Transparency and the Edwards campaign

Will the professionalization of bloggers destroy the openness and directness that have made blogs so popular?

Topics: 2008 Elections, John Edwards

Back when blogging was young, one idea its early enthusiasts shared was that blogs would cut through the fog of corporatespeak and give the players in business and politics and other hierarchically organized fields a chance to communicate honestly, openly and directly. Blogs were a means to route around the P.R. pros and the media intermediaries.

And they do still sometimes achieve that: Look at how Steve Jobs issued his challenge to the music companies to drop their counterproductive stance on “digital rights management.” (It wasn’t a blog posting, but same principle.) As Dave Winer points out, Jobs didn’t hand this as a scoop to a New York Times or Wall Street Journal reporter; he just posted it on his Web site.

All this makes it exceedingly strange to be reading, today in 2007, about the little dust-up in John Edwards’ campaign, where, as you may have heard, two bloggers who’d been hired by the campaign found themselves targeted by the right-wing media for stuff they’d written on their own blogs. As Salon reported, the campaign fired them; a storm of protest ensued in the Democratic blogosphere, and then the campaign rehired them (see Salon’s follow-up).

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What’s strange is that we’re talking about two bloggers here and a campaign that has its own blog; and yet, as far as I can tell, none of their blogs actually tells much of the story of what has actually happened. There’s a couple of ritual apologies from the two bloggers, whose opening paragraphs read like they were written by committee, and an official statement from Edwards that’s similarly impersonal. What actually happened here? If they weren’t fired, as a campaign spokesperson said, why aren’t we hearing it from the bloggers themselves, rather than P.R. people?

I don’t spend a lot of time in the political blogosphere that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan hail from. I don’t doubt that they’re basically victims of a witch hunt. I just find it strange to be reading stories like those in Salon, full of quotes from unnamed sources inside and close to the campaign telling us of an apparent inside story about a firing and then rehiring, while the bloggers at the center of the tale — who are, presumably, torchbearers of transparency — don’t give their own readers the scoop on what happened.

I suppose some of this is inevitable when the practice of blogging meets the crucible of presidential campaigns. I just wonder what the point of bringing bloggers into the political machinery is unless you let them be bloggers. (This is a variation on the old debate about blogging from inside big companies, which I was pessimistic about several years ago, because I figured it would face similar hurdles.)

No doubt we’re entering a long period of time in which people are going to be forced to ritually abase themselves and disown anything controversial they’ve written on a blog or elsewhere online before they are allowed to participate in the councils of power. And then, down the line — just as we now have presidential candidates who freely admit that, once upon a time, they inhaled — all of this will become somewhat quaint.

Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg is director of MediaBugs.org. He is the author of "Say Everything" and Dreaming in Code and blogs at Wordyard.com.

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