By Dan K. Thomasson
The Washington Times
February 25, 2007
In this world of electronic wizardry and instant opinion, the blogger just may be king. So every presidential candidate wants one or two to tap into the enormous potential of the Internet with its ability to stimulate huge amounts of campaign cash from obsessive tube watchers who seem to believe nearly anything they read on it as long as it’s bad stuff about those who don’t agree with them.
Whether or not the staid world of national politics is ready for these undisciplined rants and diatribes remains to be seen. But if there were doubts about the perils of relying too much on these newest of media darlings during the coming campaign, there is already ample evidence to change one’s thinking. When it comes to bloggers, what the candidate buys he may not be able to live with, given a general insensitivity to political correctness, accuracy and decent language.
Take the recent case of the potty-mouthed bloggers hired by the former senator and vice-presidential nominee, John Edwards, for his seemingly perpetual campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. One of those, Amanda Marcotte, whose writing has been viewed, among other things, as anti-Catholic, recently resigned, although Mr. Edwards had decided against firing her despite obvious qualms. Mr. Edwards had ended several weeks of indecision by saying he was keeping Miss Marcotte and another female blogger on his staff, though he, too, had been personally offended by some of their writing, which was so profane and tasteless that few presidential hopefuls could be caught endorsing it.
Miss Marcotte has been quoted as wondering how things would have changed if the Virgin Mary had been able to take Plan B, the emergency contraception. And she charged that Catholic policies about birth control and abortion were rooted in the church’s need to ensure a steady stream of tithing members.
Her biting sarcasm, as reported, also extended to the controversial Duke University rape case, which still is pending but has been severely damaged by evidence contradicting the alleged victim’s claims.
“Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair,” she is quoted as writing.
Confirming how unwise the former senator’s decision to keep her was, Miss Marcotte ended her brief foray into national politics in typical fashion, lashing out at “right-wing shills,” chiefly from prominent Catholic organizations, for forcing her resignation. Predictably, liberal bloggers dashed to her defense. So far her cohort, Melissa McEwan, has not resigned.
By its very nature, the art of blogging offers a measure of freedom and reach beyond anything in the past. And because it does, it should carry a degree of responsibility matching that scope and privilege. But, of course, it does not. In fact, just the opposite is true, giving broad access to every nut case with a cause and permitting nearly anyone to say nearly anything about anybody, often anonymously, without a shred of proof and without fear of liability.
Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, already has felt that sting from an online magazine that used the fact he attended a Muslim-sponsored grade school as a 6-year-old to intimate he had fundamentalist Islamic connections. The magazine’s editor has refused to disclose the source of the story or its author. The piece actually has been disavowed by nearly every reputable journalistic enterprise, including a respected sister print publication of the Internet magazine.
Even newspapers now seem to experiment with online stories written on a laptop by a “reporter” and immediately put online without any editing. For one who has spent his entire life in the discipline of the checking and rechecking that occurs in any legitimate newspaper, I can’t think of anything more dangerous and irresponsible. If that is the wave of the future in news, a free press and all it stands for may choke to death on misinformation. But, tragically, that is exactly what blogging is all about.
It is easy to predict that before this campaign is completed more than one presidential hopeful may regret the rush to the unruly world of the Internet, where the knack of making things up puts the most inventive politician to shame.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.