Blogger Power in Politics

MaineWorld98.jpgMany readers know about Talking Points Memo or Huffington Post. A New York Times article shows that in state races smaller, local blogs may have greater impact on a race. The Franken-Coleman race in Minnesota provides the backdrop to the story. Apparently an independent blogger who has previously worked for the Republican Party has found some anomalies in the management of Franken’s finances. A Democrat-leaning blog in the state has noted that similar issues have arisen in the Republican Party’s management of its finances. In both cases the power of young (one blogger is 34; the other is 24) writers having an impact on the race is striking.

As general point whether this extra information on either side will matter or should matter may be the larger question. The reputation smearing or questioning possible with the Internet can mean that we have more information about candidates. Yet, as many notes the quality of such information can be and often is suspect. Should every candidate have a spotless record? Indeed, could every candidate have a spotless record? What are the right metrics or proxies for character? Do people have the skills to discern what is learning moment, a problem borne of bureaucracy and tax systems, or a tough choice that had no perfect solution? Do people even want these skills or to engage with such nuances?

In political races at least such questions and paths of reflection are likely unwelcome. We seem to prefer some sort of resonance with a candidate and then allow that to color how we judge whatever information comes our way. Perhaps politics has always been that way. Still it seems that the ability to distract and further confuse whatever critical reflection one does has increased. It is a sort of noise pollution. So one can either exert the energy to sort the information or one can flee to a noise cancelling headset with one station that tells one what one wants to hear. Hopefully, the same power that fuels the noise pollution will fuel noise neutralization. Those who offer more nuanced or honest presentations of the good, the bad, and the what was that for both parties may rise and gain acceptance as excellent news sources. Given the way news and politics has proceeded in the recent decade that shift would surprise me. Nonetheless, as long as the Internet stays open enough it seems to keep such a possibility open and that is a good thing.

Image: WikiCommons

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3 Responses

  1. Devan– I’m not quite sure what your angle is here. I have a couple of observations. One, this is a case where a candidate leaps up to higher office, and bypasses the conventional vetting. Two, what appears to be resonating with voters is Franken’s failure to pay workers’ comp insurance on time.

    As for the can-we-trust-the-blogger angle here… well, “Minnesota Democrats Exposed” was reporting pretty hard facts here. MDE’s breaking news blog post from 3/4/08 landed in the Star-Tribune the next day. I still love Dan’s colorful phrase in FoR about living “in the twilight between fact and fiction” on the Internet. Well, when you have court documents and next-day paper coverage, I’d say night has fallen.

    And just as well, the political blogger is muckraker or cheerleader. If this sort of independent oppo research happened ten years ago, the headline would have read “Citizen muckrackers affect Senate race.”

    I also wonder whether some candidates or state parties are wise enough to hire their own internal muckrakers to dig through their own dirt.

  2. Deven says:

    Jon,

    I am not making a comment on the veracity of the specific Franken-Coleman information, although that seems important to you. Both sides seem to have some material that may or may not matter. The material may be true or not and maybe it should matter. Whether the information is backed up or not (regardless of party or interest group) is not always clear. So in this case if your information is correct, there may be solid useful information. Other such information may appear about the Republican Party in this race as well. How we sort the information and the impact of this new type of muckracker is what the post is getting at. The image is to remind that newspapers can doctor information or push agendas and have done so as can bloggers and other Web folks. The question of whom to trust persists but the impact of these smaller voices is larger.

    So put differently how sophisticated will society be in sorting good from bad information as more and more of it flows across the Web seems like a question that this event highlights.

    best

    Deven

  3. Deven,

    Indeed this does raise the question of trust. I had ventured an explanation as to how a reader could take this information and seek to verify it.

    Incidentally, I’m a Democrat and I’d be happy if the GOP lost every race this fall.

    This example was pretty cut-and-dry. There’s many better examples of information less vouched that is informing public debate. (like whether Comcast in particular was sending reset packets on google.com last October. Wikipedia’s entries are fairly certain on this, but it’s not clear from the source material that a definitive explanation was produced.)

    Jon