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A Boot Camp for Blogosphere Pundits


This fall's election will be heavily influenced by a new kind of political thinker: the blogger. Liberal bloggers gathered in Las Vegas over the weekend to hone their skills. And the convention featured workshops like Engaging Right-Wing Talk Radio, and Coming Out on Top.

Our own MORNING EDITION commentator John Ridley, always game for a Vegas trip, was on the scene.

JOHN RIDLEY reporting:

It's like some kind of Star Trek alt-universe episode. I'm in Vegas, but instead of the Night in Neon, I'm getting a gruesome howdy-do from the morning sun. I'm at the first-ever Yearly Kos, a cocktail of 21st century web logging, or blogging, and old-school seminars and training sessions. And on the first morning the Center for American Progress Pundit Project Training seminar was on order, and you know liberals make the best pundits. Both of them. So you know I had to get in on that.

Ms. NICOLE SOWAYA(ph) (Kos Event Organizer): These are the caucuses, off-limit, and I'm afraid that the training sessions as well. I mean I would say yes.

RIDLEY: You would, I know you would.

Ms. SOWAYA: But what happens is that then people come back to me and say why does she...

RIDLEY: Yeah, that's event organizer Nicole Sowaya throwing me an open field tackle deep in the bowels in the not particular swank Riviera Hotel and Casino, where Yearly Kos was being held.

Yearly Kos is an offshoot of DailyKos, the muy popular and mucho liberal blog. Petite as Vegas conventions go, Yearly Kos' thousand attendees is midgeted by the 30,000 people hitting the upcoming truck show.

But for Mike Smith, who goes by the Web handle of Macami(ph), Yearly Kos wasn't a convention, it was a happening.

Mr. MIKE SMITH (Yearly Kos Attendee): This is a pretty big deal to me. This was like my Woodstock. A lot of people feel the same way.

RIDLEY: Yeah, good for them. But I wanted into that training session so I knew who I had to hem up.

Ms. GINA COOPER (Yearly Kos attendee): Yeah, I am an average American. I'm just a teacher and these times kind of require people to, if they care, to step up and do what needs to be done.

RIDLEY: A year and a half ago Gina Cooper was a high school math and science teacher, now she's the lead organizer of Yearly Kos. Gina's example prime of what Yearly Kos is trying to do: take regular Americans with little or no experience in the public eye and boot camp them into being able to deliver a message on the Web, in person, or on camera.

Ms. COOPER: This morning, you know, I did C-Span, right? I've never done anything like that before. Never. Never done anything live, never been on TV.

RIDLEY: Now, I really dig Gina, for real. She gave me honest talk, not spin. Clearly skills they must be pimping at that gosh darn Center for American Progress Pundit Project Training Seminar, but I feel like Ann Coulter trying to sweet talk her way into a Truth in Media luncheon. Wasn't going to happen.

Can I get into one of the pundit training things? I really need - I gotta learn how to be a better pundit. Can I get in even for a minute?

Ms. COOPER: You sound like you're pretty good to me.

RIDLEY: I'm terrible. I'm holding on to my job with my fingernails.

Us being old school radio media, the jacks weren't real big on us being around. Check out my conversation - well, my attempted conversation with a blogger who goes by the handle Dark Side.

Mr. DARK SIDE (Yearly Kos Attendee): I know I'm not a very good subject. I told you, I'm frazzled, man.

RIDLEY: I know we can't record in the...

Mr. DARK SIDE: I'll find out but my caucus is very unorganized. It's just a planning session for how to put up a PowerPoint presentation. It's not going to be anything you're going to miss out on at all.

RIDLEY: Even if you tell me I'm going to be bored out of my mind, I find it fascinating.

After about 90 minutes of getting hit with chin music, I'm dying to get in a room, and if there's one thing at which I was born good, it's how to annoy people into giving me what I want.

I just want to find out if I can, if we're not recording, can I go in and listen to a little bit of one of the caucuses?

Unidentified Woman: Don't record, just walk in.


Goal! I'm in! What exactly were they teaching in the pundit project training? Punditry. You know, how to be pithy. How to sneak in urbanisms for the wanksters. How to stay on point if a certain Fox News attack poodle were to go at your jugular.

Basically a lot of the one-on-one stuff you'd expect on the first day of a new convention. So was it worth getting up at the crack of dawn to try and get into the joint? To Mike Smith, a.k.a. Macami, yeah, it was.

Mr. SMITH: Unlike Woodstock, this isn't a chance for us to sort of cut loose, but this is a chance for us to come together and maybe create a confluence of events that will charge the generation into a new spawn of activity.

RIDLEY: No cutting loose? In Vegas? Right. Well, good luck with that. Personally I'd rather be at the convention for objectivist commentators held well after dark in the baccarat lounge at the Bellagio. Cheers.

INSKEEP: Commentary from John Ridley, pundit in training, also known as a writer and director. His new graphic novel series in The American Way.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ridley