Sound Politics and Horse's Ass are thriving on opposite sides of the aisle by digging up and dishing dirt with plenty of swagger. Each claims the other isn't a rival. And they have something else in common: a dim view of the city's two dailies. Part 1 of 3
First of three parts.
With the primary election and party conventions coming fast, we thought we'd share some of our favorite blogs to help you keep up to speed before you hit the voting booth, now and in November. Today we'll look at the most influential partisan blogs in Washington, and in coming days we'll look at other prominent political blogs, partisan and otherwise.
Whether you lean Democrat or drift Republican, there are two blogs in the Puget Sound region that stand apart — Sound Politics for the right and Horse's Ass for the left. These two blogs are virtual coke mirrors for political junkies — filled with line after line of up-to-the hour election news and coverage. You don't even have to steal your mother's jewelry to read them. Just steal your neighbor's Wi-Fi.
What makes Sound Politics and Horse's Ass so compelling? As for fairness, you can fuhgetaboutit — because you won't find it on either blog. Good writing is a different story. Both blogs are entertaining and smart (depending on whom you ask), and depending on your personal views, they may make you want to weep with joy. Or protest the government. Or go to war. Or pull your hair out. In any case, they're both worth reading before casting your ballot.
What are the odds that a conservative blog would garner a large readership in the liberal-dominated Puget Sound area? In Seattle, a town so packed with Pinkos that even the arsonists are environmentalists and selling bottled water at public events could get you blacklisted from Starbucks before you can say "I'd like organic milk with that," it would seem easy to dismiss the presence of a strong conservative grassroots. Until you factor in the conservative bloggers at Sound Politics and their monthly audience of more than 100,000 visitors.
Sound Politics is the brainchild of local blogger and conservative political junkie Stefan Sharkansky, 45, who launched the group blog just before the 2004 election cycle. His timing couldn't have been better. That November, the neck-and-neck gubernatorial race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Chris Gregoire exploded into an electoral Search for Bobby Fischer — a recount filled with mysterious political chess moves, mud-slinging, and un-dead voters. Sound Politics, meanwhile, became the place for conservatives to turn for vote-counting coverage and partisan commentary about the recount.
Gregoire was sworn into office only days after a recount revealed she won by only 133 votes. Despite plenty of coverage from The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sharkansky felt a closer analysis of the results was necessary.
"I had done some minor investigative stuff earlier, but I managed to really make my mark with the 2004 election," Sharkansky said. "My reporting took off, based on my skill set with database research — that's what was called upon to analyze computer records in the election."
After spending hundreds of hours combing voter registrations and voting records, Sharkansky dropped an electoral bombshell on Dec. 29, 2004 — just days before Gregoire was to be sworn in. The number of King County ballots counted in the final tally was 899,199 — 3,539 more than the number of participating voters reported in the county's list. The blog post sent reporters and Republicans scrambling to explain the discrepancy and assign blame. Meanwhile, local and national media ate it up.
According to a January 2005 story by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert Jamieson, the Web site was averaging more than 19,000 visits per day during the recount coverage. Sharkansky had opened the grassroots floodgates.
"Eventually people began to find me and send confidential information," he said. "They trusted me to tell the story better than professional journalists. The stuff I had dug up went into the trial about the election."
Republicans eventually contested the results of the recount in court. They lost.
But Sound Politics' coverage of the election did underscore one of the few victories for the local Right in 2004 — the beleaguered voice of the "Seattle conservative" was alive and well in the blogosphere.
"I think [Sound Politics] has a diversity of opinion that you don't get from many newspapers," Sharkansky said. "I have a blend of original reporting, commentary, and snark. We're a loosely based collective. Everyone has [his or her] own style and interests. I'd say that's partly why we're successful."
Sharkansky, however, rarely posts at Sound Politics these days. He works for a commercial Web site. "I spent a lot of time blogging, but it was time to move on," he said. "The opportunity costs were too great. I needed to earn a living."
Even without the "Shark" circling in the waters at Sound Politics, "re-elect" Rossi cries ring loud and clear at the blog.
Today, 32-year-old Eric Earling leads the blog's pack of partisan authors, typically writing several posts per day. Despite the Blue demographic in the region, Earling said finding a Red niche wasn't difficult.
"Even though this is a left-of-center area in politics overall, there certainly is a market for a more conservative point of view," Earling said. "I believe our regular readership extends well outside of Seattle, encompassing the broader Puget Sound area and to some degree the whole state. Moreover, quality and/or entertaining writing seems to have its own draw."
Entertaining political writing is often packed with partisan punches, and judging by the name of Seattle's best liberal blog, it's not difficult to imagine where the bloggers at Horse's Ass aim their jabs.
In 2003, David Goldstein created a ballot measure to proclaim local initiative king Tim Eyman a "horse's ass." The initiative never got off the ground. But Goldstein turned his campaign Web site into a blog, and Horse's Ass was born, and during the 2004 election cycle it took off, garnering thousands of readers each day.
During the 2004 gubernatorial election, Horse's Ass kept Democrats and Gregoire fans from losing hope. The blog's entertaining and continuous coverage of the recount drama created a devoted audience, one that loved the crude-but-pointed criticism by Goldstein.
Seattle Times political reporter David Postman credits Horses's Ass, along with Sound Politics, as the inspiration for him to launch his his own successful blog, Postman on Politics. And the hard work of Horse's Ass recently was recognized nationally, when the Democratic National Committee selected Goldstein to represent Washington bloggers at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
"When I started out in 2004, I couldn't get a party official to return my call; now they're inviting me to the DNCC," Goldstein said.
But the reason to read Horse's Ass, Goldstein said, isn't simply to hear the advocacy for the Left. "I'm simply a damn good read — something even many of my righty critics will admit," he said in an e-mail.
Along with its original reporting and commentary, Goldstein said, "HA is the only local liberal blog that's built on muckraking. I've always been the go-to blogger for dishing the dirt. People like dirt."
There's plenty of dirt at Horse's Ass — much of which is mixed with water and slung at state Republicans — but there's also plenty of good original reporting.
In September 2005, days after national newspapers began reporting how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had royally screwed up the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, Goldstein unleashed a disaster of his own. Only this one would eventually cost FEMA director Michael Brown his job.
A Horse's Ass reader sent him an e-mail detailing how Brown had been forced to resign from his previous job as judges and stewards commissioner for the International Arabian Horses Association. Goldstein investigated and discovered that not only had Brown been forced to resign, he had done so in the face of "mounting litigation and financial disarray." After Daily Kos, one of the Web's most popular political blogs, picked up the story, the national news media found more holes in Brown's resumé and the frenzy forced him to resign from FEMA.
Most recently, Goldstein outed Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland, a Republican, for a hushed sexual harassment settlement, a story which might cost Sutherland his job in November.
Not everything at Horse's Ass is hard-hitting journalism, nor is it knee-capping, knee-slapping commentary. For Goldstein, the bridge between seriousness and humor is worth crossing on a daily basis.
"I want to have fun with politics, yet I also want to get stuff done," he wrote in May 2004. "I want to be edgy, outspoken, and occasionally foul mouthed, and yet I want to maintain my credibility with stuffy politicos and even stuffier editorial boards. Sometimes wonkish, sometimes satirical — but always truthful — [HA] is an opportunity to speak my mind while enjoying the delusion that others actually care what I have to say. It is pure, unadulterated me."
Unadulterated is right. Goldstein once penned a post about the state Republican Party chairman titled, "Luke Esser fucks pigs." It's hilarious. It's disgusting. And it's classic Goldstein satire. As anyone would imagine, many people aren't too keen about "Goldy" and his fellow bloggers' liberal use of profanity. Four-letter posts on Horse's Ass range from referrals to the 2004 election recount ("WA voters deserve a hand job") to calling a Seattle P-I story about Dino Rossi's green campaign "Un-Fucking-Believable." But Goldstein's response to his critics, as always, is unequivocal:
"Fuck them. Really."
"One of the comments I occasionally get is something along the lines that profanity is a last resort of people who are otherwise incapable of expressing themselves ... which is, of course, a load of shit," Goldstein said. "In fact, this critique itself is nothing more than a crutch for those who can't refute me — they're essentially saying, 'Look see ... Goldy curses ... so you can dismiss everything he said.' That's just lazy rhetoric on their part. These are words. Powerful words. And like all my words, I choose them very carefully. I'm a writer."
Although Goldstein goes after Republicans with F-bombs, he doesn't consider local conservative blogs like Sound Politics as rivals. Any rivalry with the SP is "a creation of the media."
"I was happy to play my part once cast in it," Goldstein said. "You know reporters, if there's a conservative blogger there has to be a liberal blogger to balance him out, and because the capital press corps was already familiar with me ... I was the obvious choice. Stefan also (stupidly) got into a pissing match with me, again upping my profile and increasing my traffic. So I thank him."
Both Sharkansky and Earling also say they're not out to butt heads with other partisan blogs — though it's not uncommon to see either blogger speak out against Goldstein.
"I've never really considered [Horse's Ass] a rival," Sharkansky said. "I wouldn't say [Goldstein] and I are buddies, either. But we've had pleasant conversations together. I even went to Drinking Liberally once and bought a pitcher for the table. I'm more of a rival with professional reporters and media. That's why I focused much of my commentary on the P-I or Times.
If there's a news outlet both blogs agree to aim their partisan pistols toward, it's the reporting and commentary of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Sharkansky once described the paper's reporters as "hippie-dippie credulous dupes" and "useful idiots," while Sound Politics blogger Don Ward recently wrote that former P-I columnist Royal Brougham must be "rolling in his grave" over the paper's coverage of the Sonics trial. Earling also railed against the Times for its "radio silence" on Gov. Chris Gregoire's casino revenue-sharing scandal. Goldstein also tends to be especially brutal on the local dailies. Still, he says, it's about holding them to higher standard of reporting.
"I know there are folks at the Times who think I have a 'chip on my shoulder,' but if I do it is because I resent the fact that they so blithely dismiss me when I am at least as good a writer and political analyst as any columnist or editorialist on their staff," Goldstein said. "Perhaps instead of bemoaning the changing media environment, and blaming the Internet for undermining their business model, they should re-examine the quality of their own content, and consider the possibility that they might stem the steady decline in their readership, if only they offered a more compelling product."
The products of both Horse's Ass and Sound Politics, in any event, are pretty compelling for people looking for the inside scoop on state politics during the race to Nov. 4. Just don't be afraid to find sharp partisan commentary, or the big, bad F-word.
Next: The best of the rest