We political bloggers pride ourselves on our integrity, our firmness of purpose in writing our blogs, our incorruptible natures. We can’t be bought. If credibility is the coin of the realm, so the argument goes, why would we tarnish it by using counterfeit currency?
Well, apparently a number of bloggers are so sure of their incorruptibility that they feel they CAN accept tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from politician’s they cover and still be seen as critical and independent political bloggers. I have profound doubts about their judgment.
The NY Times published a terrific rundown of political bloggers who accepted varying sums from various candidates (mostly Democratic, but a few Republicans were included). The genius of the column was to present it as a graphic (left-click once within image area to expand size)which featured the blog name, author, consulting fees and a sample comment about the said candidate all in an easy to read format. It’s eye-opening. Take the entry on Jerome Armstrong of MyDD and Daily Kos fame. He collected $115,000 plus” from Sherrod Brown and $65,000 from Mark Warner. Here’s a sample of what he wrote about Warner:
“Warner’s been a terrific governor for Virginia. I watched him during the 2001 governor’s race and like what I saw. He was able to attract people from rural areas who hadn’t voted Democratic in a long time–a non-ideological big-tent Democrat who can sit down and relate with just about any ordinary American.”
Don’t get me wrong. It’s likely that everything he said about Warner he meant genuinely. And Armstrong has revealed his relationship with those campaigns who fund him. But money works in extremely subtle ways. And when you accept it you’d be a fool to think that the politician is giving it to you simply because he admires your acute analysis or probity. No, he’s giving you money because he believes you can help deliver a certain demographic to him. And the only way to do so is by writing about the candidate. And you can’t write in any other way than full-throated praise. Otherwise, why would he pay you?
While I haven’t done a survey, I’d wonder how many of the bloggers in the Times list had written anything critical of the candidate sponsoring their blog. I’d bet the number would be zero or damn near close. And it stands to reason. But how could this be: a political blogger known for critical thinking and the ability to analyze campaigns both for their strengths and weaknesses cannot speak ill of his sponsor? It’s the money, stupid.
I’d be posting this at DailyKos myself for all the netroots to read but a funny thing happened on the way to the Kos. I was banned. That’s right. I’d published diary entries criticizing Armando and Kos for a potential conflict of interest (Armando because until recently he was a lawyer representing corporate clients while potentially promoting their political agenda in his blog; and Kos because of his one-time acceptance of such consulting fees–which he no longer does). And I got the axe for my troubles, being accused by the raging Kossites of being a “troll” and enemy of all that is good. You can see how open those folks are to examining their own attitudes and behaviors.
I know I could rejoin Kos by creating a new profile, but so much outrageous venom was spewn at me by the Kos-acks last time I did this–I simply don’t have the energy or inclination to sink into a sewage pit once again. So hopefully people will find their way here to read this. Maybe I’ll republish it at My Left Wing since Mary Scott O’Connor was so unbelievable wonderful that last time I was smeared over at Kos.
Finally, I say here what I said at Kos (and which was treated with acid disdain there)–if we don’t ask these questions of ourselves and act according to the lessons we learn from such self-examination, then our readers eventually may act for us initially by questioning our objectivity; and then perhaps by turning toward blog sources that may not be tainted by the whiff of conflict of interest. These bloggers and their hellions can yell and scream all they want about this issue and say, as they have, that it’s a non-issue. They can take umbrage with me for allegedly questioning their righteousness. But I predict it will eventually become a more serious problem than it is even now. And it could hurt them. It could even hurt all the rest of us writing political blogs if the practice becomes more commonplace and readers come to believe that they can’t fully trust anyone’s objectivity.