L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

26 February 2007 Blog Home : February 2007 : Permalink

Just Say No to Campaign Blogging

One of the ladies on my blogroll, Majikthise, was asked to be the Edwards campaign blogger before Amanda Marcotte took the job. In Salon she explains why she didn't accept the offer. I would say that any blogger of any political persuasion would benefit from reading what she says. For example she correctly notes the problem of political opponents going through the archives:

Every blogger says controversial things from time to time, Bob assured me. He admitted that he'd drawn some fire for a tasteless joke on his own site a while back. It hadn't been a big deal.

I asked if I would have to quit blogging at Majikthise in order to take the job with Edwards. My blog means more to me than any job I've ever had. After three years of hard work, I finally have a platform from which to express ideas that won't get a hearing in the established media, let alone in mainstream Democratic politics. So the prospect of giving up my untrammeled freedom to blog press releases for John Edwards gave me pause. Still, I assumed Bob would say it was a necessity.

I was wrong. Bob promised that I wouldn't have to give up my personal blog. He added that I probably wouldn't have much time left for personal blogging, since everyone was working 18-hour days on the campaign. But, he noted, he hadn't given up his own blog, and neither had another member of the Edwards Internet team.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A bunch of Internet staffers with private blogs sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

And later on she also talks about how blogs are better off being independant of a campaign, not just because of the deniability factor:

When Webb's videographer captured George Allen's "'macaca' moment," therefore, the campaign had a ready-made, receptive audience. All the campaign had to do was upload the video to YouTube and send out some well-targeted e-mails to bloggers and other supporters and wait.

Supporters forwarded the clip to their friends. Bloggers started posting the video on their sites. The "macaca" clip got more than 600,000 views on YouTube alone and exploded into the mainstream media.

The vast majority of bloggers who pushed the story didn't just seem like they were independent of the campaign, they were. They were unabashedly partisan, but they weren't paid operatives. The Webb campaign didn't want to push the video itself, but hoped that it would capture the imagination of supporters on the outside.

If the Webb campaign had pushed the video directly, the campaign would have been criticized for going negative. Instead, it left a tasty tidbit where bloggers would seize upon it.

I actually think Majikthise would have made a good campaign blogger because, unlike Amanda Marcotte's pandragon, her blog is well written and fails to contain the sorts of profanity and personal attacks that annoy people. Ironically when she (Majikthise) mentions the aspects of her blog that she feels would be controversial (atheism, abortion, drug liberalization) they are the bits where, for the most part, I agree with her. There are other areas where I disagree but I have never found that commenting there to voice my disagreement has resulted in anything other than debate. In the article she absolutely nails why Amanda Marcotte was a bad choice (and the same would apply to numerous right wing bloggers):

I tried to explain this as delicately and clearly as I could: A-list polemicists are popular because they say things you don't hear on television. The blogosphere isn't just "The Situation Room" with swear words, it's a space for writers to explore ideas that are outside the bounds of mainstream discourse.

If you hire these larger-than-life personalities to blog for John Edwards, they'll have to stop espousing many of the radical policy positions and unconventional values that made them popular in the first place.

Fans will also know when a John Edwards message conflicts with the bloggers' own record on an issue. Big-name bloggers hired by campaigns will be accused of "selling out" and open themselves up to accusations of hypocrisy from both sides.

For the record I can't imagine a politician hiring me as a blogger because my opinion on things like capital and corporal punishment, the EU, envirometalists and so on would currently not be perceived as acceptable by most people, nor would I expect many of the bloggers on my blogroll to qualify either. One problem with UKIP in the UK, for example, is that some of its biggest blog supporters (e.g. Devils Kitchen) come across as fuckwits who seem willing to pick fights with people who more or less agree with them on what seem like petty grounds.

However if there is one area where I think Majikthise is wrong it is in the part where she seems to partake of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy koolaid and to complain that right wing bloggers victimize targets in a way that the left wing ones don't:

What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.


At first it looked as if the Edwards campaign might have pulled off a real coup. The right wing's opening salvos fizzled. It was attacking Amanda for using bad words and supposedly rewriting her own posts, but nobody outside the blogosphere cared. Then, just when it seemed like the campaign was going to ride out the storm, my worst fears were realized. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and the right-wing blogosphere aligned for an all-out assault on Amanda.

If it had just been the right-wing bloggers gunning for Amanda, the problem would have been short-lived. Unfortunately, as the Edwards campaign learned the hard way, the right wing has a large network of surrogates, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Donohue, who can propel virtually any story into the mainstream media. These professional blowhards are supported by a lavish infrastructure of publishers, partisan media outlets, think tanks, grants, lecture circuits and more.

This bit reads to me like sour grapes. The "professional blowhards" on the "right" are maintained, as far as I can tell, primarily by punters paying sums of money for their books, to hear them speak or by listening/watching their shows in large enough numbers that advertisers will pay loadsamoney to advertise to them. Furthermore, and I admit to sweeping generalization in the nexr few sentences, the base that supports these folk tends to have more income available to supporting such people than their counterparts on the left. The problem with the netroots folks is that they are mostly young and hence, more or less by definition, relatively poor. The people on the right, while they include youngsters, also include more mature people and these people frequently have more money. Now it is true that at the millionaire plus level the left does OK again, G Soros, J Edwards, J Kerry and other hypocritical plutocrats are only too happy to fund lefty causes in, IMHO, what results in attempts to stop other people becoming wealthy the way they are, but the reason why the "large network of surrogates" exists on the right is that it is supported by a large relatively wealthy base. It also helps that in this case the bloggers were indeed polemicists rather than more moderate voices and hence that it was dead easy to find them saying stuff that didn't need to be taken out of context to sound bad. As it happens "lefties" can get mainstream media attention when they find something like that - see "macaca" above - but the problem they face is that most "righties" do not write such (profanity laden) diatribes but rather tend to writing reasoned critiques explaining why we think the writer we are picking on is a moonbat. In sporting terms this would be called going for the ball not the man. I'm not denying that some righty bloggers do, on occasion, play the man, but on the whole they don't and hence they come across less like frothing at the mouth loonies to the general non-blogging public.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin