Are Left-leaning Bloggers Ready for Their Close-up?

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Las Vegas has a slightly tinny feel, a bitter metallic tang that stems partially from the heat, partially from the over-oxygenated air, and partially from the constant assault of temptation. Gamble, drink, dance, ogle — if it seems even slightly lascivious, there's an ad for it on some flat surface somewhere and, of course, a place to engage in it not too far away. But today at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, most of the available laps are occupied by computers, not dancers, and I hear someone mention drugs exactly once, and even then it is followed by the word "policy."

As home to the Yearly Kos convention — a near-thousand-strong gathering of progressive bloggers and the reporters who love them — the Riviera has become a three-day oasis of earnest activism amidst a landscape of sin. Not that the Riviera holds much temptation itself. Concurrently hosting the American Cue Sports convention in addition to Yearly Kos, the "Riv" is a rambling, mirrored box wreathed in antiquated neon with a Las Vegas address but a distinctly Reno ambiance. Inside the conference facility, the faded carpet is nubby with wear, the mirrors that line the halls are dim and pock-marked, and fluorescent lights cast green shadows onto the face of a lonely security guard who sits in a desk chair, eating Doritos.

But I don't think anyone notices the shopworn decor — or the security guard, for that matter. The attendees who aren't folded into dank basement conference rooms have their noses shoved into laptops; about every ten steps or so in the hallways one has to avoid tripping over the legs of someone who has plonked down on the floor and commenced blogging in situ. The shabbiness of the surroundings underscores the diligent purpose of the event, at least for now.

Thursday morning's sessions are a potpourri of workshops intended to get desk jockeys out from behind their usernames and into real-life door-knocking. They carry such titles as "From Computer Screens to the Streets: Turning Online Activism to Tangible Offline Action" and "Down Ballot Online Organizing," and to judge from my darting stopovers, they are exactly as exciting as they sound, at least to my jaded ear, but those in the sessions are attentive and enthusiastic, practically bursting with anticipation at the creation of a left-wing political machine. Only people new to organizing could get excited about the prospect of learning how to fill out fundraising expenditure forms.

The crowd is older and more professional than coverage of the blogosphere might lead one to expect. In the session on recruiting progressive candidates for local office, there's an ER doctor, an AIDS activist, a high-school teacher and a representative from the Organic Consumers Association. There are some that conform to type: thirtyish and pale, sloppily dressed and bleary-eyed. Those are the journalists. There are a lot of them. One organizer put the ratio of conference-goers to reporters at eight to one, which seemed high until I visited one workshop that managed to score drive-bys from the Chicago Tribune, the National Review, the Weekly Standard, Salon, The New Republic and the American Prospect. At one point the room held more representatives from the New York Times (three) than workshop leaders (two).

What were they so interested in? Media training — a testament to the narcissism of the profession, perhaps. The workshop culminated in mock TV interviews of newly minted pundits. The interrogations were suitably aggressive — the let's-pretend network must have been Fox News — though only a few newbie talking heads were rattled. One gentleman who came forward to playact a Q&A on the war in Iraq was asked if the recent capture and killing of terrorist al-Zarqawi showed that the Bush war was, in fact, working. Reviewing the tape afterwards, one of the workshop leaders complimented him on his quick recovery. He allowed that the feat was all the more impressive considering that he didn't even know Zarqawi was dead until he was asked about it just then.

A workshop leader turned the awkward admission into a teachable moment, noting that it's usually a good idea, right before you go on TV, to check the latest headlines, adding, "Of course, you obviously didn't have a chance to do that, because you're at the Riviera."

Tomorrow: Famous-for-the-blogosphere celebrity sightings and how to succeed in right-wing radio without really trying.