Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What should bloggers disclose?

In recent months it's been revealed that candidates and special interests from both sides of the political aisle have used paid bloggers to get their messages out. Often, who's paying is pretty apparent, of course... Newdonkey.com is a blog supported by and written by a Democratic Leadership Council staffer. There's nothing hidden there. It's a good blog and you know what you're getting when you go there, so... no problem.

The problem arises when bloggers that seem independent aren't.

Or, is it a problem?

There are folsk out there who would like to force bloggers to disclose such interests. If I started taking money from the National Rifle Association, for example, I should tell you, right? Well, ethically, I should. But, should I be required to, by law?

This post at Atrios makes an interesting argument that I shouldn't. Atrios argues that TV pundits, who are often political consultants, don't have to disclose who they're working for. In fact, most consultants, be they business or political, won't tell you who their clients are unless they're doing incredibly public work. There's some good reason for this. Say your campaign is in trouble and you want James Carville to fix it, behind the scenes, real quiet like. You don't want to tell the world your campaign is in trouble and telling everyone that you hired Carville would do that. So, you ask that the relationship be confidential. In my experience, in business and politics, consultants never reveal their clients without permission. It just isn't done.

But nobody's arguing that these guys on TV should have to reveal who they're working for. Until they do, I say that bloggers shouldn't have to reveal their funding sources either. They should, of course, but I don't think they should be required to.


At 9:11 PM , Blogger Gabriel said...

Blogging is definately changing the way info is passed around. I agree that bloggers shouldn't by law have to dislose that they are taking money from special interests.
I do notice that other bloggers do have a tendency to "out" paid bloggers on occasion.
I like blogs because they are both insightful and misleading. Bullshit runs rampant、but bullshit detectors are quick to quip back. Bloggers kind of police themselves.
I believe that blogging is a good place for actual discorse and should remain unleglislated. The ulterior motive bloggers should be able to keep their secret until the other bloggers take action.

At 9:36 PM , Blogger Ideasculptor said...

I agree with you, but from the other side, aren't there requirements that campaigns disclose where they spend their money, particularly with regard to advertising? Paying a consultant is one thing. Paying someone to go out into the world and talk you up is something entirely different. It is advertising. Campaigns are required to disclose what and where they spend on advertising aren't they? If not, they should be. As for spending public money on positive press from a blogger, that goes without saying that the spending should be made public, even if it were ethically allowable, which it isn't. In at least a couple of the case in question, we aren't talking about consultants who just happened to write good things about their employer. We are talking about being paid to write good things on contract. There is a difference, although it is easy to see who forcing disclosure of one could be concealed by relabeling it as the other. This is why disclosure by the payer, instead of the payee, is important.

Our democracy hinges on a free and independant press, but these days, press includes a much wider variety of media than just newsprint. Unfortunately, it would appear that only newspapers (and only a subset at that) seem to be applying any kind of code of conduct with regard to this kind of thing. As fewer and fewer Americans get their info from traditional sources, it is important that our new sources of information maintain the same level oof integrity that we expect (but frequently don't receive) from newspapers and network news. Without that, our democracy is done for, since whoever better controls the sources of information can utterly dominate the dialog in Washington.

As for the Carville example, I don't necessarily have a problem forcing a pundit/consultant to choose between consulting or punditry. If disclosure would have negative consequences on consulting, then I'm not sure Carville shouldn't have to accept that or else give up his TV spots. You CANNOT simultaneously be considered a commentator and a participant, and I don't think that that kind of conflict of interest would have been even remotely acceptable 30 years ago. It is one thing to go back and forth between public service/consulting and the media, but it is quite another to do both simultaneously. At least when you go back and forth, a well informed consumer can determine which role you are playing at the time.


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