I’m going to ask you to suspend disbelief for a few minutes. Read what I have to say, click on at least some of the links, and consider what I’m saying with a fresh mind.
Malcolm Gladwell has made quite a name for himself. His mother was a social psychologist, presumably instilling in him an interest in social dynamics, because it's on the topic of social dynamics - more specifically attitude change - that he's had his greatest publishing success, writing best-selling books such as Blink and The Tipping Point. These days, he's a staff writer at The New Yorker.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses cultural memes at some length - a term I believe was originally coined by Richard Dawkins. Memes are cultural beliefs that one might consider contagious, and are modeled along the same lines and biological constructs. We transmit them to each other (and they tend to evolve), and we use to make a unified sense of the world in a social context. They are closely related to the concept of framing, which I suppose you might consider a special type of proto-meme. (This is not a specialty area of mine, so forgive me if I mash up some of the details.)
Framing is an issue with broad application in the field of politics - in fact, there was an attempt recently to develop a liberal think tank devoted to framing issues - something to counteract the work of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (click on that second link and you'll see an article authored by Ann Applebaum - a name that should sound familiar, and not the only Slate writer with links to the organization) - both conservative think tanks who've already been active in developing frames to be utilized in political discourse.
It goes without saying that politics is an avid interest for Weisberg, and judging by the relative slant in coverage on Slate (and there are perhaps other indications), it's reasonable to assume he is a fan of Barack Obama. The question is whether or not Weisberg, with the technical assistance of Gladwell, is also a political activist.
It's surprising, to an outside observer like myself, that Hillary Clinton did not pick up more steam as the American feminist's candidate of choice - there is certainly precedent. Also surprising has been the majority of the content of the XX-factor blog - a blog one might expect would cover issues from a feminist perspective, but whose coverage has been anything but - even from (previously, in my case) well-respected writers such as Dahlia Lithwick.
So the conspiracy is this: the XX-factor blog was created deliberately to counteract a cultural meme - that of Hillary, as the champion of women. If so, judging by a startling (for an ostensibly liberal site) number of posts on the XX-factor fray, I'd say it's been a very successful project. Remember - this was a very close race, and memes can be powerful agents of attitude change in a population.
So if I was correct, what kind of conspiracy is it? Is it the vast right-wing conspiracy previously alluded to by Clinton, and associated with the conservative groups we know are affiliated with some Slate contributors? Or would this be motivated by liberal concerns, perhaps associated with groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, or Moveon.org.
You've got me - this is as far as I can go. Well, except to note a couple of other puzzling things (perhaps to entertain Apollonius, if he happens to be around).
George Soros is a billionaire philanthropist who provided substantial funding for the Center for American Progress, Moveon.org, and who is rumored (though he denies it) to have funded Media Matters through the Democracy Alliance or The Progressive Media Project) as well. He has been one of the primary financial backers for Democratic candidates for a number of years. Though he's been a supporter of the Clintons in the past, this year he's backed Obama - and remember, he's cozy with Moveon.org - Howard Dean's grassroots organization, which represents the now-dominant faction in the Democratic party - victors in the philosophical dispute with the Clintonistas.
Did I happen to mention that, in addition to providing substantial funding for Obama, that Soros has been a chief contributor to McCain as well? Or that he was allegedly a prime mover in the passage of the McCain-Feingold act, which makes it easier for him to wield political influence relatively unimpeded, through his media organizations (and which apparently served to alienate McCain from conservative elements of the Republican party)?
Oh, and as a last aside, did I mention that Malcolm Gladwell is an opponent of nationalized health care? Just sayin'.
I feel a little like Homer Simpson; "Aliens, bio-duplication, nude conspiracies... Oh my God! Lyndon LaRouche was right!" It's a novel feeling - I've never been a fan of conspiracy theories.
However, the idea of a coordinated media campaign in support of a single candidate is not farfetched, and the implausible character of the XX-factor blog, on it's own, begs for rational explanation.
Well that’s it. If you find this argument compelling, feel free to repost elsewhere. Please. (Though attributed to me, if you would.) If not, I hope you found it entertaining reading. But if I am right, then the only antidote I know for such manipulation is inoculation. As sympathetic to a political cause as I might be, there is a world of difference between framing taxes as an expression of social responsibility, and using sexist language to undermine the credibility of the first female candidate with a legitimate chance of winning the Democratic nomination. I find such tactics reprehensible – regardless of who they are used against.Cross-posted to Best of the Fray, Fraywatch, and the XX-factor blog.