December 10, 2004

CBS Vs. Blogs

The story's all over the place: on the virtual eve of the final Memogate report on CBS' malfeasance during the TANG memo controversy CBS' David Paul Kuhn released a story showing that two bloggers - John Lauck of DaschlevThune and James Van Beek of South Dakota Politics - who were paid for their blogging.

It was, of course, the main topic last night when the NARN sat in for Hugh Hewitt; Kuhn's article calls, not at all subtly, for regulation of blogs:

Like all media, blogs hold the potential for abuse. Experts point out that blogs' unregulated status makes them particularly attractive outlets for political attack.

“The question is: What are the appropriate regulations on the Internet?" asked Kathleen Jamieson, an expert on political communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. “It’s evolved into an area that we need to do more thinking about it.

“If you put out flyers, you have to disclaim it, you have to represent who you are,” Jamieson said. “If you put out an ad you have to put a disclaimer on it. But we don’t have those sorts of regulations for political content, that is campaign-financed on the Internet.”

First Amendment attorney Kevin Goldberg called blogs “definitely new territory.”

“[The question is] whether blogs are analogous to a sole person campaigning or whether they are very much a media publication, which is essentially akin to an online newspaper,” said Goldberg, who is the legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

“Ultimately, I think, the decision will have to come down to whether the public will be allowed to decide whether bloggers are credible or whether some regulation needs to occur.”

Ah. Regulation. That'll work. Just like McCain-Feingold kept money out of politics.

The lesson to bloggers, of course, is to disclose any sponsorship you get. Ed puts it well:

I don't think they meant to hide anything, and working on a campaign for money doesn't necessarily invalidate a blogger's point of view. After all, the NARN guys did volunteer work for Bush here in Minnesota and I did some promotion for Pam Ward, a candidate for the Minnesota House who ran a fine campaign but lost to an entrenched candidate. We blog on politics because we love campaigns and issues; why wouldn't we be involved?

However, the difference is that we clearly stated on our blogs the relationships we had with the campaigns, and none of us accepted money outside of paid blogads, which of course are plainly visible on our sites. Jason writes an impassioned defense, but he can't be serious in expecting his readers to know his status as a paid Thune consultant because the Argus Leader wrote about it once back in July. Responsibility for disclosure should be on the blogger, not his or her readers.

Of course, both Lauck and ">Van Beek have responsed to CBS.

Behind it all, of course, is the fact that CBS is about to face the biggest embarassment of its corporate life - perhaps the biggest journalistic debacle of all time. The timing of the Kuhn story is too cute by half by trying to smear blogging as a medium.

The difference, of course, is that very few bloggers portray themselves as impartial and balanced, whether they're paid or not. CBS, laughably, does.

Posted by Mitch at December 10, 2004 06:03 AM | TrackBack

Ah, the old media's way of dealing with competition: regulate them to hell. TV tried it with VCRs (and are trying it again with DVRs), Cable tried it with satellite, liberals with conservative talk shows, Locals tried it with cable, AM-FM is trying it with XM, The RIAA with Netcasters, and now TV Nets with bloggers. If you can't beat them, bruise them.

That being said, both blogs seem a little less "real" now. If they want to take money from campaigns, I'm fine with that, but I think it would be wise if they were up front about it. At the least, they should have thought ahead to the obvious point when someone with a grudge did a hit piece on them....personally I expected the Argus to do so earlier. "The hacks at the Argus Leader are worse" is true, but still probably not a good defense. A little CYA goes a long way.

Posted by: Jerry Leigh at December 10, 2004 08:04 AM

I think an even more laughable part of the same story is that it was full of factual errors about Eschaton and Atrios. First, they said that the entire time he had been blogging he was working for Media Matters and not disclosing his relationship. But it isn't true... he was blogging two years before he started working for Media Matters. Plus... they insinuated that he had been posing as "non-partisan" in his blogging. I think we can all agree he has never pretended to be that.

Posted by: Carson at December 10, 2004 10:19 AM

No, I have to hand it to Atrios and Willis - they at least disclosed pretty fully.

However, Atrios' explanation of Media Matters was (probably unintentionally) hilarious: They're a "nonpartisan" 501c3 devoted to monitoring conservative media.

2+2=5, Winston.

Posted by: mitch at December 10, 2004 11:29 AM

And there are no conservative non-profit organizations that are considered "non-partisan"?

Posted by: Carson at December 10, 2004 11:49 AM

I agree that it seems a little unclear... partisan or non-partisan... with these types of groups considering the work that they do, but the point I am trying to make is that this is how the game is played on both sides of the fence.

Posted by: Carson at December 10, 2004 11:54 AM

By the way... did you see O'Reilly call Media Matters "the most vile, despicable human beings in the country" yesterday?

I mean... I understand some conservatives don't like some liberals... but sheesh.

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