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Monday, March 29, 2010

Politicians Using Bloggers

I've been reading Marc Cour's post-blogger "meet-up" (quotes because I think the term "meet-up" sounds quasi-juvenile; kind of like what cheerleaders do..."Hey Buffy, there is a Spirit Squad meet-up after the game!") comments and it has gotten me thinking about the issue of how politicians use and/or attempt to use the media. Since it's a Monday and I have the week off, I lack the motivation to actually structure these thoughts in anything like a traditional format. As a result I'm going to digress into writing laziness and simply interview myself. There is a benefit to this format, namely that there can be no claims of being misquoted.

Q: Do I think local politicians would like to use bloggers and other similar types for exposure?
A: Sure, and why not? Being a politician pretty much means you are in the "use" business. You use voters to get elected, you use your job to get things done, and if you are a Pennsylvania legislator, you may use your per-diem for mortgage payments.

Q: Do I think that local bloggers have an obligation to be unbiased when talking about local politicians?
A: No. I will take it one step further though...I don't think that any media at any level is completely unbiased. We humans put bias into everything we do. It's in our nature. We are social creatures by design, which means we are constantly making judgments about those around us. Over thousands of years we have managed to replace "Should Thor be allowed to join our tribe?" with "Do I think Sarah Palin is a nit-wit?", with the latter being expressed in somewhat less direct ways (but expressed never the less). Honestly, I think this is wired into our genetic code.

What we do have an obligation to is, in my opinion, intellectual honesty. For example, if a blogger is working/volunteering/for a particular campaign, I think they should disclose that fact every time that write about that campaign or candidate in question.

Q: Should bloggers blatantly endorse candidates?
A: I can't say "yes" or "no" definitively, so instead I will settle with a "maybe". The reason for the vacillation on my part lies in the fact that while I think bloggers certainly can endorse candidates, I think that the net result of any endorsement could end up being the perception that the endorser has sacrificed credibility if it isn't backed up with some hard facts and reasoning. In essence it's not the act of endorsement that I might have a problem with, it's the reason for the endorsement. In this area you also have to wonder what else could conceivably be transpiring if someone were so blatant in their support of a candidate.

Look, one of the beauties of this whole blogging act is that it gives voice to people who are not connected, liked, or otherwise in a position to have their voice heard. To quote those noted philosophers the Fabulous Thunderbirds, that's "Powerful Stuff". The blog itself though is just a tool. For example, I could use a hammer to build a house for the poor, or I could use it to bash someones head in. The hammer itself has no feelings on the's just the tool, and the real judgment would be placed on the person using the hammer. For me, the same holds true for blogs as it does hammer, hence the "maybe". Fortunately, the very mechanism of blogging has a sort of self-correcting aspect to it: If I were to start blatantly shelling for a candidate, then other bloggers could very well call me out on it.

Q: Would I ever endorse a candidate?
A: Probably not. Now I've said one or two good things about Bob Morgan, for example, but those comments had more to do with how I know Bob than his qualifications for any particular position de jour he may be running for at any moment. In point of fact I am glad that he lost his last election, as Walter Griffith seems to be kicking ass and taking no prisoners. Sorry Bob. Conversely, I've said some less positive things about Scranton's city council President Janet Evans, but that doesn't mean I'm automatically going to write nice things about her self-nominated arch nemesis Mayor Chris Doherty.

Q: Would I criticize another blogger who endorsed a candidate?
A: I might, if it seemed that the endorsement wasn't based on some kind of rational thought process. That, by the way, has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with logic and reasoning. Consider the value of my criticism though, as it plus $0.75 can get you a copy of the Scranton Times.

Q: Do I think the turnout on Friday night was indicative of some kind of blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy on the part of politicians at the prospect of free publicity?
A: Abso-freak'n-lutely. By and large though I haven't seen anything written locally that makes me think that any particular candidate actually benefited from this event. Did I mention a candidate name or two in my post-Friday comments? Sure I did, but not in any terms that I think were slanted positively or otherwise. Sure, Corey O'Brien's representative told me about the cage fights, but I still think think he (O'Brien) is not overly qualified for the job he seeks in the next election.

Q: Is local political blogging a net positive, a net negative or by and large neutral?
A: It is absolutely a net positive, and in fact I think it holds tremendous potential for NEPA as a whole. Consider the chief alternatives...

...local message boards filled with anonymous posters who do nothing but slander, throw verbal bombs and generally act like rabid ass###es

...websites put up by local politicians, filled with smiling pictures of Candidate X and his beautiful family

If the above is the competition for breathable air in the local Internet space, then the competition is over before it ever began.

I can respect the opinions of anyone who "mans up" to his or her own. I have no respect for those who snipe from behind anonymous walls simply because they are too ashamed to put their name on their own opinions. I can think of only one instance where there is any justification for that kind of behavior.

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