POLITICS

Frank Rich, Blogger

03/28/2008 02:44 am 02:44:50 | Updated May 25, 2011

Frank Rich has another slam-dunk column in the NYT this weekend, taking last week's Sunday talk show circuit by General Petraeus and new ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker as an ominous sign of things to come: Setting the stage for vitiating the September deadline for judging the Surge, as well as for the extension and escalation of the war following that point. Rich saw scary parallels between this tour of duty and the pre-invasion tour of soundbite-spewing appearances by Bush administration officials:

"By this late date we should know the fix is in when the White House's top factotums fan out on the Sunday morning talk shows singing the same lyrics, often verbatim, from the same hymnal of spin...Like the war's rollout in 2002, the new propaganda offensive to extend and escalate the war will be exquisitely timed to both the anniversary of 9/11 and a high-stakes Congressional vote (the Pentagon appropriations bill)."

Rich gets kudos for recognizing the patterns behind the pitches, as is his wont, but this post is about form, not content, and there is something singularly striking about Rich's columns of late: They are all throughly and extensively hyperlinked. In this 1,530-word column, there are an impressive 32 links (and not those lame auto-generated New York Times website links that show up randomly and awkwardly in news stories, either). Which makes Frank Rich's Sunday NYT column not too far off from a...blog post.

(Before you purists get your knickers in a twist about how a blog is first and foremost a page displaying entries in reverse chronological order, see here: The Frank Rich page on TimesSelect, with Rich's columns displayed in...reverse chronological order.)

Beyond that, what makes Rich's column bloggy is the links — not only their inclusion, but what that inclusion says about Rich's attitude about his column, and his reader. It's a move that says, here is my argument — but don't believe me, look at the the evidence I am providing and come to your own conclusion. It is not a column that says, "trust me," it's a column that invites you to trust—but verify.

That is a huge departure, when you think about it — In print, whatever you want to say has to be said within the confines of your word limit, but one of the giant freedoms of a blog is the complete absence of any limit whatsoever, both in terms of length, and in terms of the worlds of information that can be included with a simple hyperlinking. Linking is the new footnoting, except less geeky and without the tiny-point type. It's also an instant way to buttress the credibilty of your argument, and, in turn, your authority to so opine — something that op-ed columnists have automatically. Linking is optional, but it's a step that says, I don't just think I'm right, I took the time to make sure. (And also, haters, feel free to read all about it, and then bite me.) (That is to say, bite Frank Rich. Or whoever.)

This doesn't mean that every heavily-linked blog post is right, or that the links are (a) correct (b) applicable and (c) not totally misleading, or that, say, MoDo isn't correct in her assertions about Dick Cheney, however sandwiched between endless cute bon mots they may be (but if she had linked them, she'd have collected one hell of a rap sheet). All it says is that blogging — and specifically, political/news-analysis blogging — is a form that was built less on assumed/accrued authority and more on the post-by-post building of same through pulling together arguments and proving them via their sources. It's a form that allows for gotchas and juxtapositions and minute exegeses from across publications and platforms, and a form that allows a writer to deliver way more to the reader, even if they don't necessarily have to. Absolutely nothing in Rich's editorial required the extra proof of 32 hyperlinks, but that's not the point: The point is, he provided them anyway, and left it up to the reader whether or not to take it on faith. That's some pretty telling meta-commentary, actually, considering Rich's subject matter.

(The irony of this post, incidentally, is just how under-linked it is. So we'll throw in this for good measure, just to see if you're paying attention. Trust but verify!)

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