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Why One Should Love the Huffington Post

Barely a week into existence, and the Huffington Post is already living up to expectations. While there is the occasional air of "gravitas" provided by Prof. Volokh, the Post remains mostly a stew of the famous, careless, and mostly redundant. Within a week, it may very well be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, or may be worthy of rechristening as "PopKos." Even now, it functions quite nicely as a Carnival of the Unhinged.

Case in point, yesterday Norman Mailer figured that so long as he's blogging, he might as well start out by insulting bloggers. Or worse, he might insult them and not realize he's doing it. Let's give ol' Norm a good fisking, eh?

I'm beginning to see why one would want to write a blog. At present, I have a few thoughts I can certainly not prove, but the gaffe over the Michael Isikoff story in Newsweek concerning the Koran and the toilet is redolent with bad odor.

Ah, yes, "one" would like to write a blog so that "one" can make unproven assertions of skullduggery about "one's" opponents. That's what blogs are here for, after all.

Note to Mailer: Bloggers build a reputation by commenting on things that they're qualified to talk about, or if not, digging up clever arguments and linking to interesting sources, and finally putting forward solid arguments for a position. Check out your colleague Volokh for some hints on how to do this. Until then, most sensible people are going to relegate you to the Tinfoil Hat Brigade.

Who, indeed, was Isikoff's supposedly reliable Pentagon source? One's counter-espionage hackles rise. If you want to discredit a Dan Rather or a Newsweek crew, just feed them false information from a hitherto reliable source. You learn that in Intelligence 101A.

Ah, Norman Mailer, who must have garnered a C+ at best in his freshman counterintelligence class. Mr. Mailer needs a bit of a shave, so let's get Occam's Razor out of its case and lather up the old gent. A tip: RatherGate would have been one hell of a brilliant Republican plan, but it's more easily explained by hubris and a normal human capacity to screw up. If you were risking possible exposure by giving fake documents to a political opponent, you'd make sure to forge them using something other than Microsoft Word. (Or if you didn't, you'd have to think very little indeed of your opponents to suspect that they'd run with such crummy forgeries.)

In order to engineer RatherGate, you'd have to have very fine sensibilities indeed, knowing how to craft a document just well enough to get by rabid partisans like Blunkett and Rather, but badly enough to be spotted by amateur (and later professional) typology experts. Apparently, the Bush Machine is that good at knowing exactly how stupid Dan Rather and CBS actually are.

Counter-espionage often depends on building "reliable sources." You construct such reliability item by secret item, all accurate. That is seen by the intelligence artists as a necessary expenditure. It gains the source his credibility. Then, you spring the trap.

As for the riots at the other end, on this occasion, they, too, could have been orchestrated. We do have agents in Pakistan, after all, not to mention Afghanistan.

It's this kind of paragraph that makes me envious of Karl Rove. The man can go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that in order to take credit for being the greatest evil mastermind ever whisper in a President's ear, he need merely kick back, drink some scotch, and wait for the witless opposition to do something stupid. Two hundred years from now, he'll have replaced Cardinal Richelieu in Hollywood remakes of Three Musketeers flicks:

Porthos: [pulling back Bill Burkett's shirt to reveal a black fleur du GOP tattooed on his shoulder] Why, Cardinal Roves even has Burkett doing his bidding. This is just like when he fed that fake--but possibly accurate--story of the Koran in the latrine! Mon dieu!

Forget what such accusations say about the White House: folks like Mailer long since passed the point where their casual accusations of perfidity could shock. Think about what this says about Mailer's opinion of Newsweek and Michael Isikoff: taking them out was so important that the the White House was willing to engineer riots, cast doubt upon the troops in Gitmo, as well as risk that their nefarious plan would be exposured through the hackles of Mr. Norman Mailer. Well, OK, I guess Mailer thinks that his hackles are Roves' one blind spot, a kind of Rovian kryptonite or something.

Obviously, I can offer no proof of any of the above. There still resides, however, under my aging novelist's pate a volunteer intelligence agent, sadly manque. He does suggest that the outcome was too neat. It came out too effectively for one side, one special side.

In other words, this is all the idle speculations of a petulant novelist. Just pause to think what kind of twisted worldview this fellow has: the possibility that someone on his side could have simply screwed up is so remote that we must explain away Newsweek's mistake as part of an elaborate and improbable cloak-and-dagger scheme.
At the age of eighty-two I do not wish to revive old paranoia...

..."oh, hell, who am I fooling? I do wish to revive old paranoia!"

The rest of the article is quotations from Stalin and the same bald accusations, devoid of reasoned analysis, attempts at verification, or even the timid concession that this all could have been a stupid mistake on behalf of a press corps thrilled by the idea of a scoop and none too concerned with the consequences of their actions.

You want a bait and switch, Norm? Here's my thoughts on the Newsweek fiasco: in the end, this kind of thing is going to be bad for bloggers. The CBS Memos scandal was rare for the boldness and stupidity of the mistake: it involved scans of tangible documents of ridiculous inauthenticity, followed up by hubris not often seen outside of Sophocles.

Since then, (particularly right-wing) bloggers have been searching for the next RatherGate, but Big Media has gotten smarter. Remember that Republican talking-points memorandum about the Schiavo case that right-wing bloggers seemed determined to prove was a fake? Well, it turns out it was real enough, but merely reported in an entirely inaccurate manner. "Not fake, but inaccurate" seems to be the order of the day.

The problem is, the idea of disturbing a detainee during an interrogation by throwing a copy of the Koran in a latrine doesn't seem outside the bounds of plausibility. Newsweek shouldn't have run its story, and was foolish to do so. But if it eventually turns out that the substance of the story was true, I doubt procedural carelessness will give much succor to the now-triumphalist bloggers when the backlash kicks in.

Were I Norman Mailer, I'd mark this all down to a Vast MSM Conspiracy. Sadly, it's probably just a matter of human nature.

UPDATE: Gah! No sooner do I finish this and read through my blogroll than I find that Prof. Althouse got here first. At 5:30 AM. Really, I'm not getting up that early in the morning just to beat her to the punch...


Come now. Norman Mailer is a very good writer dipping his toes into a medium largely populated by very poor writers. I'll cheerfully concede that for every rightwing atrocity (Instapundit), there's an equal and offsetting atrocity on my own side of the political fence. And surely it's enjoyable to read blogs sometimes. But to rip off another very good writer, even those blogs I enjoy are simply junk that I love. Even Prof. Volokh gives short shrift to a lot of his topics, and Prof. Volokh is almost singularly attentive, as bloggers go.
Haven't read it and don't care. The Newsweek thing is a little more interesting though. Partly because the closer reporters are to Afghanistan the less they think these riots were caused by the article. Anti-Pakistan sentiment and Taliban resurgence seem to have something to do with that as well. And it's not like Newsweek were the first people to make these allegations. Juan Cole has toward the bottom of this post a number of stories reporting the same thing, based on a number of different sources over a period of time. So you're right. Newsweek probably weren't the victims of a Republican sting, and even if this instance cannot be proven (although I suspect if the truth ever outs it will be) there's no lack of evidence for the routine abuse of human rights by the US government and the desecration of sacred texts.
Martin--- Would recommend reading the Mailer piece, actually. Ahem, the point seems to have been lost on a few, but it's actually a pretty funny send-up of how lamentably bad Mr. Mailer thinks most blogs are.
Let me revise: a very funny send-up of the paranoid style Mailer thinks is encouraged by some of the worse corners of the blog-iverse. But again, funny in its own right. Especially if you like Graham Greene.

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