Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The political casualties of blogging

Remember Amanda Marcotte, the blogger for U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards' campaign who was maybe-fired and maybe-not-fired after their right-wing noise machine used some of the words in her personal blog against her? Well, she's now resigned. (There's also more from the horse's mouth here and here once her blog comes back up.) And in doing so, one of my favourite U.S. bloggers joins the ignoble ranks of Canadians Mike Klander, Dave Burghardt, and Gordon Stamp as participants in the new online culture who got dinged for what they'd written.

Of course, there are differences between these cases. Marcotte was being paid for her services as a blogger, while the three Canadians were mere volunteers in capacities that had nothing to do with blogging. Klander's, Stamp's, and Marcotte's offending comments were recent, while Burghardt was held responsible for a blog he'd written before his conversion to Liberalism. Marcotte's and Stamp's comments were political, while Klander's and Burghardt's were slurs against particular social groups. What Klander said was verifiably false, what Marcotte said was (mostly) verifiably true, and what Stamp and Burghardt said was opinion. Klander and Stamp held high-placed, influential positions within either the party or the campaign, and Marcotte and Burghardt did not. But despite all these differences, the end results were the same: all were
campaign workers who were either let go from their positions or stepped down voluntarily so that the words they had once written as individuals would not harm the candidates they were now working for.

I have hugely mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I believe that people need to be held responsible for what they say, and at least some of the aforementioned individuals deserved public scorn for the things they said or did. I am far less certain, though, that they deserved to be let go from their respective campaigns over those things, and I am pretty sure that they shouldn't be barred from political life forever because of them. And putting aside whether or not these bloggers themselves deserved their fates, is it really reasonable to hold candidates responsible not just for their own statements, but also for everything everyone who works for them has ever said, right down to the lowliest volunteer? For that matter, in the Internet age when more and more young people have been spouting off their opinions in online fora for much of their lives, is this situation even tenable?

I don't have any answers, but we should definitely be asking these questions, and so should members of our media and our political establishment. As Greg Staples said, I really fear for the future of blogging if this is where things inevitably lead.

Oh, and just to come clean: I am currently working on Linda Duncan's federal campaign in Edmonton-Strathcona. I am not being paid; I am a mere peon volunteer. Duncan has a thirty-year record working in environmental law, including as Chief of Enforcement for Environment Canada, as Assistant Deputy Minister for Renewable Resources for the Yukon Government, and as a senior legal advisor to Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jamaica in their efforts to enforce environmental standards. She is one of the most outstanding individuals I have ever met, and electing her to Parliament would be an enormous asset not just to the NDP, but to the entire country. And she is definitely in no way, shape, or form responsible for anything stupid I might ever have said on this blog.


Robert McClelland said...

I believe that people need to be held responsible for what they say

But they shouldn't be held responsible for having their words distorted and then used by political operatives as the foundation for a baseless accusation against them.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


True. And the media "shouldn't" take what those operatives feed them as gospel, either. But what can we do about it? Is this just the way things are now?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that this is necessarily a question about a new technology introducing a Orwellian supression of free speech. In previous generations, there would be a difference between a presidential contender hiring a staffer with the gravitas of a David Gergen as opposed to the flippancy of an Anne Coulter (just to name two figures in the American conservative movement). I confess that I am not a large consumer of blogs in general or Pandragon specifically, so I don't know if Ms. Marcotte's views are generally reasoned and in concert with Sen. Edwards' or if he decided that he would court the biggest star in the blogging world without vetting her record like one would for a "brick and mortar" newspaper columnist. To the degree that it is the latter, then Sen. Edwards deserves to take a step backwards to regroup, because it has never been easy to wink at half of the electorate without the other half noticing and taking offense.

Which leads to the deeper question: how long is one disqualified from sitting at the grownup's table of mainstream American politcs after describing the conception of Jesus as the time that "the Lord filled [Mary] with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?" Based on what I've noticed from previous presidential campaigns, it seems probable to expect a long wait. On the other hand, I don't know why a blogger with a long record of well-documented reason and a certain measure of respect for people across the spectrum of beliefs (and it seems to me that you more than exceed this qualification) would expect to suffer a similar shitstorm under similar circumstances.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


See, I'm not at all sure that's the deeper question. To me, the deeper question is whether we should be holding candidates responsible for everything that all the people working for them far, far below them have ever said. Holding the people themselves responsible--yes. Asking them to explain and, if needed, apologize--sure. Suggesting that the candidates they work for--whom they may well never have even met in person--should be tarnished by association? I don't know, that seems problematic both logically and logistically.

Thanks for your faith in me, though. I do try to be respectful of a wide range of opinion...but I should also point out that this is made far easier by the fact that I live in Canada now. There simply aren't as many batshit crazies on the political scene up here, and a whole lot more people in other parties with whom I can respectfully agree to disagree. If I were still down in the U.S., I very well might sound a whole lot more like Marcotte (whose writing I greatly enjoy).

West End Bob said...

There simply aren't as many batshit crazies on the political scene up here

Ah, and therein lies a big reason we move north of the 49th, eh?

And she is definitely in no way, shape, or form responsible for anything stupid I might ever have said on this blog.

Hey, if she's smart, she'll take responsibility for your posts . . . A politician could do a lot worse than guilt by association with you, IP!

Robert McClelland said...

But what can we do about it?

I doubt there's much that can be done in the US. Their media is too far gone. But we can still save the Canadian media from its self destructive behaviour by publicly shaming journalists whenever they practice this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Robert is in fact the classic case of a victim of such distortions. In order to make a point, and he was perfectly within reason to do so, he titled one of his posts "F*ck the Jews" or something to this effect.

No sooner had he done this than all sorts of self-important bloggers, including Kinsella, stepped in and called him anti-Semitic.

To this day, Kinsella keeps libelling Robert on his blog and denounces him as an anti-Semite.

Trust me, if Robert ever decided to run for political office, Kinsella et al. would make sure that their distorted interpretation of Robert's post would come to bite him in the ass.

Is this fair? No, not at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm confident by the time I finally run for something where opponents will dig into my blog and posting history to use it against me, I'll have written covering every single angle of an issue, that they can use something against me, and I'll use something else I'd written back against them. The only accusation that could stick would be that I change my mind when presented with convincing evidence [a flip flopper, as its commonly known these days in spinsville].