Bloggers on the Payroll

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006 7:46 AM

Are liberal bloggers about to become part of the Democratic establishment?

This is no theoretical question, now that Hillary Clinton has reached into the cyberspace ranks and plucked a liberal blogger from Salon. (Yes, I'm sure it's just to help her keep her Senate seat this fall.)

The question has been bouncing around the increasingly influential blogosphere and debated by the practitioners themselves. Are lefty bloggers just foot soldiers in a grand effort to help the Democratic Party retake the Hill and the White House? Or are they independent commentators who are sympathetic to liberal politicians but will criticize them when necessary?

Because if it's the latter, wouldn't they zip their lips when a policy disagreement might prompt criticism that would hurt the party?

Hillary has tapped Peter Daou, who worked for John Kerry last time and has devoted his Salon column (which includes cyber-roundups from the left and right) hectoring the MSM for slobbering over Republicans and stiffing Democrats. Daou says his mission is "to facilitate and expand her relationship with the netroots."

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner has already hired his own blogger, Jerome Armstrong, Kos's co-author on the book "Crashing the Gates."

Kos, who did a stint with Howard Dean's '04 campaign, remains independent, though sometimes he makes endorsements, as he did in appearing in a campaign ad for Ned Lamont, the Democrat challenging Joe Lieberman in an August primary.

So are these bloggers just hired as ambassadors to a constituency group? Will they have real influence on campaign strategy? Are they just window-dressing?

A couple of HuffPost contributors weigh in on Daou and the larger issue. Cenk Uygur sees three possibilities in Daou becoming part of Hillaryland:

"1. Hillary will actually listen to what Peter has to say and adjust her views and actions.

"2. They will not be able to see eye to eye and Peter will be ignored and then will eventually leave the job.

"3. Peter will become an apologist for Hillary's current stances on things like Iraq, which are hideous and morally repugnant.

"I would be really disappointed if option number two were to happen. I would be crushed if option three did. I was thinking of talking to Peter before writing this, but decided it would be better just to write it because I would feel bad even writing option number three down after I talked to him personally.

"But that possibility must be mentioned because it is a critical question that is likely to face a lot of the prominent bloggers soon - how much do you accommodate the establishment without being co-opted by them?

"There will be a struggle. The establishment won't simply lay down their arms and run into the waiting arms of the netroots and ask for forgiveness. It is hard to get people out of a pattern they're used to. On the other hand, there will be a lot of pressure on the bloggers hired by campaigns to serve their new employers faithfully."

R.J. Eskow isn't wild about the idea:

"While I'm happy for Peter -- she's not the anti-Christ, for God's sake! -- I would be insulted at the idea that the substantive differences that I (and many others) have with Hillary can be resolved through some sort of outreach program . This member of the 'online community' is not going to be persuaded by some 'Internet game plan' that her stand on Iraq, and defense issues in general, is anything but a) unprincipled, and b) poor political strategy.

"I sensed a split in the online progressive community some time ago. On one side of the divide are the Democratic Party activists, who tend to emphasize party unity and success above all. Many of them (though by no means all) are actively pursuing careers in the party, including campaign consultancies. On the other side are issues-driven activists who are motivated by core concerns, chief among them opposition to the war in Iraq."

Turning now to the Beltway furor of the week: What if the banking program, the disclosure of which has sparked calls for the tarring and feathering of the New York Times, wasn't such a big secret after all?

This Boston Globe piece has some interesting details (and yes, it's own by the NYT Co. but is not known for carrying corporate water):

"News reports disclosing the Bush administration's use of a special bank surveillance program to track terrorist financing spurred outrage in the White House and on Capitol Hill, but some specialists pointed out that the government itself has publicly discussed its stepped-up efforts to monitor terrorist finances since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks . . .

"A search of public records -- government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 -- describe how U.S. authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.

" 'There have been public references to SWIFT before,' said Roger Cressey, a senior White House counterterrorism official until 2003. 'The White House is overreaching when they say [The New York Times committed] a crime against the war on terror. It has been in the public domain before.'

"Victor D. Comras , a former U.S. diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing, said it was common knowledge that worldwide financial transactions were being closely monitored for links to terrorists."

There's even a SWIFT Web site .

Buzz Machine man Jeff Jarvis (who consults for the NYT Co.) finds unconvincing Bill Keller's argument that the Times is not making a judgment on the SWIFT program in exposing it. "We hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it," Keller says.

"So that is saying that we deserve to know everything, absolutely everything. As a worshiper of speech protected by the First Amendment and of transparency as the new virtue of journalism and of reporting as a pillar of a free society, you'd think I'd be applauding that sentiment. It sounds good. But I don't think it washes in real life. Newspapers know plenty they choose not to reveal: from troop locations to undercover cops' identities to corporate moves that affect shareholders (you can bet reporters get the same leaks blogs do). If they revealed all they knew at all times on all subjects, that would be a defensible model -- 'If we know it, you know it.' But they keep secrets so they get secrets and also to act responsibly. So this notion that not telling us about the banking program preempts the roles of lawmakers, judges, and voters is, well, somewhat specious.

"And though The Times says it is not to judge the program's legality or effectiveness, Keller goes on to say that they weighed the government's contention that exposing it would endanger it and they rejected that . . .

"My bottom line, not that it matters: The government has long and long been urged to follow the cut off the money to terrorists to both starve and uncover them. I wholly endorse that. I assumed that they were doing precisely what The Times is shocked that they were doing: following transactions. I don't think it's known that the program is either illegal or ineffective. But I also think it is possible enough that revealing its existence can do the program and the nation harm, so I would not have revealed it."

On the other hand, red-haired Times-basher Arianna Huffington suddenly finds a soft spot for the Gray Lady:

"Here's a change. After a year of regularly hauling the New York Times and its editors to the cyber woodshed for acting more like an arm of the Bush administration than the paper of record, I'm turning on the computer to -- wait for it -- sing the praises of Bill Keller and the gang on West 43rd. With the Fraternal Order of Secret Keepers occupying the White House, a Fourth Estate that acts like a bunch of eunuchs is especially dangerous. So it was nice to see the Gray Lady show some balls in disclosing that CIA and Treasury officials had secretly been taking a look at the extensive international banking data kept by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (aka SWIFT).

"Predictably, the no-news-is-good-news crowd at the White House immediately set out to SWIFTboat the Times. Bush called the disclosure 'disgraceful.' Cheney was even more indignant. Recalling that the Times had also disclosed the NSA wiretap program (albeit a year late -- more on that in a moment), the VP huffed: 'The New York Times has now twice -- on two separate occasions -- disclosed programs; both times they had been asked not to publish those stories by senior administration officials. They went ahead anyway.' The nerve! How dare the press ignore senior administration officials!?"

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum reminds us that these stories have to come from somewhere :

"The New York Times story that exposed the Treasury Department's terrorist finance tracking program says it relied on 'nearly 20' former and current government officials. The LA Times story on the same subject relied on 'more than a dozen' sources.

"Isn't that an awful lot of traitors in our midst? Why were so many people willing to talk about this? Was it because (a) revealing the program's existence didn't really endanger anything, or (b) they were concerned about its legality? Or both?"

Tom Kean, the former New Jersey governor and 9/11 commission chairman, is a respected figure in the press. And he makes clear his unhappiness with the Times when tracked down by Byron York :

"Kean tells National Review Online that the New York Times's decision to expose the terrorist finance effort -- Kean called Times executive editor Bill Keller in an attempt to persuade him not to publish -- has done terrible damage to the program.

" 'I think it's over,' Kean says. 'Terrorists read the newspapers. Once the program became known, then obviously the terrorists were not going to use these methods any more.' Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, says he had a pessimistic feeling after calling Keller. 'He couldn't have been more courteous,' Kean recalls. 'He said he'd take my views into consideration. But . . . when the Treasury Department called to ask whether I had made the call, I said, 'Yes, I have, but I think you have a problem.'''

And here's a courageous move, as noted by the New York Post : Congress is about to talk a stand against an unknown person (or persons): "The House of Representative today takes up a resolution to condemn whoever leaked news of a top-secret terrorist money-tracking program to the New York Times."

The White House has been talking up the economy, but to little avail:

"All year long, in speeches and briefings and visits to factories and shops, President Bush and his aides have tried to convince Americans that the economy is in good shape -- and that the president deserves some credit for that," says the LAT . "That effort is not making much headway, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

"Americans are closely divided on whether the economy is in good shape, with 50% saying it is doing well and 47% saying it is doing badly, the poll found. In January, when Bush launched his campaign to spread good news, the national mood was slightly better: In a Times Poll that month, 55% said the economy was doing well. And Bush doesn't get much credit for the economy's relative health, the new survey found. Of respondents, 39% say they approve of the president's handling of the economy and 19% say they think the economy is better because of his policies -- numbers that are basically unchanged since the beginning of the year."

Remember Bernie Kerik, who for about half an hour looked like he was going to become homeland security czar? Well, he's got problems:

"Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, is close to reaching an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to having accepted improper gifts totaling tens of thousands of dollars while he was a city official in the late 1990's, two people with information on the plea negotiations said yesterday.

"Under the proposed agreement," says the NYT , "Mr. Kerik would plead guilty to failing to report accepting roughly $200,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment -- a violation of the city's administrative code. The work, officials have said, was paid for by a New Jersey construction company that the city had long accused of having ties to organized crime."

Who ran the background check on this guy--FEMA?

John McCain, blogger ? He weighs in at the Porkbusters site.

Finally, Ana Marie Cox devotes a column to bras . ("The average size of the American breast has grown from 34B to 36C , according to manufacturers.") I can't beat Glenn Reynolds's observation: Do blogs have sweeps weeks?

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