The Gadfly: What Digby Says
Stop anyone on the street, and they’ll know of Arianna Huffington—and she’s glad they do. But the Left’s second most influential blogger prefers anonymity.
“Digby” prolifically pumps out her dispatches from the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, a few miles from Huffington’s West Coast office. Her writing gives no gender clues, she comes off like a vengeful prosecutor—and the logo on her otherwise bare-bones site, which she calls Hullabaloo (digbysblog.blogspot.com), shows a screaming Howard Beale in a classic scene from Network.
Digby doesn’t care about marketing her brand. Ever since she started blogging in 2002, progressive smarties considered her the first and last word on almost every administration outrage. This election season, it is routine on many political Websites to find a headline and, under it, three words: What Digby Said. And then a link sends you to the latest of Digby’s passionate but meticulously researched screeds.
Last year, after Digby stepped front and center to accept the coveted Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award on behalf of progressive bloggers everywhere, her speech was slapped up on YouTube, and devoted readers were stunned to learn Digby was not an angry young man but, in fact, an ironic, round-faced woman. One who, after the appearance, quickly retreated from the spotlight. And now, in one small step for blogging but a giant one for Digby, the writer has consented to come out of hiding for her first print Q&A.I interviewed her via email at her secure location—which, of course, shall remain undisclosed.
JESSE KORNBLUTH: Can you tell us anything about yourself?
DIGBY: I’m a married, middle-aged woman who spent many years toiling in the entertainment industry.
How did you get from Hollywood to Blogland?
Simple. President Clinton’s impeachment and the 2000 election. It was either blog or put my foot through the TV.
If blogging didn’t exist, what would you be doing now?
Probably writing those repetitive letters to the editor where the handwriting runs off the margin.
Why call your site Hullabaloo?
Because one function of blogs is to cause a ruckus.
What’s your point in showing Howard Beale in full rant? Do you identify?
It’s in this line from Network: “You dress like the tube. You eat like the tube...You even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs. In God’s name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion.”
Why do you blog anonymously?
I’m extremely private. And I feel my ideas should stand on their own without the authority (or lack thereof) of my own story.
But with one appearance, you lost some of the mystique. Was that a mistake?
My lack of gender identity precluded some of the online sexism, derision and rudeness that are so common for women writers. I’ve since been schooled in the phenomenon.
You weren’t raised as a liberal. You once wrote, “Nobody could get my dad frothing like the Kennedys—Teddy especially.” What changed?
Nothing. My family argued politics all the time. My older brother and I were always the liberals. That was fairly common among baby boomers—in those days, the culture war was fought at the dinner table.
You hammer at the “videogame cowboys” of the Bush Administration and its neocon advisers. What is it with these men?
They really believed Nixon’s theory of an imperial presidency was correct and that every foreign-policy challenge could be jammed into their Cold War worldview. I always write, “They have been wrong about everything.”
Do you have a problem with men?
Until a year or so ago, most people thought I was a man. I usually tell them I don’t have a problem with men, just them personally.
You write warmly about female bloggers, but you’ve been withering on mainstream women columnists. Maureen Dowd, Peggy Noonan—what’s their problem?
They’re good writers, but each fetishizes certain shallow, adolescent gender myths that present conservative politicians as swashbuckling masculine archetypes and liberal politicians as subservient females.
What if a big paper offered you a column?
I would be shocked. I doubt I would accept. My outsider status is something I value.
Year after year, you have chronicled what you consider a rogue, un-American administration. What are your anger-management strategies? Or do you froth?
I froth. Being able to connect with others has refocused my anger in a positive direction. But I still yell at the TV.
Pundits who initially supported the Iraq War now say, “Back then, I didn’t believe my government would lie to me.” Why did progressive bloggers like you oppose the war from the start?
I’ve been alive long enough to know mommy and daddy aren’t perfect, not to mention Nixon and Reagan. Of course governments lie. But in this case, it was obvious. The neocons had been telegraphing their intention to invade Iraq for years, hoping for a Pearl Harbor-style pretext. It wasn’t a hard call.
You’ve reserved a special place in blog hell for “the Village,” a media establishment you’ve said functions largely as a megaphone for the government.
I’m the one who coined that phrase. During the Lewinsky scandal, Sally Quinn wrote in the Washington Post that her “town” had been besmirched by Clinton’s extramarital affair. The essence of the Village critique is this faux provincialism of wealthy politicians and multimillionaire celebrity pundits-and the ridiculous conceit that they stand for the values of “real Americans.”
In all of your media consumption, do you have a guilty pleasure?
Perez Hilton. Gotta know what’s up with Brangelina or be kicked out of the Westside.
If you were invited to appear on O’Reilly or Hannity, would you do it?
No. I’m a big believer in marginalizing the phony right-wing media. I wish all liberals would refuse to appear with them.
Do you think your blog is making a difference—that is, shaping opinions of the undecided or, miraculously, the Right? Or are you really just singing to the choir?
Mostly singing to the choir. But there’s value in that, too. I’m trying to get people to believe in liberalism again. And I think giving them the tools to make the progressive argument at the dinner table or water cooler may have some effect on those who aren’t informed or committed.
You’ve said the goal of the movement you identify with is to “take back America.” If you had to settle for one victory—
Universal health care. It will restore people’s faith in government by tangibly improving their lives. That’s exactly why the Right is so afraid of it.
What could Sarah Palin do to win your endorsement?
I went to high school in Alaska and met my husband there, so I do feel a bit of kinship with Palin. But she’d have to disavow every political stand she’s ever taken, denounce McCain, quit the Republican party and become a pro-choice advocate for me to endorse her. I do enthusiastically endorse Alaskan king salmon.
How would an Obama presidency change your daily activity?
It will be busier. I’m a progressive activist, so I expect I’ll have to work hard to make sure the Obama administration and the Democratic majority, as Molly Ivins would have said, “dance with the ones that brung ‘em.” The Village can turn the most energetic change agents into stagnant puddles of inertia very quickly. It’s our job to keep roiling the waters.
And a McCain presidency?
I’d immediately start working on a Santa Monica secession movement.
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