Friday, October 9, 2009

I once had a "situational omniscience approaching God's." Then I graduated from college...

I am probably too old to care about the latest Dartmouth contretemps, but I can't resist. Besides, it's fodder for a blog post that is not about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Prize! And there just hasn't been that much else in my RSS reader...

The Dartmouth, the campus's daily paper, decided not to run an ad advertising Dartblog, a weblog focusing on campus issues. The blog was founded by Joe Malchow '08 in the fall of 2005. It covered the petition trustee candidates sympathetically and leaned generally right of center on national affairs. More recently, Joe Asch '79 has taken over the reins, though Joe or a handful of other student contributors still seem to post occasionally. Asch is as critical of the College administration as Malchow was. In fairness, I don't have much of a sense of where Asch falls on national issues, but I haven't read Dartblog that attentively.

I'm not especially exercised about the denial of the ad. That is, I do think the decision was a little silly. I doubt the D's much threatened by the existence of outside blogs. If anything, more links and commentary on their articles is good for them. And I am all in favor of tolerance of opposing ideas and perspectives; I've written here before about my love of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty.

At the same time, the D is a private organization that has every right to exercise tight editorial control over the content of its pages. It's silly to pretend that it has to accept all potential advertisements. (Often, though not always, conversations along these lines devolve into claims that the newspaper is suppressing someone's First Amendment rights. Someday, in our nation's elementary schools, people will teach kids about the state actor vs. non-state actor distinction. Until that glorious day...) I'm also think there's some libertarian case for vigorous civil society mechanisms for suppressing offensive speech. If newspapers themselves set boundaries for what's appropriate discourse, there's less need for government to set in.

Malchow returned to the blog he founded to weigh in on the whole affair. A few choice quotes:

The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes, or at least low-level associates at start-up blogs focused on shoe designers. When a D staffer swoops into a campus situation, it is with a situational omniscience approaching God’s; when she unclams her MacBook to compose her report, the elders of Oxford decamp upon the keys and poise her knowing lily fingers—the ones not smoking—over just the right letters.

Look, I graduated five years ago, and haven't submitted a D article since. But it's nice to imagine that, as I am sitting here at this Macbook, the elders of Oxford are decamping on the keys and poising my knowing lily fingers.

Also, some really important questions:

1)Which of my fellow D alums are now low level associates at start-up blogs focused on shoe designers? I'm still Facebook friends with most everyone through the Class of '07, and... I don't know of any?

2) Why were these blogs not recruiting on campus when I was a D writer?

3)And do any such blogs give out free samples?

Elsewhere, we are also told that "The D is famous for penetrating its tumescence into complex phenomena, making them relatable to ordinary people" and "In short it means that Dartmouth is so full-up and satisfied by the D’s writing, satisfied deep in its paunch, like after a large breast of turkey, that no other publication can compete." To which I have no comment.

I can't find it online anymore, but there was a hilarious thread on the Little Green Blog back during the Andrew Seal era about Joe's penchant for florid Victorianisms. One of the anonymous commenters snarked that Joe would benefit from "an intervention staged by George Will and ghosts of William F. Buckley Junior and G.K. Chesterton." I couldn't help but agree. The last I read, Joe was at the Wall Street Journal: perhaps the flesh and blood versions of Peggy Noonan, John Fund, and Bret Stephens could be pressed into service? Sure, the nineteenth century dandy style can be fun on occasion. But I fear that all too often, young conservative writers who use it too heavy handedly just look like pretentious twits -- and we only wind up unnecessarily alienating the left.

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