The 2008 U.S. presidential election has the makings of a free-for-all and candidates are scrambling for a way to get a leg up on their opponents. It seems their weapon of choice has been the Internet, with bloggers providing the ammunition. Bloggers can scour the Web for quotes and video clips, taken out of context of the candidate’s opponents to portray them in a negative light and alternatively create posts on their blogs that highlight a candidates’ accomplishments and speeches along the campaign trail.
However, politicians should be wary of these new allies because the bloggers’ rogue nature and lax attitude of journalistic standards can quickly work against them.
For many of these candidates, as well as the bloggers, this partnership is still a new frontier. Bloggers are now employed on politicians’ staffs using the Internet to reach out to young voters and raise money from political activists deeply rooted in the online community. The problem these candidates are having is that many of these bloggers do not hold themselves to the same ethics, standards, and guidelines as professional journalists in the mainstream media, since their writing is often driven by a personal incentive.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is now aware of the pitfalls of “citizen journalism,” as those within the blogosphere like to call it. It was discovered that two female staff members, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, used “vulgar language to characterize religious conservatives and Roman Catholic teachings on birth control, homosexuality and the virgin birth,” according to the New York Times.
While their statements are very offensive to those of the Christian faith, the comments were made on the women’s personal blogs and not on Edwards’ behalf or featured on his official Web site. As long as the women did not attempt to pass off their opinions as if they were in line with the candidate’s beliefs, there was not much Edwards could have done short of firing them and risking an uproar from the liberal side of the Web community. Perhaps the situation has been ultimately resolved now that one of the bloggers, Marcotte, has quit because she felt that, “[I] was creating a situation where I felt that every time I coughed, I was risking the Edwards campaign,” according to an article by the Associated Press on Feb. 12.
This is only one event defining the role of bloggers and what they can and cannot get away with if they wish to be accepted as professionals. While the duty of a journalist is to serve as a watchdog for the government, some bloggers believe it is their role to serve as watchdogs of the mainstream media. After all, it was blogger Charles Johnson’s conservative Web site, LittleGreenFootballs.com, that played a major role in proving the Killian documents, featured on “60 Minutes,” to be falsified. It has become common for these bloggers to criticize journalists and media organizations for not following journalistic standards evoking a “do as I say not as I do” approach to their work. Bloggers see themselves outside the realm of ethical expectations and therefore objectivity, a key element in reporting, is not always essential to their writing.
That is the element that candidates seem to miss. If a candidate supports legislation that is not in line with the beliefs of certain bloggers, who may have supported them without being employed to their campaign, they can quickly turn around and mount a campaign against that candidate with a firestorm of posts condemning the politician. With their growing power among Internet users, it could damage their chances of a nomination.
It is essential that the candidates understand the nature of blogging before jumping on the bandwagon because it is the trendy soapbox of today. It is great that politicians are embracing the Internet, but giving these new writers too much leeway will result in serious ethical ramifications. Edwards will not be the last politician to get caught up in a blogging controversy.