Wed. Feb 07, 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 said “TV 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  extremely naive or  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?
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.