Armstrong Williams and the blogs: A "gotcha" that isn't quite

By Tim Grieve

Published January 14, 2005 6:03PM (EST)

The Wall Street Journal is out with a "gotcha" story this morning: As Democrats rail on about Armstrong Williams' decision to shill for No Child Left Behind in exchange for $240,000 from the Bush administration, it turns out that two Democratic bloggers were briefly on the payroll of Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

Oh, the hypocrisy!

But like so many of these things, this one is a whole lot less than meets the eye. Yes, as the Journal reports, the Dean campaign hired a consulting firm run by Jerome Armstrong of MyDD and Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos. And yes, the Dean campaign paid the firm about $3,000 a month for about four months. But during those months, Armstrong wasn't publishing MyDD. And while Moulitsas kept Daily Kos up and running, he posted an item in which he disclosed his firm's relationship with the Dean campaign, and then he ran a daily disclaimer in which he reminded readers of its existence.

That's not how Armstrong Williams handled himself, of course. Williams pocketed his $240,000 and then sold NCLB without bothering to tell his readers that he was doing it as a quid pro quo for Bush administration cash.

Moulitsas says there's another difference: Williams took money from the government, while Moulitsas and Armstrong took money from a political campaign. That's a good argument for why the Bush administration is more culpable here than the Dean campaign is -- by giving Armstrong government money, the administration may have violated federal laws against paying for propaganda -- but it doesn't do much to absolve Moulitsas or Armstrong, to the extent that they need absolving. A paid mouthpiece is a paid mouthpiece, whoever the purchaser might be.

So maybe it's time for some more blogosphere soul-searching on the ethics of blogging, the point that former Dean staffer Zephyr Teachout makes in her blog today. But as far as the Armstrong Williams-MyDD-Daily Kos dust-up is concerned, the facts are these. Markos Moulitsas came clean at the time, Jerome Armstrong essentially recused himself, and Armstrong Williams did neither. There's a difference there. And from where we sit, it sure seems like one that matters.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room