Over on a Calpundit comment thread Roger Keeling (aka MyFriendRoger) floats an idea that's interesting enough that I'm going to repost his comment in full here. He's specifically referring to the antics of "Al," a right-wing "supertroll" who stinks up the place with his numerous little annoying comments, but he's really addressing a larger issue about the scope and reach of the VRWC:
I haven't read all of the comments above -- actually just the first couple -- but I am beginning to formulate a little theory.
If you follow Calpundit at all, and read the comments to many of the postings, you'll see that Supertroll Al has an uncanny knack at posting responses early (and often). Frequently he's among the first 10 or so. Today -- and not for the first time -- he was first in line.
Now that really is remarkable. I know from experiece that on Kevin's more interesting posts, it can sometimes be no more than a matter of seconds before the first comments are posted. To even land among the first 20 or so comments is doing pretty good, actually. How the devil does Al The Troll manage to post comments on so many Calpundit threads, and do it so quickly?
Kevin once asked him directly if he did nothing all day but monitor Calpundit. Good question. Supertroll, naturally, did not deign to provide anything like a convincing answer.
So here's my (vaguely paranoic) theory. As we all know, the VRWC is more than flush with money. Millions upon millions of dollars are provided every year -- from the Moonies, from Scaife, from the corporate world, etc. -- to obsessively and relentlessly promote the rightwing worldview. (Think about the seeming-scores of various conservative think tanks out there, none of which actually generates much revenue or genuine grassroots support, although the Heritage Foundation makes something of a fetish of their aggressive direct mail fundraising programs. I mean, SOMEONE is paying for it all!)
So years ago I was told, in a conversation with a guy in D.C. who worked at one of these places -- I'd not be at liberty to reveal his name even if I could still remember it at this point -- that among their other projects at that time, they were assiduously monitoring and responding to "liberal" letters to the editor in EVERY major daily newspaper in the country, and many smaller ones as well. I also remember (going back even further) how, as a columnist on my college paper, I'd write something that would displease a major industry group (against nuclear power, for example, or in favor of bottle deposit bills like Oregon's), and then like clockwork receive a big package of PR propaganda from the industry in question. This happened repeatedly, and I marveled that they were monitoring college newspapers and spending (in today's dollars) at least $5-$10 on printed matter alone to respond to things that displeased them.
So, back to Al: has it occurred to anyone that one or more rightwing think tanks are monitoring the liberal blogosphere, and spending a LOT of money doing it? I can't prove it, but I'd bet dollars for doughnuts it's happening. "Opposition research" is a BIG DEAL to these people -- in fact they crow about it, from time to time, although we usually think of it in terms of national and state elections -- and this would neatly fall into that category.
Going one step further: if someone is assigned to monitor a couple of blogs -- and paid for it -- how much harder would it be to have that person "respond" as frequently as practical, thus making sure they get "their" opinion out here while invariably leaving all of us with the nagging worry in the back of our heads that we are somehow hopelessly outgunned?
Now I certainly don't know that Al is part of such a thing. I imagine it more likely that he's simply some rightwinger on disability, or a retired nitwit, with absolutely nothing better to do all day than monitor the hated Pinkos and drop his little turds into their midst. (Mind you, it's very hard to imagine how he could have ANY kind of gainful employment, or meaningful life, away from his computer given his ubiquitous presence here).
Back to the "paid troll model": let's not rule out the possibility that "Al" is not one guy, but two or more. "Al-1" comes in 8 a.m. EST to his cubicle in the offices of the D.C.-based, Scaife-funded "Foundation For The Annihilation of Liberalism" and works until 5. "Al-2" comes in around 4 and works until midnight. That would certainly be business-like, wouldn't it? And besides spewing their views out here, in an attempt to (over time) act like an acid -- drip, drip, drip -- corroding liberal confidence, and wasting our time as we respond to the trolls rather than focus on actually doing substantive things, it would do one other thing as well: it would serve as both a training position AND a filtering mechanism for future rightwing pundits and PR people.
That, after all, is a BIG part of what the VRWC is about. Young liberal writers, for the most part, must develop their skills on college papers or at free blogs. No one pays them for it. No one organizes them. Sooner or later they have to go find paying work, and THAT rarely entails promoting a liberal worldview. So uncounted thousands of liberal-thinking commentators never get much of a chance to join the battle. They never have a chance to hone their skills, they never have the luxury of researching and writing on these topics without constant money worries, and hence they never even appear on the radar -- down the road -- as potential new hires into the world of the punditocracy.
But it's plainly evident that this is precisely one of the jobs of all these rightwing think tanks. They take young kids just out of college and give them a chance: a modest paycheck, opportunities to "fight for the cause," professional editing and advice on their writing, many platforms to express themselves (including, perhaps, the anonymous platform of "troll to liberal websites"), and the opportunity -- if they're good enough -- to eventually move up higher in the rightwing's hierarchy of shills.
All just a thought for the day.
Roger extended his thoughts in a note to me a little later:
The stories I tell in that comment are true. I always had the sense, when I was in journalism, that there were a LOT of powerful interests making routine surveillance of what appears in all of the media. To a great extent, there's nothing wrong with that: everyone has the right to keep a clipping file, everyone has a right to respond to what they read, and it only makes sense that interested parties (be they non-profits or corporate giants) monitor the media for mention of issues that concern them.
But I suspect that what the conservatives are doing -- and probably have been doing for a long, long time -- is far more organized and well-funded than ANYTHING folks on the left do. I know they monitor the published media, and I see no reason at all to think they wouldn't have expanded that to Blogistan. The real difference between them and us, however -- if it is real, of course -- would be the expenditure of LARGE sums of money toward making such monitoring both comprehensive (covering as many blogs as possible, and in real time for the most popular such as Calpundit), AND in creating some kind of "rapid response system" so that a conservative presence is felt, quickly and almost always, in every possible forum.
Here's an incidental insight that might reflect on this. When I [worked] with environmental organizations [...] one of the things we got used to was how the corporate and rightwing interests would outspend us on EVERY issue. Be it a ballot initiative, election, lobbying campaign for legislation, hearings, or a court case, our opponents invariably -- ALWAYS -- spent anywhere from 10 to 100 times as much as we did. We could only estimate, of course (it's not as if they ever had to reveal their budgets), but there were ways to get a sense of what we were up against on any given matter. One of the things that helped us was recognition of how much of their money they tended to squander. And they did, boy! People got paid more, MUCH more, than we did, and they hired a lot of them, and they tended to fund anything and everything they could think of whether or not it would help their cause. We always figured that had we routinely been able to reach a 1:5 ratio on dollars or somesuch, we'd probably have won nearly every battle simply between the benefit of two advantages: (1) that we spent our money more effectively in general; (2) that we were fighting for things that were far more obviously true and right than the other side.
Anyhow, just as the CIA was always charged with simply gathering intelligence, but could never entirely resist the romance and allure and fun of carrying out actual operations, so I am sure that the rightwing's Opposition Research folks cannot resist the urge to go beyond watching us and enter the realm of dirty tricks and field operations against us.
And so while I cannot offer a single shred of real-world evidence to support it, my intuition tells me that a lot of the trolls we see at the various liberal websites are -- in fact -- being paid to be there. If I were a working journalist backed by a well-funded publication willing to support investigative journalism, and if I had a clue how to wriggle into the various rightwing think tanks and op-research operations, I'd be all for following my nose on this to see if I could prove it to be true.
I'm not sure what the lesson from all of this is -- except perhaps to take more seriously the "Do Not Feed The Trolls" advice of folks like Kevin Drum. Or, perhaps, the lesson is that we ought to warn liberal posters at virtually ALL liberal blogs to not be fooled by the numbers of trolls who appear in our midst to be any meaningful measure of their real-world frequency.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.