Fallout from John Edwards’ Weblogger Whirlwind

by Sean Hackbarth

There was good discussion with Daniel Glover and myself on Ed Morrissey’s CQ Radio on John Edwards and his “weblog wenches,*” Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan (M&M).

All three of us agree this story only plays well in the blogosphere. Daniel pointed out a reason the MSM pushed the story was because of their animosity towards webloggers. I agree. You could feel the distain from the NY Times when they tarred all webloggers:

Two bloggers hired by John Edwards to reach out to liberals in the online world have landed his presidential campaign in hot water for doing what bloggers do — expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language.

To the MSM Webloggers don’t add insight, new ideas, or passion. They just toss f-bombs and launch verbal mortar rounds.

Hiring M&M wasn’t THE problem for the Edwards campaign. The misstep they took was not being prepared for criticism that would come with two people who have thousands of words, many highly inflamatory, on the internet. When writing anything on this weblog in the back of my mind I know my words could come back to haunt me. TAM is a public space that reflects my character. Thus I don’t write everything that pops into my mind, and I watch my language. The Edwards campaign should have figured Marcotte’s and McEwen’s past writings would be examined eventually by political opponents. They were caught flat-footed when media-savvy Bill Donohue launched his attack.

I disagree with Ann Althouse who wrote, “Edwards faced serious damage whichever decision he made, so it remains to be seen how reluctant candidates will be to hire bloggers.” Not at all. Keeping M&M doesn’t do damage unless they embarrass Edwards in the future. If M&M were tossed aside the venomous Left blogosphere would have revolted. Edwards made the smarter political move.

Edwards shunned Donohue’s call for the firings of Marcotte and McEwen and reaffirmed their places in his campaign. That action brought joy to the left side of the blogosphere who was waiting to pounce on Edwards for caving “into the pressure of a right wing smear job.”

In a few days many of us will forget this story. We’ll only be reminded if Marcotte or McEwan write something outrageous. Going into their new jobs the two webloggers realized this. Marcotte responded to concerns:

I am the Blogmaster. I am also an adult. I know how the game works. I’m more interested in helping my candidate win than anything—luckily we see eye to eye on most issues. It was hard letting go of a platform where I can just run my mouth, but the the fate of the world is important enough that I’m willing to play nice.

Even before any controversy their voices changed. Go to Marcotte’s pre-story post on the Edwards weblog. She’s a semi-policy wonk. Nothing to be afraid of.

Which brings me to my defense of Marcotte and McEwen. People are capable of adapting to their surroundings. I wouldn’t talk the same way on a first date as I would with my male friends watching the football game at the bar. Our behavior changes when we are in a professional environment versus the safer confines of friends and family. Just as Edwards isn’t that responsible for comments left by people on his weblog I don’t think he’s that responsible for what Marcotte and McEwan said prior to being hired.

I would think the Edwards campaign consulted with the two about what tone they wanted from the campaign weblog. I doubt they wanted an over-the-top, “crashing the gates” vibe. Eventually Edwards has to plan on winning a general election. Pages and pages of f-bombs and the evils of BushCo and the smirking chimp would be held up to Edwards to defend. From the moment M&M joined the campaign was when Edwards took full responsibility for their words.

An effect of this story is webloggers working for campaigns will be more staid, more subdued. The internet is growing in political power and the campaigns realize that. The full-time webloggers will be more interesting than the operatives who ran campaign weblogs as an afterthought, but we won’t see the webloggers as loose and free as they could be. There will be a little voice in the back of their heads asking if this post could cost their candidate an election. If they judge wrong they’ll be fired. (That will happen and be a big story in both the blogosphere and MSM.) Such defensiveness will make campaign weblogs less interesting than independent weblogs.

Daniel said this story will change the political blogosphere is some significant way. He just doesn’t know what that change will be. From Chris Bowers’ adulation of Edwards one change I see is a more confident Left blogosphere:

Relative to the Republican Noise Machine dominated established news media, it increases the power of the netroots as a voice in the Democratic party. They listened to us, not to the establishment, and not to the right-wing. This will help build the movement, and free the Democratic Party from conservative Republican influence in our primaries. We are one step closer to choosing our leaders on our own.

Marcotte and McEwen remain on the campaign. The Left blogosphere won but still isn’t through waging war. They’re now urging people to take part in an astroturf campaign chastising reporters for what they perceive to be bad reporting of the story. In essence they’re trying to bully the MSM into submission. They got the Breck Girl to submit, and they want more.


*Even though I say it in jest this will come back to haunt me. I’m pointing this out to any campaigns interested in hiring me.

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3 Responses to “Fallout from John Edwards’ Weblogger Whirlwind”

1

“Edwards made the smarter political move.”

I agree.

Nice post.

2

Edwards is shedding the softie,breck girl image though…here’s video proof:
http://minor-ripper.blogspot.com/2007/02/john-edwards-gets-tough-with-matt-lauer_08.html

3

Thanks, Sean, for your considered and well-reasoned opinion. That’s a breath of fresh air from a Right Wing Nutosphere that tasted blood in the water, even if it was from biting their own tongues.

Every time I’m ready to dismiss you as another koodaid-drinking crank, you buck your peers and say something intelligent. It’s what keeps me coming back.

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