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).

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5 thoughts on “An email discussion with Michael Totten”

  1. I still think Totten is among, if not the, most honest of the embedded war bloggers. Anyone who admits right up front their observation bias, and other limitations of a “trees view” is, in my mind, a reliable source… for what they see. Unlike most of the others I’ve read (from Malkin to Roggio), Totten has remained ambivalent about the success of the Surge as a strategic matter; while at the same time it’s difficult to see the lowered levels of violence as anything other than a relief to the soldiers on the ground.

    I’m curious about something, though. Every soldier he interviews has a name and a hometown. The Iraqis tend to be… just, Iraqis. A policeman. A boy on the street. A translator. And so on. I realize things are difficult in a war zone, especially working through translators, but what does this say about how viewpoints stateside are shaped, when only soldiers have names?

  2. My experience is that people that approach the web (including blogging), with well developed knowledge, analytic and knowledge gaining skills, etc, can find it extremely useful.

    The other day I has to refresh my mind about chi-squared tests (relating to Benford tests), instead of (as I did in the past) grab one of my books I just googled it, problem solved. Nice. But I knew what I wanted and had a keen bulls***t detector.

    Blogging, in the best sense, is very much like my upbringing in a Celtic society. Where ‘solving the problems of the world’ over a few (many) pints of beer is an established form of social intercourse. [One of reasons why the Celtic societies are so smart I surmise)]

    Intellectual discourse is one of the great pleasures of life. To learn, discuss, debate. Great stuff. Read the old masters (in all areas, art, literature, science, etc) debate was one of the key elements of their life.

    We went to sleep as societies a while back, perhaps the internet (and blogs) has given us back the ability to argue into the ‘wee small hours of the morning’ again, which, in my vierw, is an essential element of a civilised society.

    Yes there are the ignorant, the ranters, the fools, the ‘people with agendas’ .. but people communicating is too the good, debate is good, argument is good. No one has the monopoly of the Truth (much as some Govts want to have it), only by discourse can we get a ‘glimpse of the elephant’.

  3. I’m sorry Michael didn’t link to you, (or I didn’t see it).

    He just changed his blog name to:
    Michael J. Totten.

    My own blog DOES have over a hundred links to Michael’s stuff, since I first read him in 2003, just around the time Blix in Feb. was not confirming that Saddam met all conditions of UNSC 1441.

    Funny how Joshua Foust likes him here, but insults him when he goes to Georgia.

    Not only do I think Michael is honest, I think he’s a better ‘writer’ than Bill Roggio or Michael Yon. Or you, or me. Or anybody writing a blog, actually. I keep looking, tho.

  4. You’ve touched on the false reporting, Zionist propaganda of Michael J. Totten – remember me, Michael?(“Are you calling me a liar?”, ME(“Yes I am”).

    It’s not a surprise he’s working for the WSJ or NYT or any other ‘neoconservative'(Zionist) rag…

    His job was to ‘inform’ Americans that killing over a mlllion Iraqs and destroying the country was a good thing(For Israel).

    He’s a treasonous scumbag – and he knows it. But Israel or Zionist Americans were paying his way – I promise..

    1. I often disagree with Totten, but always have respected his work and opinions. Can you support your serious charges, or this is just typical internet slander? Otherwise it will be deleted, as violation of the Comment Policy.

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