Do Bloggers Belong on Campaigns?

Tomorrow on Heading Left’s Blog Talk Radio Show, my co-host James Boyce and I will have Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan on as our guests. Those two are best known for their recent short tenure as campaign bloggers for John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

Amanda recently wrote about her experience on

My main concern about the relationship between my personal blog and the campaign blog was that I wouldn’t have enough time to keep my personal blog updated as frequently as the readers had come to expect, a problem I solved by inviting other bloggers to join. I thought some about content concerns, but my opinion had always been that bloggers who work for campaigns should feel free to have personal blogs, so long as they disclosed their employment to their personal blog readers and refrained from using their personal blogs to bash other candidates.

“Reasonable people,” I thought, “can tell the difference between a personal blog post and those I’ll write for the campaign.” What I naively failed to understand was that there is no relationship between what reasonable people think and what will be used in a partisan bout of mud-slinging.

What I also failed to understand was how much McEwan and I would stick out. I was aware that I didn’t exactly fit the image people have of bloggers who join campaigns — the stereotype being 30-something nerdy young white men who wear khakis and obsess over crafting their Act Blue lists. I wasn’t aware that not fitting the image would attract so much negative attention. In fact, I mostly saw this all as a baby step in the direction of diversity, since McEwan and I differed from the stereotype mostly by being female and by being outspoken feminists.

MyDD’s Matt Stoller had this response (Matt blogged for NJ Governor Jon Corzine in that campaign):

Since journalists are now snooping around and trying to marginalize the left-wing blogosphere by pretending we’re a bunch of undisciplined crazies, I figured I’d write a quick guide on how to be a good campaign blogger and/or netroots specialist.  Despite what a lot of journalists seem to think, Amanda and Melissa are not in fact the only bloggers that have worked for campaigns.  Matt Gross and Zephyr Teachout worked for Dean, Kerry had his crew of bloggers, and starting in the 2004 cycle and dramatically accelerating through 2006, there were probably close to a hundred candidates who had bloggers on staff.  I worked for Simon Rosenberg for DNC Chair, and Jon Corzine for Governor in 2005.  The same smears were tried on many campaign bloggers (including me), and they didn’t work.  Peter Daou has worked for Hillary Clinton for a little less than a year, and he’s under tremendous scrutiny, but that hasn’t cost Hillary Clinton anything.  Joe Rospars, who got his start as a blogger, is the ‘New Media Director’ for Barack Obama.  I mean even Joe Lieberman had bloggers on staff, including Dan Gerstein.

I think this is because the field of ‘campaign blogger’ or ‘internet director’ or ‘netroots coordinator’, or whatever you want to call them, is a professional position at this point.  Presidential campaigns especially, but any campaign really, are not the place for personal expression.  They are not the place to be free of constraints.  They are a place where you move carefully, ethically and deliberately to channel information to benefit your candidate, and ideally, keep yourself out of the picture.  In that vein, being a campaign blogger is not so different than being any other member of staff.

Myself, coming from the perspective of someone who worked on campaigns before there was such a thing as a blog, I have a few things to say on the topic and am looking forward to the show.

This whole kerfluffle was baffling and infuriating to me. From the beginning I never understood why Amanda wanted to leave Pandagon to blog for Edwards nor why the Edwards campaign wanted Amanda as their blogger.

Amanda leaving Pandagon to blog for Edwards is a bit like the late Molly Ivins giving up writing her column to do press for Hillary — a big waste! Amanda writes pointed, opinionated, viciously satirical and clearly controversial commentary. Anyone with any familiarity with her writing would know that she would need to be defanged if not muzzled entirely in the role of campaign blogger.

My worry was that she would kind of fade away into the kind of boring “the candidate was at (insert boring early state event here) and his message of blah blah blah really resonated with the fine voters of Des Moines/Manchester/Las Vegas/Charleston” stuff that campaign bloggers have to write and Pandagon would limp along without her.

Instead she became the story and a lightening rod for criticism and outright thuggery from the right wing. The progressive blogosphere circled the wagons and everyone came out looking bad.

Amanda and I are IRL (“in real life”) friends from Austin, TX so I’m looking forward to having a no-bs conversation with her on Monday at 11am EST. Call (646)652-4803 and share your take of the whole thing with Amanda, Melissa, James Boyce and I.

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