An email discussion with Michael Totten
Michael Totten kindly responded to my post A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten. I have reformatted our email exchange into an interview format, posted with his permission.
MJT: I heartily agree that my older work is a lot more simplistic than what I write now. I didn’t jump from blogger to journalist based on those old posts you reference, but from my reports in the field. I don’t know what your point is in the piece you just wrote, but it reminded me of how much I have grown and why I wanted to get away from armchair commentary in the first place.
FM: This is a series on how we got here in the war — especially about how we get information on the war from bloggers. The role of the bloggers has been a focus of mine this year, such as the recent posts about Basra and before that about the ”cut cable crisis” (here and here). I picked an early period in your work to avoid confusion with your reporting from Iraq. Also, (as you note) these posts had a clear theme and viewpoint. Another advantage of examing older work: time gives us more perspective.
How do you see your influence on the American public during this period?
MJT: I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I had any impact whatsoever on whether the U.S. went to war in Iraq. The invasion surely would have happened if I didn’t exist, or if I wrote anti-war articles instead.
FM: While I agree with you regarding the decision to go to war, I think you are too modest about events since then. I suspect that war bloggers have affected American public opinion, and you are a major figure in this phenomenon. Instapundit alone posted hundreds many links to your posts during this period (hundreds in total, not during the sample period).
What would you change, if you had access to a “way-back” machine?
MJT: If I had a way-back machine, I would change lots of things. I wish I knew as much about Iraq then as I do now. I would have written very differently — more ambivalently — about it all if I had. Hopefully we’ve all learned a lot about Iraq in the meantime. T hat goes five-fold for me because I’ve actually *been* to Iraq five time since I wrote anything that you quoted above. I’m considering writing my own series about what I got wrong about the Iraq war, but I have to get caught up on my original reporting first.
FM: As war bloggers influence appears to be increasing, your collective effect on the future course of the war likely will be even larger. Public opinion has been decisive in many wars. The American Revolution (on both sides) and the Vietnam War (American public opinion) are two clear examples. War blogging is a new phenomenon, and has received little analysis so far. This series is a small step towards understanding its potential contributions.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information on this topic
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008) — Some theories why after 5 years we still debate basic things about the Iraq War.
- War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
- More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008) – Contrast the war bloggers’ reports with those of some experts.
- A rebuttal to “War Porn” (it takes 2 sides to have a discussion) (29 March 2008) — Someone writes a defense of the war bloggers, and my reply.
- A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
- Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War — my articles, and links to several by Niall Ferguson.
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq