November 11, 2010

Bloggers Blast an Iran War Scenario

PEJ New Media Index November 1-5, 2010

Amidst mainstream press headlines of an angry and divided electorate, the blogosphere last week suggested there is at least one thing people across the political spectrum agree on: Going to war with Iran to boost the U.S. economy is a troubling idea.

During the week of November 1-5, bloggers across the board roundly rejected that kind of strategy. The idea came in an October 31 column by David Broder and attracted more than a third (35%) of the news links on blogs that week, making it the No. 1 subject according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In the piece headlined “The War Recovery,” Broder—a longtime Washington observer with generally moderate views—wrote about ways that President Obama could bounce back from a difficult 2010 election to win a second term. Although Broder wrote he “was not suggesting that the president incite a war to get re-elected,” he also declared that if Obama spends the next two years “orchestrating a showdown with the [Iranian] mullahs…this will help him politically” and the “economy will improve.”

Online criticism of Broder’s piece produced a kind of blogosphere bi-partisanship and unanimity rarely seen on crucial political and policy issues. Some argued that the idea of starting a war for political or economic reasons was immoral. Others offered that if additional government spending would help the economy, the spending could be on things like infrastructure rather than military conflict

The second-biggest subject on blogs last week, with 17% of the links, was the November 2 elections and the political consequences for Obama, the overwhelmingly No. 1 story in the mainstream media. While much of the traditional press coverage focused on Washington’s changed political landscape in the wake of major Republican gains, the bloggers’ conversation focused more narrowly on columns that criticized Obama’s performance.

Most of that attention was to a piece by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, written prior to Election Day. These bloggers, like Krauthammer, were overwhelmingly critical of the President.

Another Washington Post column, this one by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, ranked third, at 13% of all links. In the column, Bernanke explained why the Federal Reserve responded to the economic crisis with “strong and creative measures.” The complex discussion that followed in the blogs split between those who feared Bernanke’s actions would lead to inflation and those who supported the more aggressive federal response.

The No. 4 subject, with 10% of the links, was the October 30 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C., led by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The rally, which drew about 200,000 people according to some estimates, received mixed reviews. Some bloggers supported Stewart’s vocal criticism of the news media and polarizing politicians while others felt it was nothing more than a liberal gathering in disguise. The same rally was also popular on YouTube, with Stewart’s closing speech being the third most-popular clip last week.

The No. 5 story on blogs, at 8%, was a BBC report about a female boa constrictor snake that scientists claim had 22 baby snakes with no father, thus making them “virgin births.”

On the social-networking site Twitter last week, all five of the top subjects focused on tech news and were based on reports from the website Mashable.

The No. 1 story, with 11% of the links, focused on a new feature for Microsoft’s Hotmail which will allow users to receive and send emails from other email addresses, including ones from Gmail or Yahoo Mail. According to Mashable, Hotmail is the most popular email service, but it is facing competition from others like Google and Yahoo.

A report about a new ad for T-Mobile’s wireless network that makes fun of AT&T’s slower network speed was second at 9%.

At 7%, the third story alerted fellow Twitter users of a new mode for the iPhone game, Fruit Ninja. The popular game allows players to smash imaginary fruit on their phone’s screen.

That was followed by a report (at 7%) that Apple is planning on tripling the length of iTunes’ music previews from 30 seconds to 90 seconds and a preview of Dell’s new tablet computer, the Inspiron Duo, which will feature a full QWERTY keyboard (also at 7%).

The Broder Backlash

While David Broder’s October 31 column was not focused entirely on a potential war with Iran, it was that section that provoked anger throughout the blogosphere.

“I realize Washington Post columnist David Broder’s expiration date came and went some time ago,” summarized Dan Kennedy at Media Nation. “But suggesting that President Obama prepare for war with Iran in order to boost his re-election prospects is surely a new low.”

A number of bloggers questioned the ethics of such a proposition.

“Nowhere in the article does Broder question the morality of rattling war sabres in the name of economic growth,” wrote JJac at the Richmond Tea Party blog. “I am deeply troubled by the ease with which he suggests it, seemingly ignoring that fact that ‘rising tensions’ sometimes leads to actual war, with other people’s children sent off to kill and die in some foreign land.”

“Politics inevitably will play a role in war, but that role must come after the decision to wage war has been made on apolitical grounds,” declared Publius at The Fourth Branch. “The same is true with economics. Broder gets the process exactly backwards.”

Others said that there were different ways to increase government spending, which could help the economy without going to war.

“War is NOT the answer to our economic problems,” stated Jim Luke at EconProph. “The only way war can help economically is by increasing government spending dramatically. If we could do it for a war, then we can get the same benefits without the dead bodies, the broken families, and the destruction just by focusing our spending here on constructive stuff. David Broder should be fired.”

“This from a person [Broder] who has consistently opposed government spending and other Keynesian ideas for stimulus as inappropriate,” agreed Linda Beale at ataxingmatter.  “War, he appears to think, is ok, but government spending on major public infrastructure is not? Now that is crazy.”

Many further questioned Broder’s role in the political conversation.

“In spite of his institutional stature, Broder’s mental capacities have in recent years come into question and his op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday provides yet another occasion to wonder what is going on inside this man’s brain as he pushes for war against Iran,” asserted Paul Woodward at War in Context.

The Elections and Obama

Five days before the mid-term elections, conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer criticized Obama for being a divisive figure responsible for his party’s impending losses in Congress.

Democratic pollsters Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen expressed a similar sentiment in a column condemning Obama for using the politics of polarization and resentment.

Conservative bloggers jumped in with their own attacks on the president.

“The great Charles Krauthammer wrote a column yesterday that really should hit home for what’s left of Obama’s supporters,” blogged DJ Tablesauce at Third Base Politics.

“Quite the uniter this president is,” remarked Kini at E Māua Ola i Moku o Keawe. “A democrat congress that dominates every bit of legislation. Unwilling to work with the Republicans on any legislation. They passed that monstrosity called Obamacare…Yet, Obama allowed No Compromise, No Republican Ideas, and Passed this crap sandwich against the will of the American people.”

“Democrats have to find someone to blame for Tuesday’s debacle,” predicted DrC at COTTonLINE two days prior to Election Day. “President Obama will be their target-in-chief. The blame-shifting has already begun…They [Caddell and Schoen] accuse him of behaving in an unpresidential manner, and of further dividing the country. These are probably fair criticisms.”

YouTube

The most viewed news video on YouTube last week was a six-minute animation created by a site called Xtranormal which turns written text into movies. The video features two talking animated creatures and is clearly intended to ridicule the viewpoints expressed by many in the tea party Movement.

The second video was another edition of the popular You Tube-based series called the Philip DeFranco Show where DeFranco talks directly to the camera and expresses his opinions on subjects ranging from the press to smart phones to pop culture.

An excerpt from Jon Stewart’s October 30 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was the third most-viewed news videos on YouTube last week. The comedian’s twelve-minute closing speech to the crowd was viewed almost a million times. Among his critiques during the speech, Stewart derided the press for promoting divisiveness.

“The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems,” Stewart declared in the clip. “But its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire…If we amplify everything we hear nothing.”

 

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of October 30 to November 5, 2010

1. An animated parody of the Tea Party movement

2. An episode of the online Philip DeFranco Show, a popular YouTube-based show

3. Jon Stewart’s closing speech at the October 30 Rally to Restore Sanity

4. An Italian band sings a musical parody about Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

5. A Norwegian news report about a man looking for the culprit in several shootings aimed at people with foreign backgrounds

 



The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, which monitors millions of blogs, uses the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (25 stories each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of "news" as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.  

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.