The Unknown Blogger
At the bar of Marathon on the Square, a quiet man in a gray turtleneck sweater sips a martini. It's the night of the Iowa caucuses, and a gaggle of Philly media and political types is watching the returns on a large TV screen. By Philadelphia standards, it's a solid B-list party — reporters, mayoral spinners, admen. But the most powerful person in the room may be the man in the turtleneck sweater. And no one knows who the hell he is.
There are two reasons for this. One: Turtleneck is an Internet-only celebrity. He runs a hugely influential website called “Eschaton,” at atrios.blogspot.com. It's a “blog” — a sort of news junkie's online diary. He started the site back in April 2002, because “it's better than yelling at the TV set,” he says. These days, he says, 40,000 viewers visit Eschaton every day, including bigwigs like columnist Michelangelo Signorile and New York Times attack pundit Paul Krugman.
The second reason for Turtleneck's low profile is way sexier: He's anonymous. He posts under the nom de 'net “Atrios.” That's mostly because he has a “public job” in “education,” he says, vaguely. “Anytime there's a headline — ‘Teacher does X' … ” he says, trailing off.
So here's what I can tell you about Atrios. He's a college-educated white man of average height and build. He looks about 30, maybe 35. He lives in Center City Philadelphia with his wife (no kids), and he works in the suburbs. Atrios describes his parents as “idiosyncratic socialists,” and smiles. None of this is really surprising, given the smart chunklets of anti-GOP rhetoric that Atrios uploads to his site several times a day.
What is surprising, given the site's belligerence — Atrios recently called a group of GOP operatives “bigoted assholed bastard fuckheads” — is that in person, he couldn't be shyer. “I'm a nice guy,” he says, leaning back and smiling. “I don't pick fights.”
Tell that to Trent Lott, who succumbed to the flames of a scandal that was fanned in large part by Atrios and a few other bloggers. Tell that to Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, who — when he lamely tried to smear gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson — was outed by Signorile and Atrios as a board member of a conservative Episcopalian group. Atrios specializes in scoops that reporters should be digging up but don't.
At some point, Atrios says, he'd like to work in politics or the mainstream media, but meanwhile, he's doing fine with the blog. The problem is the stress of staying anonymous — even his parents aren't clued in. “Frankly,” he says, “I'm getting kind of sick of it.” If he gets a new job, he may start posting under his real name. For tonight, though, he's just a guy with a martini, shaking his head in amazement along with the rest of us as we watch John Kerry win Iowa.