Theodore Hamm’s The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics is an interesting–and potentially inspiring–examination of the progressive media that has risen over the past several years in opposition to the Bush Administration. In the book, journalist Theodore Hamm explores several prominent progressive media outlets and media figures–The Onion, Air America, Michel Moore, MoveOn.org, the liberal blogosphere, and The Daily Show/Colbert Report–to discuss how they have provided a critical response to the Bush administration.
In the introduction, Hamm frames this opposition in terms of the failings of the corporate media, which he describes as having either endorsed the policies of the Bush administration or silenced progressive voices. He further places the rise of “the New Blue Media” in a larger historical context, briefly mentioning the history of progressive media in the United States.
Each chapter in the book functions as an exploration of a specific media outlet. Throughout, Hamm makes a number of interesting observations. Much of the time, these are made possible by his willingness to be critical. Hamm does not simply write on the state of “the New Blue Media” or praise its creation, instead, he is willing to make criticisms where necessary. For example, in his evaluation of Air America he is highly critical of Al Franken and his support for the Iraq War. Indeed, this is a familiar theme throughout the book, with Hamm being critical of media that simply echoes the partisan line. Hamm is quick to point out the problems that happen when “the New Blue Media” becomes cheerleaders for the Democratic Party, as MoveOn.org did with Kerry in 2004. He is also keenly aware of the potential problems if “the New Blue Media” becomes too entrenched in the Democratic Party establishment. Still, despite its criticisms, “the New Blue Media” also tells of a number of victories, from the blogosphere’s role in electing progressive politicians to the Democratic Party’s recognition of “the netroots.”
Of course, while the book couldn’t possibly address it because of its publication in May of this year, the next several months is probably going to be one of the most interesting times to watch “the New Blue Media.” So much of this media has been built on opposition to the Bush administration that it is very hard to predict how the media will respond to the Obama administration. Will it continue to function as critical, oppositional media or will it become a simple conduit for the Obama administration? Will it act as a means of applying pressure from the left on Obama? At this point–admittedly quite early–the online progressive media has taken a relatively hands off approach to Obama, perhaps waiting for him to get in office. Aside from a few pieces and voices critical of the most obvious Obama appointees, much of the online media has been quite celebratory. Over the next several months, it will be an interesting to see if “the New Blue Media” retains its independence or becomes part of the Democratic Party establishment, much like the so-called Republican “noise machine.”
Overall, The New Blue Media is an excellent book that addresses an important component of the liberal and progressive activism and politics that has arisen in opposition to the Bush administration. Moreover, by looking back on how the “New Blue Media” has functioned over the past several years, it can help us assess its strengths and weaknesses as the country enters a new Democratic period of governance. The New Blue Media should be on the reading list of anyone seeking progressive social change, especially those who are hoping to pursue such change either by working within or with the Democratic Party.
Theodore Hamm, The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics, (The New Press, 2008).