Quite some time ago, Virginia Postrel wrote up what I call the Devil's Guide to Webmanship:
Dynamist.com: The Scene (vpostrel.com) for week of 5/20/02: ...FACTS OF LIFE: Eric Olsen at Tres Producers has raised a minor ruckus by noticing that Andrew Sullivan almost never links to other bloggers and generally fails to give credit where it's due. Eric might have also noted that Andrew is the rare blogger who never identifies readers who send him letters, regardless of what those readers might wish. (Obviously, some would prefer to be anonymous. But they're almost certainly a minority.) A single byline keeps the focus on the Main Man. It's a savvy media strategy.
This is the way the professional media world is. You become prominent, first and foremost, by knowing the right people and then, secondarily, by attacking or crediting people more prominent than yourself. (They stay prominent by not responding to you by name, a tactic well-honed by neocon intellectuals who almost never identify, much less quote, the objects of their criticism. Exhibit A: Francis Fukuyama.) If you must mention someone less prominent than you are, make sure it is someone much less well known, so you can be recognized for your wide reading or noblesse oblige.
In short: Promote your friends. Mention your (more famous) mentors. But don't be a fool. There is no career-enhancing reason ever to cite someone who might prove a competitor, make a cogent argument against you, or get credit for an idea you could have claimed. Andrew Sullivan is so good at this strategy that he probably doesn't even realize he's following it. (Maybe it's in the water at Harvard or TNR. Then how do you explain Mickey Kaus? He doesn't do this stuff.--ed. Mickey's a mutant whose nice-guy genes will eventually ruin his career.) I can't fault a talented writer who plays by the rules, and that's what Andrew does, brilliantly. [Posted 5/21.]
I am reminded of this because David Horowitz--rapscallion, cheat, liar, cad, and bounder--has decided to attack Josh Marshall. Congratulations, Josh! It's one more sign that you've arrived--become one of the "more prominent" whom one can raise one's reputation by attacking.
This is an odd situation to be in. If you were engaged in some approximation to a Habermasian speech situation--if there were some exchange of ideas, or some advance of knowledge, or some process of mutual enlightenment going on, then following the advice of the Devil's Guide to Webmanship would be, of course, immoral. But that's not the business Horowitz is in, is it? So I think Virginia's advice is worth taking...Posted by DeLong at March 19, 2003 08:12 AM | TrackBack