Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Tale of Two Bloggers

It probably goes without saying that I believe the only proper way for Mr. Sullivan to have ended his blog was for him to have pursued me relentlessly across Europe and into the mountains of Switzerland where we would meet along a footpath in the Alps, slug it out and then plunge to our seeming irrevocable doom at Reichenbach Falls.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, Mr. Sullivan elected to turn the final days of The Dish into an strange, extended Irish wake during which the deceased writes and then reads his own grand eulogy, then reads his mourner's and sin eater's paeans, tributes and assorted encomia, and then holds forth in one of the most amazing, extended displays of self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, self-exoneration wrapped in some of the lamest graduate-student-hitting-on-coeds-at-a-kegger-with-some-bullshit-about-the-dialectic-of-prose-forms-or-whatever I have seen in many a year (with emphasis randomly added because, Jesus, it's so goddamn, goddamn):
...There are times when people take this or that post or sentence out of a blog and make it seem as if it is the definitive, fully considered position of the blogger. Or they take two sentences from different moments in time and insist that they are a contradiction. That, it seems to me, misses the essential part of blogging as a genuinely new mode of writing: its provisionality, its conversational essence, its essential errors, its ephemeral core, its nature as the mode in which writing comes as close as it can to speaking extemporaneously. 
Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of...
OK then, since we're at this strange wake telling stories about the departed, and since no wake would be complete without someone sitting in the back row flicking boogers (or at least heaving a few Old Fashioneds into the umbrella stand) -- 

-- I thought it only fit and proper, rather than recapitulating my own decade of writing thoughtful critiques of Mr. Sullivan and watching them disappear into the pellucid internet ether, someone really ought to spend a few words comparing and contrasting the beginning and end of two, very different early internet media adopters -- the late Steven Gilliard and Andrew Sullivan -- and talk a little about how their respective stories began and ended.

On the subject of Messers Gilliard and Sullivan, it would be easy to write a long essay -- something about the best of times and the worst of time, perhaps.  About being the age of wisdom, and the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...

But I am informed by my betters that blogging is dead, in the same grave as long form writing, and people who actually remember Gilly are mostly silent now and scattered to the four corners, so I'll keep this short, and begin with one of the important things which Mr. Sullivan got wrong and never corrected.  

From me back in 2012:
Forgetting Steven Gilliard

Following the death of friendly acquaintance Andrew Brietbart, Andrew Sullivan haz a big, 'ol sad about the perils of being Andrew Sullivan:
In the new 24/7 mediaverse, in a brutal, unending culture war, with the web unleashed and news and opinion flashing every few seconds, you can very easily lose yourself, and forget how and why you got here in the first place. There have been times writing and editing this blog on that kind of insane schedule for more than a decade when I have wondered who this new frantic way of life would kill first. I do not doubt that Andrew tried to keep a balance, and stay healthy, but like the rest of us, became consumed with and overwhelmed by this twittering, unending bloghorreic chatter. It takes a much bigger physical, emotional and spiritual toll than most realize, and I've spent some time over the years worrying it could destroy me.
Mr. Sullivan ends his cautionary tale with this:
He is in that sense our first new-media culture-war fatality. I fear he won't be the last.
No, Andrew, he was not.

He may have been the first, privileged, white, male, Conservative, celebrity-personal-acquaintance-of-yours-whose-circumstances-and-age-screams-"mortality"-in-your-ear, but for the true, first "new-media culture-war fatality" you need to think "blacker".

Think "liberal".

Think "not a completely conscienceless, lying scumbag".
The point I raised at the time to no avail whatsoever was that Breitbart was not our first "new-media culture-war fatality".  That title, sadly, belongs to Steven Gilliard,  Mr. Gilliard was a very fine and prolific blogger, who stood his ground in the middle of the darkest days of the Age of Bush and, with seemingly inexhaustible strength and precision, pushed relentlessly back against the a tidal wave of Conservatism using pretty much the same tools that and using the same tools that people like Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks were ride that tidal wave to fame and fortune:
No surprise that Mr. Gilliard went straight down the memory hole, given how many unpardonable offenses against Villager media sensibilities he gleefully committed while he was alive and on fire. He was, after all, a Fighting Liberal. And black. And poor. And an talented, muscular writer. And a devastatingly well-read historian. And unashamedly right about everything people like Andrew Sullivan spent their lives being horribly wrong about. And he said "fuck" sometimes. And he did not respect people who used their privileged positions in the media to lie -- in fact he used his own hard-won piece of media real estate to call them out, in public and by name. 
People like Andrew Sullivan and Charles Murray...
Did you know that Messers Gilliard and Sullivan were born barely a year apart?

It's true;  Gilly  was born November 13, 1964 and Sullivan was born August 10, 1963.

Both chose writing as a profession.

Both found niches for themselves on this thing we call the internet -- Andrew started his blog in 2000, and while Steve began writing at in 1998.

And here is where any similarity ends.

Steve came up as a man of Harlem, who grew up black and smart and working-class -- an outsider in a messy, riven America that any of us would instantly recognize.

Andrew is a gay, Catholic Tory out of Oxford and Harvard -- an overnight insider almost before the ink on his degree was dry, enchanted by an America which existed nowhere outside of the imagination of Ronald Reagan's speech writers.

Steve learned how politics really works on-the-ground in the trenches of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, and absorbed the finer points of knives-out, Big City power dynamics through his eyes and ears and being alive and sharply observant in New York City.   And more important than almost any other of Steve's attributes was his mastery of American and world history.

Steve knew damn well how many generations of blood and suffering had gone into trying to force this country live up to the lovely, empyrean words of its creed...and how many powerful, moneyed interests were deeply invested in dragging us back and back and back into the dark ages. And that wisdom, sunk caisson-deep in an unblinking understanding of who we are and how we got here made Steve an unabashed Liberal at a time when almost everyone else was running like hell away from that word (From Steve's "I'm a fighting liberal" in 2003):
Liberal does not and has not meant weak until the conservatives said it did. Was Martin Luther King weak? Bobby Kennedy? Gene McCarthy? It was the liberals who remade this country and ended legal segregation and legal sexism. Not the conservatives, who wanted to hold on to the old ways.

It's time to regain the sprit of FDR and Truman and the people around them. People who believed in the public good over private gain. It is time to stop apologizing for being a liberal and be proud to fight for your beliefs. No more shying away or being defined by other people. Liberals believe in a strong defense and punishment for crime. But not preemption and pointless jail sentences. We believe no American should be turned away from a hospital because they are too poor or lack a proper legal defense. We believe that people should make enough from one job to live on, to spend time on raising their family. We believe that individuals and not the state should dictate who gets married and why. The best way to defend marriage is to expand, not restrict it.

It was the liberals who opposed the Nazis while the conservatives were plotting to get their brown shirts or fund Hitler. It was the liberals who warned about Spain and fought there, who joined the RAF to fight the Germans, who brought democracy to Germany and Japan. Let us not forget it was the conservatives who opposed defending America until the Germans sank our ships. They would have done nothing as Britain came under Nazi control. It was they who supported Joe McCarthy and his baseless, drink fueled claims.

Without liberals, there would be no modern America, just a Nazi sattlelite state. Liberals weak on defense? Liberals created America's defense. The conservatives only need vets at election time.

It is time to stop looking for an accomodation with the right. They want none for us. They want to win, at any price. So, you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?
Andrew, on the other hand, was decanted directly from Harvard into America's Conservative elite.  He was handed the top job at  "The New Republic" where he  became the creature of Marty Peretz, sealed traditional editorial standards in an oil drum and sank them into the sea.

Andrew was handed the keys to prosperous life in America -- an America which Liberals had struggled for decades to build up and which Conservatives had labored for decades tear down.  But this was America about which Andrew had absolutely no interest; he didn't much care what the real America looked like or how it got that way.

Instead of the brutal and glorious complexity of the real America, Andrew substituted his miasmic idolatry of Reagan and Thatcher.  Instead of historical context, he transposed his narrow parochial Tory ideas onto our American system. And instead of bothering to take a hard and honest look at the country and culture about which he planned to spend the rest of his career opining, Andrew ran with the Conservative herd, taking full advantage of all of the perks and career-advancing opportunities those connections had to offer.

And this is the part of the program where we pause so that Mr. Sullivan can foreshadow the destination towards which I am ambling by offer the Young Blogger Out There some of the most hilariously disingenuous "real world" advice I have ever heard this side of a freshman fiction writing class at Columbia College:
Since I’ll be out of blogging soon and won’t have to immediately recant and correct myself, let me conjecture a different future. We may be at peak scale in terms of opinion/aggregation/curation websites right now. At some point, the sponsored content machine in which magazines moonlight as advertising and p.r. companies will sputter as readers cannot tell the difference between propaganda and honest argument, and have long since forgotten which site they read anything on. A site that lacks a cohering and distinct identity can become simply a competitor for an endless and often fruitless search for links, tweets and likes. At some point, readers will want a place they know and love and trust and that they will support with their own money. And they will want a return to more of the intimacy and personality of the original blogosphere. 
In other words: I think blogging will have a big revival in the near future. I think the more successful sites will be those with smaller scale and more identity and a stronger connection with readers. I think the individual voice is still the most powerful on the web.
And the universe shall be young again, and we shall all dance around the fire and dream and speak as equals.  Consistent, individual excellence -- that rare quicksilver thing which bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth -- will be toasted with marshmallows and schnapps.

Awards will be invented and bestowed.

And then the dawn will come, because the sun also rises, and we will find our band of brothers much diminished.  Because during the night the hot, wild energy of new creation will have cooled.  Large traffic drivers will have stolen away and built themselves sturdy, closed distribution networks of mutual support and advantage located within a few convenient blocks of the Established Media.

Manor Farm will be re-tenanted and Blogroll Amnesty Day will once again be celebrated throughout the land.

Sorry, I've seen this movie before.

But I've saved the punch line for last
I’m with Tyler. Be yourself. Do your work. And they will find you. And serving those readers is all the reward you need.
Blogger, please!

Sure, any writer in any genre should do the work and be themselves.  But what Mr. Sullivan conspicuously fails to mention is that the key to getting and retaining traffic in this here modern world is some combination of A) relentless self-promotion, B) strong attachment to an established media brand and/or, C) a ton of up-front money.

It other words, you're going to have to hustle like mad, and/or score enough in the divorce to buy yourself into the game, and/or have Barry Diller's wallet on speed-dial, and/or have access to some other means of staying afloat until the internet takes you to its bosom.

Like any other form of writing, you're going to need a patron if you want to eat.  It can be a full-time job (preferably with tenure) that affords you the flexibility to write, or a spouse who works and pays the bills while you wrestle with your muse, or contract gigs that pay you a large enough pile of nickels for a few weeks of manic labor that you you can buy yourself enough free time to seriously take up your pen (this last one is sub-optimal since the minute you stop posting your readership will begin to evaporate.)

So it is genuinely amusing to me to hear this humble, "Build it and they will come" pablum from a man who was not only been the beneficiary of a staggering amount of institutional and individual largess from the day he left Harvard until the day he closed his blog, but was an unrelenting self-promoter every inch of the way.  From The Nation in 2002:
Sullivan is best known as a kind of all-purpose controversy magnet. He posed for a Gap ad; he posted a lurid online advertisement for unprotected sex; and he briefly accepted $7,500 in paid website advertising from a pharmaceutical industry trade association whose products he regularly praises, before returning it. During his stormy editorship of The New Republic, he opened its pages to the lunatic ravings of Camille Paglia, the racist pseudoscience of Charles Murray and the libelous fantasies of Stephen Glass. Sullivan has, moreover, been the target of much gay ire over the conservative content of his writings in The New York Times Magazine, where its editors inexplicably allowed him--slyly but effectively--to out a whole host of allegedly gay Democratic politicians, including Clinton Cabinet members, along with liberal talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell.

Now Sullivan has launched a career in the brave new world of "blogging," or vanity websites. And while his site arouses a certain gruesome car-wreck fascination, it serves primarily as a reminder to writers of why we need editors. sets a standard for narcissistic egocentricity that makes Henry Kissinger look like St. Francis of Assisi...
During the first half of their careers, Conservatives like David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan pushed their way to the front of the line by slandering people like Steve Gilliard and carefully cultivating the well-connected.  It turned out, this was a much wiser investment than "doing your work" and "being yourself", because as all the things they had said and done to advance themselves turned to shit and ashes, unlike virtually any other profession I can think of, Conservatives like David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan were not kicked to the curb.  

Quite the opposite in fact.

Mr. Sullivan moved easily from one major media safe-house to another, and Mr, Brooks rode his bullshit all the way to the top of his profession where he has maintained an unassailable and highly profitable duchy of fraud and mediocrity ever since.

And that is because during the back nine of their careers, Messers Brooks and Sullivan never committed that one,unpardonable sin from which there is no atonement and redemption.  They never used their considerable media platforms to utter the that one heresy against Beltway media orthodoxy that would get their snouts pried out of the Professional Conservative Pundit Trough forever.

They never, ever admitted that Liberals like Steve Gilliard had been right about The Right all along.


Instead, Messers Brooks and Sullivan and dozens of others like them just rejiggered the past around so that Liberals like Steve Gilliard simply did not exist.

Instead, Messers Brooks and Sullivan and dozens of others like them hurriedly cobbled together the Exciting! New!Genre! of "Both Sides Do It" in which it doesn't really matters if they had been wrong, because everybody is always wrong about everything,

And to this Exciting! New!Genre! of "Both Sides Do It", both Mr. Brooks and Mr. Sullivan added their own, unique refinements.

In the case of David Brooks, the Both Siderism comes with additional, massive doses of personal and political revisionism in which Mr. Brooks never actually wrote all the hippie punching trash that pushed him to the pinnacle of his profession, and that American Conservative Movement as we have all experienced it never really existed:
Second, it is now painfully clear that Mr. Brooks is engaged in a long-term project to completely rewrite the history of American Conservatism: to flense it of all of the Conservative social, political economic and foreign policy debacles that make Mr. Brooks wince and repackage the whole era as a fairy tale of noble Whigs being led through treacherous hippie country by the humble David Brooks.
In Mr. Sullivan's case, he has opted for the much bolder gambit of retroactively redefining everything he has written since 2000 as existing in some sort of higher, noumenal bloggy realm far above us plodding assemblers of words where the rightness or wrongess of things is existentially irrelevant, man!
 Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is.
None of which would especially bother me if it weren't for the fact what Andrew Sullivan has been peddling these past few years has been little more that what evil, fifth-columnist Liberals have been saying for the last 40 years, with the serial numbers filed off and re-marketed at a considerable mark-up as "True Conservatism".

And finally (Yeah, I lied.  This ran way too long.  So sue me.)  since Mr. Sullivan ends his blog by addressing future readership --
And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another...
-- I think it only fitting to end this post by addressing the same, theoretical audience-of-tomorrow by reposting something I wrote several yesterdays ago:
Dear Future Generations,

You want to know what life was like for Liberals in America during my lifetime?
First they ignored you.
Then they laughed at you.
Then they fought you.
Then they got gigs in national magazines repeating as breathless epiphany things you had been saying for thirty years.
Also fuck the fucking Yankees!

And don't forget to tip your wait staff.


Paul said...

Republicans for generations have defined the term "Failing Up."

RossK said...

All that and...

Mr. Gilliard's humanity was embedded in every single thing he wrote.

And he gave us beer can chicken.


Anonymous said...

Not too long; did read. ;-) And have bookmarked. Just another masterful piece Mr. Glass. Thanks again.

blackdaug said...

It is funny you run this (which I was eagerly awaiting!) next to he Brian Williams post.
So an innocuous, none-too-bright talking head, told himself a lie so long he started to believe it.
He supposedly runs a news division manned by the likes of Shuck Todd, who apparently "misremembered" an entire decade, and now spends his Sundays parading war criminals through an extended Koch brothers commercial to an audience of nobody.
Did somebody mistake Brian Williams for an actual journalist?
Isn't that what happened to Sully as well?
As you so meticulously outlined, Sully lied and slandered his way through the complete destruction of credible journalism as we knew it, at a variety of high placed venues, and made a handsome profit to boot.
Nobody ever called for his head, at least nobody who the powers that be gave a shit about.
If they are going to shit-can the pretty face of what can only now be accurately described as the second most profitable marketing arm of the oligarchy - for being stupid; where are the pink slips for the rest of people who spent the last decade disgracing the name of journalism? Why the fuck did Sully have such a well paying gig to skulk away from?
There is big story here underneath both these posts: the complete and utter capitulation of the media to money.
Maybe the BBC will cover it someday.
As Steve would probably say:
Until then, its just up to you bud...

Roger McCarthy said...

'a man who was not only been the beneficiary of a staggering amount of institutional and individual largess from the day he left Harvard until the day he closed his blog'

As someone who comes from a not at all dissimilar background to Sullivan and knows his hometown of East Grinstead (basically a middle class exurb outside of London) well, he was blessed well before Harvard.

Certainly his education at Oxford was paid for down to the last penny by the British taxpayer (which thanks to his Tory classmates is most certainly no longer the case) without his having to incur any debt whatsoever.

And as nothing I've read about his lower middle class background suggests for a moment that his family could have paid Harvard's fees, he must surely have benefited from some extremely generous postgrad scholarships.

dinthebeast said...

OK, a couple of things that Sully doesn't seem to get:
First, some people have to actually work for a living. Maybe he did feel like he was under a lot of pressure, but he was compensated well enough to be able to take proper care of himself. It is possible right here in America to work one's self to death without adequate compensation, as I very nearly did in 2008, when I suffered a stroke brought on by the stress from a job I was being paid $12.50 an hour at. So, being permanently disabled, I'm having a hard time feeling his concern that the pace would destroy him.
And second, the mere fact that a lot of porn can be found on the internet does not make masturbation the only appropriate online behavior.

-Doug in Oakland

frankly said...

If atheists wanted proof of the non-existence of God they need look no further than L'il Andy's continued existence on this earth while Steve is dead.

dahlgren said...

Like when you take Sully's support for Charles Murray out of context because Sully is only advocating the discussion of ideas. And liberal complaints aren't because Murray's science is horrifically bad it's because liberals are afraid to discuss dangerous ideas. So the problem really is liberal suppression of ideas, really liberal fears, and not the intellectual courage of Sully Thus pointing out errors is really just liberal nitpicking

Mike Lumish said...


There, fixed that for you Grendal old buddy. You bring to mind Gilly's essay on the stupidity of writing while drunk. That man was a master.

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