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June 17, 2004

Of Carnival Barkers and Shills

Allah disagrees with my characterization of Sullivan as a shill. The Shrill Shill, actually, in my Dowd-esque cutesey name-calling style.

He is a shill. He's the very definition of a shill.

A shill is someone who pretends to be an independent passer-by but who in fact is working for the house (or the carnival, or the three-card-monte table, or the Miracle Elixer stagecoach).

Falsely claiming to have no affiliation with the house, he encourages his audience to play or buy.

Everyone knows the carnival barker is an interested party; that's why no one much believes the carnival barker. He's honest and upfront about his interests, but that honesty diminishes his credibility.

The shill, on the other hand, has increased credibility, but only because he's dishonest about his interests.

Sullivan has been slamming Bush and promoting Kerry for a half-year under the guise of being a disinterested, independent party.

That's shilling.

Me? I'm a carnival barker. You all know where I'm coming from. I haven't precisely disguised the fact that I'm a pro-Bush partisan. Now, you all can and should discount my carny-barking because you know that I have a clear and announced interest in these matters.

Heck, I even lampoon myself for that on occasion.

But Sullivan hid his interests from his readers. For precisely the same reasons that a house's shill does.

Spooky Action at a Distance Update: Jeremy spoke in class today, and he tips me to this weirdly synchronicitous Hugh Hewitt piece in which he discusses, get this, deliberate deception in the blog world, to wit, posing as a partisan for one side while secretly working for the other:

Similarly, the inevitable backstab blog has to be on some political consultant's mind. Get it started and growing as a pro candidate X blog. Build an audience via tried and true techniques --including the purchase of blog-ads-- and then, late in a campaign, have the blog turn on candidate X. If any of the high profile lefties at work today--the Daily Kos or Atrios, for example--were to suddenly turn on Kerry, citing implausibility fatigue, for example--that would be news and a blow to Kerry. Could Kos really be working for Rove? The costs of starting a blog are so low that the mischief potential is quite high.


Kinda weird.


I also note the harsh reality that, while Sullivan wrote in the Advocate that his flip was entirely attributable to Bush's support of the FMA, Sullivan's blog has been increasingly hyping problems in Iraq. In other words, it looks like he's building up a pretext.

-- from Strange Women Lying in Ponds

Update: It occurs to me that some of my readers might not have grown up in the colorful world of carny-folk, hobos, and grifters, as I did.

I don't know if everyone knows the original meaning of "shill," but it's this:

The shill is the "independent stranger" who walks up to a three-card-monte table and "wins" three out of three times, declaring "That's easy!" as he walks away with all the money he just won. And then the patsies come to the table and suddenly find that it's actually very difficult to win.

In a con, he's the "inside man," the guy who poses as an ally of the mark, when of course he's working against the mark with the other conmen.

A shill is a con-man working for the house. He's a con-man because he doesn't tell you he's working for the house. He pretends to be just an average joe, just like you, who just keeps getting super-lucky at faro or roulette or who, perhaps, found that the Miracle Elixer the huckster is selling cured him of tuberculosis. He encourages you to play or buy in order to enrich the house.

That's the sense I mean the world "shill" in, not the broader secondary definition of a pitchman for some business or cause.

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posted by Ace at 02:49 PM

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