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August 23, 2010

Blogola!

The Daily Caller reports:

“It’s standard operating procedure” to pay bloggers for favorable coverage, says one Republican campaign operative. A GOP blogger-for-hire estimates that “at least half the bloggers that are out there” on the Republican side “are getting remuneration in some way beyond ad sales.”

No, it's really not. This is some guy offering this reporter the quote he wants -- but it's not SOP, at least not that I've heard.

...

One pro-Poizner blogger, Aaron Park, was discovered to be a paid consultant to the Poizner campaign while writing for Red County, a conservative blog about California politics. Red County founder Chip Hanlon threw Park off the site upon discovering his affiliation, which had not been disclosed.

Okay, there's one guy. But The Daily Caller uses that one instance to prove a general trend through that article-making "standard operating procedure" quote.

...

Besides campaigns, industry groups and other political groups oftentimes pay bloggers for their insights.

Dan Riehl, who writes the Riehl World View blog, is one of Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele’s most vocal defenders in the conservative blogosphere. When The Daily Caller reported the RNC spent $1,946 at a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex acts, Riehl blasted the piece as a “pathetically weak story tailored to play to the Left and create problems for the GOP.”

“Riehl World View” readers might be interested to know that Riehl is not simply a blogger, but also a paid consultant to the RNC. In an interview, Riehl said he was paid an amount in the “hundreds of dollars” for writing a strategy document on how the RNC could better reach out to bloggers. Riehl said his motivation for defending Steele was to aid the Republican Party, and that he didn’t disclose his consulting work because, “I didn’t see it as having anything to do with my views.”

“I never made enough money to be bought,” he said.

Other bloggers openly lament how few campaign dollars are flowing their way. Conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain complains that politicians aren’t purchasing more advertising on blogs. “Advertising buys good will,” he says.

If it appears that conservative bloggers are more likely to take campaign money than their liberal counterparts, there may be a reason. According to Dan Riehl, conservatives can’t rely on the infrastructure of foundations and think tanks that supports so many liberal bloggers.

Riehl has made it a goal to mobilize conservative benefactors and organizers to establish a funding infrastructure mimicking what the liberal “netroots” created during the Bush years. “They did it the smart way,” Riehl says.

On the left, many of the once independent bloggers are now employed by, or receive money from, liberal organizations like Media Matters, the Center for American Progress and Campaign for America’s Future.

Here's Dan Riehl's response:

It was not a secret that the RNC paid me a few hundred bucks for a document.

I devoted hours and hours of my own time over a period of months trying to coordinate an effort involving many top bloggers and the RNC to improve communications and legal, legitimate cooperation in a partisan sense. I stress that, as it was the RNC that made me aware of certain FEC restrictions, which we were careful to not violate. That's why money wasn't involved. I made phone calls, took meetings, paid Metro and lunch costs, all out of my own pocket because I am dedicated to improving the blogosphere in an ethical manner - as well as winning politically for Republicans at the ballot box. I won't name which top bloggers were involved, but there are many that could vouch for these facts if they wanted to. If they want to stay out of it, that's fine, too.

If I had done it as a consultant, I'd likely have charged in the tens of thousands of dollars. I didn't. When all was said and done, the RNC asked me to write up a concise document based on the knowledge that was discovered from the process. It's called knowledge transfer, actually. I promptly disclosed to all involved bloggers that I had a chance to make a few hundred bucks for doing that, and only that - and I was taking it, if there were no objections. If they had any objections, none were conveyed to me at the time. So, see, it never really was a secret. It was so insignificant, especially in light of the many, many hours of non-paid, volunteer work I had done in the effort, it never even occurred to me to disclose it on my blog. It was simply insignificant as compared to the larger non-paid effort.

As a consultant, I would have billed a few thousand dollars for the document. DC consultants are notoriously over-paid. Instead, I charged a few hundred, mostly it was as a token of appreciation, really. And guess what, the Daily Caller's silly strip club story killed all that work. The RNC pulled in on itself, staff changes were made - and, so far as I know, the document I did designed to help the blogosphere and RNC relationship as a whole, simply got shelved. And, by the way, the out of pocket expenses some struggling bloggers paid on their own for calls, or a meeting, that all went down the drain, too.

Heckuva job, Tucker, heckuva job, you clueless idiot. And now everyone knows why I was so pissed and fought back so hard at the time. It never was about Steele, money and, or for, me, it was about helping all struggling, unpaid, Indie blogs and bloggers, each and everyone.

First of all, here's the answer to the question people are probably asking:


Was I ever bought?

No, but... kind of.

Twice I had conversations with people in DC in which the notion of a pushing a story for pay was suggested, once very vaguely, once more tangibly. The first time I didn't say anything because I wasn't really being asked; the second time I said no.

As I tried to sell it to myself I just couldn't. And I did try to sell it to myself. I tried every argument I could think of to somehow figure out a way that me getting money was a proper thing.

I didn't run anything on either, by the way. (And neither did any coblogger, and neither was there a link... there wasn't anything about it at all.)

The problem with this is that was that even if the story I was being asked to push was the sort of thing I would push... well, I couldn't get past the pay-for-play aspect of it. Because even though I would push it, if I came across it and found it interesting, the problem was I wouldn't typically come across it and find it interesting. It was a good story, but... Eh, I couldn't do it.

Not just because I'm such a terrific and ethical guy, but because I knew, let's face it: At some point an article like the Daily Caller's would come out, and I would have to write this post, and I would either have to lie to readers or confess I'd lied to them earlier.

Now here's the part about "kind of:" That project Dan is talking about, about trying to set up some sort of system on the right like they have on the left to help fund struggling bloggers?

Yeah I know of multiple such plans cooking. Many bloggers in the DC area have been trying to get that sort of thing off the ground for ages. They never do. But I hear about them.

One guy recently mentioned that to me, his efforts to get some kind of funding pool set up for the blogosphere, and lamented (as all these guys do) that Republicans with money are simply not interested in the internet. The way it was explained to me is thus: They're older and more conventional. They haven't embraced the internet. They use it, but they don't really appreciate it as a legitimate form of communication.

(I'm speaking here of wealthy Republican donors generally and not, say, the people who donate to this site, who are clearly internet-friendly. I mean as a general matter.)

They like things that are tried-and-true, tested, tangible. They like donating to the RNC -- hey, it's a corporation with an organizational chart and office space. They will donate to magazines: They're tangible things; everyone understands that a magazine can inform and persuade.

To one guy I said: The trick you have to pull is to sell this partly as a physical magazine each blogger will contribute an essay or article to. You set it up as half for the magazine, half for just keeping the blogosphere going; but at the end of the day, they want something physical they can hold in their hand. You sort of have to make-pretend with the magazine aspect and give them that because they just don't want to donate to anything as sketchy as the internet.

Anyway, it has long been my belief, based on personal experience, that this was a necessary thing, and that unless that happened this site, and a bunch of others, would simply go away.

Now back to the "kind of:" At long last one of these many plans seemed to be making genuine progress -- and that caused me to pull punches about the RNC, because I didn't want to seem like the sort of guy who wasn't a team player, and who thirsted to do Red-on-Red attacks. Given that these donors are conventional guys and like the RNC, I didn't want to be seen as Joe Tear Down The System Wild Man.

This was about, I don't know, 8-12 months ago. The restraining-myself thing happened for like two months (but also during a period of a lot of anti-Steele stories).

But since this thing never actually happened -- funding for the blogosphere on the right is the future, and always will be just the future -- I said to someone one day, "Jeeze, I'm acting like I'm bought off and no one's even given me a dime." And on that day I went Red-on-Red and shellacked Steele.

But there was a corrupting thing, in that I wasn't popping off about Steele the way you might expect me to, and yes, that was because I was trying to refrain from Red-on-Red, and yes that was because I didn't want to seem like a lose cannon who would attack other Republicans. I wasn't really defending him, but I also wasn't jumping in to attack as frequently as I otherwise would.

No one said I couldn't or shouldn't pop off about Steele; but the idea was in my head anyway, and I refrained from dumping on him as much as I wanted to or typically would because I thought (wrongly) one of these many projects was finally going to happen and I didn't want to be That Asshole Who Ruined Everything For Everybody.

But yes; Corrupt. I did not write exactly what I wanted and yes this was due to the thought of money out there, somewhere, somewhere at the end of the rainbow.

You know when someone's easy to bribe? When you don't even have to give them money, you just have to put it in his head that maybe, one day, someday, there might be some money.

By the way, that had nothing to do with my semi-defense of the RNC for the Daily Caller-promoted "Voyeur" affair: The media shits kept implying it was a "lesbian bondage sex club" when in fact it's a bar, with, yes, a theme of that sort of thing. But it's not a sex club any more than NYC's Jekyll & Hyde is a transform-into-a-monster club. A "theme" is not a reality.

I thought that was a totally overhyped attack on the RNC -- No, the donors should not have been taken to that club (even if they asked) on the RNC's dime, given that the RNC has so many Christian donors who object to such stuff. But to portray a bar with a kinky theme a "sex club" is yet another media lie designed to hurt conservatism.

The media is always incredibly eager to push wedge issues that hurt conservatives -- if a story splits conservatives and independents, they love it. If it splits conservatives from the main conservative party, they love it.

They never push such wedge issues that hurt Democrats -- in fact, they try their level best to either disappear such stories entirely or convince the feuding factions that there really is no dispute, that all sides can agree and move on (and vote together in harmony).

But still, yes, the decision generally not to carpet-bomb Steele when frankly that's what I wanted to do (and that's what most readers wanted me to do) was made with the idea that hey, if I go too hard on the RNC, I'll scare away whatever donors might be persuaded to give a little bit to a general funding mechanism for the blogosphere. Instead of hitting Steele maybe six times, I hit him three instead.

I can only say in my defense: Dan Riehl's quite right, this sort of thing has to happen at some point, or else there just won't be the sort of right-wing blogosphere you see now. At some point you get too old to be working for minimum wage.

I can also say: I found out fairly early that there were not the votes to remove Steele-- quite the opposite -- and that the RNC had decided it was better to limp along with him than push a high-profile black chairman out office. I disagreed with that assessment, but I knew that was the assessment that had been made, and to further attack Steele was in fact a distraction, because no matter what happened, he wasn't going anywhere.

I also know that there is factionalism going on here, with anti-Steele stories being pushed by the anti-Steele faction. Which I have no problem with, because I'm no fan of Steele; but at the end of the day, if you're going to take a shot at the king, make sure you hit him.

But if the RNC is determined to keep this guy through his term (which it is), what is the point of this fighting over him? He's not going anywhere, and no one is going to do a damn thing about him. Honestly, and this isn't a corrupted decision, I really think this:

If you're not actually going to take him out, why the hell are you pushing stuff like this? If you're not going to follow through with the solution, why are you spreading word of the problem? If you have no solution, stop highlighting the problem.

Michael Steele's a retard. Everyone knows this. But if you're going to keep him in place, maybe stop with all the retard leaks.

So that's my story. I never took any money for any story.

On the other hand, I did refrain from going full-throttle on Steele because, without being told I should keep quiet and act as if I were bought off, I did in fact keep (mostly) quiet and act if I were (kinda) bought off. No one said I should do that, but I took it upon myself to act the way I thought a Good Soldier who wanted to take the king's coin should. I passed on like two or three anti-Steele stories and I only hit him like three or four times. I was sparing in my Steele coverage, by design.

And to this day I still haven't had any RNC ads running on the site. That's part of the temptation to do this, by the way: There are professionals in politics who draw a decent and stable salary for the work they do for the cause, but bloggers are expected to do it for free, to be volunteers; that everyone will save on costs by getting free media in the blogs.

Which works out nicely for everyone... except bloggers.

This causes resentment. I got annoyed when the Tea Party Express kept asking me to promote Joe Miller. I know they all get paid -- they're professionals. But instead of buying an ad and paying me, they just wanted me to promote their fundraising for Miller.

I didn't push Miller the first day they asked because of that annoyance. But the second time, I realized what I was doing: I was taking out my resentment at the you-do-this-for-free conservative organizations against a very good candidate I would otherwise support, just because I was annoyed that it had been decided I was Mr. Cheap Date.

So I promoted Joe Miller, as I should have on Friday; I endorse him enthusiastically and without reservation.

But there was distortion here due to money: I didn't promote him on Friday because I was annoyed at the Tea Party Express. (Oh: And I specifically included the direct donation page to Joe Miller, in case anyone didn't want to go through the Tea Party Express; that was my passive-aggressive way of noting that I don't really need them, either, to highlight Miller's campaign. In included the Tea Party Express' donation page just for convenience of readers, figuring many of them probably had already donated so that would make it easier for them to donate again.)

I don't know really how all of this is going to shake out. I do know that organizations like Tea Party Express and the RNC and National Republican Trust and all the other cash-raising ventures have to stop treating bloggers like all we are is a free media opportunity or else sometime in the next year there's going to be a die-off of half the major independent blogs as everyone just finally gives up and gets it through their head that it's time to grow up and get a real job.

These free media opportunities are not going to remain opportunities forever. Either it's not going to be free or this particular media isn't going to exist.


Oh: The reluctance of the Money Guys to embrace the internet as a legitimate, and potentially professional, communication medium is creating these moral hazards: If a guy who's not making any kind of money at all is offered three hundred bucks to write a post he might have (might have) written anyway, it's really increasing the chances he's going to sell himself on the idea that it's okay to do so.

Seriously: I did try to convince myself it was okay to do. I really did. In the end it just wasn't right, and further, it wasn't even a smart move in a cost-benefit analysis: Getting caught (which is something I believe is all but inevitable) is just too costly a proposition.

Still... I can understand how someone could convince himself this was kinda-sorta acceptable. He would know it's wrong, but people are very, very talented at convincing themselves that the thing they want to do is the thing they should do.


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posted by Ace at 12:07 PM

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