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December 9, 2004
SDP Responds To CBS, Ethics Questions

In the wake of the CBS hit piece on the blogosphere, Jason Van Beek responded last night to the charges that he hid his relationship with the John Thune campaign:

I began my blog a year before Thune declared his candidacy. I became a consultant for Thune in July of 2004, a year and six months AFTER I began blogging. From the beginning, I have always been very clear about my political predilections. I consistently told readers of my blog that I was pro-Thune. If my blog was a "proxy" for the Thune campaign then it can fairly be said that the Argus Leader and CBS have been proxies for Democratic campaigns since time immemorial. [Good point -- CE.] The difference is that I tell everyone I am not an objective observer. To this day, the Argus Leader and CBS hold themselves out as objective observers. I think blogs in general have pretty much exploded that notion. Yet the "mainstream media" continue to splutter about "dirty tricks" and "ethics" and make a nauseating show of wrapping themselves in virtue.

We discussed this in detail on tonight's Hugh Hewitt show, and we all stressed the fact that Jason and Jon Lauck at DvT have never held themselves out as neutral observers in the Thune/Daschle race. Anyone who read their blogs would immediately understand their political orientation. As Fraters Libertas' Saint Paul noted, most of their information came straight off the pages of the Argus Leader or the national media. One should also consider the fine independent work they did, especially in covering the court hearing in the campaign's final days regarding poll watchers.

These are good points to consider, and my impulse is to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. I don't think they meant to hide anything, and working on a campaign for money doesn't necessarily invalidate a blogger's point of view. After all, the NARN guys did volunteer work for Bush here in Minnesota and I did some promotion for Pam Ward, a candidate for the Minnesota House who ran a fine campaign but lost to an entrenched candidate. We blog on politics because we love campaigns and issues; why wouldn't we be involved?

However, the difference is that we clearly stated on our blogs the relationships we had with the campaigns, and none of us accepted money outside of paid blogads, which of course are plainly visible on our sites. Jason writes an impassioned defense, but he can't be serious in expecting his readers to know his status as a paid Thune consultant because the Argus Leader wrote about it once back in July. Responsibility for disclosure should be on the blogger, not his or her readers.

The fact that his blog existed for eighteen months beforehand isn't exculpatory; it makes the ethical question even more relevant. Did his existing readers know that his status and relationship to the candidate had changed? I'm not a regular reader of Oliver Willis, but when he got hired by the laughably "non-partisan" Media Matters for America, he announced it on his blog. In fact, he bragged about it, and for good reason. Instapundit even linked to it as an example of the spreading influence of blogs. Did Jason write such an announcement? It appears not, and one has to wonder why. After all, a candidate hiring a blogger as a paid consultant would have made a great story.

It seems to me that Jason's business relationship should have been disclosed by Jason, on his blog, in order to give his readers -- which included a lot of fellow bloggers -- the chance to make up their own minds about the independence of his writing. If we knew that Jason got money from Thune, then we could judge whether Jason's analysis was really his own or simply a campaign release. Failing to disclose the relationship took that ability away. It also raised questions, fair or no, about Jason's honesty about his perspective on the race.

Did Jason do his readers a disservice? His readers will give their final decision on his sitemeter. For the rest of us who are fortunate enough to receive these kind of offers, we should learn that only full disclosure will maintain our credibility.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2004 10:16 PM

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