Oliver Kamm: wrong then, wrong now

Oliver Kamm is predicting doom and gloom about political blogs again:

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate. It is a fact of civic life that is changing how politics is conducted – overwhelmingly for the worse, and with no one accountable for the decline.

I’ve written before about why I feel that both sides of this particular debate have got it hopelessly wrong. The dirt-flinging that has become associated with blogs is neither particularly representative nor new. Guido Fawkes is just the 21st century equivalent of 19th century Punch, only with poorer penetration and fewer readers. Every national newspaper has its own diary column. The newspapers of the 90s were full of stories about sleaze and scandal.

Neither does it appear to be particularly blogs that Kamm has a problem with: his real beef is with comments. This isn’t new either: newspapers have always had letters pages filled with ill-informed nonsense, and they’ve always been one of the most popular sections. Most newspapers now allow you to add comments to their news stories, and the BBC has had its own forums and ‘have your say’ for years. The fact that these things quickly become shouting matches is not particularly revelatory or interesting: only a vanishingly small number of people read that 245th comment saying exactly the same thing.

Poor political weblogs are characterised by one thing: no-one reads them. It is thus hard to see how they are can be having a particularly pernicious effect on society. Popular blogs like Guido’s are a mixed blessing, to be sure, but it is giving Paul Staines far too much credit to suggest he is doing anything particularly innovative other than getting stories a few hours before newspaper diarists get their hands on them. Worse, his Newsnight appearance has made him look a fool and I suspect that even his most fervent supporter will take his ‘exclusives’ with a pinch more salt from now on.

In short, freedom of speech has won out once again in, as the saying goes, letting us know who the arseholes are. In the short term it can give us cause for concern and thus people tend to go off in a panic from time to time about it, but the alternative would be far worse.

Personally I’ve noticed a slight improvement in the nature of the political debate on the blogosphere compared to, say, four years ago when I first started to blog. Put simply, there are now a lot more bloggers out there and it is easier to ignore people and them ignore you. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who primarily reads blogs as a useful means of filtering the news – I’m under no illusions about the newsworthiness of what most of us write.

The real reason for Kamm writing this piece (other than the fact he got paid for it of course) is simply to lob dirt at people with whom he was having shouting matches with three-four years ago. As a member of the pro-war left, he took it upon himself to explain to us why the Iraq war was an excellent idea and a means for spreading democracy across the Middle East. The fact is he has lost that argument, but rather than admit defeat he has chosen to attack the medium rather than the message.

More comment: Tim Worstall, Matthew Turner, Iain Dale, Reactionary Snob

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