Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who's Afraid of Blogs?

More than one Montgomery County elected official has mentioned to me, directly or indirectly, that they don't like political blogs. They say their concern is over accountability - basically, anybody can post anything on a blog.

It's true, bloggers can post items anonymously. They can make outrageous claims, write about subjects they know nothing about, etc. But couldn't they do the same by simply writing an anonymous letter or leafletting a neighborhood? The difference, of course, is that the internet provides a vehicle to reach far more people, far faster. It's a valid point.

However, for the most part I think the political blogosphere does a fair job of separating the wheat from the chaff. If a blogger posts patently false stories, never provides backup documentation or sources for his or her claims, other bloggers (and readers) will respond and refute the claims thereby providing readers with information to come to their own conclusions. Bad blogs aren't taken seriously and generally don't maintain much of a readership. That's not to say bad stuff doesn't get out there. It does, but that happens at the New York Times too, not just on blogs.

I think the problem some politicians have with blogs is actually more about control and power. Politicians prefer to control their message. They understand how to do that (at least to some extent) when they deal with traditional media outlets. But how do you deal with a whole army of internet Tom Paines? How do you deal with scores of unknown investigative bloggers searching through online records, analyzing information and cultivating leads on today's (or tomorrow's) top stories about your campaign? How do you deal with a public that can do their own digging and reporting and forward their work to willing bloggers who will publish it for the world to see?

Blogs have been responsible for a number of news scoops recently - the doctored photos from Lebanon, for one on an international level; the mystery anti-Leggett website, the irregularities in Al Wynn's campaign finances, and the County Council ex parte meetings on the local level (btw - props to MoCo Progressive for nabbing that one, and providing plenty of backup documentation) . That's gotta be a bit scary if you're a candidate wondering if someone, somewhere is going to nail you on something. Of course, you'd have to have something hiding in your closet for it to really matter.

Blogs represent the further democratization of media, and political campaigns as Joe Trippi and Kos have pointed out in their recent books. Many media outlets are now starting to embrace blogs by publishing their own, and scouring others for news. Even my insignificant little corner of the blogosphere sees daily visits from the fourth estate (based on my referral logs). Politicians would probably do well to embrace blogs as well (especially at the federal level given recent legislation that would create a searchable online earmark/pork database). You've been warned; the bloggers are just warming up.

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