Are campaigns and conversation incompatible?

The hiring and then mufflling of bloggers by the Edwards campaign has to make you wonder whether whether campaigns and conversation are incompatible. Or perhaps we just better get used to honesty — in the form of bluntness and transparency and frankness — as a new phenomenon.

When you hire a blogger, you hire someone who lives — thinks and speaks — in public. You hire someone who responds to conversations without the veils of spin and PR and plastic discretion that politicians must learn.

In other words, on our blogs, we all say things that might offend someone. Truth is, in life — in bars, in restaurants, in offices, on the phone — we all do that, only now there is a public and — usually — permanent record. So now when a campaign hires such a person, it has to gird its crotch for the inevitable finding-of-the-offensive that will occur in this, the age of offense. And then, as the Times points out this morning, it has to figure out what to do. Firing people because they once said something that might have offended someone won’t work; there’ll soon be no one left to hire except people who have nothing to say and have never said it. Censoring them post facto won’t work; it violates our ethics in blogs to try to erase your old words; it is a lie of omission. What the Edwards campaign tried to do was hold onto the bloggers but make them choke on crow to satisfy the chronically offended. That trick won’t last for long.

Why don’t we just get used to the idea that people say things that might offend others and that soon we will all — campaign workers and campaigners alike — have such things on the permanent record. Blogs, Facebooks, MySpace pages, YouTube videos — you might say that they will haunt us. But I prefer to think that they will force us to be more open, more honest. Maybe then we’ll have no choice but to have a real conversation.

  • Open? Honest?

    Said the wicked witch of the west, “What a world! What a world!”

  • Didn’t it also (or equally) have to do with the “raw” language. One may need to evaluate for style as well as substance before hiring.

  • beachmom

    Agreed. The blogosphere is a very rauceous place — it’s different from cable tv or newspaper columns. And it isn’t always rate at PG, nor should it be. It’s a matter of clean slates, which no one has. The right wing has just as many bloggers who have said offensive things as liberal bloggers. There was a prelude to this in the Virginia Senate election campaign in ’06 when the Allen campaign, fed up and out of ideas, attacked the Webb bloggers as “anti-semite” (hilarious, since one of them was Jewish), but you know it ended up on page 1 of my local newspaper. So I agree people are just going to have to get used to this new media, and deal with it.

  • ronbo

    Why don’t we just get used to the idea that people say things that might offend others?

    We could do that. We also could insist that people who claim a role on the national stage maintain certain standards of conduct for themselves and their representatives and be accountable when those standards are breached.

    Edwards should feel free to hire whomever he wishes as his bloggers-in-chief, but he shouldn’t be able to use the “blogs will be blogs” defense when his representatives say embarrassing or hateful things. What irritates me is less what the bloggers wrote than it is Edwards’ ducking of responsibility. Some leader!

    By the way, your reference to “[f]iring people because they once said something that might have offended someone” puzzles me. The posts that have gained the most attention are very recent – it’s not like Robert Byrd having joined the Klan 60 years ago. If you are arguing for a “statute of limitations” on the consequences of blog postings, fine. But what an exercise in line drawing! How long until a blogger should get a pass on posts that, say, are anti-Muslim, or white supremacist, or blame 9/11 on the Jews?

  • Bob

    ronbo is correct in this. Edwards is free to hire those he chooses. But he is open to criticism when he hires those who are lightning rods. Marcotte speaks for the campaign as its blogger. What she has to say reflects upon he who has hired her.

    Edwards is backing her right now. But he needs to do more than say the four-letter words bother him. Marcotte has displayed a disdain for the Catholic church. Doesn’t Edwards need to answer why he wants someone of that mindset to work for him? Isn’t that a fair question to ask of the man who would be president?

    Or are we only permitted to know boxers or briefs?

  • I actually think what made this a story was the 36 hours Edward’s spent thinking about whether to fire them or not. 36 hours is an eternity in the blogosphere.

    But I agree with your point, people’s tolerance of this stuff has got to increase. Anyway under 30 years old qualified to do this stuff is going to have some skeletons online somewhere.

  • First. Given a chance to condemn or excuse profanity/vulgarity, Jarvis will always choose the latter – but we all know that by now.

    Second. On some level, Edwards’ choice either shows reckless incompetence on his part or it highlights a dearth of marketable bloggers who hold beliefs compatible to the unctuous, delusional trial lawyer.

  • The biggest problem was Edwards had absolutely no idea who either of these women were, or the “conversations” they and their commenters regularly engaged in, before allowing them to join his campaign. During the delay before he officially announced they would not be fired, Salon printed a piece saying the bloggers were going to get canned, and the “netroots” when nuts, and promised retribution on a massive scale if they were released from the campaign staff.

    Edwards seems to have decided to accede to the threat, and the bloggers–outragously, in my mind–announced in effect, “we didn’t really mean all those things we wrote.”

    So, for the time being, Edwards has decided ticking off Catholics/Christians/white males (etc.) is a lesser evil than ticking off the Kos kids.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    For now (2008 election season), campaigns and conversations are incompatible. The reason, in my view, is that only a tiny minority – albeit influential – are engaged in the conversation.

    Eventually we will find a place to peg blogging on the scale between private conversation and public oratory. But we aren’t there yet.

  • Candidates hiring bloggers is just an extension of campaign strategy. It has nothing to do with having a conversation. It has to do with inventing or manipulating the conversation. That is the core of politics and hiring bloggers is just another tool to that end. Get elected, advance pass go, collect all the cash you can and repeat until defeated.

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  • Paw

    Clearly, Edwards and friends aren’t interested in dialogue, as Mr. Matthews indicates above. They are there to find contributors (and thus contributions) as well as to push Edwards’ agenda to a community he can’t reach via traditional media. In that respect, they are as much paid shills as any publicist.

    The difference is that, unlike most paid shills, bloggers tend to reveal more of what they think as people in their personal journals. This is only the tip of the iceberg; I’m assuming most campaign consultants will push candidates to use influential bloggers to reach the “youth vote” without thoroughly researching what they may have written as people in the past.

    And BTW, if these bloggers can be bought for the price of a consulting fee, what does that say about the validity and veracity of blogging in general? How do we really know who’s a paid shill and who isn’t, if they choose not to reveal what’s behind the curtain?

  • I agree with Edwards’ decision to keep the bloggers, reprimand them and not fire them. This is far more relational and less corporate/political.

    It does bother me, however, that there’s a “blogs will be blogs” attitude about what these Edwards campaign bloggers have written. Anti-Catholic hate is hate. Painting conservatives with a broad brush and calling them all “christo-fascists” is just plain irresponsible. These bloggers (in true blogosphere fashion) need to receive rebuke as much as they dish it out. And when they represent a broader group than just their bad selves, they need to submit to Edwards reprimand.

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  • greg0658

    We need more voice in decisions – not just a voice in a person.

    The internet has delivered the mechanism.

    The voices of the many will staighten out the mess.

    I think the intricacy of developed nations is what brings them down.

    I think America will have a half life of the Romans.

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  • Wait- so blogging isn’t a real conversation?? You mean conversation really does refer to the act of talking not just communicating? If not, and all it really is-is the exchange of information between two sources- then hey-every website I read is a conversation right? I mean- some “body” did initially put it there for me to engage in. Their part of the conversation just started a little while before mine- is that any less meaningful? Who knows- but I do recommend a great website for “conversation” or reading or research or whatever it is that tickles your fancy. Finally- something to keep you interested! Check it out;

    Know it.
    Shelby the Intern