Eagerly Awaiting Alan Freed’s New Blog

Jonathan Strong at The Daily Caller:

Katie Couric once described bloggers as journalists who gnaw at new information “like piranhas in a pool.” But increasingly, many bloggers are also secretly feeding on cash from political campaigns, in a form of partisan payola that erases the line between journalism and paid endorsement.

“It’s standard operating procedure” to pay bloggers for favorable coverage, says one Republican campaign operative. A GOP blogger-for-hire estimates that “at least half the bloggers that are out there” on the Republican side “are getting remuneration in some way beyond ad sales.”

In California, where former eBay executive Meg Whitman beat businessman Steve Poizner in a bitterly fought primary battle in the campaign for governor, it sometimes seemed as if there was a bidding war for bloggers.

One pro-Poizner blogger, Aaron Park, was discovered to be a paid consultant to the Poizner campaign while writing for Red County, a conservative blog about California politics. Red County founder Chip Hanlon threw Park off the site upon discovering his affiliation, which had not been disclosed.

Poizner’s campaign was shocked to learn of the arrangement, apparently coordinated by an off-the-reservation consultant. For Park, though, it was business as usual. In November 2009, for instance, he approached the campaign of another California office-seeker — Chuck DeVore, who was then running for Senate — with an offer to blog for money.

“I can be retained at a quite reasonable rate or for ‘projects,’” Park wrote in an e-mail to campaign officials. In an interview, Park defended himself by claiming, “nobody has any doubt which candidates I’m supporting,” and noting that his blog specifies which candidates he “endorses.”

[…]

Besides campaigns, industry groups and other political groups oftentimes pay bloggers for their insights.

Dan Riehl, who writes the Riehl World View blog, is one of Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele’s most vocal defenders in the conservative blogosphere. When The Daily Caller reported the RNC spent $1,946 at a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex acts, Riehl blasted the piece as a “pathetically weak story tailored to play to the Left and create problems for the GOP.”

“Riehl World View” readers might be interested to know that Riehl is not simply a blogger, but also a paid consultant to the RNC. In an interview, Riehl said he was paid an amount in the “hundreds of dollars” for writing a strategy document on how the RNC could better reach out to bloggers. Riehl said his motivation for defending Steele was to aid the Republican Party, and that he didn’t disclose his consulting work because, “I didn’t see it as having anything to do with my views.”

“I never made enough money to be bought,” he said.

Other bloggers openly lament how few campaign dollars are flowing their way. Conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain complains that politicians aren’t purchasing more advertising on blogs. “Advertising buys good will,” he says.

If it appears that conservative bloggers are more likely to take campaign money than their liberal counterparts, there may be a reason. According to Dan Riehl, conservatives can’t rely on the infrastructure of foundations and think tanks that supports so many liberal bloggers.

Riehl has made it a goal to mobilize conservative benefactors and organizers to establish a funding infrastructure mimicking what the liberal “netroots” created during the Bush years. “They did it the smart way,” Riehl says.

On the left, many of the once independent bloggers are now employed by, or receive money from, liberal organizations like Media Matters, the Center for American Progress and Campaign for America’s Future.

Some critics allege that the funding sources have distorted the once vibrant voice of the liberal blogosphere, discouraging dissent in favor of staying “on message” to help President Obama and Democrats in Congress pass their legislative agenda.

Dan Riehl:

Here is a headline from the Daily Caller today, a story that is both false and unfairly defames me. By his own arguments, the Caller is now discredited on two counts. I’ve since spoken to one of the Right’s top conservative bloggers who was part of the group and recalls my disclosure. He will go on record if need be. There are likely others. It was not secret, which is what the headline states. I demand a correction. But, there’s still more.

True stories of bloggers who secretly feed on partisan cash

In the extended video Carlson also goes on and on about his dedication to only the best in journalism, especially as regards ehtics and standards. But the individual who wrote this story, Jonathan Strong, has no journalism degree based upon his DC bio. Nor, did he ever work in serious traditional journalism. He’s a GOP establishment type with a background in, surprise, energy and climate legislation. Perhaps if Carlson had employed an actual journalist, he would have gotten the story correct. That hire would also seem to comport with the Left’s assertions that raised the eyebrow of Howard Kurtz, that the Daily Caller is a thinly disguised lobbying organization, not a genuine journalistic endeavor.

Welcome to new media, Tucker, where the subjects of your hit pieces get to ask questions and do a little reporting of their own. But, you wouldn’t really know that in your beltway bubble, would you, bow-tie boy? Correct the record and do go back to Heritage to explain how it is that your site isn’t now discredited on two counts, based upon your very own words there back in 2009. My previous full initial response here.

Robert Stacy McCain:

We’ll let others debate the ethics of such transactions. What I see here is an example of several different problems with the Republican Party’s approach to New Media. As I explained to Strong, it would have been a lot smarter for Whitman to “spread the love” around the blogosphere, perhaps by buying Blog Ads (my rate is $25 a week) or Google AdSense placements.

If the Whitman campaign wanted to put all its eggs in one basket, however, why not throw $20,000 into the “Southland Fundraiser” idea that Joe Fein at Valley of the Shadow suggested? Bring several bloggers to L.A. for a weekend event that would combine New Media outreach with a joint fundraiser for candidates and the state party. However such an event was structured — seminars about online activism, meet-and-greets with candidates, etc. — it would serve many purposes, especially putting California “on the map” with conservative bloggers.

That kind of ”more bang for the buck” approach is one I’ve discussed often with other bloggers — including my buddy Jimmie Bise Jr. of Sundries Shack – and yet it seems impossible to get people to listen. The strategic payoff of Rule 2 is to spread the linky-love around and build up the newer and/or smaller blogs, so that the conservative ’sphere has a broader reach and a deeper base.

Most conservative bloggers are part-timers, for whom a couple of hundred dollars a month would be a godsend. Trying to “monetize” Web traffic is a notoriously difficult task, and even successful full-time bloggers aren’t exactly “farting through silk,” to borrow P.J. O’Rourke’s colorful phrase. You’ll notice that Professor Glenn Reynolds hasn’t quit his day job, and Ace of Spades isn’t lighting Cohibas with $100 bills.

John Hawkins:

First of all, let’s talk about me: I have done some consulting. I worked on Duncan Hunter’s presidential campaign, I did 2-3 projects for the David All Group including this nifty contest where bloggers got paid $50 for writing the best anti-socialized medicine post in the blogosphere each week. All of that is disclosed in RWN’s FAQ section. Beyond that, I do still try to get some consulting work on the side, although by necessity, it has to be limited in scope so it doesn’t conflict with my blogging.

Now, as I just mentioned, I’ve done some consulting. I also know more conservative bloggers than anybody else, including the consultants. Do I get asked for recommendations on who to hire as a consultant? Yes. Do I have connections at a lot of political campaigns and organizations that hire consultants? Yes.

So, let’s address the primary allegation in the article:

“It’s standard operating procedure” to pay bloggers for favorable coverage, says one Republican campaign operative. A GOP blogger-for-hire estimates that “at least half the bloggers that are out there” on the Republican side “are getting remuneration in some way beyond ad sales.”

I don’t deal with that many state bloggers, so I can’t speak as to what’s going on with them. But, on the national level, with blogs you’ve heard of — what was said there is not only wrong, it’s spectacularly wrong.

To the best of my knowledge, there just aren’t that many name brand bloggers or even former name brand bloggers who do a significant amount of consulting work. Off the top of my head, let’s see there’s Lorie Byrd, Bettina Inclan, David All, Jon Henke, Patrick Hynes, Liz Mair, Soren Dayton, & Patrick Ruffini.

That’s not an exhaustive list and there may be a few more that I’m forgetting, but that should be a pretty good grouping of the main names — and if you already know who half of them are, congrats, you’re officially a blogosphere junky.

Now, you may be saying, “Okay, so there aren’t a lot of bloggers working as consultants, but what about the allegation that bloggers are being paid for favorable coverage?” Here’s my answer to that: I’ve been a blogger for almost a decade and I’ve been a professional blogger since early 2005. In all that time, I’ve never even had anyone offer to pay me for favorable coverage on RWN. That should tell you something.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that people don’t try to influence bloggers, but it tends to be more subtle than offering up payola. You’ll have politicians and companies buy ads on blogs just like they do everywhere else. They’ll occasionally even host dinners or lunches at these blogger conventions in an effort to get you in a room where they can try to bend your ear. But, that’s a far cry from buying favorable coverage.

Last but not least, I don’t want to give you the idea that there couldn’t be anything shady going on in the blogosphere if I’m not aware of it, but I’d be very surprised if there was any payola being doled out on a widespread scale and quite frankly, I’m in a much better position to know about it than anyone at the Daily Caller.

Ed Morrissey:

For the record, I’ve never been approached for a scheme like this, nor has it ever occurred to me to put my credibility up for sale.  Of course, I’m also paid (and paid well) to write for Hot Air, which makes it perhaps a little too easy to get sanctimonious about this issue.  Still, I didn’t always do this for a living, and during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, my previous blog was a struggling business enterprise like most everyone else’s. Not only did I not even contemplate it, I wasn’t aware of it occurring at all among my peers.

This seems to have the same problem of scale, too.  The Daily Caller has a few data points in its article, but they all seem to be connected to California campaigns.  I’m not sure that this translates to a wide problem, but if so, it could be very damaging.

In the radio and television industry, this would be called payola, and it occasionally erupts into scandal.  Broadcast services are regulated by the government, and payola can lead to loss of broadcast licenses — which is why radio and television stations fire anyone even suspected of it.  In the film industry, though, no one thinks twice about “product placement” any more, even though it’s essentially the same thing, giving certain products sympathetic placement for buckets of cash.

Fortunately, blogs aren’t regulated by the government, at least not yet, but it’s stories like this that will give rise to demands for government to take action.  The Federal Election Commission has repeatedly hinted at imposing onerous requirements on bloggers that will create legal burdens too expensive for most to meet.  The hook will be undisclosed relationships with campaigns that turn blogs in effect into coordinated third-party efforts, and that could result in hefty fines for both the campaigns and the bloggers.  But the larger impact will be to discourage political blogging at all, as the cost of defending oneself from the inevitable complaints will be so high (even for the majority who are innocent of any such connections) that people just won’t bother to enter the market at all.

Even beyond that, though, it’s simply dishonest.  Plenty of bloggers get involved in election campaigns, and they make those connections clear by disclosing them o their blogs.  Deliberately failing to do that — and to market one’s blog as a paid outlet for politicians — puts people into Armstrong Williams territory.  It saps credibility and damages the ability of the blogosphere to effect political change in the long run.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall

Ace Of Spades:

First of all, here’s the answer to the question people are probably asking:

Was I ever bought?

No, but… kind of.

Twice I had conversations with people in DC in which the notion of a pushing a story for pay was suggested, once very vaguely, once more tangibly. The first time I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t really being asked; the second time I said no.

As I tried to sell it to myself I just couldn’t. And I did try to sell it to myself. I tried every argument I could think of to somehow figure out a way that me getting money was a proper thing.

I didn’t run anything on either, by the way. (And neither did any coblogger, and neither was there a link… there wasn’t anything about it at all.)

The problem with this is that was that even if the story I was being asked to push was the sort of thing I would push… well, I couldn’t get past the pay-for-play aspect of it. Because even though I would push it, if I came across it and found it interesting, the problem was I wouldn’t typically come across it and find it interesting. It was a good story, but… Eh, I couldn’t do it.

Not just because I’m such a terrific and ethical guy, but because I knew, let’s face it: At some point an article like the Daily Caller’s would come out, and I would have to write this post, and I would either have to lie to readers or confess I’d lied to them earlier.

Now here’s the part about “kind of:” That project Dan is talking about, about trying to set up some sort of system on the right like they have on the left to help fund struggling bloggers?

Yeah I know of multiple such plans cooking. Many bloggers in the DC area have been trying to get that sort of thing off the ground for ages. They never do. But I hear about them.

One guy recently mentioned that to me, his efforts to get some kind of funding pool set up for the blogosphere, and lamented (as all these guys do) that Republicans with money are simply not interested in the internet. The way it was explained to me is thus: They’re older and more conventional. They haven’t embraced the internet. They use it, but they don’t really appreciate it as a legitimate form of communication.

(I’m speaking here of wealthy Republican donors generally and not, say, the people who donate to this site, who are clearly internet-friendly. I mean as a general matter.)

They like things that are tried-and-true, tested, tangible. They like donating to the RNC — hey, it’s a corporation with an organizational chart and office space. They will donate to magazines: They’re tangible things; everyone understands that a magazine can inform and persuade.

To one guy I said: The trick you have to pull is to sell this partly as a physical magazine each blogger will contribute an essay or article to. You set it up as half for the magazine, half for just keeping the blogosphere going; but at the end of the day, they want something physical they can hold in their hand. You sort of have to make-pretend with the magazine aspect and give them that because they just don’t want to donate to anything as sketchy as the internet.

Anyway, it has long been my belief, based on personal experience, that this was a necessary thing, and that unless that happened this site, and a bunch of others, would simply go away.

Ann Althouse:

In case you’re wondering, no one has ever even offered me money to blog something. I wouldn’t do it, of course, but it never comes up — perhaps because I don’t live in Washington, perhaps because (as a law professor) I don’t look easy to tempt, and perhaps because it’s just not something that happens.

Doug Mataconis:

Politicians have been seeking to influence bloggers for some time now. Like I am sure most other political bloggers out there who’ve been around long enough, I get in my email in-box press releases from political candidates I’ve barely even heard of, some of them running in places I’ve never even visited. I didn’t sign up for any of them, and yet, every day, sometimes more than once a day if there’s an election approaching, Usually, I ignore them and even when I do glance through them I can’t say it’s ever actually caused me to write a blog post. Campaign press releases, you see, don’t really interest me all that much.

Politicians have also sought to influence bloggers via ads, and you can find political ads of one kind or another on many political blogs. Since most of these ads are hosted through ad networks rather than directly purchased by the campaigns, though, it’s hard to see that they really have that much of an influence on editorial content.

The phenomenon of paid bloggers, though, is a new development and strikes me as something quite different. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but a supposedly independent blogger who is being paid by a campaign or a political party for favorable coverage, or any reason to be honest, owes something to readers. What they owe is a simple thing called disclosure. As long as readers know what’s going on behind the scenes that might impact your writing, they can make their own decisions about what to think about what you have to say.

And for the record, I haven’t received anything from any political party or candidate. Well, except for those unsolicited emails, and if they want to stop sending me those that’ll be fine.

E.D. Kain at The League:

While blogging is not at all the same thing as reporting, and readers of blogs expect opinions and partisanship rather than balance, there are lines bloggers shouldn’t cross and certainly full disclosure of any paid support from a candidate seems like an ethical first step. Paid advocacy for specific causes or politicians is simply not the same ball game as working for an ideological publication. If you write for a tech magazine you’re obviously going to write about technology, but if you’re paid by Nokia to write favorable reviews about their products then you enter much murkier waters and owe it to your readers to disclose that information – which, as it happens, basically discredits those reviews.

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