Monday, December 04, 2006

An Unfair Hit on Democratic Bloggers

If you read the op-ed page in the Sunday New York Times--surely the best-read and most prestigious op-ed page in the country--you undoubtedly saw this piece by K. Daniel Glover exposing the shocking scandal of political bloggers serving as paid consultants for candidates. Interesting, practically all of the examples Glover cites happen to be Democrats--the merest coincidence, I'm sure.

My immediate reaction to the article--its oddly slanted selection of examples, its weirdly snarky-yet-asserting-nothing tone--was bafflement and suspicion. I've since been reading more about the piece and the controversy it created--including plenty of explanation and self-justification by Glover--and the more I learn, the worse the whole thing smells.

Immediately after reading Glover's article, I emailed him a message. Here it is, with some amplifications and corrections inserted:
Your original article [which had appeared on the MSNBC website and which Glover later revised for the Times] listed almost equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-paid bloggers. [The actual numbers were 10 Democrats and 7 Republicans.] The Times article of today lists only one Republican but many Democrats! [I missed one Republican; the Times article actually listed 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans.] What gives? Is this an attempt to make Democrats look "corrupt" because they have been paying bloggers for campaign help?
Here is Glover's reply, as it appeared on his website:

The Times wanted me to focus on people who had their own blogs and then went to work for campaigns. My original piece also included people who were paid to blog for campaigns or advise them on Internet strategy but who weren't independent bloggers beforehand. Most of those happened to be Republicans; most of the former happened to be Democrats.

With the exception of McCain hiring Pat Hynes (by choice) and Allen hiring Jon Henke (because of viral online events that spiraled out of control), I'm not aware of many Republican bloggers who worked for campaigns. Both Democrats and Republicans will acknowledge that Democrats have a clear advantage in the online realm at this point.

Furthermore, my article neither states nor implies that anyone, candidates or bloggers, is "corrupt" because of ties between the two. I don't believe that. Candidates have the right to pay for Internet advice, blogging, etc., and bloggers have a right to be paid for that work -- or to do it on a volunteer basis, if they so choose.

I do think it's interesting that some bloggers made a name for themselves by fighting the establishment and billing themselves as revolutionaries but at the same time are willing to work for campaigns. That, to me, is part of the establishment -- at least in a broad sense. And that is the point of my article.

I appreciate Glover's responding to me promptly. And to his credit, he links on his site to a lot of blogosphere commentary about his article, much of it harshly critical. (If you're interested, you can easily check these out, but for those of you who have lives you might want to just check out Micah Sifry's post, which does a good job of distilling most of the problems with Glover's article.)

None of this changes the crucial fact: Glover's piece is horribly disingenuous. It's obvious that when you fill almost an entire page of the Sunday New York Times with a chart that details how much money specific bloggers were paid by political campaigns they advised, and then quotes positive comments those bloggers wrote about the politicians they worked for, the innuendo is clear: The opinions of these people who pretend to be independent are actually for sale to the highest bidder.

It's no good to claim later, in response to a query, that you never meant to imply any corruption. The structure of the article and especially its accompanying chart makes the implication overwhelming.

That makes the biases in Glover's article all the more infuriating, especially (1) the editorial shift from an almost-balanced list of Democrats and Republicans to a list practically devoid of Republicans and (2) Glover's failure to acknowledge a crucial fact that only came out in his on-line reponse to Sifry's challenge--that the only paid bloggers he knows of who failed to disclose their professional affiliations in an open, timely, public fashion were Republicans.

It's the casual readers, of course, who will be most seriously misled by Glover. Ninety percent of the people who read Glover's column in the Times will lack detailed knowledge of the blogosphere and won't spend time researching the facts behind his slanted presentation. They will come away with one powerful impression: "Wow, those liberal bloggers are sure a bunch of hypocrites, aren't they?" An impression that even the article's title serves to reinforce: "New on the Web: Politics as Usual."

The effect of the piece is to severely impugn the credibility of the blogosphere, and especially of its liberal side. It may or may not have been Glover's intention to create that impression. (His own site is devoted to news about the blogosphere, and I wouldn't think that smearing the world he lives to cover makes a lot of sense as a career move for Glover.) But it sure looks as if somebody had that goal in mind--if not Glover, then perhaps the editor at the Times who helped shape the article and its accompanying chart.

My guess: Danny Glover is being used by somebody with his own agenda.

One other point. Somebody should tell Glover that "praiseworthy" doesn't mean "containing praise." A blogger's positive comment about Jim Webb or Hillary Clinton is not a "praiseworthy post" about them. I'm frankly more stunned that an elementary usage blooper like that would make it to the Times op-ed page than I am about the bias and deception I'm focusing on here. I mean, slanting an article to unfairly sling mud at a whole class of writers is one thing--but committing a gaffe that must have E.B. White spinning in his grave is quite another.

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