The limits of blogger power

Radley Balko is still hammering on the Cory Maye case. But it’s not getting any traction where it counts: in real politics and the mainstream media.

Radley Balko is still following the Cory Maye case — he’s found, for example, evidence that the medical examiner whose testimony largely decided the verdict is a practitioner of the worst kind of courtroom junk science — but at the moment he seems to be alone. So far, the case has completely failed to break into the mainstream media.

Under current circumstances, “blogger power” is purely derivative. All the blogs in the world can cover a story, but if it doesn’t catch the attention of “real” media or participants in the electoral process, they’re just moving electrons around.

By contrast, the New York Times or NBC News or Rush Limbaugh or Karl Rove or Nancy Pelosi can make something news — force other players to attend to it and thus make their audiences aware of it — pretty much on their own. Not every time they try it, but often enough.

Things may change. I have fantasies of a world in which keeping a blog becomes a truly mass activity, comparable to ringing doorbells or making contributions: in which anyone who thinks of himself as politically engaged has one, read mostly be that person’s one-degree-of-separation circle and mostly for personal rather than political reasons. (There are plausible, but not airtight, arguments for the proposition that in such a world we would be better governed.) I’m even working, in my small way, to move toward that world by encouraging all my politicized friends to start blogging.

In that world — assuming that mass bloggers paid attention to what other bloggers are saying — blogger power would be a reality: an Atrios or a Hindrocket could make something news, circumventing the professional media, by mobilizing the blogosphere. (Not every time they tried it, but often enough.)

But that world, if it will ever exist, is not the world we now live in. In our world, blogging can be a moderately potent activity, but only insofar as it moves other pieces of the system.

Footnote I told you so.

Update Battlepanda has a graph of blog activity on the Maye case.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: