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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

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Audio: Have a Listen

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Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

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Video: Have A Look

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Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

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If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

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Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

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Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 8, 2003

Politics in a Different Key

There's something happening here and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Rove?... Mr. Rove?

Chris Lydon has posted a fiery manifesto about the neglected story in the presidential campaign: the “subversion of a discredited game” by new laws of the Internet, where every reader is a writer, every voter a possible sender of news, every volunteer a budding campaign strategist, every Net surfer a potential source of funds.

Lydon is in tune with these facts, which are evident in some places (Dean, Clark, Edwards) but not others. He’s building a superb audio archive of his conversations with thinkers who are active in the new “open style” of politics. He sees—and so do I—a small counter-establishment forming, people from outside politics with ideas about it, getting inside and using what they know to start turning it outward, toward the Net, and its many-to-many rules, and from there into people’s real lives. And so new patterns in politics and media are forming in open rebuke of the “game” and its players.

The game is called Get Elected. All parties play (all who usually get elected.) It is overseen by a class of professionals who are supposed to know: how do you actually get elected in this country? They don’t elect anybody, this class. No. That’s strictly for you, Q. Citizen. You go to the polls, and determine their fate. They only run—and explain—the permanent campaign.

But they do control knowledge of how the game is won. If you’re a billionaire, if you are housewife, if you want to be in it—the winning side of politics—then it is said you must deal with their game knowledge because it is tested and refined, it is cold and factual, it is grimly realistic but then it is also shown to work, year after year, race after race. Raise the money. Watch the polls. Do your opposition research. Plot your moves. Hone your message. Stay on message. Buy your ads. Play the press. Get ready to go negative. Deny that you’ll go negative. Repeat.

It is the K Street politics of the savvy class. Its members are the insiders. They are the pros. They are the pundits, handlers and funders, vultures and parrots who run and staff the campaign story, which is above all the inside story of how you get elected in this country. Its outstanding feature, Joan Didion wrote, is “remoteness from the actual life of the country.” They are the people of this remoteness. The people of the campaign bus, the war room, the press lounge. They surround the campaign, travel with it, come under its employ. They create the public narrative of politics, which is about the candidates but controlled by the pros.

Some live off politics, some live for it— but they are all in and out of the same hotels. The pros are realistic. Their job is to understand how things really work. But then they also tell you they understand because their class includes people who bring us news of politics, and talk on television about it. When Lydon writes about “a drastic subversion of a discredited game,” he means the whole game of Get Elected, starring the savvy class in ten different professions. And if there is anyone who is the big winner in that game right now it is Karl Rove, savviest of all, wizard to the White House, which is still winning big.

Teddy White was the first to write about the inside game, Timothy Crouse the first to show that it incorporated the press. Lydon told me he was a character in Crouse’s classic, The Boys on the Bus, which is about the traveling press corps during the 1972 campaign. So I looked him up. On page 68 Crouse notes that many of the reporters covering George McGovern began to identify with his cause, in that they wanted him to be taken seriously by the pros.

For instance, Christopher Lydon, a thirty-three year old New York Times reporter covering his first presidential campaign, began to feel as early as January that McGovern had a chance to make a strong showing. Lydon rapidly became so enthusiastic about McGovern that Robert Phelps, the Times’ political editor, felt obliged to remind him not to “write from the heart.” [He was eventually bumped from the McGovern bus and had to cover Hubert Humphrey. McGovern won the Democratic nomination in 1972 and lost to Richard Nixon… JR]

I have my own symbol of things changing in politics: my nephew, Zack Rosen. A few months ago he was preparing to return to the University of Illinois, where he was majoring in geek. Now he’s a key person in the Dean campaign, one of the brains behind DeanSpace, which is where geeks go to join in “coding the tools we think will help define the future of political and civic participation.”

Shaken out of their cynicism by a random encounter with a candidate, young people have been joining political campaigns for a long time. My nephew is no different: Dean inspired him, he got involved. It’s what he got involved in that’s strange and new and potentially de-stabilizing for the game of Get Elected. The Dean campaign hired Zack because he had programming ideas for how people could get into the game and share knowledge outside the normal orbit of presidential politics. He had the basic idea himself, then “pitched” it into the In Box at Dean headquarters. The answer came back: we like it, move to Burlington. Now people like Chris Lydon, sensing something radical in train, trek up to Burlington to see Zack because they’re interested in what he’s doing with DeanSpace:

While new “for Dean” web sites come onto the net every day, their ability to share information is, at best, hit or miss…. Disjointed and disorganized, the current online grassroots campaign functions like any old twentieth century grapevine. It could be so much more. We have found a way to harness the passion that has given birth to this insurgent campaign, to empower it with tools that match the intensity of its convictions—a way to answer the all-too-frequent question: “What now?”

Tools that match the intensity of convictions. Christopher Lydon, New York Times reporter at 33, discovered that the New York Times was not going to be one of those tools. In a way, he’s been looking around ever since. Now in his 60s, he found inspiration in the “open style,” which I would call politics in a different key. It’s not in charge, this new politics; it’s just different because it can handle high participation. It has a bottom up energy that the top down people are still figuring out. It has tools that match its convictions. And it has a grave to stomp on: one-to-many man is dead. Read what Didion says on why he deserves to die:

It was clear for example in 1988 that the political process had already become perilously remote from the electorate it was meant to represent. It was also clear in 1988 that the decision of the two major parties to obscure any possible perceived distinction between themselves, and by so doing to narrow the contested ground to a handful of selected “target” voters, had already imposed considerable strain on the basic principle of the democratic exercise, that of assuring the nation’s citizens a voice in its affairs. It was also clear in 1988 that the rhetorical manipulation of resentment and anger designed to attract these target voters had reduced the nation’s political dialogue to a level so dispiritingly low that its highest expression had come to be a pernicious nostalgia. Perhaps most strikingly of all, it was clear in 1988 that those inside the process had congealed into a permanent political class, the defining characteristic of which was its readiness to abandon those not inside the process.

Miles Rapoport—former Secretary of State of Connecticut, now the head of Demos—used to tell me the story of a woman who decided, apparently out of the blue, that she wanted to volunteer for the Democratic Party in her state. “Only she couldn’t find it,” Miles would say. People who knew Connecticut politics directed her to candidates looking for volunteers. But she did not want to work for a candidate; she wanted to do something for the state party.

Ah, said the people who know politics, then you can send money, here’s the address. No, the woman replied, I don’t want to send money, I want to send myself. Can you tell me where to go? Of course, no one could. She wanted to join the party and do something, (and she assumed the state party did things that involved people like her) but she couldn’t find it. No one could tell her where it was. Which raised the question: did it really exist for citizens, or was it just a drop box for checks? Of course there’s a state party in Connecticut, insiders would say, but point of entry is not their problem and it is not their point of view.

Here we come to the dark side of the game, Get Elected— and the thing that should have discredited it many years ago. Points of entry. The fewer people in the game—and that includes voters—the better it is for the career players. That’s how Get Elected works. As a model, it predicts best when participation is low and public attention slight. It’s simple: low involvement means fewer variables, which means the wizards have a chance of looking like wizards.

Political consulting, now a glamour position in the savvy class, emerged in California in the 1950s because California had lots of unattached voters, newly settled in the state, with no roots or loyalties, likely to move around a lot. Parties couldn’t reach these nomads but one-way television could. These were the voters most manueverable by a media strategy, and the first media consultants had to show they were capable of doing that: moving enough votes to justify giving them more control. Low information voters are generally understood to be up for grabs, which is the kind of condition media wizards like. (See Stanley Kelley, Jr. Professional Public Relations and Political Power. Johns Hopkins, 1956.)

Why should anyone be a lower information voter? That’s dumb and arrogant of you. So says Zack. This is where his roots and loyalty are: tapping the Net to make active participants out of the former spectators to politics, the people once known as the audience. Action is what causes people to seek information. So says Zack and he works for Dean and Dean leads the Democratic race, for now. Chris Lydon, a former insider himself, is stomping on the same grave: one-to-many man, he hopes, is dead. Now being born: “a wide open public space in which the closed cronyism of both parties must surely be undone, maybe soon.”

Now we have to find that woman in Connecticut.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 8, 2003 11:39 AM   Print


I dunno. (As a demi-academic -- community college journalism prof -- I've found that "I dunno" works for most any dission).

A dozen years ago I was one of those writers who trumpeted that the Net would change politics. I wrote about it in Whole Earth Review and other publications. I still believe that, but I'm either less sanguine or more jaundiced -- or both.

I actually have some political chops. I've been a political junkie since 1952, at the age of 7, when my folks tell me I "endorsed" Ike over their Stevenson. I worked for LBJ at the ripe age of 15 at the Democratic convention in L.A. in 1960, traveled with him on the White House press plan in '64. Back in 1970 I was the campaign press secretary to California's lieutenant governor (i.e., Reagan's backup). I've been a quasi-Democrat for 25 years, but mostly a desultory one -- except during the inspiring Clinton years. (I visited the White House in 1993 and did an article for MacWeek about Jeff Eller's online operation, which in some ways, Jay, prefigures your nephew's experience with Dean).

For the past 15 years or so I've been active in local land use politics in my rural village. I spend at least 2-3 hours a day online "talking" about politics. And yet...

Don't get me wrong: I believe activism on the Net is A Good Thing, and I'm really encouraged by how the Dean folks, especially, "get it." Still, I sometimes feel as if the Net is a massive echo chamber, where we all talk amongst ourselves, getting lots of affirmation and validation, without necessarily changing the non-Net world.

There's no question that we're seeing an explosion of really well-informed online activists out there, of every stripe. What I'm NOT seeing is evidence that these activists are involving the vast majority of those not in the choir. Maybe we're all just talking to ourselves?

What needs to happen, imo, is that those of us online somehow need to expand our activism into the offline world. And that's not so glamorous. We need to have something akin to 19th-century machine operations -- block captains, etc. -- even if we don't have a centralized party machinery. I'm not real clear on what it is going to take to make that part of the equation a reality.

Posted by: Roger Karraker at November 9, 2003 6:40 PM | Permalink

Ow ow ow ... What little politics I've done, and I recognize the limits, has been desperately hard and draining.

The easiest blather in the world, the cheapest, most costless space-filler, is to pontificate on THE NEW THING WHICH IS CHANGING THE WORLD.
(umm, no offense meant)

We've been hear before. Many times. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 9, 2003 11:29 PM | Permalink

Seth: This is from the starry-eyed New Republic:

"Every time the suits have heard about the Internet changing politics over the last ten years, their eyes have glazed over. And for good reason. Up until Howard Dean and Joe Trippi came along, the only thing I.T. had done was marginally lower the cost of doing the same things they'd always done. And it wasn't even clear it did that. But Trippi is doing something radically different. Like all those fanatical Wave Systems investors, the Dean supporters are doing the hard work of organizing for him, which means the cost per body is falling like mad. Come to think of it, the campaign is even making money in the process."

Disagree you may with TNR's analysis, but it's going to take a lot more than your ridicule reflex to persuade me that there isn't something happening here. Perhaps it's time, Seth, to realize that "the more things change, the more they remain the same" is a cliche every bit as easy, cheap, mindless and banal as the rhetorical bubbles you delight in popping. Think about it, okay?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 10, 2003 8:54 AM | Permalink

I had the same experience as the Connecticut woman. Last spring I decided to join the Democratic party, which was a funny but sincere thing to do. It wasn't possible that there was no Democratic party, right? Wrong. The closest I got was an unanswered phone at the local HQ and a lifetime of spam from Terry Macauliffe.

That's how I ended up contributing to Dean.

Posted by: Lucas Gonze at November 10, 2003 2:18 PM | Permalink

Jay - Ah, but "the more things change, the more they remain the same" is far more likely to be *right* as a reaction 1/2 :-)

I'd actually read that TNR article, and I found it extremely interesting. Not that I believed every word of it. But I thought it had some unintended insight.

Note I'm on record as being a *big* fan of Joe Trippi, in terms of thinking he's doing fascinating things.

But what he is doing is not necessarily what you are writing about.

Sadly, for me, there's no gain in being an anti-bubblist. One can't disprove a bubble, since everyone is shouting "THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT". I really shouldn't do this stuff, but I've become very cynical.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 10, 2003 4:32 PM | Permalink

Jay--I agree with much of what you wrote. I've been nosing around the popular disgust with the entrenched two-party political-industrial-complex since the early 1990s, and looking for signs of change. I DO think that the information hierarchy is breaking down all over the place, though the powers-that-be still control of the commanding heights. Bloggers are mostly reacting to news reports and judgments made by the big-foots, for example. Network execs and party officials are the ones controlling debate formats and scripting questions, not real voters. Money is still a prime determinant of who is viable/serious and who is not--and while Howard Dean's small-d success (that's small donor) is inspiring, we shouldn't forget that he is riding the concentration effects of presidential politics. If you said to an aspiring maverick congressional candidate that they should finance their campaign by finding 20,000 people willing to give them $75 bucks (and thus have the kind of warchest needed to knock off an incumbent these days), they'd think you're crazy. Celebrity or the money to buy celebrity is still critical in politics, alas. I've got my shoulder to the grind-stone every day trying to change this in a systemic manner (go to to learn more) and I guess I've learned to be skeptical of anything that looks like Dumbo's magic feather.
One last observation: in tune with a prior comment about changing the off-line world. The biggest shortage in America is time. My neighbors here in the burbs north of NYC barely have time to go to a PTA meeting or get their kids to soccer practice. The alternative vision of a disntermediated networked democracy "where every reader is a writer, every voter a possible sender of news, every volunteer a budding campaign strategist, every Net surfer a potential source of funds," as you put it, assumes that we all have the time to engage in these things. We don't, and until we figure out how to get more non-work time back into our lives, we won't.

Posted by: Micah Sifry at November 12, 2003 1:11 PM | Permalink

I still think that big centralized media has a lot of nasty domineering to do, as the habits of most people are to be passive and non-participatory unless forced into it. Plus, the nice men on the magic happy glow-box tells us we're beautiful!

Posted by: Jonathan at November 13, 2003 6:45 PM | Permalink

Let's be honest, politicians try to insulate themselves from the public because the Great Unwashed are a huge pain to deal with.
How often do *you* like to have nutters with staple guns wandering through your office making threats at your secretaries?
In the case I'm familiar with, it was an electric stable gun. Unplugged. Gee, somehow nobody reminded him that the cord was hanging loose. They knew *from experience* he reacted violently to cops. The secretaries calmed him down first by discussing his medicines (one was soon identified as a horse worming medication) and they got him to go with the nice men in the nice not-uniforms, in the end. It took about three hours. That was in between the phone calls from a woman calling herself Jesus Christ insisting that the world was ending that afternoon.
This kind of thing happens *all* the time in public offices. You might be surprised how little help it is to have metal detectors and hall guards.
But there's also the cost of campaigns and who's a reliable source of funding--not, generally, a wise idea to bet year in and year out on "grass-roots" money from the Great Unwashed.
And finally, there's the peer pressures and the competition within organizations, which leads to bizarre results of all kinds in most places.
What have you got to act as a countervailing anchor against all that?
A pretense of an independent press owned by the same conglomerates who are lobbying within the same tight-knit insider's group of industry experts and lobbyists advising those who take their campaign donations?
Get real.
What you really do have is a market gap: Such mass media doesn't make the news junkies happy. Happy talk doesn't begin to satisfy readers interested in real news, in real investigative reporting. Anybody who wants to serve *that* market has to be interested in ways of reducing huge economic pressures from powerful advertisers. And the internet can be cheap, if you have skilled (or dedicated) people. But it reminds me of market comments about the Internet: Don't close your brick-and-mortar place yet.

Both these questions also involve what I call "review issues." The net is a wild west jumble of stuff, there's too much unreliable junk out there, too many sources a reporter wouldn't dare to take for granted.
That's why people insist on filters, on brand-names, on reviewers.
In the music industry, people rely on known names to help them decide what to bother with. Theaters want to generate word-of-mouth interest because people rely on each other's experience to decide what they want. In fan fiction, for instance, word of mouth is everything.
An internet news source, or a political action group, will need to earn credibility before people will *notice* them in all the chaos, let alone trust them.
The good news is that it didn't really take Google or eBay or Amazon all that long to become central sources. In business terms, ten years is nothing in the build-up of a brand name.
But is the internet a big enough market to support a true muckraking press in this country?
I don't know, but somebody probably can think of a clever method of measuring the interest level.
Measuring the support levels of news junkies could matter on several fronts. It should be tested, but I believe they are often news junkies because they have an agenda, they are passionate, and they are morely likely than the average citizen to act upon the news they sift out. That's why it seems germane to your original question:
Does internet political comment lead to real activism?
I don't know how much weight to give it, as yet, but an awful lot of informal political news-sharing has been happening on the expanding bubble called live journal.
There *is* something of echo chamber sensation to it, but I know people claim to be more willing to spend money and show up at rallies, and there were a lot of ferocious reminders to get out and vote in the last CA election. I know I've become more politically concerned as a result of reading posts from news junkie friends there, and I've been trying to share the joy with folks who are a great deal less involved than I am. Hey, they can always unfriend me if they don't want to see my rants.
The MoveOn Internet campaign isn't just a tiresome source of spam. Because they're asking people to make real-life phone calls, they might be a measurable test of real political forces. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, it's known that white supremicist and Neo-Nazi websites have contributed some recruitment for that particular viewpoint; but I'm unsure how that one could be measured.
I've also been seeing extremely political comments popping up on technical websites for hobbies that nobody would *ever* think of as political. Gardening, for instance, can turn out to be a radical act.
That is, if they're pushed far enough.
I'm beginning to wonder if nearly *anything* can, taken to a high enough skill level.
Yes, really. I'm talking about middle-class grandmothers with greenhouses full of expensive orchids. These are not youngsters chaining romantically themselves to trees. Immediately after the Patriot Act passed, many of the orchid-growing geeks were afraid that the mere label "eco-terrorist", with their name or picture, on a news channel could mean the ruin of their entire lives.
There's good reason for it.
The more dedicated of these folks will go down to places like Belize and Colombia and Guam to collect endangered materials in front of the bulldozers--making strenuous efforts to abide by CITES restrictions. More timid geeks will grow plants that others have brought back, not just because they like them, but for backup purposes, trying to insure that a disaster at one site won't kill an entire species (the SoCal fires, for instance).
These folks were terrified that their energy bills would draw unwanted attention.
Don't take my word for that, check the American Orchid Society website--though I'm unsure how old you can go back into their web archives, it was there at the time.
They were afraid rescue collecting would be condemned at the same end of the spectrum as Greenpeace ships, Central American priests getting shot, or activists driving spikes into trees to stop the logging of forests.
The orchid folks may be right about that, but I have no proof so far.
One of their public responses was to discuss the legal restrictions on infrared scanning for heat sources in private residences, in lengthy technical detail. (There were claims that such scanning legally infringes on privacy, because current sensors can be so acute as to discern from across the street whether you're having sex with your spouse.)
Just from the fright in the comments, I don't believe these are tough-minded pot-growers (such as you may fall afoul of in the foothills of the Sierra, or those guys who set up shotgun booby-traps in Oregon).
These are just plant-growing nuts. They want to make sure *somebody* has a safe cache of that disappearing last species in a genus. They're desperate to catch genetic variability in time, to rescue types that nobody has ever had time to analyze, to find variants that might lead to solving elusive breeding problems in domestic stock--an issue familiar to corn-belt seed farmers as well as to rice researchers worried about disease resistance.
Their deep interest in the plant has led to radical action. They're willing to go to all kinds of trouble.
It speaks to the appalling mood of the country when folks like this are afraid of an amorphous "them" who will fabricate arrests.
These folks were posting comments in public that they were afraid not merely that their homes would be targeted and searched for contraband, but that evidence would be dummied up to convict them of growing pot, or of importing any number of interesting tropical alkaloids, or simply of disagreeing on the arguable details of CITES. That act may have saved elephants and rhinos, but it isn't as certain a savior for plants, and it can involve severe but discretionary penalties. The details in specific cases may or may not contribute to the overall good that was intended by the legislature.
When nerds get worried, they start talking to other nerds about it. When such fear begins to interfere with their passion, then the nerds will become ferociously politicized about it, they will go into heroic research to find out how to handle it, and they will seek out others to teach them what to do about it.
They go meet with the authorities to discuss changing some of the details on CITES, for intance.
Somebody who's taken the risks of flying into jungle airports and doing import paperwork for CITES isn't going to let themselves be bullied by threats about pot raids.
The orchid geeks are far from the only specialists I've noticed who have become alarmed by a secretive, opaque political process and a paranoid, bigoted and suspicious climate in which they perceive that it is only "cheap-labor conservatives" who control all the media outlets that matter.
The perception arises that mainstream reporters are whores and that media conglomerates are owned by thugs whose only belief is in dividing and controlling all us pathetic little serfs.
There's also very little understanding of the real problems of the press in an era that expects newrooms to hold ratings enough to "pay their way".
In such a climate, it is assumed that powerful businesses with voracious appetites and no social obligations will brush under a rug of silence anything that they don't want talked about.
The perception (real or not) is that serious investigative reporting is silenced on topics from stock fraud schemes to Internet censorship programs such as the Chinese have developed, to warnings about coral bleaching and algae blooms and frog kills, to fundamentalist religious fears of modern sin.
The perception of the disenfranchised poor that it won't matter what they try to do anyway, and what's the point of bothering to vote at all, certainly won't change anything.
This stuff leads right down the same road as Islamic terrorists striking back at corrupt regimes who do nothing to fix problems but silence the messenger.
I do have hope that grumpy baby boomers creaking along with grandchildren to think about may have enough time to get involved, and enough investment in the future to worry what will happen to their youngsters. Historically, they're politically inert and appallingly ignorant, and apparently everybody has liked them to stay that way. But, IMHO, the majority of the baby boomers don't approve of the McCarthy-like climate--it's too different from what they recall living with as teenagers, and they don't like it.
But genuine polls (not just slanted ones) could find that out for you.
I say, watch out when they finally figure out how to use the vote, the small elections, and the newspapers the way *their* grandparents did.

Posted by: Heather at November 18, 2003 3:42 AM | Permalink

From the Intro