Monday, February 26, 2007

Lindsay Beyerstein on Refusing to Blog for Edwards

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Lindsay Beyerstein's Salon piece, "Why I Refused to Blog for Edwards," is must reading. Here are some excerpts:

I am an atheist, but when Bill Donohue called the John Edwards bloggers "anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots," my first thought was, "There but for the grace of God go I."

I was offered a job blogging for John Edwards, but I declined.

On Jan. 12, an Edwards campaign staffer whom I'll call Bob, which isn't his real name, e-mailed me to ask if I might be interested in blogging for the campaign. I maintain a blog called Majikthise, and I'd met Bob several times at various political and social gatherings in New York City, including Drinking Liberally.
Bob and I arranged to have an exploratory conversation on Sunday, Jan. 14, after the Martin Luther King Day commemoration service at Riverside Church in Harlem, where John Edwards was scheduled to speak. It was a mutually convenient time because Bob was there with the campaign and I was blogging (and photographing) the event.
I was dazzled by Edwards' speech, Bob's vision and the sense that I might be on the verge of the big time. I wanted to jump on the bus, but I knew I couldn't.

"I'm probably not ... the person you want," I said, finally. "I mean, I'm on the record saying that abortion is good and that all drugs should be legalized, including heroin. Don't you think that might be a little embarrassing for the campaign?"

Bob assured me that my controversial posts weren't a problem as far as the campaign was concerned. They were familiar with my work. And Bob did seem to know my writing. I didn't get the impression he was a daily reader, but it was obvious he had been reading the blog for a while.

"That's you, that's not John Edwards," he said.

Bob was confident that people would understand the difference. I wasn't so sure.

"So, it's not a problem that I'm an outspoken atheist?" I asked.

Every blogger says controversial things from time to time, Bob assured me. He admitted that he'd drawn some fire for a tasteless joke on his own site a while back. It hadn't been a big deal.

I asked if I would have to quit blogging at Majikthise in order to take the job with Edwards. My blog means more to me than any job I've ever had. After three years of hard work, I finally have a platform from which to express ideas that won't get a hearing in the established media, let alone in mainstream Democratic politics. So the prospect of giving up my untrammeled freedom to blog press releases for John Edwards gave me pause. Still, I assumed Bob would say it was a necessity.

I was wrong. Bob promised that I wouldn't have to give up my personal blog. He added that I probably wouldn't have much time left for personal blogging, since everyone was working 18-hour days on the campaign. But, he noted, he hadn't given up his own blog, and neither had another member of the Edwards Internet team.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A bunch of Internet staffers with private blogs sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

I knew that if I was blogging for Edwards, anything I said on Majikthise would be a potential liability for the candidate, even if I wasn't talking about politics.
Bob and I sat for a long time, nibbling baklava and talking strategy. He asked me if I knew of any other feminist bloggers who might be interested in the job.

I don't remember who brought up Amanda Marcotte's name first. I said Marcotte was the best writer in the feminist blogosphere. If they wanted a high-profile feminist blogger, Amanda was the best.

Bob is a regular reader of Amanda's blog, Pandagon. We reminisced for a while about some classic brawls and blowups that had erupted at Pandagon.

"The thing you have to realize about Amanda is that she's got real enemies," I said. "We've all got trolls, but Amanda gets a whole different level of abuse."
What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.

I left the meeting feeling optimistic but uneasy. I later applied for a job as a campaign photographer. Taking pictures meant I could work for the candidate without having to type up and post endorsements of political positions I might not agree with. I felt that the Edwards campaign was going to make history one way or another. I would even have put the blog on hiatus for a front-row seat.

When the campaign announced that it had hired Amanda as blogger, I was overjoyed -- but very surprised. It's one thing to have a relatively junior staffer say your blog archives don't matter; it's quite another to see that assessment reflected in a hiring decision.

I had already lost a lot of my respect for John Edwards because of the way he handled the Marcotte tsunami: waiting days before finally announcing that he was going to give Marcotte (and Melissa McEwen, who had been hired as a part-time technical consultant) a "second chance," even though he was "personally offended" by what they wrote on their blogs, because he had been "assured" by Marcotte and McEwen that "it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith," and he was going to "take them at their word." I wondered at the time why Edwards could not muster more vigorous support than that, when he had hired the two bloggers in the first place, and must have known that they are both strong feminists and critics of religious extremism.

But as it turns out, it's even worse than that. How John Edwards could have acted like he had no idea that Marcotte and McEwen had written stuff on their personal blogs that right-wingers could use to attack Edwards' Christian correctness, when a high-ranking staffer had assured Lindsay Beyerstein that her own atheism, strong feminism, and controversial views (like legalizing all drugs, even heroin) were not bars to being offered a top job on a national presidential campaign defies understanding.

This does it for me as far as supporting Edwards in the primaries.


Chief said...

Okay. No Edwards. Who can you support that has a realistic chance of getting the Dem nomination?

I see Clinton, Obama & Richardson as legit possibilities. And maybe a Draft Gore movement that succeeds.

Kathy said...

I don't know, Chief. I'm really getting depressed again. I can see myself supporting Obama. I would love it if Gore ran, but that is not going to happen. Richardson I know nothing about. Literally. I didn't even know he existed until he announced he might run.

Hillary Clinton is the most "commercial" of the bunch (meaning has the best chance of getting elected), but I can't stand her. I can't stand her. She is all ambition, no convictions. She is a total opportunist. She's already made it clear she has no qualms about knifing liberals to get in good with conservatives. What would she do if she were president?

Like I said, the choices are depressing, depressing, depressint.