Are D.C. Bloggers Too Close to Power?

A profile of prominent blogger-activist Jane Hamsher rubs one young D.C. pundit the wrong way

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Do Washington bloggers inevitably have mixed motives? That's the implication of a Politico profile of liberal blogger-activist Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake. In it, she's praised by fellow blogger Glenn Greenwald for holding onto liberal beliefs against the White House:

Greenwald chalks up her willingness to defy the White House in part to the fact that she--like he--doesn't hail from a particular Beltway culture.

"I think Jane's success in a prior career has made her immune to the rewards of access--and fear of punishment--which keep most younger inside-the-Beltway progressives obediently in line," he said. "She's not 26 years old and desperate to work for a DC think tank, a Democratic politician or a progressive institution. She doesn't care in the slightest which powerful people dislike her, but rather sees that reaction as vindication for what she's doing."

Liberal D.C. bloggers naturally took umbrage at the idea that their thinking is clouded by proximity to power, and that Hamsher's background is key to her success, but others thought Greenwald had a point.

  • So Bloggers Can't Have Aspirations? Progressive blogger Matthew Yglesias takes exception to the Greenwald quote, which he at first thought was suggesting that "the only way to be a true progressive activist is to be independently wealthy, and thus able to thumb your nose at the powers that be." After discussing the matter with Greenwald Yglesias agrees that Hamsher's "unusual background" is a strength, but he still thinks the quote "reads ... like Greenwald is saying that one of the main problems with the United States of America is that we have too many idealistic twentysomethings who want to move to DC and get jobs where they can make a difference on issues they care about." He defends think tanks, and Greenwald later says he agrees with most of Yglesias's argument.
  • A Question of Political Incentives or Personality? Mother Jones's Kevin Drum very reasonably points out that Yglesias may object to Greenwald's remark about young think tankers because he is one. But he's not at all sure that Jane Hamsher operates free of political incentives, and suggests that perhaps a blogger's personality is a bigger determinant of blogging style than is blogger integration in the DC system:
Implictly, the idea here is that Jane sits outside that structure completely, but that's really not true. Just as beltway types have incentives that generally lead them to compromise in a centrist direction, base activists have incentives that push them in exactly the opposite direction. They can get ostracized for being too accommodating exactly the same way that think tank folks can get ostracized for being too shrill.
  • The Unique World of Progressive Blogging TechPresident's Nancy Scola thinks the profile shows how the blog Firedoglake "serves as what might be the highest-profile example of how proto-blogging circa 2003 or so has evolved and found some success--without simply becoming a 'new media' version of old media." She is fascinated by how Hamsher's Firedoglake "blends original reporting (with its coverage of the Scooter Libby trial being where it really made its name) and direct political activism." In that sense, the blog's style, "arguably, is more of a direct descendant of the blogging on the left that grew out of resistance to the Iraq War than is the large stable of of political 'blogs' that focus on advocacy journalism presented in reverse chronological order."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.