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The Partisan

He’s a Blogger on a Mission

by Tricia Brick

Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga Photograph by Don Hajicek
  Markos Moulitsas Zúniga Photograph by Don Hajicek

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga remembers little about his childhood. The memories come mostly as fragments of sound or images: mortar rounds splintering the quiet of night, a corpse lying bloody in his path.

Moulitsas (LAW’99) was barely four years old when his family moved from Chicago to El Salvador, where his mother had been born and raised. They lived in the capital of San Salvador until 1980, when civil war forced them to return to the United States.

Almost twenty-five years later, near the first anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Moulitsas sat down at his computer and began to type. “Unlike the vast majority of people in this country, I actually grew up in a war zone,” he wrote. “I witnessed communist guerillas execute students accused of being government collaborators. I was eight years old, and I remember stepping over a dead body, warm blood flowing from a fresh wound. Dodging bullets while at market. I lived in the midst of hate the likes of which most of you will never understand — Clinton and Bush hatred is nothing compared to that generated when people kill each other for politics or race or nationality.”

Moulitsas posted these words on his Web site, Daily Kos, where for more than two years he has been building an online community that reads and discusses views about politics and policy. A self-described political junkie, Moulitsas has built a career using his tech savvy and his passion for politics to make the political process accessible to Americans outside the Washington establishment.

Daily Kos is a Web log, or blog — a kind of online journal collaboratively built by the hundreds of contributors who participate in discussions on the site (see illustration, opposite). In a heated election season, the politically liberal Daily Kos has become one of the most highly trafficked and linked-to blogs, with more than 200,000 site visits each day. Moulitsas asks readers to do more than chat about politics. By the end of August, he had raised $500,000 from readers for Democratic political candidates through fundraising on the site.

Less reportage than political analysis, Daily Kos is defiantly partisan. “I am an activist,” Moulitsas says. “I’m not a journalist.” He is opinionated and outspoken, unafraid of expressing his views even when they may be unorthodox or contentious. His life has taught him that the personal and the political are inseparable.

Moulitsas’s experiences in El Salvador got him interested early in political questions. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Army to pay for college. He served in the artillery from 1989 to 1992 and narrowly missed being sent to the Middle East during the first Gulf War. “My unit didn’t deploy because the war ended so quickly,” Moulitsas says. “But there is a kind of introspection and self-examination that knowing that you’re about to head out to war forces on you. Our vehicles were in the Gulf; we were ready to go. That forms a basis of a lot of my antiwar views, the fact that I was in a position of potentially heading to war.”

Moulitsas majored in philosophy, political science, and journalism at Northern Illinois University, then headed straight for law school at BU, where he started his first blog. The Hispanic/Latino News Service was a clearinghouse of media coverage of Latino issues. Every day, Moulitsas scanned some fifty newspapers, mostly online, selecting stories of greatest interest to his readers.

After law school, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area for a job in the tech industry. Working at a Web development company, he honed the Web design and marketing skills he would use to start Daily Kos in the summer of 2002. By the end of that first year, the site had attracted so much attention that he began receiving requests for online campaign-building help from political candidates. In January 2003 he joined fellow blogger Jerome Armstrong to create the consulting company Armstrong Zúniga. They initially worked as Web consultants for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign — where the two played a key role in the much-vaunted “Internet revolution” in American politics.

For their political and organizational clients, Moulitsas and Armstrong build Web sites, set up online communities, and consult about increasing traffic and revenue to those sites. Within eight months the consulting business was successful enough for Moulitsas to quit his day job; today Daily Kos alone brings in enough in advertising dollars to pay the bills. “This medium has an incredible meritocracy in a way I have never seen elsewhere,” he says. “People are able to succeed on their own hard work and talent as opposed to who they know and how much money their family has.”

But although Daily Kos has become a business, it is still driven by Moulitsas’s idealism. “It’s the whole notion of democratizing political campaigns and organizations,” he says. “We’re allowing people to have a direct role in the political process. And that’s what really excites me.”

Anatomy of a Blog

Cover illustration by Garin Baker