The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Thu. Feb 08, 2007

Attack of the Blog Archives

For years now I’ve written my little Jeremiads about the political blogosphere, its harsh and often profane nature, and how ultimately counterproductive it could be. Well, I hate to say I told you so, but…

Two bloggers hired by John Edwards to reach out to liberals in the online world have landed his presidential campaign in hot water for doing what bloggers do — expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language.

Mr. Edwards’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Palmieri, said Tuesday night that the campaign was weighing the fate of the two bloggers. The two women brought to the Edwards campaign long cyber trails in the incendiary language of the blogosphere.

NY Times: Edwards’s Bloggers Cross the Line, Critic Says

Last I checked, there were somewhat unconfirmed reports that the Edwards campaign may have already let them go. As for this site, you could review Domains, Responsibility, and Conversation (4/14/04), Another Year of the Blog (1/2/05), Rhetorical Questions (1/15/05), There He Goes Again (2/12/05), and Not A Blog Anymore (6/12/06).

But, summed up, they all point out that political bloggers “expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language“ was not only counterproductive towards the all-but-dead dream of an Internet that would advance political discussion into a new realm, but also ultimately destructive to their very own partisan cause.

It’s like the phenomenon of someone who was “fired for their blog.” No, they were fired for saying or doing something they shouldn’t have. It just happened to be in their blog. But a blog is not a buffer from the real world. Your words there count just as if you’d said them to someone’s face, with the difference that they are archived for a very very long time.

It’s hardly news. But people are still waking up to it: “Apparently, there is a new standard that any blogger who has made controversial or profane remarks in the past is unsuitable to work for a political campaign.

After tut-tutting this “new standard,” he then responds by going after Patrick Hynes, blog-mercenary for John McCain’s campaign, in the very same manner. Already living up to the new standard.

And I think it’s all great. Oh, I know, these two women were obviously targeted by their blogospheric foes. The fact they have such a thing as “blogospheric foes” is instructive. But yes, as soon as the Edwards campaign hired them, people started digging through their archives.

And as I said, I think it’s all great. Yes, you can and will be held accountable for what you write. It’s the way the Internet works. As Barb MacRae said, “If you can’t communicate clearly in writing, perhaps the Internet is not the best place for you, eh?“ As James Lileks saidTV relies on pictures; radio on emotive voices. Blogs are about words, period, and you stand or fall on how well you use them.

Stipulated, it’s your right to express your political opinions in the harshest manner you can muster, dump ad hominem all over your opponents, and cuss at will. It’s your blog, and your right to try and make a difference with how ever many read it in whatever way you please.

This is the price. When you can really make a difference, it will come back to bite you in the ass.

People will dig through your every archived utterance looking for a scent of scandal. This is a reality the political blogosphere has fostered like a crop of digital kudzu, but it didn’t create it. Just amplified it. Joe Biden will be grilled over his plagiarism in the 80’s. Hillary Clinton will be grilled over the abortive health care reform of the 90’s. Rudy Guliani will be grilled about his divorces and “lifestyle.” Barack Obama will be grilled about what he did in Indonesia as a six year old. Someone will claim all those years in a Vietnamese cage made John McCain unstable. In all these cases and more, every scrap of archived material that can be spun in a ugly manner will be.

This is what the political blogosphere has been doing for a long time, on the right and on the left. Why in the world would they expect the same would not be done to them?

Anyone who did not see this coming is [1] extremely naive or [2] so wrapped up in their “virtual persona” they have lost touch with meat world rules.

This is the way the political game has always been played. Those who become an important part of a political campaign are scrutinized by their opponents, in hopes of finding any shred of leverage. Why would people think an individual’s “freedom of speech” on a blog would be exempt from that same type of attack if they join a campaign?

I mean, if you join the campaign as a blogger, why would you be surprised if people make judgments … based on your blog?

James Joyner notes:

As more campaigns (and corporations and PR firms) get aboard the “blogger relations” bandwagon, the natural impulse is to hire established bloggers. Hillary Clinton has hired Peter Daou, John McCain has Patrick Hynes, Rudy Giuliani has Patrick Ruffini, and the Senate Republicans have hired Jon Henke, who was also brought on too late to do George Allen much good.

At the same time, however, there is a serious downside that Edwards is now discovering: Bloggers have a “paper” trail. The longer someone has been blogging, the more of their sometimes-developed thoughts are out there for public consumption. Not only have they likely written things uncomplimentary to their now-boss, but they have almost certainly written things that could embarrass him.

And some of them have worked very hard at it for a long time. These days in the political arena, it seems it is the harshest attacks that draw the most links. From your choir, so to speak. That is in part how some come to be viewed as an “established blogger.”

But, one more time, I think it’s all great. I hope that people realize that the easy venom that flows off their fingers, or that instant baseless speculation on an unconfirmed report two minutes old that’s later retracted, or that gratuitous profanity and ad hominem, ultimately can have a cost.

Maybe not. Most bloggers could care less about being the campaign blogger for John Edwards or John McCain (or pick your candidate). Today.

Today’s not the problem, is it?

But the truth is this is Totally Inside Baseball. Do you really think anyone will decide not to vote for a candidate in November, 2008, because of the campaign blogger they chose in February, 2007? Out of maybe 110,000,000 voters? A handful of bloggers might. But that’s about it.

Which is kind of the point here.

Peanut Gallery

1  Greg Greene wrote:

Oh, admit it — you kinda like saying I told you so. C’mon, fess up. :)

2  Reid wrote:

Like it? Not quite. Amused that people would be incensed those two were taking heat for words they’d previously put on da Innerwebs? Yes. Quite.

Aware the primary person putting the butane torch to them was more reprehensible than them? Yep.

Expect all of this to happen again? Hell, Vegas has taken it off the boards.

At least until we get Blogosphere 2.0. And, frankly, since 1.0 is barely out of beta, it may be a while. But I understand Blogosphere 2.0 will have a preference allowing you to add a Civility Filter to your posts. And it will come with a clear warning that if you turn the filter off and let it fly, as is your right, you may not be allowed to upgrade to Blogosphere Pro.

And it will be up to your most rabid Blogospheric Foes to decide that.

If they just had that kind of warning in red letters, maybe there’d be less whining at times like these.

3  Reid wrote:

Today, Melissa McEwan writesI regret to say that I have also resigned from the Edwards campaign.

Yesterday Amanda Marcotte wroteNo matter what you think about the campaign, I signed on to be a supporter and a tireless employee for them, and if I can’t do the job I was hired to do because Bill Donohue doesn’t have anything better to do with his time than harass me, then I won’t do it. I resigned my position today and they accepted.

So. This whole political blogosphere thing is working out really well for everyone, isn’t it?

There’s some lessons here…

The main good news is that I don’t have a conflict of interest issue anymore that was preventing me from defending myself against these baseless accusations. So it’s on.

...but I feel sure they will be quickly brushed off in order to return to blog battle.

I’m certain I’m just one of those “old fogies in the blogosphereDaniel Drezner mentioned, but from my old fogey perspective, this whole phenomenon qualifies as a collective “rookie mistake.”

Yes, blogs give you the freedom to take on your political foes with whatever level of verbal violence you choose to employ. But, to paraphrase the recently departed, freedom can be … messy. Freedom can indeed have consequences. One might argue that you should learn to express your views strongly and persuasively without all the venom, in order that you might be able to continue to express them when you get offered a bigger pulpit.

Can you argue that “The Other Guys” are verbally worse, in fact, enraging, and therefore you have to use venom in response? Sure, you can argue that. How’s that working out for everyone?

Do you think it started happening when you got a blog? Has it dropped off since you got one and started responding to venom with venom? Or has it seemed to increase?

You have the freedom to use whatever words you want. But you can be sure, as has been true in politics forever, your political foes will take your words and try their best to use them against you. When it really matters. When you could really make a difference. The fact you were “merely” expressing your “non-mainstream views” and exercising your right to free speech in a blog … does not change the fact they will be used against you.

In fact, because of the archival nature of the web, it almost insures it.

And in the future when it happens again, and again, try not to act so surprised and incensed about it. It’s entirely predictable, and has been for a long time.

4  Greg Greene wrote:

Well, I’ll say on the record that I thought it was an … interesting decision to hire one of them. I have to wonder who had a hand in it.

It also struck me that no one laid down the ground rule — one that most campaign bloggers have followed, as far as I know — of stopping personal blogging while they worked at the campaign. How could that get left aside?

In other words, this seems entirely avoidable. Le sigh ...

5  Reid wrote:

But it wasn’t concurrent blogging that brought the heat. It was their archives. Stuff written last year. And when she “edited” some of those after being hired, she took heat for that as well.

Face it. Bloggers have a permanent record. One largely self-created. And, unlike your real permanent record, you have the power to go back and edit it … but people notice.

6  Greg Greene wrote:

Oh, absolutely. I never tried to hide mine; my archives are there for anyone to read. I don’t have any particular fear about what’s in there, though, so maybe I can afford to be sanguine.

The chief catalyst for trouble was prior blogging, but Amanda took heat behind the scenes from the left — and from the Catholic League, in public — because she published a review of Children of Men on Pandagon over last weekend. That was the immediate trigger of her departure, although what came before hardly helped matters.

7  Reid wrote:

Well. I just sat through a commercial to read Why I had to quit the John Edwards campaign: During my brief tenure as blogmaster for a Democratic presidential contender, I experienced the right-wing smear machine firsthand

What a piece of work.

It does directly address Greg’s point about “stopping personal blogging while they worked at the campaign.“ It was indeed a concern for her, but not for the reason you might think:


My main concern about the relationship between my personal blog and the campaign blog was that I wouldn’t have enough time to keep my personal blog updated as frequently as the readers had come to expect, a problem I solved by inviting other bloggers to join. I thought some about content concerns, but my opinion had always been that bloggers who work for campaigns should feel free to have personal blogs, so long as they disclosed their employment to their personal blog readers and refrained from using their personal blogs to bash other candidates.

“Reasonable people,” I thought, “can tell the difference between a personal blog post and those I’ll write for the campaign.” What I naively failed to understand was that there is no relationship between what reasonable people think and what will be used in a partisan bout of mud-slinging.

———————————————end quote—————————————————

So, I guess Greg and I are not reasonable people. Amanda appears to have been more concerned with not losing traffic due to fewer updates.

I forced myself to read the whole three pages in Salon, and while I found lots of boasts, claims of victimization, and speculative fears about how what happened to her will shape the future of politics, I found scant evidence she understands she gave her enemies much of the ammo they used/twisted against her.

If fact, in the last paragraph she seems to acknowledge “language and manner“ were an issue in this, and will continue to be, but just the page before she used the f-word and the c-word in one sentence.

From what I’ve seen, I think her compadre Melissa McEwan got caught up in a bad squeeze, as her “language and manner“ have been quite different. But the author of the above article, well, my compassion found no purchase. No ledge to cling to, even by a fingertip.

She’s back to swinging the baseball bat at her opponents. And seemingly quite happy about it.

8  emcee fleshy wrote:

I still don’t get why a campaign would hire a campaign blogger.

The point of a campaign is to promote the candidate and his/her message. A blogger promotes his/her own message – not the candidate’s. It’s like the corner Ice cream shop hiring an aircraft designer – pointless.

Besides, bloggers happily work for free, and at a safe, deniable distance.

9  Reid wrote:

I wouldn’t go that far. I think Howard Dean’s Blog For America not only started this, but set the standard. At that time, the bloggers themselves were not a focus. The focus was the campaign, and the blog was used to forward it.

A good “blog component” can be an important part of a national campaign. You say it’s like an “Ice cream shop hiring an aircraft designer,” but it’s more like the ice cream shop starting online sales and promotion. It’s another megaphone, and you know how politicians love those.

The problem is the hire(s). I think maybe there’s some sense you have to hire an established blogger, maybe even a “name” blogger. And when you do, they bring baggage. Their archives. Their previous blogfights creating ready-built foes from Day One. I think campaigns would be far better off hiring lesser known people who understand the blogosphere, have experience at it, but are not necessarily solely a product of it.

For example … don’t hire me. My archives page currently notes it contains links to 9,429,859 words I’ve placed online. A Google search for my entirely unique name in quotation marks brings about 69,200 returns. Any competent Spin Brigade on a mud hunt will come back pushing wheelbarrows.

Oh, and on top of that … you don’t have enough money.

10  Greg Greene wrote:

I’m getting in touch with Hillary’s people. They’ll quote you a figure in a few minutes. ;)

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