The New Blue Media

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Theodore Hamm, The New Press, £14.99

The premise of this interesting book is that the US political landscape has been transformed by the rise of progressive media figures like Michael Moore and Jon Stewart and innovative online sites like MoveOn.org and the Daily Kos. Motivated in particular by a fierce opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, this "new blue media" (blue, in the US context, refers to Democrats; red to Republicans) has helped to carve out a significant space in US political culture. Here an alternative to the neocons could be discussed and organised - often in a populist and self-consciously entertaining way.

Hamm maps out the personalities, programmes and politics that account for this progressive upsurge - from the satirical magazine The Onion to the controversy around Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

All these initiatives deserve to be taken seriously: Fahrenheit 9/11 was seen by tens of millions of people while MoveOn.org has not only raised millions of dollars for anti-war candidates but has actually played a major role in galvanising local politics (organising, for example, regular rush hour anti-war protests in communities all over the US).

Hamm is also clear about the contradictions and limits of the new blue media's politics. Partly this is because of maverick political positions like Michael Moore's support in the 2004 primaries for Wesley Clark, the former Republican and general who led US troops in Kosovo. More significantly, however, for all their genuine opposition to the Iraq war and their hatred of George Bush, their attempts to drum up support have been undermined by their continuing support for the Democrats.

Although leading blue media figures are consistently to the left of the party and sometimes overtly hostile to the pro-corporate figures in its leadership, their appeal to party unity and, in particular, to "anybody but Bush" rhetoric at election times (which, in the US electoral cycle, is most of the time) has blunted and confused their message.

Indeed, Hamm suggests that the progressive campaigners, bloggers and media personalities who make up the new blue media articulate popular anger against the war and neocon policies but simultaneously channel it into the Democrats' electoral machinery. For example, Hamm argues that MoveOn.org was formed in direct response to the more radical anti-war group, Answer, and that its campaigning "helped placate the large anti-war constituency in the Democrats' activist base". This was done at the same time as providing much of the finance and legwork for the campaigns of people like John Kerry who never meaningfully opposed the war.

Although Hamm never fully assesses the politics of the new blue media's leading figures, he makes a convincing case that for all their humour, energy and creativity, as long as they continue to be "water carriers" for the Democrats, their aims of social justice are not likely to be realised.


Des Freedman is the author of the recently published The Politics of Media Policy