way, and this is going to be a bit of a dodge, but actually, John Henke. He went to work for the Allen campaign as their paid blogger in residence, and it wasn’t enough to save the Allen campaign, because they were too late.

HH: Yeah.

GR: They got him after they had already dug a hole, and were in deep makaka.

HH: (laughing)

GR: But you could see how much better they did once he was in, and the lesson, I think, from that is, that if you’re smart enough to hire somebody like that up front, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. And Rudy Giuliani, interestingly, doesn’t have anybody like that.

HH: Oh, he just hired Bill Frist’s guy.

GR: No, no, that’s Mitt Romney who hired Bill Frist’s guy.

HH: Oh, you’re right. You’re right. Rudy Giuliani…yeah, but Rudy Giuliani has, in fact, the buzz is out there. I know who he’s bought. He’s got one.

GR: Okay.

HH: Yeah. He’s just rolling out a little bit slower. So those three are now going to go at it. And assess those three’s positioning. McCain has Patrick Hynes, and the other two have their people. What’s their positioning with the new media right now?

GR: Well, McCain has been very aggressive about confronting, or according the new media. And indeed, he did one of our Glenn and Helen show podcasts which you aired some excerpts of, in fact. Frist’s guy, Stephen Smith, who’s gone to work with Romney, is very good, and he is going to be good at reaching out as well. So far, Giuliani has been missing in action from the blogosphere for the most part, despite the fact that in the various blog straw polls and stuff, he tends to do very well. But if he is really going to run, I think he’s going to have to get a lot more serious pretty soon.

HH: Now how about in terms of the war, and the information front in the war? Do you see the Pentagon developing the ability and the expertise to use the internet to fight jihadism?

GR: Yes, and in fact, I know firsthand that they’re interested in this, and they’re working on it. One of the most interesting quotes on the front of the information war, though, is something from Michael Yon, and I actually had it on my blog yesterday. Michael Yon, you know, of course he’s a blogger who covers the war firsthand, and his comments where he says this war is strange, I never hear soldiers worried about their own morale sagging. The war fighters here are more concerned to bolster the morale of the people at home. The morale at war is higher than I’ve ever seen it at home. It makes me wonder what they know that most Americans seem to be missing. And that’s both an indictment of how we’ve handled the information war so far, and I think, something that points the way to a solution.

HH: But that firsthand knowledge that you referred to, have you been talking with people in the Pentagon about how to circulate information, not to manipulate it, but just to disseminate it?

GR: Yeah, I’ve had some discussions, and I know of other people who’ve had much deeper discussions with them on these topics, so they’re aware of the problem…or I should say they were becoming aware of the problem in the Rumsfeld era, and I hope that they will remain aware of the problem under the new management.

HH: All right, last…with about a minute left, Glenn Reynolds, over on the left side, they had their first victory with Jon Tester. They did not carry Ned Lamont. They helped a couple of Congressmen get across. They raised a lot of money, and they helped take down George Allen and put James Webb in there. Are they going to overreach now? Or will they mature still?

GR: I’m seeing some promising signs of maturation, so it’s very possible. It seems to me that one of the values, though, is not just in winning elections, but in sort of preparing the ground, battle space preparations, and that’s something the lefty blogs have gotten better at over the years, and it helps that the media is on their side to begin with.

HH: Glenn Reynolds, always a pleasure. Professor extraordinaire at University of Tennessee Law School. Have a great start to the New Year.

End of interview.

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