nov 13

ONA, Day 2: Wonkette Wonks


Wonkette and I are the only people in the room wearing jeans.

ana marie cox

Okay, that might be a lie -- of the 300+ media (or quasi-media, or para-media, or disintermediated) professionals who have just finished munching on their Wolfgang-Puck-created-exquisite-chicken-breast-on-a-lucious-bed-of-potatoes, there might actually be a few more journos in jeans. But Wonkette just said that it's okay to be an "unjournalist" who "writes the first draft of history" as long as I'm up front about it, so I feel no remorse in eluding those pestering facts for the benefit of this narrative.

Over the din of dessert, funny guy Mickey Kaus introduced Ana Marie Cox as an "online presence," which led to the first of her many jokes. If her speech had an important-sounding "Capped Title In Quotes," it probably would have been something like "How Blogs Changed Journalism In The 2004 Election." But she got skittish about sounding too much like "the junior journalism professor from Blue State College," so she quickly added, "If I start to sound too boring, someone just signal, and I'll make a joke about sodomy."

Speaking of sodomy, let's make fun of Andrew Sullivan! It seems like a millennium ago that Sullivan was perceived as an internet sensation, but it was only last year that he was the keynote in this very spot. Wonkette doesn't like Sullivan for all the same reasons you shouldn't like him either, but she takes particular issue with his rhetoric of blogs having the potential to save the world. In a tidy dust-up, she called him, "not only arrogant, but lazy."

Which, unfortunately, was what more than a few Capital J Journalists here said after her speech. I had the personal misfortune of sitting next to a former CNN exec who nearly spewed her salad across the room when Ana Marie said "bloggers have succeeded in deprofessionalizing journalism." Here was one highbrow who was taking this deprofessionalizing like a lobotomy -- she squawked that it was "an insult" to have Wonkette speaking to such an Esteemed Group Of Professionals. It was obvious that a few people here don't actually know what Wonkette is.

There were points in Cox's speech where you could palpably feel the room taking sides -- the serious do-gooders who seriously do good work versus the ragtag collective who relish being called "scrappy." It's not hard to guess where I land in this dichotomy, but it was startling to see how many of these journalists viewed Wonkette as a threat to their entire belief system. Liberal media? Pshaw.

Ana Marie talks in spliffy sound bites which sound strangely something like -- oh, let's call them Un-hick Ratherisms. I couldn't even type all of them fast enough. She uses phrases like "pleasurable solipsism" to describe the way the mainstream media echo chambered her rise to fame. "My job for being a special correspondent of MTV was to talk about my role as a special correspondent for MTV."

So what did she actually say? Many things, but the item you're probably going to hear a lot about was the election exit polls, which she published on her site "without even thinking about it at the time." Probably knowing that this was going to come up in the Q&A, Wonkette, who calls herself a cyber-libertarian ("I like my porn free and my email private"), had a prepared response: "My retrospective argument seems relevant: we had to publish exit polls in order to kill them." Not too shabby. Until someone from (actually, it was Dick Meyer, who has the most perfect head of gray hair I've ever seen) stood up and nearly scolded her for publishing them. "Did you even think to ask someone about what exit polls were?" he asked in that way in which the word "miffed" doesn't do the sentiment justice. To which Wonkette said something like "I don't disagree with anything you say. If pressed, I have to fall back on my cyber-libertarian argument, and I don't want to do that, because that's what Jack Schafer does.... You obviously know much more about exit polls than I do, so I'm just going to let you be right." Underneath the twittering laughter, you could actually hear people mentally preparing critical cocktail speeches to impress their colleagues with tonight. (And my speech was by far the best, thank you very much.)

What else? This one got some arousal: "Those who work in the business have a stake in the illusion that getting it right most of the time is getting it right all of the time. Bloggers have eliminated that gap between all of the time and most of the time."

And this one: "I owe all of my success to the vanity of liberal journalists."

And I personally relished this one: "Much like with zines, people who have any skill are just using their blog to get a good job."

And on working for Denton: "We don't have a lot of contact. That's the way I like my bosses: invisible, distant, imperious."

And on if she ever withholds a story: "I have a motto which I'm going to needlepoint onto a pillow: 'It's okay to ruin someone's day, but not their life.'"

And finally: "Don't call if journalism if it's not."


I've received numerous emails from other conference attendees who reported something similar -- that someone else at their table was dismissing Wonkette, while others ran to her rescue. Who says this battle between old and new media is dead?

More Resources:
My fave photo.
AP Article, which focuses on the exit polls stuff.
Paid Content post, with pictures, including one of Ana Marie.
WaPo Chat with Wonkette.
NYT Mag Cover Story.

More On Fimoculous From ONA:

ONA, Day 1: The Scene.
ONA, Day 1: Tom Curley Speaks.
ONA, Day 1: Friday Night Party.

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