Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The blogger primaries

A classic example of how national politics has changed in a few short years:

Back in 2002 and 2003, Democrats and journalists were talking about "the Shrum primary," which referred to the likely competition among White House aspirants to sign up Washington consultant Robert Shrum as their chief campaign guru. But today, with Shrum in retirement (after racking up, during his long career, exactly zero presidential election triumphs), and with DC Democratic consultants widely viewed as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution, the '06 Democratic chatter is all about signing up bloggers who can connect a candidate to the grassroots keyboard warriors.

For instance, likely presidential candidate Mark Warner, of course, has landed Jerome Armstrong; and in Connecticut, antiwar candidate Ned Lamont (who's challenging Joe Lieberman in a Senate Democratic primary on Aug. 8) has landed Tim Tagaris. And now we have word that Hillary Clinton -- who is persona non grata in the liberal blogosphere because of her centrist stance on the Iraq war -- has just hired her own blogger consultant: Peter Daou, the news commentator at "War Room," on Salon.com, and best known to political insiders as John Kerry's blog outreach guy.

Daou told The Times that the "nascent power base" of liberal bloggers "is only beginning to make its presence felt," and will "reach fuller potential with the participation of Democratic leaders." That's probably true.

But what this trend also suggests is that, increasingly, online news consumers might have problems trying to determine whether a prominent blogger is critiquing events as an independent voice -- or whether he or she is spinning the critiques in order to aid a certain candidate, for reasons not fully disclosed or apparent. To some extent, this is already happening; as many online mavens already know, Mark Warner has gotten a pretty nice ride on DailyKos.com, the most popular liberal site, and the widely-held perception is that Armstrong's close alliance with Kos himself, Markous Moulitsas, has something to do with that. It's true that we denizens of the mainstream media are often derided these days as quaint and archaic, but, in our world, which is typically guided by ethics rules contained in three-ring notebooks, the boundary that separates reporting from candidate-spinning is far more impervious.