Kos-ola Payola?

Are you ready for an exciting foray into the seamy underbelly of the blogosphere? Well then, strap on your seatbelt and let me tell you a little bit about the still unfolding Kos-ola scandal.

To make a long story short, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos has had a long business relationship with Jerome Armstrong, who has left MyDD to consult.

And what’s interesting about that is people have noticed that in several instances, after money has gone into Jerome Armstrong’s hands, the people shelling out the cash suddenly seem to have good things happen to them on the Daily Kos.

Three examples noted by Jim Geraghty over at TKS include:

— Kos doing a u-turn on his support for Paul Hackett and backing Sherrod Brown, who had previously hired Armstrong, instead.

— Jon Corzine paying Armstrong’s consulting firm and getting a diary at the Daily Kos three days later.

— The strong support Kos has had for Mark Warner, another Armstrong client, despite the fact that Warner has strong ties to the DLC, an organization Kos seems to loathe.

Interestingly enough, although this story has started to pick up steam because it has been revealed that Jerome Armstrong was engaged in some shady stock deals (along with some other factors that will be talked about momentarily), it has been percolating for longer than most people realize. In fact, Salon noted the sometimes odd synergy between Kos and Armstrong back on May 30, 2006:

“The online unity was shattered, however, in October when Sherrod Brown, an outspokenly liberal seven-term congressman from Ohio, announced that he would run for the seat. Armstrong, who had been working as a consultant for Brown, encouraged an online rebellion against Hackett. Before long, Moulitsas and other bloggers had abandoned their once-favorite son, arguing, along with Democratic Party leaders, that Brown was more electable. In one post,, on Oct. 6, Moulitsas wrote, “It might be a good idea for Hackett to stand down.” This shocked many readers who had cheered another Kos post just two days earlier, in which Moulitsas seemed to endorse Hackett in a race against Brown. “Give me an Iraq vet over a career politician,” he wrote.

“It looked like Jerome and Markos were using their big-box blogs to steamroll into Ohio,” said Russell Hughlock, aka Pounder, an electrical engineer who runs the BuckeyeStateBlog. “A lot of people left Kos … because they got pissed.”

…Armstrong’s friendship with Moulitsas, whose Web site attracts more traffic than the next three largest liberal blogs combined, is the topic of extensive discussion on DailyKos and other sites. The pair’s friendship dates back to 2002, and the early days of the Dean campaign, when Moulitsas began blogging for Armstrong’s MyDD, the home page for many of Dean’s early supporters. In addition to the Hackett posts, bloggers have wondered if Armstrong’s work for Warner caused Moulitsas to abandon his once ferocious campaign to shame any Democrat who associated with the DLC. “We need to make the DLC radioactive,” Kos wrote in August 2005. “No calls for a truce will be brooked.”

Moulitsas says he does not identify Warner with the DLC, especially when compared to other prospective presidential candidates. As for the lack of recent rants against the organization, he says he no longer rails against the DLC because he does not want to raise its profile. “I realized that the more I talked about them the more relevant they became,” he said. “That was my realization last summer.” As for his friendship with Armstrong, Moulitsas makes no apologies. “There is no doubt that Jerome impacts my thinking and my thinking impacts his,” he said. “The fact is that Jerome and I talk a lot.”

So, does this all point to a Kos/Armstrong backdoor deal? Although some of these maneuvers on Kos’s part are admittedly more than a little bit suspicious, it doesn’t mean that he’s on the take.

— Brown was a better candidate than Hackett.

— Corzine may have gotten a diary at the Daily Kos based on Armstrong’s suggestion and what blogger would say, “no,” to having a Senator posting guest blogs?

— Mark Warner would be the best candidate that the Democrats have, although it is very odd that Kos, a guy who despised the DLC and was talking openly about trying to take them down, suddenly supported a DLC connected candidate.

Put it all together and the most likely explanation would seem to be that Kos is good friends with Armstrong and pays a lot of attention to what he tells him. In other words, one of the fringe benefits of hiring Armstrong may be knowing that your consultant appears to have a lot of sway with the guy running the biggest liberal blog on the net.

Now, if that was all there was to it, I wouldn’t bother to write about it. But, in the course of reacting to this story, Kos sent out a missive to a private email list of liberal bloggers called “Townhouse” — and told them not to discuss the story. Wait a second…there’s a list of liberal bloggers out there where they discuss what stories are to be talked about and what stories are going to be ignored? Well, well, well.

Here’s part of the email Kos sent out, via The Plank:

“I am exploring legal options against some of the wingnut bloggers who are claiming I’m syphoning netroots money into consultants and my own pockets. Note how Glenn Reynolds is fueling it with his typical passive aggressive, “I don’t think it’s a big deal, but let me provide links to everyone who thinks this is THE BIGGEST STORY EVER!”

…This story will percolate in wingnut circles until then, but I haven’t gotten a single serious media call about it yet. Not one. So far, this story isn’t making the jump to the traditional media, and we shouldn’t do anything to help make that happen.

My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now. It would make my life easier if we can confine the story. Then, once Jerome can speak and defend himself, then I’ll go on the offensive (which is when I would file any lawsuits) and anyone can pile on. If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let’s starve it of oxygen. And without the “he said, she said” element to the story, you know political journalists are paralyzed into inaction.”

Isn’t it fascinating to see that the same liberal bloggers who claim conservatives are mind-numbed robots are getting marching orders from Kos behind-the-scenes?

Moreover, this apparently isn’t the first time this “Townhouse” list has had a big impact on how the liberal blogosphere behaves. Via Redstate, take a look at what happened to the Online Integrity project, a bi-partisan effort to set some standards for conduct in the blogosphere that originally had more than a little left-wing support, after it hit the Townhouse list:

“With the reaction against OI at Townhouse, left-bloggers began dropping out of the effort en masse. Stoller, previously supportive, sent some e-mails which I find frankly dishonest (again, that I can forward to you) about his reservations, and his decision to withdraw. SusanG of dKos, previously an avid supporter, e-mailed to rescind her participation. Jonathan Singer of MyDD, upon learning of his blogging colleagues’ opposition, also e-mailed to rescind his participation. The few left-bloggers that did stay on board either laid low and said nothing (ie, mcjoan) or were ejected from Townhouse for their refusal to conform. This last was, in fact, the fate of Maryscott O’Conner of My Left Wing, whom you should speak with. Notably, in the end, the only two significant left-bloggers who remained willing to speak publicly in favor of the privacy concept were Ms O’Conner and Armando of dKos.”

There were people kicked off the email list for refusing to toe-the-line? Tsk, tsk tsk. But, it could be worse. What if refusing to bow to Kos actually costs bloggers money? Over at The Plank, they’re speculating that Kos and Company might be controlling the behavior of liberal bloggers through the “Townhouse” list by threatening to yank them from the liberal advertising network at BlogAds.

“Along with Armstrong and MyDD’s Chris Bowers, Kos runs a BlogAds advertising network called Advertising Liberally, to which a number of “Townhouse” members belong. (If you want a fuller understanding of how BlogAds advertising networks operate, and how they allow lower-traffic blogs to gain more clout with advertisers by combining their traffic, read this piece.) Therefore, Kos (along with Armstrong and Bowers) gets to decide which blogs belong–and don’t belong–to Advertising Liberally, which means a lot of these blogs’ financial health hinges upon staying in Kos’s good graces. Is it any wonder they’re so obedient?”

I run the conservative network for BlogAds, so I can answer a few questions, asked and unasked about this.

— Would getting kicked out of the liberal advertising network cost a liberal blog a lot of money? Yes. They could still sell ads on the main website, but a lot of advertisers buy their ads on those networks so it would definitely sting to get kicked off the list.

— Could Kos kick someone off the network for disagreeing with him? I can’t speak for the arrangement BlogAds has with those guys, but I have complete control over who gets in my network and who doesn’t. So, if I were the sort of person who was inclined to kick someone out for the pettiest of reasons, could I do it and get away with it? Absolutely, and my assumption is that Kos could do it as well.

— I can tell you for a fact that there has already been a purge of liberal blogs from the network — although, ostensibly, the reasons had nothing to do with ideology or personal issues with Kos.

So, does this mean Kos is explicitly using fear of lost ad revenues to keep people in line? Again, probably not. But, look at it this way: Kos has proven himself to be extremely vindictive towards liberals who don’t toe the line, (See his latest comments about The New Republic for a perfect example) and he has an enormous blog. Given that, would it be a big surprise if there were liberal bloggers who were really worried about getting on the wrong side of a guy who can send or deny them endless fountains of traffic — and who has control over how they get paid? Actually, it wouldn’t be a big surprise at all.

Put it all together and you may have a lot of sound of fury signifying nothing — but, it sure is fun to watch it all unfold.

Update #1: The Sanctuary, Via Allah at Hot Air, explains who’s really behind these problems for Kos:

Update #2: Interestingly enough, The Plank, over at the very liberal New Republic, has been running point on this story and they have some more behind-the-scenes emails from liberal bloggers on the TownHouse mailing list, who were privately concerned about how this whole story makes Kos and Armstrong look bad. Check them out.

Also, the borderline insane Kos response to the original work New Republic did on the story is just too good not to quote from:

“Ludicrous, all of it, but that’s the new rules of the game. TNR and its enablers are feeling the heat of their own irrelevance and this is how they fight it — by undermining the progressive movement. Zengerle has made common cause with the wingnutosphere, using the laughable “kosola” frame they created and emailing his “scoops” to them for links. This is what the once-proud New Republic has evolved into — just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy.

If you still hold a subscription to that magazine, it really is time to call it quits. If you see it in a magazine rack, you might as well move it behind the National Review or even NewsMax, since that’s who they want to be associated with these days.

…It is now beyond clear that the dying New Republic is mortally wounded and cornered, desperate for relevance. It has lost half its circulation since the blogs arrived on the scene and they no longer (thank heavens!) have a monopoly on progressive punditry. We have hit their bottom line, we are hitting their patron saint hard (Joe Lieberman) and this is how they respond. By going after the entire movement.”

See? It’s not about Kos. It’s actually about, “the entire movement.” And when New Republic posts something that makes Kos look bad, the entire movement suffers which means they’re conservatives….or something. Liberal logic can be a little hard to follow sometimes…

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