In an article on Howard Dean’s fund-raising, The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, offers the interesting revelation that as part of his effort “to maximize his online fundraising punch,” Dean has been “paying ‘bloggers’ or professional Internet surfers to keep the enthusiasm up on his website.”has been making the rounds at various weblogs. I must say, I don’t see the problem. If Dean pays enough bloggers who are sufficiently obnoxious that they’re pestiferous, that would be a problem. Short of that I don’t see why I should care. Either the arguments are good or they’re not - whether Dean paid for them isn’t very relevant. Taranto’s jibe here is really in effect an ad hominem attack, attempting to dismiss Dean’s online minions based on their motivations, not their arguments.
We’re all for free enterprise, but this does point up an advantage of “old media” over bloggers. Professional journalists may have their biases, but those of us who work for big-media outfits are bound by codes of ethics under which taking money in exchange for favorable coverage would be a huge no-no. Many bloggers, of course, genuinely are independent commentators, but there’s no easy way of knowing which ones are on the take.
Quite frankly, I also don’t get Taranto’s point about the advantages of Big Media in this regard. Those “codes of ethics” don’t seem to have much effect on journalists working for Big Media in the real world. Isn’t Best of the Web itself frequently stocked with tales of malfeascance, dishonesty and biased articles by Big Media journalists? We could talk about CNN and how the Ba’ath paid them for favorable coverage of the regime. Is the counter-argument that the Ba’ath didn’t pay with money but with access (which CNN converted in to money)? Well, OK then! Clearly deliberately concealing the depravity of a brutal, dictatorial regime to imprvoe the corporate bottom line is not something not forbidden by those “codes of ethics”. And if those codes don’t speak to or prevent that kind of thing, what real value do they have?
P.S. As expected, Oliver Willis has a response. I think it’s just a bit overwraught but I agree with the basic point.