Wednesday, July 13, 2005

OK: Let's Draw a Few Lines (with Erasable Pen)

Carol Darr made one thing very clear last night:

The line needs to be drawn. Or else.

Or else we can say goodbye to preventing corporate influence over our electoral system (well, not really -- more like, we'd be giving them more potential areas in which they can corrupt us all).

In my interpretation, here are the two conclusions I come to:

1) Political activism blogs deserve to exist freely. The First Amendment preserves our right to assemble freely, discuss whatever we choose, etc. The FEC steps in to say, "OK, if you're going to assemble and do political stuff, you can't advocate someone's election or defeat and spend more than $X." The problem is, the big blogs need to spend more than that to operate -- and "to operate" often means to advocate the election or defeat of the candidates they discuss, sometimes explicitly fundraising for candidates.

2) The big political blog aren't mainstream media entities and shouldn't be treated as such for one main reason: a lack of accountability. The New York Times can editorialize against Bush all year long, but in the end, they can't liberal fundraising links on their website and advocate you donate to them. The Nation, for one, is very explicitly liberal. But their journalistic integrity keeps them off the campaign payrolls. Daily Kos, on the other hand, is unabashedly liberal, advocates regularly the election or defeat of candidates, organizes political activism (including fundraising for candidates), and has been on candidate's payroll. In many ways, it is no different than a political action committee with people power.

3) The media exemption has been abused to a great extent, making the line that would keep blogs from receiving it very blurry.

In the end, I fall somewhere between what Carol Darr says and what Kos says. First things first: either make the media exemption mean something and keep people like Paul Begala from acting as both a paid campaign consultant and news commentator and corporate investors from influencing the editorial decision making (which would seem incredibly hard to do, much less enforce); or, just give up already and give it to the blogs, too. Perhaps you can ask blogs to register as PACs or PAC-lites if they're going to engage in spending money to influence elections. Perhaps you could just have the big ones disclose their funding.

Where Darr is right is that the real solution comes in the rewriting of campaign law to catch it up to speed with the times.


Mike D said...

I think it's already too late to attempt to draw the line. You mention the acounatability that mainstream news sources have, but I'm really not too sure about that. There are news outlets on both sides that act as an adjunct of the political parties: Fox News, the Washington Times, NY Post, Weekly Standard, etc. on the right, and...well...the Nation on the left (not counting talk radio on either side).

These are political organizations. Their number one goal is getting people from their side of the partisan divide elected. While I certainly see the danger in giving the media exemption to any blogger who claims to be a "journalist," unfortunately, the reality is that we crossed that line a long time ago...

Jorge said...

If blogs received the media exemption, would they be held accountable for the content that users posted to the site? I agree that is seems like a slippery slope. It's very hard for me to view bloggers as journalists since they seem to take content from the MSM and comment on it.

While I think there needs to be some regulation of blogs, particularly when Kos works for Howard Dean, I'm not sure about the best way to go about this. Your suggestion to register as PAC-lites is interesting, I'd be worried then that they could solicit corporate contributions - something Carol Darr warned us about.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how this develops. Good post.

Mister Toaster said...

I'd argue, though, that the mainstream media can't go too far with its partisanship. Sure, Fox News is a joke. The Washington Times, a rag. But what they don't do is explicitly campaign for a candidate or solicit donations for a given cause. And that's the difference.

When the mainstream press is perceived as going over the line, there are consequences. Just ask Dan Rather and "60 Minutes II." Even though the story they told was never debunked, the fact that one source could not be verified injured the program's reputation.

The blogs, for the simple reason that they are not expected to have the responsibility of accuracy in reporting like the news outlets do, don't have that check.

I'm not saying this makes this case any more clear-cut, but the difference between the blogs and the mainstream media is not as blurry as some would have us believe.