In my illegal opinion . . .

What part of "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech" don't they understand?

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman is claiming that "ideological extremism" reigns on the Internet, while seeming (in my view, at least) to manage an unconcealed wink at the proposed blog crackdown:

....there are also new storm signals about the Internet and its future potential for degrading public dialogue.

The IPDI warns in a new report that the burgeoning use of Web political videos is bound "to further exacerbate the partisanship of an already polarized electorate." And a survey firm, NOP World, has discovered that online political devotees are more ideologically extreme than the public at large, more skewed to the left or the right.

"I have an enormous amount of concern," said Phil Noble, an Internet entrepreneur, frowning at his shoes. "My son, who's a big Star Wars fan, likes to talk about 'the dark side.' Well, on the Internet, the dark side is at least as potentially powerful as the bright side. It's a huge, huge problem."

Item: Back in 2002, the Democrats launched the first major Web attack video, which showed Bush shoving a woman in a wheelchair down a virtual stairway (actually, a descending stock-market graph). She crashed at the bottom and exploded in a puff of smoke.

Item: Joseph Steffen, an aide to Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, was fired last month after he was exposed as the person who had posted anonymous (and, it turned out, erroneous) rumors on a popular conservative Web site alleging that Ehrlich's potential 2006 challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, was involved with an African American TV journalist.

But perhaps the most telling development occurred in Daschle's reelection loss to John Thune. Some observers believe that the South Dakota "blog offensive" could be replicated next year in other races. Two bloggers, launching ostensibly independent sites titled South Dakota Politics and Daschle v. Thune, hammered Daschle relentlessly; they also attacked the state's flagship newspaper, which they deemed pro-Daschle. The bloggers received payments from the Thune campaign ($35,000 overall) for their work, but they didn't reveal that on their sites.

Online political devotees? Is that a new synonym for bloggers?

It's tough to tell whether Polman is talking about blogs or the Internet, as he puts the word "blogosphere" in quotes. But he seems not terribly concerned about the obvious threat to free speech:

Aides to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle are still smarting over his narrow November defeat, which can be attributed in part to the dogged work of two conservative bloggers who were secretly being paid by the Republican campaign.

And while all this, and so much more, is going on, the Federal Election Commission is now declaring that it intends to police the "blogosphere," starting with a formal announcement on March 24, and ultimately write rules that could crack down on some of the more adventurous online politicking.

Much is made of the $35,000 paid to the pro-Thune bloggers. A recurrent, unsettled question in my mind is: how does money alter a message?

I mean, I'm not looking in the mail for my check. But suppose Republicans paid me $35,000. How would that change what I'm saying or what I think about anything? I don't see how it would -- any more than it would change anything if I gave $35,000 to the Republicans. Or the Democrats. Or the Libertarians.

Besides, I thought one of the chief complaints about bloggers is that (in O'Reilly's words), they "work for no one and can't be fired." Tough to have it both ways.

For what it's worth, I think the pro-Thune bloggers should have disclosed that they took the money. It wouldn't have altered my natural skepticism about anything, nor would it have changed my mind, but it would have helped their credibility, which has suffered accordingly. That's how things should be. They're still free to write anything they want, and they always will be.

If all readers used logic and reason, who paid who wouldn't matter. I am frequently told that the Cato Institute takes money from the lumber industry -- as if that taints their philosophy. I don't see how it does, as their work stands or falls on its own merit; whatever logic or statistics are used neither increase nor decrease in value depending on who contributes. There are, of course, people who contribute to causes they believe in out of perceived self interest.

I'm a life member of the NRA, and I've given money to gun causes over the years. This, I am told, makes me a member of the "gun lobby." I defy anyone to tell me how this contaminates or changes any of my opinions about the Second Amendment or guns. If the NRA decided (for whatever bizarre reason) to pay me to write what I think about guns, and I took the money, how would that devalue, refute, or defeat my thinking in any way? In all honesty, I can't see how it would. What we're talking about are appearances. This "disclosure" business strikes me more as a game of "gotcha!" than anything else. The really devious and sneaky people will take steps to assure that they don't take anything which might have to be disclosed, and if they did disclose it, they'd do it in a skillful way to avoid the appearance of impropriety. (This whole appearance-of-cleanliness mindset is discussed in detail in this excellent book which I highly recommend. No one paid me to recommend it, either!)

The FEC angle is even more interesting, because if McCain-Feingold is applied to bloggers, then the words I write can be magically transformed into "campaign contributions." This means that my opinions become donations subject to regulation by bureaucrats.

While I can't speak for others, I'd go to prison before I'd comply with such nonsense.

This is the biggest threat to free speech I have seen in my 50 years living in the United States. It's one of those "we must hang together or we'll all hang separately" things that everyone -- old media, new media, bloggers, MSM journalists, Republicans, Democrats, Neocons, religious conservatives, socialists, gun nuts, Marxists, Homocons, you name it -- should resolutely oppose.

Better hurry -- because at this rate, working to defeat the new speech regulations will itself become illegal!

posted by Eric on 03.13.05 at 09:25 AM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference In my illegal opinion . . .:

» Carnival of the Vanities #130 from Bird's Eye View
Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Blogosphere Boys Club. What's that? you didn't know this was a men's club? Don't you read Newsweek? Lot's of noise amongst the blogs about this "guys only" perception. I don't really think the [Read More]
Tracked on March 16, 2005 2:45 PM
» Carnival of the Vanities #130 from Bird's Eye View
Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Blogosphere Boys Club. What's that? you didn't know this was a men's club? Don't you read Newsweek? Lot's of noise amongst the blogs about this "guys only" perception. I don't really think the [Read More]
Tracked on March 16, 2005 4:02 PM


Whatever the outcome, I think we have all learned a lesson here. The lesson is that we must demand of media micropublishers the same that we demand of the mainstream media. Answers to questions like, "Why are you writing this? Are you operating independently? Who is paying for all of this?"

Self-funded, independent political and current events blogging must be permitting to continue on unobstructed by government. Blogging that is done by paid operatives of a political campaign must be forced to hold to the same standards of transparency as any other political operation.

Standards are pretty low as they are, but the Thune folks should at least have held to the spirit of what standards there are.

bink   ·  March 13, 2005 2:30 PM

I'm absolutely, unalterably, opposed to government control of the media of the communication and expression of thought, whether that be TV, newspapers, blogs, books, art, or anything else.

I notice that they use a double-bind if you've ever accepted money from, are accused of accepting money from, or are accused of in any way "benefiting from" anything: 1) If it's something they consider evil or "reactionary", such as guns, pornography, or "Big Tobacco", and you defend it in any way, then they say that you're corrupt, and 2) if it's something they consider "progressive", such as "affirmative action" (racial quotas), and you dare to oppose it, then they say you're hypocritical. (Of course, they would be the first to deplore such ad hominems if used against themselves.)

Another factor to consider is that a huge number of people, probably a majority, still know very little about blogs or the Internet. One "mainstream" journalist complained that bloggers send thousands of unsolicited e-mails to our mailboxes every day. In other words, he didn't know the difference between a blogger and a spammer! Another thought that was a blog. Somebody else thought that "blogging" meant "disinformation on the Internet" such as the forged memo that Dan Rather used. To many people, "the Internet" is one big undifferentiated soup of information, disinformation, pornography, and whatever else they imagine is there. They have no idea of what is the difference between blogs, other Web sites, the Usenet, chatrooms, and e-mail. It's all one and the same thing to them -- something new and frightening. And then they demand that it all be regulated by the government!

"If someone imagines that we can be ignorant and free, he imagines what never was and never shall be."
-Thomas Jefferson

Never was that so true as now, I think.

"...there are also new storm signals about the Internet and its future potential for degrading public dialogue."

There is no such thing as an addition to the public dialogue that has ever "degraded" said dialogue. Welcome to the capitalism of ideas. The free competition of ideas (even ridiculous ones) causes foolish opinions to die and strong ones to thrive and mature.

Indeed, the blogosphere is one of the only places where ideas are allowed to compete on their own merit. The sensitivocracy of the MSM tends to allow any moronic ploy to gain as much air time as the good ideas. The blogosphere kills 'em dead.

Addendum: People who know that little about the internet and technology disgust me (above comment). I'm mostly jesting, of course, but honestly, where is the cave these people live in?

Addendum 2: I agree that monetary support from a major partisan organization for a blogger has little to do with their opinions. Why do you think the payment was offered in the first place?

Michael Akerman   ·  March 13, 2005 8:55 PM

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