Daily Kos: Markos Moulitsas's website changed politics

Netroots Nation comes to Minneapolis

In a faded casino in Las Vegas, venerable New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd zeroed in on a man she'd decided would be the topic of her next column.

The man, a baby-faced political blogger with darting brown eyes, faced a volley of questions from Dowd: What future did he envision for old-school journos like herself? What did he make of the fact that after only two years of blogging at Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox had just landed a gig at Time magazine?

As the man answered each question, Dowd's assistant took notes on a laptop.

Markos Moulitsas, founder of Dailykos.com
courtesy of Kos Media
Markos Moulitsas, founder of Dailykos.com
Howard Dean was the darling of Daily Kos before his ill-advised scream
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Howard Dean was the darling of Daily Kos before his ill-advised scream

Once satisfied, Dowd whisked down the garishly carpeted hallways and disappeared into a crowd of people wearing orange lanyards marked "YearlyKos Convention."

A short time later, when another reporter asked what it had been like to be the singular focus of the best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner's attention, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga was blunt in his assessment.

"Maureen Dowd," Moulitsas said, "is an insecure, catty bitch."

Moulitsas is not the type to mince words. It is his army nickname, "Kos," that is splashed across every balloon, tote bag, and lanyard at the conference, which had grown out of his influential political blog, www.DailyKos.com.

His fellow bloggers weren't there to kiss the ring of old-media celebs; they were checking nametags for the internet handles of fellow Daily Kos comrades: "pontificator," "Meteor Blades," "mcjoan," "dday." Until today, even their most ardent fans had no idea what they looked like.

Despite the crappy hotel, the fact that few of the workshop presenters had ever spoken in public, and the horror of learning at the last minute that the Riviera Casino had no Wi-fi, the event had drawn over 1,000 bloggers from all over the country. The media and politicians followed—Harry Reid delivered the keynote, and by day three, 147 journalists roamed the halls with cameras and microphones.

So it stood to reason that Moulitsas felt ballsy enough to spark a feud with one of the biggest names in the building. It was also his calling card: Many of the Daily Kos regulars who shook his hand for the first time that weekend agreed that "kos" the internet entity and Moulitsas the man were one and the same: acerbic, irascible, unapologetic.

Even five years later, as the sixth annual conference is set to descend on the Minneapolis Convention Center on June 16, Moulitsas expresses few regrets. He should not, he concedes, have called Dowd a "bitch." But, he adds, "she was catty and definitely insecure."

Her problem, Moulitsas argues, and the problem of many of the mainstream media writers who peeked behind the blogosphere curtain for the first time in that Las Vegas casino, was that she was too shortsighted to see the big picture.

"She's threatened," Moulitsas says. "She was trying figure out what her job security was. The political reporters, this was them trying to grapple with how credible and how serious this movement was."

   

IN 1999, THE YEAR President Bill Clinton faced impeachment, a computer programmer used the word "blog" as a verb for the first time.

It was also the same year that LiveJournal and Blogger went online, giving people with no understanding of computer code the opportunity to create their own online diaries.

In 2001, a week before al Qaeda operatives flew two planes into the Twin Towers, another blogging platform, called Movable Type, flickered to life.

In the ensuing chaos after 9/11, criticism of President Bush fell to a hushed whisper within mainstream media. Meanwhile, a small ecosystem of bloggers began to form online, where they confessed their misgivings about the impending war and general mistrust for the Republicans running the country.

A few of those blogs rose to prominence at a time when a couple of thousand hits per post was still considered a huge success: Talking Points Memo, MyDD, and Atrios. Anonymity was, at the time, a valued commodity.

"It was a time when being vocally liberal tended to really anger people," says Duncan Black, a.k.a. Atrios. "Part of the reason for being anonymous was minor concern for safety."

As the blogs increased in popularity, their influence began to carry over to real life. They began to break news themselves. They raised massive sums for Democratic candidates. They selected their own candidates.

As the bloggers became increasingly organized, the new kingmakers sought to push their progressive agenda—to elect, as Moulitsas likes to say, "more and better Democrats." This special brand of loosely organized, internet-centric activism became known as the "netroots."

"They challenged the party with not only new ways of doing politics but new people demanding participation in politics," says Jay Rosen, a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. "It altered the number of people you have to pay attention to, and that was a very important thing. Now we take it for granted."

  

WHEN MOULITSAS WAS A nine-year-old boy living in civil war-torn El Salvador, his parents received a strange envelope in the mail.

Inside were photos of Moulitsas and his brother being driven to their grandmother's, and getting on and off the school bus.

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