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Blogs and Campaigns: Skin in the Game
Posted by: Jon Henke on Sunday, December 03, 2006

UPDATED


A brief Daniel Glover New York Times article on article on bloggers working for politicians has elicited some unjustified blog blowback. (blogback?) Not that there's nothing to criticize, but I don't think the criticisms are very well-placed. Glover writes...
[T]his year, candidates across the country found plenty of outsiders ready and willing to move inside their campaigns. Candidates hired some bloggers to blog and paid others consulting fees for Internet strategy advice or more traditional campaign tasks like opposition research. [...] Few of these bloggers shut down their “independent” sites after signing on with campaigns, and while most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs, some — like Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits — did so only after being criticized by fellow bloggers.
Most of the objections to this story seem to focus on the idea that Glover somehow implied that bloggers didn't disclose their relationship to the campaign, or that he implied they were all still blogging on their pre-campaign sites. Many of them make good points, but I'm not sure that the article justifies this criticism — he only mentioned Patrick Hynes by name, and if I recall correctly, Hynes' alleged 'nondisclosure' was less than it was cracked up to be. Moreover, Daniel Glover's explanation of how his article was mangled (my word) by the Times is interesting.
The Times chart initially was going to include a section on disclosure — i.e., the different ways that bloggers disclosed. That section was dropped and the sentence in question here was added instead. The nuanced points I made about disclosure got lost in the process. [...] If you think the issue of disclosure is a key part of my argument, you really missed the point. Bloggers in general have handled the disclosure issue very well and I acknowledged as much by saying "most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs."
Along with the article is a graphic on "some of the most influential bloggers who went to work for campaigns this year, what they were paid according to campaign disclosure documents". Speaking of disclosure, here are some disclosures of my own:

  1. I'm listed in the graphic for my work on the Allen campaign.


  2. It's a bit uncomfortable to see my compensation discussed publicly...moreso, because the numbers have been cited without any context. I don't want to discuss it publicly, but I do feel an urge to disabuse people of any misapprehensions, high or low.


  3. I met Patrick Hynes at the recent VCAP Convention. During the course of a long conversation between Hynes, myself and another friend, I had every intention of paying for Hynes' drink, but he'd already done so. As far as I know, Hynes has never disclosed my intention to pay for his soda, making him the David Safavian to my Jack Abramoff. (we would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling journalists!)


With the caveat that I do think Daniel Glover "gets it" on this stuff — disclosure: I met Glover very briefly in mid-06' at a Virginia Bloggers Conference. No money changed hands! — I do have one criticism. Glover writes...
You might think that with the kind of rhetoric bloggers regularly muster against politicians, they would never work for them. But you would be wrong.
This doesn't follow at all. Sure, bloggers vigorously criticize politicians; after all, they have strong opinions about politics. But those are exactly the kind of people likely to get involved in politics. Voters criticize politicians too, but they still manage to vote for them.

I also reject the idea that blogs' "outsider" status is really relevant. Any emerging field will necessarily consist of "outsiders" to the political establishment. "Objective" and "intellectually honest" may be selling points for bloggers, but I don't think "outsider" is a big one.

And speaking of which, this Ann Althouse post is misguided at just about every step...
And more and more bloggers will sell out their credibility. Politicians: If you're worried a blogger might undercut your campaign, know that about $2,000 a month will not only cut off the criticism; it will buy you a stream of free ads, written by a free ad writer. What a bargain!
If you're paying "about $2,000 a month" (and you probably won't get very much for that), then you are, in fact, not getting "free ads, written by a free ad writer". And Ann Althouse doesn't bother to explain exactly what criticism was "cut off". Perhaps she thinks bloggers are going to work for campaigns in which they do not believe. That misapprehension would seem to reflect more on her credibility than on that of campaign bloggers.

Politicos do hire bloggers, in part, for their credibility — they should be. And bloggers have an equivalent obligation to maintain their integrity during the campaign if they expect to have it afterwards. Provided they do so, working for a campaign compromises a bloggers credibility no more than any other employment. Bloggers are not dispassionate analysts — they, we, are passionate, opinionated (and, hopefully, intellectually honest) observers. We already have skin in the political game; putting our skill set to work for a campaign is just another way to pursue the ideas that lead people to blog in the first place.

UPDATE: Daniel Glover has a roundup of responses, and some comments of his own at his Beltway Blogroll. Meanwhile, see two previous pieces I've written on political engagement with the blogosphere:
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
There will always be "Guns for hire" in politics but I think most blog consumers can tell the difference between passion and posers. I am more likely to put credence to an argument by a blogger who has an established point of view than not. Mean while the MSM will continue to loose readership as they cater to a smaller and smaller circle of readers all the while looking for convenient scapegoats to blame their demise on.
 
Written By: coaster
URL: http://
Jon,
I think that you might be misguided about the paid bloggers maintaining their "cred" and "intelletually honesty". Ann Althouse might be on to something.

To be honest, I was disappointed on your work for Senator Allen because of a loss of "cred". I was expecting an "intellectually honest" blogger to show both the good and the bad of a candidate (stressing the good, of course). Instead you offered zero criticism for a very flawed candidate. I saw plenty of rehashes of the official Allen press releases - but virtually no independent analysis.

Seeing how you normally blog on this site which stresses libertarian ideas, I found it both amusing and nauseating that you decided to work for a Senator Allen who together with other Republicans worked in concert to tear down small, inconsequential civil liberties, like say habeus corpus or the right to not have my nuts wired to a 12 volt battery because my neighbor says he saw a Koran in my house.
 
Written By: Alan
URL: http://
Does promoting personal attacks on Webb’s fictional wartime novels based on cherry picked quotes constitute "objective" and "intellectually honest" blogging, in your opinion? Would you have done that even without the $2000 just because of your passion?

Just curious.

 
Written By: poppy
URL: http://
I saw plenty of rehashes of the official Allen press releases - but virtually no independent analysis.
Perhaps you don’t understand what "working for a campaign" means. My role was to represent the campaign to the blogosphere, not to represent myself. It’s important to represent the campaign to the blogosphere with integrity, but spokesmen aren’t hired to air their criticisms.

Does promoting personal attacks on Webb’s fictional wartime novels based on cherry picked quotes constitute "objective" and "intellectually honest" blogging, in your opinion?
Please cite the instance in which I criticized Webb for those quotes from his books.

You cannot. So please stop conflating what you read from other people with what I did.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net

Please cite the instance in which I criticized Webb for those quotes from his books.
Just one of many examples:
http://www.allenhq.com/2006/10/27/if-a-democrat-had-written-this-book/

From your blog:
Jon Henke said: "Well, a Democratic nominee has written something pornographic."
Integrity, Jon.
 
Written By: poppy
URL: http://
Jon,
You start out by implying that paid bloggers can maintain independence despite the $2000 a month:
And Ann Althouse doesn’t bother to explain exactly what criticism was "cut off". and then you flip-flop:
... but spokesmen aren’t hired to air their criticisms.
So which is it? How can a blogger maintain "intellectual honesty" if you refuse to air criticism? Isn’t that the opposite of being intellectually opposite?
 
Written By: Alan
URL: http://
Integrity, Jon.
Poppy...do you understand what the word "integrity" means?

First of all, you MISQUOTED Jon.

Secondly, you took his misquoted statement out of context.

In reality, Jon quoted Keith Olbermann about something Libby had written:
Now we have beaten the hell out of Libby for this, and deservedly so. If a Democratic White House official had written this book, his head would be on a pike somewhere.
To which Jon replied:
Well, a Democratic nominee has written something similarly pornographic. We’ll see if the reaction of Keith Olbermann and other Democratic bloggers and pundits is similar.
Integrity, Poppy. Integrity.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
So which is it? How can a blogger maintain "intellectual honesty" if you refuse to air criticism? Isn’t that the opposite of being intellectually opposite?
Part of it has to do with the reader understanding the difference between a personal blog and a paid staff position on a election campaign which entails running a blog for the candidate.

On the first you have every right to air your opinion and criticism about whatever. On the second, you don’t.

The primary reason is you don’t own the blog nor do you get to decide it’s purpose as you do with a personal blog. You have to remember it is the candidate’s blog and blogger’s job is to represent the candidate’s interests, not the bloggers. Much like the job of an attorney.

I think Jon did a very credible job of maintaining his integrity and credibility in an incredibly difficult situation. But you have to read his work carefully to fully understand and appreciate that fact.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Just one of many examples:
That’s it? You cite a post wherein I note that Webb’s books are public record and that Democrats have criticized Republicans for writing similar stuff in the past? I don’t even remotely criticize what he wrote. (note: "pornographic" is factually descriptive; perhaps you think it’s pejorative, but I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with ’pornographic’)

So, again, you’re welcome to find an example where I said something dishonest about those Webb quotes.
the $2000 a month:
Without going into detail, I should note that the article doesn’t imply that I was paid 2k a month.
So which is it? How can a blogger maintain "intellectual honesty" if you refuse to air criticism? Isn’t that the opposite of being intellectually opposite?
The role of a spokesman is to present the best case for his team, not to lay out the entire case. One can make a case for a candidate with integrity and intellectual honesty. It’s absurd to think that a campaign has to make the case for the other candidate to be regarded as "honest".

I was always clear about my role. Had I ever purported to be independent of the campaign while employed with them, that would be dishonest. I did not.

In any event, Althouse implied that the bloggers would have written something critical, but that was "cut off" by the employment. There was nothing I would have written about Allen that I avoided writing because of the campaign. I worked for a campaign because I believed Allen was a good candidate and Webb was a dangerous step towards socialism and other policies I find very objectionable. I was fortunate enough to be paid to represent something in which I believed. There’s nothing intellectually dishonest about that.

 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
"To be honest, I was disappointed on your work for Senator Allen"

Dittos, as someone once said.
********************

"My role was to represent the campaign to the blogosphere, not to represent myself."

In this case, you also reflected on McQ and Dale, if only because you are all partners. Guilt by association, judged by the company you keep, etc.
*******************************

"Part of it has to do with the reader understanding the difference between a personal blog and a paid staff position on a election campaign which entails running a blog for the candidate."

In my opinion, he turned his portion of this, his personal blog, into a candidate’s blog, or at least blurred the distinction.

 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

 
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