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Meet the New Bosses

After crashing the gate of the political establishment, bloggers are looking more like the next gatekeepers.

| Wed Jun. 20, 2007 3:00 AM EDT

Or perhaps a little sooner. "The consultancies, the Jerome Armstrong 'scandal,' the tnr kerfuffle—all these things are cropping up because the power of the blogosphere is undeniable and will NOT go away," wrote Maryscott O'Connor, of My Left Wing, in a post titled "Something Is Rotten in Blogmark," shortly after the Moulitsas-tnr spat. "This is what happens when you crash the gates. All of a sudden, you're not just a pajama-clad kid in his parents' basement; once you've demonstrated your power and influence, people start demanding accountability and transparency. They want to know, for instance, that you aren't pushing a candidate MERELY because you (or your friends) have been paid by that candidate to do so."

When I reached O'Connor this spring at her home in Sherman Oaks, California, she said the Townhouse flap had been on her mind recently. A 39-year-old stay-at-home mom, she has earned a devoted following with her intemperate, gripping screeds on her blog and on Daily Kos. (A month after we spoke, Moulitsas banned her from the site over a copyright violation.) O'Connor speaks like she writes, in stream-of-consciousness bursts, and she told me she had begun to feel there was a "schism" in the blogosphere. "I think that certain bloggers, the big ones, think politics is sexy," she said. "They want in, and they're getting in. They'll do anything to get in, almost. They want a seat at the table. They want to be in the inner circle of the Democratic Party." A member of Townhouse, she was at first reluctant to talk about the list but changed her mind midway through our conversation, predicting that her comments would get her banished. "It's fucking Skull and Bones, man," she said. "The very secretive, behind-closed-doors nature of it is anathema to everything that blogging is supposed to be about: accountability. We are supposed to be showing the way, not skulking around behind closed doors, coming up with strategies. Those are the people who we're trying to fight. I know about 'the real world' and all that shit. But we're the idealists, aren't we?"

As the medium is co-opted and incorporated into both Democratic and Republican hierarchies, more controversies are bound to follow. Already there's evidence that "sock puppets" are showing up on blogs—political pros masquerading as grassroots posters. In one incident uncovered by the conservative blog Red State, an operative with ties to John McCain's political action committee authored posts on the blog praising the Arizona senator and criticizing rival Rudy Giuliani. Meanwhile, Patrick Hynes, the consultant who founded Ankle Biting Pundits (formerly Crush Kerry), was the first well-known blogger of the '08 cycle caught failing to disclose a conflict: He wrote posts on his own blog supporting John McCain and knocking Mitt Romney, but never told his readers that he was under contract with the McCain campaign.


Hits And Misses: Rating The Candidates' Websites

John McCain
So Web 2.0: Users can set up their own McCainSpace page...
So Web 1.0: ...which can only be used to raise money
Overall feel: Original gunmetal-gray design more Mein Kampf than MySpace

Mitt Romney
So Web 2.0: Mitt TV videos, Romney's studly sons' "Five Brothers" blog
So Web 1.0: "QuickComMITT" fundraising accounts Overall feel: Bland, corporate

Rudy Giuliani
So Web 2.0: Rudy blog widgets
So Web 1.0: Everything else
Overall feel: Overuse of ALL CAPS doesn't soften Rudy's image

Barack Obama
So Web 2.0: Users can hook up via
So Web 1.0: Lapel pins for sale
Overall feel: Efficient

John Edwards
So Web 2.0: Visitors have uploaded their own antiwar videos
So Web 1.0: Has a page to explain permalinks and podcasts
Overall feel: Geeky, yet well-groomed

Hillary Clinton
So Web 2.0: Watching a HillCast
So Web 1.0: Becoming a HillRaiser
Overall feel: Uberpollster Mark Penn blogging on "framing." Enough said.

—Jonathan Stein

As bloggers attain power and influence, they will undoubtedly find themselves subject to the same withering scrutiny they've bestowed on other powerful people. And they won't take it quietly. During the Townhouse fight, Zengerle was slammed both politically and professionally, with some comparing him to the infamous New Republic fabricator Stephen Glass. "It was like, how can we discredit Zengerle?" he says. "The same way that if you're running a political campaign you would say, 'How can we discredit John Kerry?'" K. Daniel Glover, editor of the National Journal's Technology Daily and author of the site's Beltway Blogroll, was the target of similar vitriol in December after penning a New York Times op-ed that explored bloggers' financial connections to campaigns. "You might think that with the kind of rhetoric bloggers regularly muster against politicians, they would never work for them," he wrote. "But you would be wrong." He also noted that "few of these bloggers shut down their 'independent' sites after signing on with campaigns, and while most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs, some...did so only after being criticized by fellow bloggers."

"There was quite a nasty reaction to my op-ed," says Glover. "I've been surprised at how thin-skinned bloggers can be. You compare that with how they treat the mainstream media and how they'll go after them and attack them, but when anything at all is said about the blogosphere, they go off half-cocked."

Part of the problem, says Armstrong, is that journalists wrongly apply their own ethical standards to nonjournalists. "From my perspective, I'm like, what are you talking about? You know I'm a Democrat. If I wasn't working for the person, I'd still be advocating for them. I'm a full-time partisan operative." Back in 2005, Armstrong set out his own ethics rule of thumb: "What the campus blogethicists don't understand is that we are at war out here every day on the front lines as partisan Democratic activist bloggers against a Republican machine that uses whatever means it takes to win. So, if it's not against the law, I don't want to hear about it, because in the political arena, the first thing that matters in elections and campaigns is winning, with the only accountability being the electioneering laws of Congress. Only after winning do we have a chance at enacting a progressive agenda." Moulitsas chimed in on Daily Kos: "Anyone that tries to tell me how to act will get a big middle finger shoved up their face."

Moulitsas has been on paternity leave and didn't respond to interview requests. When I emailed Townhouse list owner Matt Stoller to talk about this story, Stoller replied tersely: "Google 'blogger ethics panel.'" (A running blogosphere joke, the query brings up various tales of mainstream media hypocrisy.) Then he posted my email on MyDD as the inaugural message in a series he calls, simply, "Annoying Email."

So who, wonders Maryscott O'Connor, will crash the gate-crashers' party? "Once you get a taste of money and fame and power and adulation, how do you stay true to what got you there in the first place?" Everyone wants to win, she is quick to add. But: "When you play their game, you become everything that you were trying to beat. They're becoming," she says, a tremor of genuine horror in her voice, "Republicans."

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