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The Media The Almighty Buck

Blogging and Sponsorship and Openness 293

Jane_the_Great writes "In an article in the Wall Street Journal it is "revealed" that during the 2004 primaries, the Howard Dean campaign hired bloggers hoping that positive things would be said of Dean in the blogs. The news is from the horse's mouth." It's hard to believe that the WSJ is equating prominently disclosed campaign consulting with secret payments from the U.S. Government treasury to TV personalities in order to promote Republican policies, but they are. (Obeying media rule #1, "Both sides are equally bad", even if they aren't.) Nevertheless, there's an interesting, deeper issue: how transparent should blogging (and all media) be? How could transparency possibly be enforced?
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Blogging and Sponsorship and Openness

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  • Very transparent. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solder Fumes ( 797270 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:55PM (#11367702)
    No clouding the motives there, michael, that's for sure. I guess the man just itches for a good 'ol flamewar once in a while, so why not start one right in the article post?
  • by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:56PM (#11367705) Homepage Journal
    So, are they suggesting that Bloggers should be held to journalistic standards? Absolute rubbish. The journals that are given away freely here on /. are nothing but blogs. To even think that these should be bastions of journalism is just mind boggling.

    Why not criticise People magazine, or the Enquirer? Same thing, I think. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show calls his show "fake news".

  • by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:56PM (#11367713)
    When people stop going to a blog for information because they don't think the person tells the truth, or is otherwise misinforming them (purposeful or otherwise) then the blog will die. The process is self correcting. There are plenty of blogs out there that no one reads because it's a pack of lies or it provides no information. Blogs that are discovered to be propoganda machines will suffer the same fate.
    • There are plenty of blogs out there that no one reads because it's a pack of lies or it provides no information.

      Nope, liars and opionists flourish in our society, they just have to be entertaining. Blogs that are full of lies and factless opinions will flourish if they present their case with flare and if their conclusions (logical or otherwise) are inline with the beliefs of the people reading the blog. Most people have lost their ability and desire to destinguish a valid argument and would prefer to b
    • Riiiiiigghhtt... Hmmmmm, unless the visitors to said blog are like minded people who hear only what they want to... Your statement could be said of things like NPR as well, yet Limbaugh thrives. People like propaganda machines that support their opinion.
    • Theoretically you could hold the same thing up for any form of media: online, print, tv. If people stop reading or viewing it because they think it's untruthful ad sales go down and it dies.

      I hold out CBS, Fox News and Michael Moore documentaries as examples that prove you wrong.

      CBS did a story that was proven wrong. They apologized. The left still loves them, the right hates them now.

      Fox News. Need I say more. The left still hates them, the right still loves them.

      Michael Moore is really just in he
      • Did a story? Could you be any less specific?

        I'm assuming you're talking about the Forged Memo they put up. If they apologised, I don't recall seeing it. Dan Rather says that there's no evidence to say that those memos are forged.

        Rather informed the Panel that he still believes the content of the documents is true because "the facts are right on the money," and that no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic.

        The Thornburgh-Boc

    • The most popular blogs out there are mostly packs of lies. People like hardcore partisan blogs that will always spin their side as good and their opponents as bad. There are few (no?) blogs that take nuanced, case-by-case views of the issues, and support whichever side they think is right in each given situation.
      • I'd say that mine does, but I'm biased, as I write it.
        • But you're not nearly as popular as sites like FreeRepublic or DailyKos.

          (Although of those two DailyKos is, IMO, somewhat more analytical, but you still know before reading any article on there which side it's going to take.)
      • Show me a "lie" on [] and I'll give you a cookie.

        There may be conclusions that you disagree with but everything written there is far more honest,insightful, and truthful than any of the nonsense coming out of the NYT/WashPo/WashTimes/WSJ editorial pages.
    • Everything you say about blogs applies to news organizations as well. So I guess they have no need for them to be transparent either? I don't think its unreasonable to ask that blogs/organizations to be forthcoming about their funding, just like when CNN says some entity is owned by the same company that owns them. While having a single biased source is not so bad, other people will start quoting it, assuming its "the truth". Pretty soon they all quote each other, and since they agree, they must be righ
  • by jhtrih ( 218203 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:57PM (#11367727) Homepage
    Amazing. My mind has just been blow. I though the democrats were the untouchable good guys, fighting the evil nazi republicans. Now I have no idea what to believe... must flip back and forth between Fox, CNN, and the BBC to understand how I should feel about this... and then blog about it...
  • It was transparent (Score:5, Informative)

    by gtaluvit ( 218726 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:57PM (#11367739)
    Markos addresses it Here []

    He was transparent about it and kept a constant reminder about it at the top of the page. Hardly close to the Williams scandal.
    • But Markos, and the articles he links to, never made it clear that financial payments were involved. I would have interpreted hsi "technical consulting" statement to mean he was volunteering. He claims that he was a supporter of Dean before being hired; so was Rowan Williams.

      Financial compensation by a political organization gives the appearance of being a puppet. I have no doubt that Kos and Rowan Williams sincerely hold their opinions. But once any kind of compensation is involved, the objectivity of the
      • by rpg25 ( 470383 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:29PM (#11368263)
        I don't know what your definition of "consulting" is, but in my book, it's a profession. If he had said up at the top that he was "volunteering," that would be one thing. But this is a clear statement that he was employed by the Dean campaign.

        That's miles away from the scandal, and it's just plain disingenuous of the WSJ to make it seem otherwise. I've always liked their paper (but not the editorial page); I'm appalled and depressed by the way they're using the news section to editorialize here. Boo!
    • by Derling Whirvish ( 636322 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:29PM (#11368274) Journal
      Claiming it was "technical work" like web-site designing is a far cry from being paid for influence peddling. That's not "transparent" at all. It's devious and disingenuous.
      • He was doing technical consulting. Get the facts before you mouth off.
        • He seems to believe he was doing technical consulting, but it seems he was paid twice as much as the non-famous-blogger technical consultants, and from the Dean campaign's point of view the reason to hire him was to influence his writing.

          So not unethical on his point of view if he didn't realize that was the goal, but it does seem to be influence-buying under the guise of hiring a technical consultant.
    • Don't forget Thune (Score:4, Informative)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:51PM (#11368528)
      Where's the "Zephyr" police and the WSJ on these guys? No disclosure here. Where's the outrage? Oh right, the Republican double standard. From here. []
      The two leading South Dakota blogs - websites full of informal analysis, opinions and links - were authored by paid advisers to Thune's campaign.

      The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the National Journal first cited Federal Election Commission documents showing that Jon Lauck, of Daschle v Thune, and Jason Van Beek, of South Dakota Politics, were advisers to the Thune campaign.

      The documents, also obtained by CBS News, show that in June and October the Thune campaign paid Lauck $27,000 and Van Beek $8,000. Lauck had also worked on Thune's 2002 congressional race.

      Both blogs favored Thune, but neither gave any disclaimer during the election that the authors were on the payroll of the Republican candidate.
  • by moebius_4d ( 26199 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:57PM (#11367746) Journal
    In fact, the WSJ article explictly makes the same point - that in one case, governement funds were used (although there is a mention that the funds may have been used for media buys and not as direct compensation.)

    So that's a big difference in the conduct of the payers: one used tax money and the other used political contributions. But it makes little or no difference in the ethical lapse of the payees - people who represent themselves as presenting their honest opinion and who are taking money from one of the parties about whom they opine.

    We wouldn't think a stock analyst could be unbiased if he was on the payroll of one of the companies he reviewed, even if he'd been favorable before he got on the payroll and continued to be so afterwards. Why is Markos any different? A political opinion writer secretly on the payroll of a campaign is an ethical problem, slice it however you want.
    • by Kiryat Malachi ( 177258 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:05PM (#11367909) Journal
      Markos was different because it wasn't secret; he openly admitted he was on payroll, and even had a disclaimer at the head of his blog.
      • by FatRatBastard ( 7583 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:14PM (#11368060) Homepage
        Except that Markos said he wasn't being wasn't for policy, but for "technical []" consulting.
        But for the record, I will not discuss my role within the Dean campaign, other than to say it's technical, not message or strategy. I will also not discuss any of my other clients, including their identities (I have non-disclose agreements to which I must adhere).
        However, according to Zephyr Teachout [] the money wasn't paid to Kos for any technical consulting, but to buy his loyalty.
        On Dean's campaign, we paid Markos and Jerome Armstrong as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean. We paid them over twice as much as we paid two staffers of similar backgrounds, and they had several other clients.

        While they ended up also providing useful advice, the initial reason for our outreach was explicitly to buy their airtime. To be very clear, they never committed to supporting Dean for the payment -- but it was very clearly, internally, our goal.

        It was basically all message.

        Still pales in comparison to what Armstrong did.

        • Zephyr's statements are probably as questionable as Markos's, since Zephyr is basically on a crusade right now to force bloggers to adhere to journalistic standards (whether or not you think this is good, it is definitely something that might affect statements made by Zephyr). And Markos at least revealed the connection, if not the possible depth of it.

          And yeah, it still pales in comparison to taking government money to support a government viewpoint, and not admitting to any of it.
        • However, according to Zephyr Teachout the money wasn't paid to Kos for any technical consulting, but to buy his loyalty.

          However, it is also made clear that there was no actual transaction or quid pro quo. They simply hoped that as a result of working for them, he would be more positively disposed toward them.

          We were paying him in part because WE hoped that he, and Kos, would blog positive things about Dean, but that was never explicit or implicit in the contract. This has to do with OUR motives, not so

    • ... Except that if you read the rest of the article, it wasn't particularly secret.

      Mr. Moulitsas said they were paid $3,000 a month for four months and he noted that he had posted a disclosure near the top of his daily blog that he worked for the Dean campaign doing "technical consulting." Mr. Armstrong said he shut down his site when he went to work for the campaign, then resumed posting after his contract ended.
  • by feelyoda ( 622366 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:58PM (#11367768) Homepage
    This is interesting because it doesn't matter what Daily Kos thought it was getting into with an advisory roll. The Dean folks intended to get good, free press from it, and milked the blogs. Read more about it here [].

    For those who think the issues with the Dept. of Education paying off a journalist are new, it was actually more common under the Clinton administration, and equally bad.
  • Politics (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmajor ( 514414 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:59PM (#11367771) Journal
    Thank you, Michael, for going out of your way, and out of the story's way to point out Republican "badness". (That was a sarcastic remark)

    Why can't the same be done for liberal-biased articles from the NY Times that get posted on Slashdot? Or why can't Michael Moore writeups highlight his twisting of the truth?

    Yes this is flamebait, but so is the article writeup.
    • Or why can't Michael Moore writeups highlight his twisting of the truth?

      Show me one documented instance (pointing to a blog is not documentation) where Michael Moore has twisted the truth.

      Like him or not his material is thoroughly researched and he's got the documentation to back it up. But I can see why people desperately want to think he doesn't tell the truth. I mean, if he's telling the truth, then you're living a lie and not any smarter than a common dupe.

      So, yeah, it's perfectly understandable

  • Biased Bias (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Concern ( 819622 ) * on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:00PM (#11367799) Journal
    We have to learn a new vocabluary in this country, or we will never be able to talk about fairness and accuracy properly.

    What appears to be evolving in the crucible of American politics is a startling robust form of doublethink. Conservatives have unquestionably mastered it; it's not clear if other political groups are for the moment less able or less willing.

    Fox News is a propaganda organization; it is so biased as to basically redefine the concept of bias in the U.S. media. But how does it defend itself? By exclaiming that it is the most fair, and the most balanced. In fact, by going even further accusing everyone else of bias.

    This kind of audacity is more associated with religious figureheads and communist states. But regardless of who is using it most effectively this week (and believe me, I am cynical about all American professional politicians, regardless of professed ideology), the problem is that the approach is sound, and based on good cognitive psych. It exploits a weakness in the way people think and reason. In layman's terms, it short-circuits the brain. Sadly, vehemence and a threatening posture do figure deeply into the calculus of our decision-making.

    When you see through it, you realize it's an extraordinarily cynical trick. The problem is that many, many people are confused by it. In fact, much as Orwell observed, the lie is embraced especially well by people who know it is a lie. These are the people who, for instance, engage in revert wars in Wikipedia over the Fox News entry.

    It is the human's great strenght and weakness: we are fully capable of lively psychological engagement with paradoxes and contradictions.

    In order to prevent societal free-fall, it will be necessary for each of us to learn to see through this kind of technique, call a spade a spade. To not be confused or intimidated by hypocrisy, in other words.
  • "the media"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wankledot ( 712148 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:00PM (#11367802)
    For fuck's sake, blogging is not "the media" any more than me telling my friends about the CD I just bought is "the media." Am I the only person who puts absolutely no stock in what some schmuck on the internet has to say? Or at least, take it with great big grains of salt?
    • For fuck's sake, blogging is not "the media" any more than me telling my friends about the CD I just bought is "the media." Am I the only person who puts absolutely no stock in what some schmuck on the internet has to say? Or at least, take it with great big grains of salt?

      I certainly do--but then I feel the same way about Dan Rather.

      Let's face it, somebody who is getting enough readership so that he is running advertisements is part of "the media," even if it is on the "small press" end of things.
      • These blogs only get the coverage they do because of the sexiness of new technology. In terms of readership, they're below many literary magazines, and the most well-known part of literary magazines is the fact that their readership is rather small.

        Hell, The Nation has orders of magnitude more readers than DailyKos.
        • These blogs only get the coverage they do because of the sexiness of new technology

          I don't think it is solely attributable to novelty. I think that it is a combination of immediacy and the ability to link to other sources. This was really evident in the "Rathergate" affair, in which bloggers were able to display and debate the key features that demonstrated that the memos were forgeries. The whole argument played out and a clear conclusion emerged in a matter of a few days, while the major media continued
  • I'm Shocked! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yipper ( 159272 )
    Hasn't it always been the case that the
    guy with the ink/camera/microphone/blog
    gets to write whatever he pleases.... including
    what will make him some $$?

    That's the beauty of the first amendment.
  • Sounds good to me! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 14erCleaner ( 745600 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:00PM (#11367810) Homepage Journal
    I think being paid to promote something in a public forum is a great idea!

    Provided I'm the one being paid, of course...

    Anybody who thinks weblogs, in general, convey useful information is an idiot; they're like newspaper columns with no editors.

  • While neither group's conduct is appropriate, equating the two indicates that the news source is further back on the horse.

  • Ok, here it goes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:10PM (#11367982)
    Here's the story. Not in an exactly, but roughtly chronological order.

    Kos and Jerome run MyDD. Endorses and is are VERY avid supporters of Dean.

    Dean's campaign hires MyDD to do various technical consulting of various types.

    Jerome, who starts to blog for Dean stops his own site. Everybody pretty much goes over to Kos' site, and Kos lets it well known that he does consulting for Dean. Nobody in the community (and DailyKos is a political version of Slashdot. It's a community site) cares.

    Skip ahead a year and a half.

    Zephyr Teachout (lead blogger for the old Dean campaign) is upset that the ethical people are taking all the money and bribe taking out of political blogging and writes a slash piece in the WSJ accusing Kos and Jerome of not being corrupt ENOUGH.

    What Kos and Jerome did is basically equivilent to what Gabe and Tycho do over at PA, getting paid for various side projects, a lot of whom they endorse/give good reviews/whatever. Is there any problem with that?

    Of course not.

    • But Kos lied about what he was doing. He claimed: "it's technical, not message or strategy" when in fact, he was paid to promote a particular message and strategy. There was nothing "technical" about it.
      • Actually, from what info I could find on what they were actually *paid* to do, his role was mainly technical/strategy, in the sense of trying to help determine strategy, not in the sense of promoting it. They were paid for their work setting up the electronic infrastructure of the Dean campaign, and for their advice on direction of that infrastructure. Nowhere were they contractually obligated to promote Dean's message, as far as I can tell.

        If you have any evidence to the contrary, I'd be interested in s
      • Zephyr said that she assumed the money was to buy message...

        Which is kind of weird because the message predated any money. That's what you're missing. expected him to completly stop talking about the primary campaign? I mean geez...DailyKos was primary CENTRAL during the Democratic primary campaign.

        In other words, if there was no payment, would there have been any different content? Nope. There wouldn't have been.

        • In other words, if there was no payment, would there have been any different content? Nope. There wouldn't have been.

          Then why make the payment? Otherwise you've just proved the Dean campaign to be much stupider than even his best critics thought. $12,000 to buy what he already had?

          Did Kos switch from supporting Clark to supporting Dean in the time before the payment?

    • I know that PA gets paid by game companies, and I wouldn't trust them as an unbiased source of reviews for the companies and products they're paid by. Even if they're not being explicitly bought off, there may be a tendency to be nicer to the people who are nice to you by giving you money (or free stuff). I might follow their link to something, but if I was really interested in unbiased reviews, I'd look elsewhere. Anandtech, for example, makes an attempt to avoid this sort of thing so they can remain as
      • It's not about getting the news. DailyKos isn't a news site either. It's an opinion/analyasis/hashing things over site.

        I understand what you're saying. That money for you would be an issue, and you wouldn't be able to maintain your objective opinion. And that's fine.

        Actually, what PA does..I barely even look at the webcomics, is that it's a great op-ed for the gaming world. A fantastic one actually. And yeah, it's biased. But do I feel as though money comes into it? Not at all.

        And it's the same with Kos
  • Whoa whoa whoa! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sterno ( 16320 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:12PM (#11368029) Homepage
    Yes, Dean hired bloggers. One of the bloggers they hired stopped writing his own blog during that time. The other blogger continually posted on his original blog saying that he was salaried by the Dean campaign.

    So let's not blow this out of proportion folks. If they had concealed what they were doing, that would be an entirely different beast. They met the basics of journalistic integrity, revealing that they were in fact being paid for their work.

    Read more about it here [].
    • I wasn't aware that in journalism it was considered appropriate to be paid by the subject of your reporting even if you disclose it. You don't see the oil-sector analyst for CNN Money holding down a consulting gig with Exxon, even an openly-acknowledged one.
      • Really?

        You see more than a few journalists being employed by the subject of their reporting, actually. Whenever a MSNBC analyst reports on Microsoft's latest business move, it is appropriate for them to note "MSNBC is part-owned by Microsoft." And generally they do.
  • This was covered pretty well I think by one of Simpson's political cartoons: []. Its sadly accurate.
  • got that.

    This isn't intended to start a freedom of speach flame... want that? Don't bother replying. Pure opinion here...

    I was asked just today to provide links to a commercial website, who apparantly feels either my google pagerank is beneficial to them, or they feel I get enough traffic to help them. Did I do it? Absolutely not.

    I get a few of these.

    Why don't I?
    I don't think it's ethical. I base my blog on myself. I consider it a reflection of me. Anything I post, I believe
  • by Guano_Jim ( 157555 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:17PM (#11368092)
    The Dean campaign used their money to pay bloggers. The bloggers fully disclosed the payment.

    The Bush administration used your money (assuming you're a USian) to pay off Armstrong Williams. Williams didn't disclose a thing.

    This whole tempest in a teapot is an attempt by the right to blur the issue by creating some kind of he-said/she-said equivalency.

    Don't fall for it.
  • What they did was equivalent to paying someone in the media for some consulting time so he/she could explain how best to do press releases. Then the person in the media mentioning it to those that view their "show".

    Granted, it's not a huge deal, but I imagine liberals would be throwing a tizzyfit if it was Bill O'Reilly consulting the Republicans. I don't really see conservatives giving crap about two bloggers drumming up support for their favorite candidate, who they happened to also work for. The only pe
  • in reality, this is no different than what the MSM has been doing since at least cronkite and vietnam. no the republicans shouldn't have paid williams to carry their water, but is that any different than what the news orgs have been doing for free for the democrats for years? neither is good. the media, at least the news, should be objective, and it is far from it. i have a blog, mostly political stuff (warning: conservative analysis) blogs and talk radio are just an evolving media, whether we like it
    • Absolutely. The big journalists have accepted incredibly large "speaking fees" from the very same corporations that have been the subjects of their news stories (or not the subjects if they have been up to no good in some cases). Cokie Roberts [] has been paid $35,000 to speak for an hour to the Junior League. It was paid for by a Toyota distributor. Do you think Cokie will report on anything bad that distributor does after that?
      • and didn't tom brokaw give a speech in front of a democratic fundraiser? not that's he forbidden from doing speeches, but a political fundraiser? he claimed he didn't know. sure. had he spoken to a republicna fundraiser, all hell would've broken loose.
  • by jlusk4 ( 2831 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @06:28PM (#11368258)
    The Internet, which is the world's greatest P2P network, brings the bullhorn to the common man, gives everyone the printing press, yada yada.

    We're all back in the village green. Anybody can yammer.

    So, we all have to figure out who's the village idiot and who's the sage. And who's yesterday's sage but now today's idiot.

    We all have to think. Shocking, disappointing, I know.

    Reputation matters. Those of you with good reputations, please don't pull a Pierre Salinger [].

    Remember, all your sources of info are biased, somehow. Some grossly, some negligibly. Find the bias, find the reputation, take with a grain of salt.

    Just because some taxi driver, somebody you met in a laundromat, your lunatic {right,left}-wing officemate said it, you Read It On The Internet doesn't make it so. Even if it had cool graphics on the page.

    Why should the blogsphere be any different? Why should anybody be surprised? Geez.



  • for me, anyway.

    I've never liked Markos "screw them" Zuniga, but what you're all focusing on is a non-story. He disclosed to his readers that he was taking money; Williams, who made no disclosure, deserves whatever happens to him.

    What interests me is the difference in what those involved thought they were doing:

    Zuniga thought he was taking money to be a "consultant" and give advice.

    The Dean campaign thought they were paying him to be a shill and say good things about them.

    See the difference? I think b
  • The centralized corporate media have been challenged and occasionally lost credibility to the mass of Free Presses found (and run by) any computer attached to the internet.
    It is a bit hard to maintan credibillity when you don't notice the documentation you reproduced as from 1972 was likely the product of Microsoft Word.
  • Seriously we used to be able to count on the insanely partisan aspects of the WSJ left on the Op_Ed pages at the back of Section A. But it's creeping all over the paper now until it's practically the print version of Fox News. WSJ is about as partisan as the official Egyptian press now.

    Does this shock anyone?
  • michael:

    "It's hard to believe that the WSJ is equating prominently disclosed campaign consulting with secret payments from the U.S. Government treasury to TV personalities in order to promote Republican policies, but they are."

    The Wall Street Journal [] Best of the Web [] column:

    "The Dean campaign, unlike the Education Department, didn't spend tax dollars. But the bloggers who benefited from its largesse appear to be as compromised ethically as Williams."

    I could find no statement in the Wall Stre

  • from Kos's own statement he said he was going to have (I
    paraphrase) 'a bigger role in other campaigns' and that 'I
    have none disclosure agreements so can't tell you who they
    are'. Right ok. And we are to believe he didn't shill for
    them or their issues? Please.

  • The only person I'll ever promote on my webpage is myself.

    Oh, and the Brobdingnagian Bards. Them too. But that's because one of the guys is one of my best friends, and I steal their songs for remixes... not because they pay me.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury