Thursday, February 8, 2007
Edwards' Blogging Headache
The spherical world of blogs has been abuzz the last few days with a story that might not translate so well for folks who don't follow blogs as obsessively as most bloggers do. Last week, the Edwards campaign hired two women to handle the campaign's online opinion-shaping efforts. Both are accomplished bloggers in the activist "netroot" style, with wide readerships and long, easily vetted public policy positions.
But apparently no one at the Edwards campaign bothered to do so, since both have since come under fire, albeit from dubious right-wing critics, for their provocative stances on various issues, as well as their use of colorful language to express them. Among the offending passages? A number of offensive and inflammatory remarks towards Catholics and evangelical Christians. Now everyone (that either publishes a blog or reads one, that is) is waiting to see whether the Edwards campaign caves in and fires the two, or stands by the hires.
The whole episode raises lots of interesting questions, including how mainstream campaigns, by nature discrete and cautious (in Freudian terms, retentive), can hope to harness the power and influence of bloggers, often flamboyant and provocative (in Freudian terms, explosive). The arrangement seems inherently unstable, given the campaign's need for presenting a unified front, and the blogger's instinct for airing dirty laundry in public.
But assuming it is possible, the question arises of whether it's advisable. Can outspoken bloggers who become paid employees, ie. spokespeople, of a campaign retain their credibility as independent critics? How will they respond to the accusations that arise each time they start toe-ing a line that contradicts their previously published opinion? Or worse, if they remain silent?
To illustrate the point, let's substitute rappers for bloggers. While I don't think it would surprise anyone to see a politically engaged, socially conscious rapper endorse a presidential candidate, the idea of one being hired as a liaison to the hip hop community would probably raise eyebrows. As well as questions about their credibility each time they recorded a "sponsored" rap.
To bring it back to the case of the Edwards bloggers, imagine now that in addition to a sterling progressive record, our rapper has in the past recorded a lyric or two bashing gays, to pick a sadly common example. Do you think progressive bloggers would still be calling for the campaign to stand behind him?
It seems like at the very least, a strong disavowal of any offensive (hence divisive) positions is in order. As well as a re-consideration of whether it's in either party's interest to bring the online opinionators in from the cold.
Update: Looks like they've taken the disavowal route after all. TPM Cafe has the statements just released by Edwards and the two bloggers.