Billmon Calls It

blogging, Democratic Party, News Media

Great minds thinking alike

OK, so now I’ve given you all my disclaimers. But I still haven’t explained why I’m even talking about this stupid crap. The reason is what happened over the weekend: i.e. the major slime job in Newsweek, and David Brooks’ ridiculous column in the New Pravda. The campaign against Kos, which I’d originally dismissed as just another pissy TNR vendetta, is starting to look more and more like a coordinated effort: a Swiftboat operation. At the very least, it’s snowballing into a more systematic media attack on Left Blogistan, which makes it my fight as well as Kos’s.

I’m not suggesting Karl Rove (or some other GOP mastermind) is behind this, or even that there is some kind of cabal of neocon/dino democrat-leaning journalists orchestrating it. But the m.o. very much resembles the classic Swiftboat strategy: start some vague, unsourced allegations echoing in the blogosphere, then persuade your ideological allies in the corporate media to start firing on target — based on the flimsy excuse that “people are talking” about the “issue.” Rinse and repeat.

Exactly, although I still suspect that at least part of the pile-on is about discrediting candidates who are thought to be associated with Kos. The New Republic guys are buds with Joe Lieberman, after all …

This would actually be less ominous if the Rovians or their kind really were behind this. Political dirty tricks are nothing new, and we already know how the GOP and the right-wing blogs do their thing. In this case, however, it looks like Kos’s media critics have actually decided to go into the Swiftboating business themselves, instead of simply swallowing whatever regurgitated slop the political operatives and the “independent” advocacy groups drop into their gaping mouths.

The initial smear, after all, wasn’t incubated on just on any old blog, but on one tied directly to the apron strings of the Grey Lady herself — The New York Times, with another venerable publication, The New Republic, putting the echo in echo chamber. Then the mainstream jackals moved in, right on schedule. It does appear that somebody has been feeding driblets of derogatory information (including, apparently, a phony email) to sympathetic reporters. But if there are any political operatives involved (as opposed to journalists acting like political operatives) they’ve keep their tracks very well hidden. Call it the Immaculate Swiftboat.

Political operatives with a lot of buffers

This is something new, or at least different from what we’ve become accustomed to. I think it highlights the speed with which the lapdogs of the so-called liberal media are evolving (or I should say devolving) into the watchdogs of the political status quo — in this case, the ossified and increasingly dysfunctional status quo within the Democratic Party. Kos, and his blog allies and followers, appear to have touched an extremely raw nerve with tribunes of modern neoliberalism (like neoconservatism, but without the strength of its convictions.) …

… Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the media attacks started almost as soon as Yearly Kos ended, but I doubt it. Either all that favorable media coverage pushed the pretty boys at the TNR and the Times over the edge, or somebody, as they say in Godfather II, pushed a button.

As Billmon says, there are several layers of hypocrisy to dig through. And I’m saying some of that hypocrisy is coming from the Left. From the fresh-off-the-farm innocents, or hair-shirt purists, who thought the Warner party whiffed off too much money — as I explained in this comment, Warner is a rich guy, and by a rich guy’s standards that party was the equivalent of cooking hamburgers in the back yard — to the ideologues who complain because Kos is all about winning elections for Democrats and won’t consider third party candidates. As Billmon says, Kos has never pretended to be other than a Democratic Party activist. This is not a crime.

Billmon continues,

The thing is, despite all hyperventilating about corruption and conflict of interest, I still don’t understand what Kos is supposed to have done wrong. He and Jerome were partners in a political consulting business back in 2004 (Suellentrop, as we’ve already seen, dredged up every backstabbing piece of office gossip from the Dean campaign.) Jerome still does consulting work, Kos does not. Jerome has some sort of contract with the Warner campaign, Kos does not. Warner threw a big party at Yearly Kos, and Kos has written favorably of Warner’s presidential aspirations at Daily Kos (although I read Daily Kos fairly regularly, and it’s not as if Kos has turned the place into Mark Warner Central.)

And . . . what? Well, nothing, it appears. If the TNR blogswarmers or anyone else have any evidence that Jerome and/or Warner has been passing money to Kos under the table, they’ve yet to produce it. And I think it’s fairly safe to say that if they had such evidence, it would be all over the New York Times by now.

I’m not sure whose idea it is that we bloggers are supposed to be neutral as far as candidates or parties are concerned. We’re just citizens expressing opinions. Whatever candidates a blogger chooses to endorse are his business. You can agree or disagree, but if bloggers aren’t supporting candidates you like, start your own bleeping blog.

Second, there seems to be some kind of unwritten code that we bloggers are supposed to be untainted by money, and that if any of us ever accepts money for doing some kind of work related to politics we have “sold out.” I’m sorry, but I didn’t take a vow of poverty when I started blogging. As long as the blogger is transparent about the relationship — puts a notice on his blog that “I’m currently a paid consultant for so-and-so,” I don’t see what the big deal is.

I will tell you honestly that I have been putting out the word that I’m available if some advocacy organization or candidate needs a web writer or speech writer or something, because I am not wealthy and one of these days I will need some income. I wouldn’t work for a candidate or group I dislike — that would be selling out — but if I could get paid for helping a good candidate or cause, I’d be thrilled.

Billmon continues,

I’m no Washington political insider, but I spent enough time on the fringes of that world to know that consultants — including ones with names like Carville, Shrum, Begala and Greenberg — often go into partnerships together, often back the same candidates as their former partners, and sometimes speak favorably of candidates their former partners are working for, even when they’re not really on the same wave length ideologically. This is what the political reporters like to call pragmatism, and for some strange reason Newsweek hasn’t seen fit to brand it as a form of payola, until just now.

It’s an incestuous world, and (to me at least) a deeply repugnant one. But it takes a keener sense of ethics than I possess to see where Kos has transgressed the unwritten code that seems so visible to his media critics — particularly since (did I mention this fact before?) he has never claimed to be anything other than (let me repeat this slowly so even the half wits in Right Blogistan can understand) a D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-A-R-T-Y A-C-T-I-V-I-S-T. And Daily Kos is a web site for Democratic Party activists. Not a newspaper. Not a foundation. Not a think tank. What section of unwritten SCLM code of ethics forbids Kos from endorsing candidates that Jerome works for? Or, for that matter, that Kos works for?

Billmon goes on to say that when elements in media and government who complain that we are a leftie fringe or out of control or turning corrupt, what really worries them is that we’re an emerging power they can’t control. The current pushback against blogs is a signal that we’re arriving. And it’s going to get uglier before it gets better.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Donna  •  Jun 27, 2006 @10:47 am

    I think Paul Hackett would agree to Billmon’s musings.

    The beltway bosses want to discipline/control the blogs for the same reason they want to discipline/control the candidates, regardless of party. Without firm control over legislative outcomes, party bosses lose their behind-the-scenes middle-merchant power-broker positioning.

    Blog power=people power=democracy. Real democracy is anethema to the belt-way bosses who do business as parent corporations controlling subsidiary candidates.

  2. maha  •  Jun 27, 2006 @11:01 am

    Bob Fertik of Democrats.com told me that the Democratic Party has been after him for years to give back “their” domain name, even though he obtained it fair and square, and even though he’s doing a great (and free) service to the Dems by running the site as he does.

    This is just dumb. They’re so obsessed with control that they can’t see talent and initiative when it’s right under their noses.

  3. Marilyn James  •  Jun 27, 2006 @11:48 am

    You really need to listen to Rush Limbaugh. He tore Kos apart recently and I’m sure his listeners took it upon themselves to “put Kos in his place”. It isn’t an orchestrated thing exactly, Rush justs gets on the air and rants and raves about the latest leftie outrage and his minions pile on. It’s just that simple.

  4. maha  •  Jun 27, 2006 @11:54 am

    You really need to listen to Rush Limbaugh.

    I don’t have the stomach for it.

  5. Bonnie  •  Jun 27, 2006 @12:15 pm

    I don’t have the stomach for listening to Rush, the law breaker, either.

  6. Raenelle  •  Jun 27, 2006 @12:25 pm

    There’s also a campaign of sorts against Jon Stewart.

  7. Swami  •  Jun 27, 2006 @2:07 pm

    I will tell you honestly that I have been putting out the word that I’m available if some advocacy organization or candidate needs a web writer or speech writer or something, because I am not wealthy and one of these days I will need some income.

    I’m hoping that your efforts come to fruition. You’re honest, talented, and dedicated to your beliefs. Without doubt, you’d be an asset to any candidate or organization who could recognize what you have to offer.

    You mentioned a while back about your apprehensions of how you fit in, in the new arena of of politics in the blogosphere. My feeling is that your ability lies in communicating and dissecting the dynamics of politics into easily understandable terms. From my first encounter of reading your work( The Masculine Mystique) I recognized your ability to articulate a complex dynamic that many of us innately understand by feelings. but can’t understand by intellect, into something we can grasp. You are an educator and that role is critical at this point in time in the political arena.

    I bet when you think about Ann Coulter and her talents in relation to where she is in the national spotlight… you scatch your head. I have very little understanding of the art of journalism; but I do know a mystery when I see it.

  8. MNPundit  •  Jun 27, 2006 @5:25 pm

    I just worry if we can win this fight against the establishment. They can pull shit like killing Net Neutrality on us and what can we do back to them?

  9. Donna  •  Jun 28, 2006 @12:00 am

    Maha, Swami said it well in his comment above. Your ability does lie in articulating complex dynamics in easily understandable terms. Plus, your use of phrasing often hits the jugular and the deep chuckle response, too.

  10. Bruce Baugh  •  Jun 28, 2006 @9:34 am

    Maha, very best wishes on finding some political applications of your talents. One of the ways political arenas change is whent he mix of participants change, and the new ones simply refuse to keep on acting like the old ones. What we need is precisely a wider range of people who don’t live the same way and don’t think the same way, but who respect each other and can cooperate nonetheless – away from a mono-culture, and toward a viable civil society among those shaping policies and campaigns.

  11. Eric Odom  •  Jun 28, 2006 @4:31 pm

    Good post. Will you guys be keeping an eye on http://www.bloggingman.org next year? It’s the conservative version of Yearly KOS. Should be interesting.

  12. maha  •  Jun 28, 2006 @4:46 pm

    Eric — thanks for the tip!

  13. Eric Odom  •  Jun 28, 2006 @5:01 pm

    No probs. While we may disagree politically, I find your writings to be intriquing. Thanks for doing what you do!

  14. Richard Silverstein  •  Jul 8, 2006 @5:21 am

    Bob Fertik of Democrats.com [has] doing a great (and free) service to the Dems by running the site as he does.

    Maha: I don’t know Bob Fertik personally and he may be providing a great service to the Democratic party. But you should know that I posted once to the forum at Democrats.com criticizing the Bush Administration for not having an effective policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the MODERATOR, not a reader, attacked me with what I viewed as an anti-Semitic slur saying I only criticized U.S. policy because I had a conflict of interest in wishing our country to intervene in the conflict. In other words, he raised the stupid old dual loyalty canard saying my primary loyalty was to Israel rather than the U.S.

    I tried to contact Fertik directly about this incident but I could find no e mail contact for him on the site. If you know of a way I can communicate this to him and would be willing to share it I’d be grateful.