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01/15/2005 Archived Entry: "Dean's blogger-payoff"

The blogosphere is buzzing with news of scandal. Friday's Wall Street Journal declared, "Dean Campaign Made Payments To Two Bloggers," one of whom was the (formerly) highly-respected blogger Markos Moulitsas who publishes DailyKos. (DailyKos is the ninth most linked blog on the Internet, according to Technorati.) The 2nd was to Jerome Armstrong, who publishes the blog MyDD. The WSJ articles explains, "Howard Dean's presidential campaign hired...[them] as consultants so that they would say positive things about the former governor's campaign in their online journals, according to a former high-profile Dean aide." The two bloggers reportedly received about $3,000 a month over a four month period.

The aide is Zephyr Teachout, the former head of Internet outreach for Dean's campaign, and the disclosure occurred on her own Web log, Zonkette, not to be confused with the venerable iconoclastic Wonkette. Zephyr's first entry on the pay-offs occurred this last Monday and was reportedly written "in anticipation of a conference next week on ethics, blogging, and journalism" which she is presumably attending. Zephyr raised the excellent point that "There is a big difference between bias and direct financial interest in the subject of your blogging. " In other words, merely accepting money from people or causes you already support does not necessarily introduce bias into your continuing support of those people or causes. But it raises questions. If you become critical of an aspect or particular position espoused by your "employer/client," will you be as ready and extensive with your criticism as you otherwise would be? And do ethics require a blogger to state if he or she has a financial interest in the matters promoted or dissed on the blog? (To be fair, DailyKos has been candid about being part of the Democratic grassroots efforts and, so, openly biased in that direction. I don't think he ever mentioned financial rewards for political advocacy, however. Indeed, he described his consulting role in the Dean campaign as "technical, not message or strategy," and that statement is now in question. Also, MyDD has pointed out that he was on a personal blogging hiatus during the Dean campaign.)

Zephyr's first posting caught the eye of the WSJ...who ran with it, much to her stated surprise. Both DailyKos and MyDD offered what can be described as a spirited response with Kos declaring "Zephyr can go to hell" and accusing the WSJ of having a double standard. The latter accusation is probably true but it does not address whether or not the act of taking undisclosed money to advocate positions -- even ones you favor -- compromises your advocacy. (For more perspective on the discussion surrounding "the scandal," the responses and the issue raised, see Instapundit's take.)

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Zephyr/Zonkette's "outing" of MyDD and DailyKos -- to the extent that an "outing" has occurred at all -- was her initial comparison of the two eminent bloggers to Armstrong Williams, the conservative black radio/TV host who was caught with his hand in a $240K+ Republican cookie jar that "encouraged" him to promote Republican policies. MyDD complains, "What Zephyr just did was hand a return (unfactual though it is) to the Republican bloggers that are moving up against Democratic activists gaining traction against Armstrong Williams being a shill for the Republicans with taxpayer dollars." Are the two situations comparable? After all, having a blog doesn't make you a journalist or a part of the media so journalistic standards may well be inappropriate. Nevertheless, the statement that rightwing commentators are using the "blogger-payout" to offset the Williams matter and distract from criticism of conservatives is correct. Bob Novak has gone for the Democrat jugular, for example.

As I mentioned, Zephyr claims to be surprised by the response to her disclosures, which she claims were simply meant as "real world examples would help people [at the upcoming conference] think and talk in concrete ways about the pressures and players involved." Why, in order to accomplish this goal, she had to name names and provide the exact remuneration offered is not disclosed. Zephyr continues, "I certainly didn't expect it to be picked up by anyone (this is a temporary blog I was using (at the time) for links for the conference), and I'm mad that its been misused, but I think talking openly about this stuff is important." She promises to write much more the issue next week, when she has more time. Her post will undoubtedly inspire responses from MyDD and DailyKos as well as the blogosphere at large, with discussion/debate spilling over into the more mainstream such as Slate.

BTW, and just as personal matter...I'm a weekly commentator, I've got a blog!...where the hell is my bribe?

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