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Monday, December 13, 2004

The Attacks Begin

Last week, I commented in a post that Old media will spend the next four years attempting to discredit the blogosphere in order to silence its most vocal critics and as an effort to return to the "good old days" when mainstream media could insulate its preferred candidate from negative news stories. Well it seems we didn't have to wait long for the attacks to begin.

The same day I posted that comment, CBS reported an ethical lapse by two South Dakota bloggers, Jon Lauck of Daschle v Thune and Jason Van Beek of South Dakota Politics, who did not disclose that they were paid by the Thune campaign.

Both blogs favored Thune, but neither gave any disclaimer during the election that the authors were on the payroll of the Republican candidate.

No laws have apparently been broken. Case precedent on political speech as it pertains to blogs does not exist. But where journalists' careers may be broken on ethics violations, bloggers are writing in the Wild West of cyberspace. There remains no code of ethics, or even an employer, to enforce any standard.

At minimum, the role of blogs in the Daschle-Thune race is a telling harbinger for 2006 and 2008. Some blogs could become new vehicles for the old political dirty tricks.

This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black as CBS was party to political dirty tricks of its own in this election cycle. But beyond that, the CBS story hints at possible regulation of blog content.

Like all media, blogs hold the potential for abuse. Experts point out that blogs' unregulated status makes them particularly attractive outlets for political attack.

"The question is: What are the appropriate regulations on the Internet?" asked Kathleen Jamieson, an expert on political communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. "It’s evolved into an area that we need to do more thinking about it.

"If you put out flyers, you have to disclaim it, you have to represent who you are," Jamieson said. "If you put out an ad you have to put a disclaimer on it. But we don’t have those sorts of regulations for political content, that is campaign-financed on the Internet."

First Amendment attorney Kevin Goldberg called blogs "definitely new territory."

"[The question is] whether blogs are analogous to a sole person campaigning or whether they are very much a media publication, which is essentially akin to an online newspaper," said Goldberg, who is the legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Of course such regulation doesn't cover the MSM:

Generally, the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on political advocacy by corporations and unions does not apply to media or individuals. The reasoning has been that media competition insures legitimacy. This has historically been the argument against monopolies in media ownership.

Personally, I read both Daschle v Thune and South Dakota Politics to follow the Daschle/Thune Senate race and I don't feel particularly aggrieved that neither blog disclosed its relationship to the Thune campaign. Both bloggers made it clear that they supported Thune in the race. Should they have disclosed the connection? Absolutely. Did the failure to do so impact their coverage of the race? No more so than the New York Times or CBS pretending to be objective and non-partisan. Is federal regulation necessary to ensure the credibility of the blogosphere? Not at all. The blogosphere has a track record of sniffing out credibility issues (here is an example and one more example and yet another) and exposing them, far more so then the mainstream media does. And CBS's example that old media is self-policing in this regard is laughable. Just look at Peter Arnett, for example. It looks like old media First Amendment hypocrisy is alive and well at CBS.

More commentary on this from Captain's Quarters and Power Line.