January 27, 2005

Blog, by Hugh Hewitt

Although he claims the title of law professor at Chapman University,* I do not know Hugh Hewitt. I have read his blog only occasionally, but that probably says more about me than about him. I am just not into poliblogs. I have never heard his radio program, but I don't listen to talk radio much either. Nevertheless, I just purchased his book, Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World. Bloggers are no strangers to self-adulation, but Hewitt takes it to a new level.

Now, please note that I have just started reading the book, so what I am about to say is based primarily on the Introduction, but that was breathtaking. In the first sentence, Hugh brags about traffic at his blog between September 30 and October 1: 130,000 hits! Is that classic or what? It reminds me of a story of "bankwalkers" that I heard from a client while in law practice. What is a bankwalker? Apparently, when a group of young men were skinny dipping in a river, some of the participants spent inordinate amounts of time walking the banks. Showing off. Congrats on your traffic, Hugh.

Anyway, Hugh proceeds to claim that he is more insightful than almost any other political pundit because he thought John Kerry had lost the first presidential debate last fall to George Bush. Presumably the election result proved, "I was right." When you are constitutionally predisposed to favor one side -- indeed, incapable of granting points to the opposition -- can you really claim to be insightful? Or did your bias simply pay off?

Then comes the discussion of the political conventions. Hugh interviewed four political operatives and was himself interviewed by Al Franken. He posted transcripts of the interviews on his blog and observes, "Excerpts from all of them were then picked up by scores of other bloggers and zipped around the blogosphere, changing the perceptions of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of the convention and the presidential race within which it was a milestone." Yes! I, Hugh Hewitt, have changed history! Ugh!

You would think his arm would tire of all of this back-slapping, but it seems to escalate. His crowing calls to mind this exchange from The Princess Bride:

MAN IN BLACK: "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."
VIZZINI: "Wait till I get going!"

When Hugh gets going, he does not hold back. He compares blogging to the Protestant Reformation! Thus the subtitle, Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World. And while he doesn't come right out and say it, you can guess who plays the role of Martin Luther: "Being CEO of the Tribune Company is a lot like the job of being the most important bishop in Germany when Luther started hammering his theses to the Wittenberg cathedral's door." No, I am not making this up. And if you dare to gainsay the metaphor, you are a "scoffer." Just like John Kerry undoubtedly was. And Dan Rather.

But here is the central point: Hugh claims that this is all about trust -- people trust him, and they do not trust MSM (Main Stream Media). Even Hugh must recognize that this is too simple an account. What we see is a fragmentation of trust, people investing themselves in all sorts of different sources. Hugh is right that the times they are a-changin', but I doubt he is winning over many "lefties," as he calls them. From where I stand, Hugh appears to be not so much a trusted guide -- or "cyber sherpa" in his clever turn of phrase -- as he is a cheerleader for the like-minded. He is not so much shaping opinion as affirming prior beliefs. Nothing wrong with that, really, but don't pretend that it is something more.

I suppose that my negative reaction to the Introduction could be nothing more than blog envy. After all, Conglomerate has not had 13 million hits. Perhaps I am like my friend in college who complained about another friend doing well on the LSAT: "I hate it when arrogant people can back it up." But I think that there is something deeper at work here. I will attempt to pin down that deeper disagreement with some thoughts after I have completed the book.

* I am not attempting to insult him, but I searched Westlaw for any scholarly work, and I found only seven letters that he wrote as editor-in-chief of "NEXUS: A Journal of Opinion" in the late 1990s.

UPDATE: Greetings to all of the visitors from After I posted this, Hugh sent me a very gracious email, much more gracious than I deserve. We have been corresponding a bit behind the scenes. Moreover, I have received some very nice emails from Hugh's fans. Obviously, you are a classy bunch. I have learned a lot about Hugh Hewitt in the last day that is positive and good, though I still have some deep differences with him about the role of blogs in popular, political, and scholarly discourse. I will be posting some thoughts on those topics after I have completed Hugh's book, which may take me a few days since I am currently attending an academic conference. In the meantime, thanks for coming by and I hope that you will look around the site.

Posted by Gordon at January 27, 2005 01:05 AM | Books