Salon On Blogger Ethics

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Salon's Joan Walsh has written a smart, even-tempered piece that is certain to piss a lot of bloggers off.

When the blog-friendly Edwards campaign -- the candidate's wife Elizabeth has reportedly blogged on lefty sites under an assumed name -- hired Marcotte from Pandagon and McEwan from Shakespeare's Sister, it was hailed as a victory for the blogosphere. Thus preventing their firing, or denying it had ever happened, became crucial for building "the movement," as MyDD's Chris Bowers so often describes his blog colleagues' goal.

But what is "the movement," and what are its goals? Is it correcting, challenging, augmenting and maybe someday replacing the staid, arrogant, sometimes corrupt, rarely courageous titans of the mainstream media? Or is it replacing a tired and politically timid field of Democratic consultants with a new generation of cyberspace kingmakers? Of course, there's room for both in the liberal blogosphere. But can individual bloggers do both? Does it mark me as an old-media dinosaur to even ask that question?

Well if it does, Joan, we are nibbling the tops of the same trees, because I've been asking the same questions for some time.

Maybe I'm the one who's naive, but the whole episode made me wonder: What does it mean if liberal bloggers aren't warriors for the truth, but rather for candidates? What does it mean for media, and what does it mean for politics?

As I asked here, do bloggers want be citizen journalists or publicists? Because there is a very big difference.

Lefty bloggers congratulate themselves on being less compromised and corrupted than fancy MSM reporters; on creating a new independent realm of punditry and reporting. Do a lot of them really aspire to flack for a candidate, as well? Of course there are liberal bloggers who seem mainly about independent journalism -- Glenn Greenwald, now with Salon, comes to mind, as does Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo and Firedoglake's coverage of Plamegate -- and aren't looking to hook up with candidates. But others seem comfortable blurring the lines between independent commentary and partisan kingmaking. And while it's true that journalists have historically gone off to work for politicians, they don't keep their writing job when they go on the other payroll. Plus, their colleagues and competitors in other media organizations don't see themselves as having a stake in the former journalist's new political perch, and thus don't tend to cheer them on, or look away from exposing problems that might emerge with their new employer.

They also don't have a perch from which to bully their readership into abandoning one candidate in favor of another, as happened when Markos flipped on Paul Hackett, in favor of his business associate Jerome Armstrong's employer Sherrod Brown, and started referring to Hackett enthusiasts as the "Hackett fedayeen."

If anything I think Walsh has pulled her punches, but that will not stop reflexive snark like this:

Check out this Salon editorial as an example of this turf-protection. It is all about silencing the people. As I stated before, the netroots ARE the grassroots.

Walsh's questions are valid and worth a good mulling over by any blogger who wants to be taken seriously.