TCS Daily

The Rt. Honorable Blogger

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 12, 2003 12:00 AM

On Wednesday, November 5th, blogger and American Rhodes Scholar, Josh Chafetz posted the following statement on his blog:


WHAT ON EARTH HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO??? So, tomorrow night is the Oxford Union's debate on Iraq, with the resolution "This House believes we are losing the peace." Speaking in proposition are Tam Dalyell and Jeremy Corbyn, two fiercely anti-war MPs.


And speaking in opposition is, gulp, me.


I was asked to do this about an hour ago, which gives me just over 24 hours to prepare.


Chafetz goes on to ask his readers for any useful information that he might not already have seen. Between that request, and his own superb skills at debate and advancing his ideas in intellectual combat, by the next night, when the debate occurred, Chafetz was able to heroically -- if slightly tipsily -- proclaim victory, having ensured that the resolution went down to defeat. So outstanding was Chafetz's performance that according to another blogger who witnessed the debate, Dalyell -- whose vehement antiwar stance has at times ventured into raving anti-Semitism -- proclaimed Chafetz's remarks the best prepared speech that he had heard given at the Oxford Debate Union in the seventeen times he has appeared there.


You can take a look at the speech yourself, and you will likely find Dalyell's high opinion of it justified. And before you read the speech, notice Chafetz's remark that "Blogosphere regulars will recognize many parts of the speech as familiar." Indeed, Chafetz was very clever about how he went about researching for his speech -- by relying on material that has been widely distributed in the Blogosphere, and by using the Blogosphere as a research tool -- a tool with which Chafetz, as a blogger, is intimately familiar.


Consider the "headlines" mentioned in the second, third and fourth paragraphs. Many of those headlines came from a blog entry at Jessica's Well that I touched on in this TCS article. Some of the polling mentioned in Chafetz's speech came from articles featured in popular blog-like websites such as Arts & Letters Daily. There have been more mentions of the revitalization of the Iraqi marshland in the Blogosphere than one can count -- and this issue also made it into Chafetz's speech. And so on.


What Chafetz's success shows is the ability of Blogosphere to be used as an instrument to rebut fallacious and inaccurate arguments in all sorts of public forums. With search engines built into many blogs, it is easy for people to look up information on a topic of interest, and then reference that information when desired. The Blogosphere can be -- and increasingly is -- a tool of rapid response that can churn out counterarguments to assertions made by journalists, politicians, and other public figures. Although blogging began as being a tool through which people could publicly express themselves on issues of importance to them, it has evolved into being a virtual war room -- and thus has established itself as a formidable presence in any public debate.


Many people view the Blogosphere as being dominated by conservatives and libertarians. While the gap between the numbers of bloggers on the Right and those on the Left has lessened, and while there certainly are high-profile liberal blogs like Matthew Yglesias's site, and Kevin Drum's CalPundit, it is probably safe to say that the Blogosphere still tilts right-of-center. The effectiveness and success of conservative and libertarian blogs was one factor that led the Manhattan Institute's Brian Anderson to assert that at long last the Right is able to compete effectively with the Left in getting its message out.


It's no surprise to see that Josh Chafetz was praised for his speech and that he was considered an outstandingly well-prepared advocate for his side. But even those with natural talent benefit from help, and Chafetz had the considerable advantage of being able to use the information accumulated in the Blogosphere to back up and advance his arguments. In doing so, he demonstrated anew the fact that blogs can be a potent and effective tool in rebutting clich├ęs and pabulum -- in stark contrast to the days before blogs hit the big time, when conventional wisdom often went unchallenged and was routinely recycled by a media unchallenged by the decentralization and alternative viewpoints that have been brought to the public discourse thanks to blogging.


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