For non-fiction authors, the process of delivering a book from completion to release must be a nightmare. Imagine you are waiting to see your first child born, either watching or in labor — only now imagine that you know exactly how the child will come out, how it will grow up and everything it will learn. Then imagine that the rest of the world feels no compunction about telling you that your child is ugly and stupid.

That's already pretty rough, but imagine you're writing about current events. You've spent a year or two researching everything, you wrote it and are finished. Now all you've got to do is see it published. But every day before it hits shelves some news could break that renders everything you wrote completely meaningless. It would be like someone kidnapping your child before he or she was born. You wish the world would stop doing anything.

Then again, sometimes the news serendipitously makes your new baby — your latest book — appear vital and blessed. For Eric Boehlert, author of Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, the beginning of this week must have been like finding out that he had a beautiful baby girl, who would grow up to marry a prince, just as the evil queen who resented her was made low. I mean, that's a pretty good week.

Boehlert took the title of his book from the classic Timothy Crouse work, The Boys on the Bus. Crouse was a young Rolling Stone reporter who covered the 1972 presidential campaign alongside the pharmacologically legendary Hunter S. Thompson. (Boys and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 can be read as companion pieces of the presidential race and will give you a thoroughly entertaining grasp of it.) But what Crouse did, what made his book a seminal work of journalism, was cover the coverage. The Boys on the Bus are the career Washington hacks, the people whose names rise and fall with access and whose access rises and falls with favor. Crouse profiled how their personalities informed their analysis and affected their access and how much of what they produced that year was as much a process of personality as it was of politics.

A similar methodology informs Boehlert's book, but as the title suggests, his focus is on — as the derisive mainstream stereotype goes — those unwashed, unclothed, unloved losers seated before a glowing monitor in mom's basement, burrowing further into the world of the internet because they're either too afraid to go outside or too incompetent to succeed in the real world to make it worthwhile. That's a stereotype that gets applied to all kinds of bloggers by reporters in their respective fields (and once, hilariously, to a group of anonymous bloggers at FireJoeMorgan.com, who when they finally pulled off their masks, revealed themselves to be successful TV writers, including Michael Schur, executive producer of The Office and co-creator of Parks and Recreation). The book's title works as both a callback and nice descriptor. Those bloggers on the bus are interlopers; they don't belong hanging with the "boys."

Imagine, then, Boehlert's great fortune in getting a rave review from Glenn Greenwald, who at this point is the de facto Godfather of blogging. Greenwald certainly didn't have to give his blessing: Boehlert's book discusses Greenwald's homosexuality and his residence outside the U.S., neither of which Greenwald discussed in his columns and which doubtless will affect how he is attacked and dismissed in the future. Moreover, Boehlert's book exposes some of the silliness of the blogosphere, just as it's starting to be taken more seriously. It's easy to see how little bloggers would relish an analysis of their bitter internecine zingers, screeds and polemics over the 2008 Democratic Party Nomination.

If there's one thing many liberal bloggers stress, though, when pointing to their credibility, it's that they don't march in lockstep. Respected old grandaddy TalkingPointsMemo is, after all, a blog originally devoted to exposing the pod-people unanimity of boilerplate utterances from public officials. It'd be pretty fishy then to demand the same unanimity of bloggers. And, speaking of TalkingPointsMemo, it's not like internal squabbling will make much of a story, because real life intervened to overshadow that potential story. It's the second part of why Boehlert must have a permanent Nicholson-era Joker grin on his face.

See, over the weekend, mainstream journalist Maureen Dowd plagiarized TalkingPointsMemo blogger Josh Marshall. Here's what he wrote:
More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Now here's what she wrote:
More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.
I bolded the only words she changed. If you want to read Dowd's explanation, by all means click the link. It doesn't really matter, because what's important about her plagiarism is that it shatters the Mother's Basement "uselessness" stereotype, as well as destroying the mainstream-press canard that blogs are essentially parasitic and incapable of survival without good old-fashioned journalism.

Now, some journalists are surely just misinformed about blogs, and some doubtless are angrily lashing out during a period in which their institutions are failing, at least in part because of the success of the internet. Some probably want to muddy the waters to obscure their reliance on blogs for new ideas. And likely, too, some just resent the inescapable fact that the relationship between blogs and journalism is a two-way street and has been for some time.

Because even if the Dowd incident didn't prove it (again), it's been an obvious dynamic for at least a year. As Boehlert points out in his book, the outrage about Bush's domestic wiretapping was at the start almost exclusively fueled by the relentless daily thousand-word pummeling that Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, gave it. Eventually, as his excellently argued ire spread, it forced the mainstream press to pay attention to it. To an extent, they owe blogs for "making" that story.

This last bit is probably the most important dynamic of all. Mainstream journalists need access to break their stories, and to get access they have to have favor. That sometimes means diluting the intensity of their responses or simply not covering stories that will upset the people on whom they're reliant for inside information about the potential Next Big Thing. Bloggers, however, don't care who they antagonize, but if they focus on an issue enough that it becomes a story, mainstream journalists can point to the story's existence as impetus for their coverage. They can point to it and say to their valued sources who might hate the issue, "Hey, don't blame me. These guys are the ones that forced this issue." Blogs, then, are useful scapegoats.

Let's not forget that they are useful first. Boehlert's book should hammer home this realization for the reader while providing informative profiles of a few of the more famous names out there and detailing the political squabbles that extend down even to fellow internet writers. Bloggers on the Bus covers an issue that's very "of the moment," and it might have been dismissed as just another look at some internet faddishness. Instead, it may now be a bestseller. Boehlert has the quality of so many bloggers to thank, but if he has only one thank-you card to write, he should consider sending it to Maureen Dowd.
Comments
by Blogger L_Monty on ‎05-21-2009 02:08 PM
Since I didn't have any place to put this in the piece itself: mega cool points for anyone who gets the reference in the title.
by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎05-21-2009 02:26 PM

Wasn't there a comedy piece about clowns on a bus?  "We're all bozos on this bus?" or something like it?

 

I've never seen it but I think my dad talked about it when I was a kid.

by PhilsFolly on ‎06-30-2009 09:04 PM
There was a comedy recording (on an album) by Firesign Theater.  "We're All Bozos on This Bus."  It was the early 1970s, I believe. But if that's not your reference, I hope someone else recognizes it!
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