Micro-Blogging Moves Into Mainstream

News & Notes Web producer Geoffrey Bennett and Tony Cox talk about the growing trend of micro-blogging, Facebook's about-face on user privacy, and response to the week's news on our blog.

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TONY COX, host:

Now, onto our Blogger's Roundtable. Here's what's hot online. Illinois Senator Roland Burris and the ongoing Blagojevich scandal, the stimulus package just signed by the president, and the so-called Obama effect and how that's changing the culture of America. With us, Jay Anderson of the blog Averabe Bro, self-described vigilante pundit, Baratunde Thurston. He writes for Jack & Jill Politics under the pseudonym, Jack Turner. And in a moment, we're going to be joined by political and social opinion writer Sophia Nelson. She's editor-in-chief of the Political Intersection blog. Hello, everybody.

Mr. JAY ANDERSON (Blogger, Average Bro): Hello.

COX: Let's begin with Mr. Burris. As we mentioned earlier in the show, he said that he tried to raise money for former Governor Rod Blagojevich before he was appointed to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Let's start with you, Jay. Why is this all over the blogs? And what are people saying?

Mr. ANDERSON: It's all over the blogs because - I'll be honest, I came on this show, and I blogged myself, about a month ago, about the fact that I thought Burris should be seated. The reason for that was at that point in time, Governor Blagojevich, you know, there were no actions taken against him at that point in time, and I felt that he was perfectly within his rights to appoint Burris, you know, to fill the seat.

COX: Do you still feel that way? You still feel that way?

Mr. ANDERSON: No, no, no, no! And the reason for that, I mean, the Senate was very clear with Burris about what it is that he needed to do to get the seat. Basically, they wanted him to go back to Illinois and be honest about whether this happened in terms of interactions with Blagojevich. Well, he didn't do that. You know, now a month or so later, it looks like, you know, Burris for whatever reason is coming out and pro-actively divulging the fact that he didn't put a lot of information out there.

You know, that maybe made things look like they weren't on the up and up. You know, that said, he's got to step down. I'm sorry. You have to. When you come into the Senate under those sorts of circumstances under which he did, you know, with the scrutiny that he did, you have to follow the rule of the law, and he didn't do that. He's got to go.

COX: Let me bring Baratunde in to ask you, do you think - or what you are seeing and hearing on the blogs, are people saying the same thing as Jay? They want him out? They think he wasn't truthful?

Mr. BARATUNDE THURSTON (Blogger, Jack & Jill Politics): There's definitely a lot of doubt around the man who I'm starting to call Senator "What Had Happened Was" Burris.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THURSTON: The idea that he needs to step down is one, you know, point - a popular point, but the minimum is that there is absolutely no chance that he has any chance of getting reelected in 2010 if he's even able to weather this storm. A lot of folks are really skeptical and tried - even the Senate, initially, their first instinct was don't trust anything associated with Blagojevich.

COX: Well, you know, the interesting...

Mr. THURSTON: That was the right instinct.

COX: That was an interesting point that you raised, and Sophia, let me ask - let me put it to you this way. There was concern as Baratunde just said about seating him in the first place, but there is an argument that was made that the folks in Illinois and in the Senate felt that it was necessary to put him on because he was black and they didn't want to look like they were racists. And so, now that seems to have blown up, doesn't it?

Ms. SOPHIA NELSON (Blogger, Political Intersection): Well, if that was their reason, it was the wrong reason. The lawyer in me, from the moment this happened, was very adamant about the fact that from a constitutional standpoint and from the constitution of the State of Illinois and otherwise, he had a legal right to be seated because he was appointed by a legally sitting governor at the time of the state. And so, that was always my point of view.

However, in light of these new facts that are coming to light, I'm in agreement with the other gentlemen on this panel today. He has a serious credibility problem now, and I think it just continues to show that politics in Chicago and in the state of Illinois, you know, continue to be what we all know them to be.

COX: And in Washington D.C. as well.

Ms. NELSON: Oh, no doubt. No doubt.

COX: Let's talk about the stimulus package. The other big news coming yesterday as the president signed into law, the wide ranging $787 billion economic stimulus package that includes tax cuts and spending programs. So Jay, a lot of Americans expecting to get checks and tax breaks. Are their expectations too high?

Mr. ANDERSON: I'm not sure the expectations are too high. I mean, if you look at the news, if you pay any attention to what's going on in the world, I mean, 600,000 people lost jobs in January alone. There's just - the government has to do something, and I think people's expectations are that some sort of action is taken, and that's what Obama's doing.

Now, you know, whether you agree with all the, you know, all the facets of the stimulus act or whether you think it needed to be more tax breaks you know, versus more spending. I mean, that's immaterial to me at this point. Reality is you have to do something. You know, no act of this magnitude - again, it's almost $800 billion - is going to be perfect. And unfortunately, there are obviously going to be some stumbles as this thing works itself out.

But I think Obama had no choice. And again, furthermore, the people who put him in office wanted something different. And here it is.

COX: So, Baratunde, here's my question for you. This - the enormity of the stimulus package is unprecedented in American financial history, and I'm wondering whether or not on the blogosphere, particularly the black blogosphere, it's getting the kind of attention and hits that Burris is getting.

Mr. THURSTON: Well, I can't speak for the entire black blogosphere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THURSTON: But I (Soundbite of laughter) - what I can say is that the stimulus is getting a lot of attention, at least on Jackandjillpolitics.com and some of the other peers. People are looking through the state by state kind of job retention promises of the bill. And as Jay mentioned, the unprecedented size of this, I think, and the expectations not being so high, but what is also unprecedented is he - the transparency and attempt at accountability. We've never seen a government, you know, act followed up by a Web site to track how it's spent, and I'll be most curious to see not if the bill itself was perfect, but rather if the follow up is as honest and as open as we hope and expect it will be.

COX: Well, Sophia, there's been a lot of talk about the so-called bipartisan effort to get the stimulus package, if you count three Republicans as bipartisan. What public - what political backlash could there be if this bill does work, and if it doesn't work, bipartisan speaking?

Ms. NELSON: Look, there was no bipartisanship on this. And I think - look, I'm a Republican. I support this president. I voted for him, but I don't like this bill at all. And for me, this issue's personal because I was one of those people that got downsized from my corporate America job last summer, haven't been able to find one since, and you know, I'm very well educated, very well qualified, and this economy is hitting everybody at every level, not just the poor, not just the middle class, but those of the professional class as well.

That's why you're seeing the challenges with the home mortgages foreclosures. I see it in my neighborhood. Every other houses is either up for sale, or it's going downhill, and I live in a very nice neighborhood in Northern Virginia suburbs. And my point is is that I think black America's not paying enough attention to this issue on the blogosphere. On my site, I would say I probably have a 50-50 audience of African-American and then other. And we've been talking about it a lot but, as you know, when white America gets a runny nose, black America gets a cold. You know what I mean, the old expression that it always hits the black community in disproportionately high numbers. Unemployment - if it's eight percent in the U.S. economy, it's going to be 16 percent in the black community, in some places as high as 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent depending on what city you're looking at at the time. So I think this is an important issue for the black community, as it is for America certainly, but I think that we're not paying enough attention to it in a serious matter and we're getting too caught up in the pettiness of the politics of well, the Republicans don't want to support him and Rush Limbaugh's doesn't like the president. Who cares what Rush Limbaugh thinks to be real honest. I don't. I mean...

COX: Let me jump in to let our listeners know what we're doing and who were talking to. This is the Bloggers Roundtable, and I'm joined by Jay Anderson of the blog Average Bro. Also, by Baratunde Thurston who writes for Jack and Jill Politics under the pseudonym Jack Turner, and political and social opinion writer, Sophia Nelson. She's editor in chief of the Political Intersection blog.

This is good conversation. Let's turn it a little bit to this point. The impact of the presidency of Barack Obama will resonate far beyond the White House and I want to talk about whether or not the Obama effect, as it so called, is having an effect on the blogosphere. Do you think that it is changing the role, Baratunde, of black blogs or perhaps it already has?

Mr. THURSTON: Well, it certainly has. I mean, as far back as a year ago, we certainly started getting more attention in traffic essentially from, you know, designated media outlets and spokespeople who realized, oh my good news, we don't know how to talk about black people and we're tired of going back to the same old reverend in a tracksuit sort of spokesperson…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THURSTON: Who's been saying the same thing.

COX: Who are you talking about, Baratunde?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THURSTON: I'm just throwing out examples out there. I'm just throwing out examples.

COX: OK.

Mr. THURSTON: So, I think what you had was really, you know, bloggers filling in for a job that the media itself was ill-prepared to handle, and you saw a lot of slip ups and a lot of ignorance about the race bating that was going on. So even now that will continue as folks realize, like, wow, black people are still here and they're kind of important.

COX: Well, Jay Anderson, are you getting more hits when you talk about Obama on your blog? Do you get a larger audience or no?

Mr. ANDERSON: Oh, yes. I mean, everyone wants to talk politics and obviously, you know, I don't run a blog that's strictly political. I talk a lot about pop culture as well as sports and an array of other issues, but absolutely. I mean, the Obama - the run up in terms of, you know, the campaign and now of course that he's in office. I mean, people are always looking for alternative opinions that they do not hear in the mainstream media and I think that's absolutely where the black blogosphere, you know, comes into play.

COX: Well, Sophia, are you making any money, though, at it?

Ms. NELSON: (Laughing). I think that - look I think, the opportunities since Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, for African-Americans who are journalist, pundits if you will, anyone that can write well, the opportunities are huge. I don't ever lack for people calling me, wanting me on TV shows whether it's conservative programs or more liberal ones, whether it's writing opportunities, corporate America, I'm speaking a lot more. I think that - is it Baratunde? I want to say his name right.

COX: Yes, yes. Baratunde.

Ms. NELSON: By the way, Baratunde, I'm in a tracksuit over here so...

Mr. THURSTON: Oh, my goodness. All right, I want to ask you what black people think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NELSON: No, I'm kidding. I'm teasing. No, no. no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THURSTON: You have a perm too?

COX: Oh, God.

Ms. NELSON: It's a pink one. No, I'm joking. At any rate, I am - the thing is is that he's absolutely right, though, that they - by they I mean mainstream media, didn't know how to incorporate opinions of African-Americans or the views of, wow, what's it going to be like to have a black president. A black first lady is even more huge. That's what we get a lot of hits on Political Intersection blog and my companion site Iasksisterblog.com, which is an organization for women of color, professional women of color.

And the love for Michelle Obama is just - it's unbelievable how she has impacted the way the way that black women are looked at, for example. And there have been a lot of stories about her, as you know, what she wears, what her hair looks like, all of those things. So, black people are - it's the Cosby decade all over again, I think. It's, you know, we are...

COX: Absolutely. Listen, our time is running short. But I want to hit something else that's been coming up. It's about - you talked about images of Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. I want to talk about political cartoons since you all write a political blog where prominent people are shown in caricature. Now, with Obama this presents some touchy questions, and already a cartoon this week in the New York Post is drawing criticism from that guy in the jumpsuit because it shows a monkey which could be presumed to be the president. The Post of course, saying that that's absurd, but you see my point, Baratunde.

Mr. THURSTON: I absolutely do and here's the problem with this particular image. The history of, you know, comparing black people to primates is vile, and deep, and real. And it leads to actual practiced discrimination and violence. You see police brutality, you see discrimination. A lot of that is based in these subconscious painful images. And the reasonable interpretation of this cartoon is just what it is, that you got a dead, at the hands of police, monkey who is a stand in for the president of the United States. That's unacceptable and I'd like to point, there's a summit on February 26th, cple.psych.ucla.edu. It's people trying to study just this phenomena, how the psychological, you know, demands of racism, you know, become real in acts of police brutality and violence.

Ms. NELSON: Well, I think, if I can just interject quickly, is that...

COX: Make it - you can but make it quickly, please.

Ms. NELSON: We - this culture, you know, we voted for a black man to be president, but it did not deal with the underlying causes of racism or prejudice that this country has had for - since its founding, and we're still not talking about it. We're talking around it. We're in love with the pop culture images but we're not dealing with the realities of a country psychological shift from seeing 43 white men be president to now the 44th being a black man, black family, black little girls running around, a dog is going to be in the White House soon. That's a culture shock to people. We're not...

COX: It is. I've got to stop you there only because our time is short. I appreciate all of you. We've been talking with Batatunde Thurston who blogs at the Huffington Post and Jack and Jill politics. He was at our NPR studios in New York. Jay Anderson of the blog Average Bro, he was at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. And political and social opinion writer Sophia Nelson, she's editor in chief of the Political Intersection blog, and was at member station WETA in Arlington, Virginia. And of course, you can find links to their blog as well as to ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. Thanks, everybody.

COX: Next on News and Notes, are you a Mr. or a Mrs.? A doctor or a dude? We talk about naming and how to address people, and your president. And, they were the children of slaves but that did not stop them from reaching for the American dream, their story coming up.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: You're listening to News and Notes from NPR News.

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