John Hinderaker notes that this weekend marks the fifth anniversary of Powerline. I join with what should be –if justice and perspective replaced envy and bias– a throng tens of thousands of other journalists in toasting the trio of bloggers best known as Time’s first –and thus far only– “Blog of the Year.” Their anniversary is a very good moment to point out that Powerline’s story is truly extraordinary in ways that will only be appreciated a few years down the road. John, Paul and George –er, Scott– were not the first bloggers, any more than the Fab Four were the first rock and roll band, but even as the Beatles remade rock and roll after Elvis/Dylan and others got it rolling, Powerline followed Instapundit and a handful of other pioneers and changed blogging on their way to changing American journalism.
For the past five years, Powerline has been the most influential blog, not just in America, but because it was so in America, also on the globe, both in terms of impact on the craft of journalism and on the course of actual events. No one can say for certain at any given time which is the most influential blog, as influence is a mysterious concept, a measurement of both size of audience, the audience’s actual power to order events, and the blog’s impact on the use of that power consciously or unconsciously. But measured over the past five years, there is no close second, period.
Powerline’s readership is both very large and very powerful. Because the residents of the fever swamp view Powerline with both fear and loathing they will reject any idea that these three lawyers are anywhere as near powerful as the Great and Powerful Koz, but to state the obvious, there haven’t been many folks in the executive or judicial branches paying attention to Kosputin over the past five years, and the legislative branch is roughly equally divided between those who will read and be influenced by the Minnesota three or by Markos, and that is only for the last five months of Powerline’s five years. No, it is almost obvious that in the first five years of the ‘sphere, Powerline set the standard for how to blog and mattered more than any other site, at least among sites that were not corporate to some extent. (The gang at The Corner and here at Townhall are professional journalists who blog. The Powerline trio, though now earning income from their site, were not called to what they did by other than their interest in events. They are like the amateur competing at Augusta –except they routinely beat all the pros and get the Green Jacket.)
Powerline’s trio are thus the most significant citizen journalists of the first age of internet journalism, and wold be even had they not toppled Dan Rather. Like it or not –and those on the left won’t– their coming into being and their writings and associated endeavors will be studied far into the future. They didn’t just occasionally make the weather in American journalism over the past five years, they changed the weather patterns. They set a standard, delivered a product, and obliged MSM to change how it dealt with citizen journalists and their work. They were aided in this by tens of thousands of other bloggers, of course, but to a degree not yet even remotely appreciated Powerline’s authors had an enormous and lasting effect on American journalism.
I hope Dean will spend some time expanding on, and perhaps disagreeing with or amplifying these thoughts, but here are what I think are the reasons for their success and significance.
First comes their remarkable collection of talents which include great intelligence, superb legal training and practice skills (far superior, btw, to the training received by almost all journalists), good humor, common purpose and cooperation among themselves and their like-minded bloggers, an openness to information, and great energy. Their astonishing productivity and professionalism thus easily surpassed the similar levels of productivity and professionalism demonstrated over the same period of time by the vast majority of their professional counterparts in the craft of journalism. (“Professionalism” is an approach, not a status, and can be practiced by amateurs as well as the paid journalists.) There are other journalists who could put their body of work next to Powerline’s for the years 2002 through 2007 and fairly conclude that their impact on events had been greater than Powerline’s. Certainly the reporters and editors of newspapers which published national security secrets have an argument that they have impacted the course of events more than Powerline, but I am holding to the quaint notion that we should admire in American journalism only those journalists whose work has actually helped, not harmed, Americans. Even among those who want to nominate themselves for “Most Influential Journalist of the Past Five Years,” however, will have to marshall some blockbuster stories and then add in a daily/weekly/yearly level of significant productivity e that is pretty hard to match.
Powerline, like every organ of MSM, has made mistakes. Unlike most MSM institutions they are quick to prominently note them and correct them. They are also very eager, unlike most of their MSM brothers and sisters, to shower attention and credit on their colleagues across the world of media and –again, here is a difference with their MSM relatives– to sandblast MSM deceit and bias when called for, which is often.
Which brings me to the quality I think most responsible for their success and the widespread admiration and influence they enjoy: their collective rectitude.
Rectitude is a virtue not much remarked on these days. It conveys both a sense of correct moral outlook combined with wise judgment in the course of the conduct of an active though not necessarily public life. The Powerline trio, though very good humored and not at all pretentious in their writing style or their lives outside of their writing (full disclosure –I don’t know Paul except from a single meeting and his work, but have no reason to think he is very different in this respect than John and Scott), share this quality of rectitude, and it has made their blog incredibly popular and their influence pervasive and profound.
So, three cheers for three bloggers who have changed American journalism and indeed American politics and government in a way wholly unforeseen in early 2002. It is a very good thing that they threw in when they did, and they have done much good for the country and continue to do so. The path the cut has been followed by literally millions of others, and still more millions will follow who, if they practice the craft with the same degree of professionalism and bring to it the same set of talents as John, Paul and Scott, will have careers in journalism as satisfying if not as visible and significant as those already enjoyed by Powerline’s founders.