Citizen Bloggers or Corrupt Operatives? By James Joyner

Garance Franke-Ruta has created quite a firestorm with her American Prospect piece “Blogged Down.” Her argument, in a nutshell, is that despite the belief that the bloggers who helped bring down Dan Rather and Eason Jordan (not to mention Trent Lott, a far more significant case that doesn’t fit the thesis) are amateurs writing in their pajamas, many of those involved are actually–shudder–politically active individuals, some of whom actually work on the sidelines of the political arena.

Kevin Drum agrees wholeheartedly: “Garance ties four recent blog storms not to citizen bloggers, but to activists who are posing as citizen bloggers in order to provide a 21st century cover for old fashioned dirty tricks campaigns.” He cites this excerpt:

At worst, they’re the protégés of conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie and dirty-tricks master Morton Blackwell, who has tutored conservative activists since 1965….Easongate.com, the blog that served as the clearinghouse for the attack on CNN, was helped along by Virginia-based Republican operative Mike Krempasky. From May 1999 through August 2003, Krempasky worked for Blackwell as the graduate development director of the Leadership Institute, an Arlington, Virginia–based school for conservative leaders founded by Blackwell in 1979. The institute is the organization that had provided “Gannon” with his sole media credential before he became a White House correspondent.

But what of the liberal bloggers who are paid by those with an agenda? Franke-Ruta refers to the most obvious example in passing, mentioning a comment posted on the site owned by “Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, now also a major Democratic fund-raiser.” Goodness, Kos is arguably “the most successful blogger in the business.” I’m sure Mike Krempasky would take no offense in my noting that his influence in the blogosphere is far less than Kos’. Indeed, the entire impetus of Red State was to create a Republican site that would do what DKos does for the Democrats. He would concede, I’m sure, that he isn’t there yet.

Indeed, all of the top liberal bloggers on the Ecosystem are, using Franke-Ruta’s standards, Democratic “operatives.” Duncan “Atrios” Black is employed by Media Matters. Josh Marshall writes for the Washington Monthly, a magazine backed by major Democratic “operatives.” And for that matter, Drum now makes his living blogging for the same magazine.

So what? Their current employers hired them because they were writing passionately about the issues that they held dear and were able to attract sizable audiences doing so. Does anyone think Kos would not want to screw dead mercenaries or Drum would want to give President Bush a medal for his Guard service if someone else were signing their checks? As Krempasky observes in his own defense, “I have a political job, RedState is my hobby.” That’s true of all the righty bloggers mentioned in the piece and true of all the lefty bloggers I’ve noted above, with the exception of Drum. But Drum’s new site is, as far as I can tell, distinguishable from CalPundit only in the absence of Friday catblogging.

Pejman Yousefzadeh, Krempasky, Matt at Blackfive, Josh Trevino, and others with inside knowledge point out some substantive errors in the piece. Michelle Malkin has a roundup of other commentary on this issue, including an amusing one from Drum’s comment section:

They are fellows at the Claremont Institute (meaning, they get to have their names on a masthead somewhere as thanks for their donations). They went to Dartmouth and work as attorneys! Clearly, these are not real “citizens.” And they’ve even been known to publish articles in conservative magazines! Who would have ever thought that a blogger might be the type of person who is interested in writing!

Quite so.

Now, Franke-Ruta could easily have written a piece dispelling the “ordinary folks in their pajamas” mythos around the blogosphere by noting that most of the top bloggers are attorneys, professors, (even attorney-professors!), syndicated columnists, and other highly educated professionals with much more time on their hands than Joe Sixpack. That’s a point that needs making from time-to-time. But there’s nothing nefarious going on here.

Furthermore, even if all Franke-Ruta says were true, so what? Are Rather’s documents any less forged? Eason Jordan less of a nutjob? If not, then the argument is nothing more than an ad hominem.

This content was used with the permission of James Joyner from Outside the Beltway. You can read more of his work by clicking here.

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