The Obscurer

Category: Blogs

Diplomad For It!

Things are just about getting back to normal around here, following a huge surge in visitor numbers to this blog. The reason for the increased hit count was my mention of The Diplomad a week or so ago, the day before The Diplomad itself informed its readership about doing a Technorati search, resulting in their fans doing just that, and so finding their way here. I don’t think any have subsequently returned (I probably battered them with the power of my argument) so I am now back to my usual handful of readers, along with the odd (and I mean odd) visit due to peculiar Google searches (Latest search; “Adolf Hitler was an Evertonian”; the mind boggles). Anyway, I expect another spike of interest in my blog with this post, but then I hope that will be it. I have no intention of returning to this subject; as it is (two posts in a fortnight) I probably seem obsessed.

It was this article in Mediawatch that re-ignited my interest in The Diplomad. Writing about Job-Bloggers in general (and for one of the best, check out Call Centre Confidential; a brilliant, almost novelistic blog), they made the interesting comment that some of the people currently writing blogs are the sort of people who have always been used by the mainstream media when they want an anonymous insiders view on a matter; they write that “these are, of course, the very kinds of people traditionally treasured by journalists as sources. It’s just that now, they’ve gone freelance.”

They go on

“But what they say is only news if it’s accurate, relevant and interesting. The principles for trying to assess the merit of an insider blog aren’t much different from those any journalist uses to weigh up a source. Does it check out with other sources? What kind of agenda does the blogger have? And, most importantly, what is his or her track record?

“Recently, Diplomad, the anonymous blog written by US foreign service officers, made incendiary claims about United Nations arrogance and incompetence in the wake of the tsunami. These were trumpeted by many bloggers but largely ignored by the mainstream
media.

“Not because the Diplomad authors were not who they said they were. But because much of what they said didn’t tally with more conventional reports. Their reporting from the airstrip at Aceh – which at one point praised the efforts of New Zealand’s Hercules crews – seemed sound enough. But their pronouncements about what was happening in Jakarta, let alone the wider region, lacked any ring of authority.

“Diplomad proved to be a feisty source of opinion, as it hurled abuse at the UN, Human Rights Watch, the mainstream media and the UN again. But a reliable news source? Forget it.”

I can imagine fans of The Diplomad dismissing this as typical of the liberal utterings of the mainstream media who have been ignoring the truth according to The Diplomad; but I find it interesting to see one of the reasons why The Diplomad has been ignored, outside of some opinion-based columns.

So, “What kind of agenda does the blogger have?” In this regard, Diplomad is very co-operative; they have even drawn up their own Top Ten list, not so much of what they believe in, but of opinions they disagree with; ideas that a Mixed Economy could work, that the UN is a good idea, that Global Warming is a concern, or that Lee Harvey Oswald may not have acted alone (What? Nothing about the moon landings? Or Lady Di? I could swear I saw Elvis the other day)! For The Diplomad, however these ten ideas are not honestly held opinions they disagree with; they believe they are in fact lies, and presumably the people who hold these opinions are liars. Not that slagging people off and bandying the term liar around will bother the Diplomad; they already happily characterise their opponents as “vultures” and “leftoids”, and presumably in a stab at humour once referred to developing countries as being in the Turd World. Nice.

This all goes down very well with the Diplomad’s readers, many of whom leave comments urging the authors to “keep it up”, “don’t stop telling the truth”, and so on; and of course they are correct. The Diplomad obviously has a large fan base and speaks it’s mind, and long may it continue. You won’t get any argument from me about free speech, although I guess a civil court may have something to say about their freedom to call Edward Kennedy a “killer“.

And although they may hand out the insults, they can certainly take them; they write that “leftoblogs” have called them “liars,” “fantasists,” and — our favorite — LUNATICS. Great stuff! Keep it up.”

Really? Is this what The Diplomad is for; for the authors to vent their collective spleens, to play to the gallery, and to inspire “hissy fits” in their opponents? Wouldn’t they prefer to read lefties’ blog saying that “after reading The Diplomad, I have become more critical of the UN”, or “I am now reconsidering my belief in Global Warming”?

Will that happen? I would say it is unlikely. For as long as The Diplomad seems bereft of even a hint of objectivity, unless their criticisms become more measured and reasoned, while their whole tone often appears to be on the verge of a rant, then they are all too easy to dismiss. (Even when you agree with them. I am with them when they argue against the EU’s suggestion that Nazi symbols should be banned; but when they smirk that the call for a ban was made by “a man named FRANCO…seconded by a man with the word “scam” in his name, Roscam” and “to make matters even more absurd, we have some GERMANS lecturing the world about the “consequences and World War II history linked to the Nazi swastika” I think I will look elsewhere for my Allies on this one).

This is a shame; Diplomad talks about important issues, and the authors obviously hold positions in the US State Department which must impart great insider knowledge; even if, based on their own description of The Diplomad (A Blog by career US Foreign Service officers. They are Republican, most of the time, in an institution, State Department, in which being a Republican can be bad for your career) their’s appears to be a minority view. If and when the UN fails, for example, then I want to hear about it. As things stand though, while the Diplomad reads as a collection of biased, almost paranoid grumblings about a UN/EU/MSM conspiracy against the US, I think they will always just be preaching to the converted; and what is the point of that?

Update 5/2/05: The Diplomad calls it a day! Coincidence?

Diplomadic Immunity

I don’t know if anyone bothers to look at my short list of Links (and I hope it will stay short; I don’t intend having one of those seemingly endless Blogrolls that list about 200 sites. I don’t see the point). Anyway, there have been a few changes to it recently, namely

  • It’s goodbye to Walking Like Giant Cranes. Jarod has called it a day, which is a great shame. Where else would you read about the etymology of the word “Quavers” (Peruvian for Cheese-flavoured, apparently), or the famous riots during the 80’s caused by the introduction of Ham flavour Quavers. He will be missed.
  • It’s hello to Boomablog. This is part politeness; for reasons best know to the author of Boomablog, The Obscurer is listed as one of only three sites on his Blogroll. I don’t know what I have done to deserve such an honour, but I am appropriately flattered. It is not just politeness, however; Boomablog is an amusing and well-written site that I will visit regularly; otherwise I would not place it in my list of links.
  • Also, a warm welcome to Our Word Is Our Weapon. The blog’s author, Jim, was very kind to me in his comments on my Tsunami post, so I would like to return the favour. His blog makes for fine and informative reading; and even if his level of statistical analysis is way in advance of my abilities in that area, I will try my best to keep up.

Jim’s world view seems quite similar to my own, which of course helps, but I will endeavour to keep an open mind when I read his blog, and not take what he says at face value just because I may agree with him; otherwise I may as well not read anything by anyone else, and just tell myself that I am right on every subject. For this reason, I will continue to read The Filter^, in particular for Anthony’s posts written from a libertarian perspective. I often don’t agree fully with what he has to say, but they are always interesting, positive and thought provoking posts, free from the negative sniping and point scoring that often passes for comment in other blogs.

When I first started writing this blog, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t so much as read another blog, and it was just by investigating the “Blog This” button on my Google toolbar that I stumbled upon the Blogger website and decided to have a go. I didn’t know what was expected of the blogger, so I just decided to just get off my chest some things that I wanted airing, to publish them on the web, and allow my opinions to be opened up to ridicule (actually that’s not quite true; I never expected anyone to read my blog at all. I certainly didn’t think people would find their way here by trying to find methods for defrosting their cars via Google, just because I’d written this post. I can only apologise for wasting so many peoples’ time). I was surprised to discover just how many other blogs there were out there, and also that some people clearly seemed to have far too much time on their hands. I realised that I could probably just about muster one or two posts a week, but some people seemed to average around six a day, which I still find mind-boggling. But the most surprising thing I found when first taking a trip into the blogosphere (and shoot me if I ever use that term again; or if I ever use “hat tip” at all) was how many bloggers feel that blogging is an alternative to the mainstream media, rather than just being a place where people can speak their mind; that it is somehow more truthful and accurate than the rest of the media, that it is better at reporting how things are. On the Iraq War, for example, what united many bloggers, both anti-war and pro-war, was that they believed the media was biased against their viewpoint; but both sides couldn’t be right.

In recent days, this belief in the superiority of the blog has been seen most sharply in the glowing praise The Diplomad has been receiving. Particularly on the subject of the UN and its response (or lack of response) to the Tsunami, all it seems to take is for The Diplomad to report something and it flies around the blogo… I mean it flies around the blogging fraternity and is reported as incontrovertible fact; a welcome voice battling through the lies and omissions of the media. And not just in the blogging world; even the dreaded mainstream media itself has got in on the act. Christopher Booker in the Telegraph writes that the main story of the week is the “startling contrast between the impotence of the international organisations, the UN and the EU, and the remarkable efficiency of the US and Australian military on the ground” when dealing with the Tsunami relief effort. In covering this story he says, “the BBC’s performance has become a national scandal”, that its coverage is biased because they think everything is “a case of ‘UN and EU good, US and military bad'”. Instead he thinks we should be listening to the “wonderfully outspoken Diplomad run undercover by members of the US State Department”.

Well, if you haven’t already, read a bit of The Diplomad and see what you think. It may indeed be the unvarnished truth. It may be a complete pack of lies. Either way, it is clearly a heavily subjective account by someone who seems to be a hugely disaffected malcontent. Nothing wrong with that, he/she is entitled to his/her opinion, but it is just that; the writers’ opinion. For Christopher Booker, or anyone else, to reject the BBC’s coverage in favour of the Diplomad’s is to reject the coverage of a broadcaster with a remit for impartiality (even if you feel they have not fulfilled this particularly well) in favour of the opinions of someone who makes no such claim. You may as well praise the wonderfully outspoken statements of a bloke you sat next to on the bus. Personally, I need a little more to go on before I treat the word of an anonymous source as fact.

But people will do just that, because to reverse what Booker thinks of the BBC (and presumably what he thinks of most of the rest of the media), some people are of the opinion that the UN/EU are all bad and the US/military all good. If the mainstream media do not reflect this view, they surmise that the media must be wrong, and a blog that tells a different story must be right. There is much about mainstream journalism that is ripe for criticism, but rather than replace it I would like to think that blogs can supplement and complement the rest of the media, that they can widen the debate, and overall I think that they can; but if they are just going to be read by people who trawl the internet looking for something which mirrors their own prejudices, then I may have to think again.