Blois in the ‘hood: do you need to know your gangstas?

Much has been made of the presumed warfare between the mainstream media (MSM) and the blogosphere. Rather than “cats and dogs”, however, the nature of the relationship is more “dinosaurs and mammals.” I picture brontosauri slowly nodding their masticating heads and opining on those small, fast and furry creatures: “They’ll never last,” one says as the others harrumph in agreement. “Hey, does anybody else feel cold?” says another. This sophisticated level of analysis is again demonstrated in last weekend’s The Blog House column in the Strib, which features people who live in glass houses lecturing others on the importance of window dressing.

The turf war for influence is pretty much over, just like any pretense of objectivity. All that’s left is merely negotiating the terms of surrender. There will be ongoing skirmishes, but the outcome is pretty clear for anyone who thinks about what the media will look like in 20 years.

No, if you want to see where the real warfare is going on you need to look to the world of politics where the blogosphere is not the reason for the strife but merely the latest territory to be exploited – kind of like those movie scenes depicting the start of the Oklahoma land rush. Politics has always been a fight for jealously guarded turf, block by block with lots of knife and club work to determine what colors will have dominion. It is gang warfare, which brings me finally to the reference I made in my headline (my journalism professors are retroactively flunking me).

For those of you not familiar with the latest bloodletting in Minnesota, the current stir in local politics is about how Blois (rhymes with “royce”) Olson, a prominent consultant for the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party, co-publisher of
Politics In Minnesota and head of the PR firm New School Communications, filed a lawsuit against an anonymous blog, Minnesota Democrats Exposed, alleging defamation and damages. MDE has long been a thorn in the DFL’s side for getting embarrassing scoops on party candidates and officials and his identity and those of his usually reliable sources have been a cause of great consternation and angst to the party. This time MDE was able to make a case for a chain of events that suggest New School Communications offered to assist the campaign of DFL congressional candidate Coleen Rowley and that after the offer was declined, Blois Olson began to publicly criticize Rowley as a candidate. In radio interviews and newspaper articles, however, Olson hasn’t been able to disconnect the timeline or articulate how he’s been damaged and the heavy suspicion is that the suit is mainly a way to force out into the open the name of the person behind MDE. If so, that goal was accomplished as Michael Brodkorb outed himself on his blog after the suit was filed. Brodkorb has long been affiliated with the GOP, but that’s probably not shocking given that the name of his blog doesn’t exactly suggest excruciating objectivity in the first place. (I hope that wasn’t too long an explanation for those of you already familiar with this story).

On one level it’s both sides seeking to discredit the other and it’s hard to say who has been hurt the most by the suit; Broadkorb is getting a lot of support in the blogosphere (including from center-left blogs) while Olson is being criticized for his heavy-handed tactics and the whole thing has even made it into the MSM (which, predictably, refers to Olson as a consultant and Brodkorb as an operative) where most readers probably have stronger feelings about whether or not Mike Tice got a raw deal. As ongoing sniper fire in the big war it may not be much, but the concern is that it might be an opening salvo in a battle to neutralize the ‘sphere leading up to the ’06 elections.

Does a blogger have a right to blog anonymously? I believe that most think so – and it’s a perogative for bloggers of any affiliation. Does a blogger have an obligation to be responsible in what he or she writes about the other side? You’d hope so, just like you’d hope that people won’t use foul language around your kids – yet you know it’s going to happen. How big an effect can these attacks have?

Bloise Olson wrote, “anyone can start a blog in 10 minutes, while not just anyone can buy millions of dollars in television ads.” True, but just because you put something in a blog doesn’t mean everyone’s going to believe it or even read it. The blogs that get the readership have typically earned it by establishing some credibility, even if just among like-minded readers. They have cemented the relationship by being consistently interesting and heartfelt. As a reader, you can begin to feel as if you actually know the person behind the blog – especially if the blogger uses his or her own name.

Personally, I always dismiss the letters to the editor in my little hometown paper if they are “signed, but name withheld by request.” Yeah, retribution can be swift and sure in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, but I always thought that if you believe enough to write it you ought to stand behind it. In Minnesota harassment and intimidation are not unheard of on either side so anonymity can be useful in preserving your career and/or your hostas – or the finish on your car. All in all, while I endorse a blogger’s right to be anonymous, I think Michael Brodkorb and his positions gain by being identified. While I may only dip my toe where others wade in up to their necks, I too need to consider whether to claim my own opinions.

Respectfully submitted by John Stewart.


Two excellent reviews of the Blois Olson op-ed piece have been done by Gary at Kennedy vs. the Machine and by Mitch at Shot in the Dark.

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